Most of you know that I have been watching My Dress-Up Darling this season. As I write this, there are two episodes left and I have a feeling I’m going to miss this show.
Anyways, because I have been watching a show strongly focused on the world of cosplaying, I kept thinking back on my own, very limited experiences with dressing up as characters from my favourite shows and games. And I remembered something I hadn’t thought about in ages. It was a very sweet moment for me so I’m going to share it with you all!
A few things you might want to know about me. I am very introverted and don’t naturally tend to draw attention to myself. Cosplaying may sound like an odd hobby for me, but when you’re in a large convention center full of people in costume, it’s not likely to make you stand out much.
These days, nothing phases me much. I’ve made a fool of myself so many times that I’ve grown pretty immune to embarrassment. Through professional obligations and just the passage of time, I’ve gotten over being shy and I can easily talk in front of a roomful of strangers or friends without preparation and not give it a second thought.
However, this story happened some time ago. When I was fresh out of school and still a little timid around new experiences. I was already watching anime and I had put together some DIY costumes with stuff around the house but nothing really impressive. It was more like the ‘Disney bounding’ version of cosplay. Everyday clothes in a palette that resembles a character I like. Maybe an accessory to match or something. If you didn’t know, there is no way you would have guessed that I was in costume. I didn’t do any makeup or elaborate outfits and I had never even put on a wig. I should probably specify that I didn’t really grow up in places where Halloween was generally celebrated so the idea of wearing a costume was limited to school plays. And I’m a horrible actress.
So when I decided that I was going to try something new and go to an anime convention in cosplay, that was a pretty big deal for me. I was stepping out of my comfort zone in all sorts of ways.
And one of the first things I wanted to do was get one of those luxurious colourful wigs!
I didn’t know where to start but thankfully I had a friend who was a bit more familiar and we decided to go together to a large wig shop in Montreal. She didn’t cosplay, but she was quite fabulous and had a collection of realistic wigs to wear when she just wanted to change up her look. Fun!
The shop was amazing. It wasn’t quite as nice as the one we see in My Dress-Up Darling but I think it was a little bigger. Two very large rooms full of racks with wig accessories, ponytails, clip-in extensions and on the walls, rows upon rows of wigs on headstands. Every possible colour of a particular style before moving on to the next. Most wigs were very natural looking but there was a section of exotic neon colours that caught my eye immediately.
It was grand. I got very excited about it. I can’t quite explain why. I guess I’m just the type of person who gets excited about such things.
I was still a little shy about asking to try things on. My friend had wandered away to one end of the shop and was busy with something else. I was staring at those wings, a little overwhelmed by the possibilities and trying to figure out how you put on a wig. Do you even try wigs on? Is it like underwear and you just have to trust you bought the right size.? Do wigs have sizes? What size am I? My mind was buzzing with questions.
For the record, I wanted to go as Sailor Mercury, so I was looking for a short blue wig of some sort. I had already managed to convince myself to go out in public in a miniature white sailor suit so I wasn’t going to give up now! Part of me still thought I should go for Ami’s streetwear instead.
So I was standing there, deep in thought. Like a goofball. And a nice older woman stepped in next to me at the counter. We made eye contact and smiled and then she simply said, “cancer too”?
My heart dropped. Here I was acting like a toddler in this shop when there were people with actual concerns here. Could I really tell this woman that while she is going through so much, that I, an adult, was here to dress up as a cartoon character for fun? I felt like I was intruding and a little guilty for not even having considered the possibility.
All of this inner turmoil is happening in the span of a second. And I really want to stress that this woman did absolutely nothing to bring it on. She was polite and considerate. She saw that I seemed to be lost and wanted to help. Some people have resting bitch face, I tend to get resting deer in the headlights face. This is probably why she thought I was going through something serious. And here I was trying to figure out if I should stick to sailor mercury or go for schoolgirl Ami.
So I meekly shook my head no.
And then something wonderful happened. This angel of a woman just melted into a smile of pure joy and relief and said, oh thank god! She told me about her own treatment. Breast cancer. She was going through Chemo and her hair would fall off only in some spots then grow back again but slightly different. It was annoying to figure out a way to style it every time so she wanted a nice whig for the time being and she thought she might just shave it all off and start fresh once the treatments were over. Her prognosis was fairly good. She wasn’t out of the woods yet but things weren’t hopeless either.
I was so taken aback by her reaction that I froze even more and probably looked like I was going to have a panic attack. What I wanted to say was that she was wonderful. That her genuinely caring for a stranger like me and actually being happy for my sake just made me feel… It’s going to sound a little dramatic I know, but it made me feel like the world was a better place. Don’t laugh, it really touched me at the time.
She kept asking me what I was looking for, giving me tips on wigs, how to wear them and store them. She had amassed a small collection since the start of her treatment and thought it was one of the funner aspects of what she was going through. Finally, she coaxed it out of me and I explained what I was doing and what I was looking for. I tried my best to describe Sailor Mercury to her. This was a bit before cell phones just had internet access all the time, or at least I didn’t pay for one. I think. I don’t quite remeber but I know I didn’t just have a picture to show her.
She laughed at me but in a gentle way. Like she was just enjoying my clumsy passion. Even though I was at the time pretty embarrassed about talking about cosplay with people that had no idea what it was this felt pretty cathartic for me. So we went over to the section with the flashy colours, she asked the clerk to get us an assortment to try on. She also taught me what a wig cap was and how to put it on, how to adjust the size. She told me I could get the wig cut and styled, something that had not occurred to me. She also tried a long lilac one for herself. It’s been well over a decade, and I remember that like it was yesterday. This lady might have been twice my age by the way. And she looked marvellous in that wig. I’m happy I managed to tell her that at least.
And that was it, I bought a wig I liked and put my costume together. I thought I looked great in it, even if I do say so myself. I got asked to take a bunch of pictures at the con but otherwise, it was kind of boring. I generally find conventions kind of boring, it’s just not my thing. But every few years, I decide I want to go to one and get all excited, then a little disappointed again. Last time we just went to the merch room so really I paid money just for the privilege of buying heavily marked-up things with anime characters printed on them.
But you know, that day at the wig shop, that was sort of magical. It’s that simple connection that I’m looking for when I go to cons but I usually can’t find. We talked and laughed and I told someone all about my love for Sailor Moon and they listened! Magical! I think we spent a bit over 3 hours in that shop, I remember my friend getting bored and going to have lunch with her boyfriend in the middle. (We met up at the restaurant after, she didn’t just ditch me!)
I wish I could tell you we stayed good friends. That I sent my cosplay pics to the lady. That we’re going for coffee next week. But I didn’t ask for her number or anything. And she didn’t ask for mine. After that one meeting, I never heard from her again. I wish I had.
There is no chance that she will read this, I know that. However, the part of my brain that doesn’t care about logic still wants to tell her what I couldn’t at the time. That is Thank you. You took care of a silly girl when you had every right to just care about yourself. And it made me happy. It still does.
And that’s my story about the very sweet thing that happened when I went shopping for cosplay wigs. Sometimes, it’s important to remember the sweet stories that happened to us.