Figure 1: Kyoko Sakura, official references
So here’s the thing: in my opinion, Kyoko’s outfit is not very flattering. It features knee-high boots with thigh highs and a pleated skirt, and over the skirt is the peek of black top and a bizarre, sleeveless red jacket with a hi-low train. The jacket has an ellipse-shaped cutout in the center of the chest, a mandarin collar, and the train has oversized ruffles. None of these elements are easy to make look flattering in real life: the knee-high boots make it difficult to feature as much of the thigh-highs as the show does, and the skirt has to be EXTREMELY short in order to pull the thigh-highs up as high as they need to be.
Next, the red jacket has no tailoring, and the train is more or less a shapeless fall of fabric. The oversize ruffles can be overwhelming if too big or look “off” if they’re too small. Finally, the mandarin collar requires special care because if it’s too tall, it hides the neck in an unflattering way… but if it’s too short, you don’t have enough room to include the bias border. Oh… and the armholes of the red jacket aren’t like a regular tank top – they’re angled inwards.
(Did I mention that the arm warmers go almost all the way up her arms, past her biceps? Idk about you guys, but sometimes having something squeeze my squishy little arms around the top isn’t the cutest look, lol…)
Anyway, those are some of the basics – in my personal opinion – of why this outfit was a challenge to make look good in real life. With those issues in mind, my plan to make Kyoko more flattering on myself was as follows…
The issues I needed to solve:
- Proportions of boots, thigh-highs, and skirt
- Mandarin collar proportions
- Black top which lacks official references of the upper portion
- Shapeless jacket train
- Large ruffles on jacket train
- Squeezy arm warmers
There wasn’t much I could do about the boots, thigh-highs, or the skirt. I did what I could to help myself out, though: I made the boots a little bit shorter than in the reference artwork, and I made my skirt what I call “magical girl short”, aka, just long enough to cover my derriere. My base boots had a modest heel, but I still put shoe inserts in them. This combo of tweaking the costume pieces, plus the lift from the heels and shoe inserts, gives the illusion that your legs are longer than they really are. The shorter skirt and slightly shorter boots allowed more of the thigh-highs to show, ultimately making the costume look more proportional to what’s seen in the anime.
The black and red top combo was the bigger challenge: in the anime, the black top peeks out from the front of the red jacket, and depending on the reference, it appears to be kinda long, maybe even approaching tunic length – yet there’s still a lot of skirt that shows… somehow? This was never going to work in real life, and wouldn’t look very nice on me, either, so I made the top about as long as my hip bones – just enough to peek out from under the red jacket and have enough room for the white swirly designs, but not long enough to cover too much of my skirt.
That left the red jacket for last… from the waist up, it seems to be well-fitted but lacks seams entirely. The train is just a blob of fabric and was, in my opinion, the biggest problem – it looks lifeless if it’s made without enough volume or any sort of shape, so making the red jacket exactly like in the anime was going to be a no-go for me. The jacket is the most iconic part of her outfit and I wanted to take extra care with it.
My vision had always been to tweak the design and make her jacket with more of a “bustle” style – it couldn’t be a real bustle, I didn’t want to change the design too much – but I thought using a bustle as inspiration would help make the train fall in a more flattering way, as well as be a good way to incorporate more volume. This way, the jacket would have more shape and the train would be prettier. I toyed with dozens of ideas over the years, and I thought I was going to have to build a hidden “petticoat bustle” that would discreetly attach at the small of my back and support the back of the jacket train.
My issues with this method were that I just could NOT figure out how to hide the petticoat bustle: building it into the jacket would mess with the lining, and the pleated skirt of the outfit was not big enough to hide any kind of bustle from view. I decided on a vague approach: make the train with the volume I wanted, and then see what kind of support it may need after it was done. I normally don’t like such vague approaches to my costumes, but I had a finite amount of time to work on Kyoko and needed to make progress since I had other builds for the group on my plate (namely Madoka’s bodice).
I started by heavily modding a favorite pattern of mine (McCall’s 7352), which is a princess seam dress pattern. I’ve used it for loads of projects because the princess seams allow for a lot of modification ability, and the sleeve pattern comes in handy as a base so that I don’t have to scratch-draft sleeves. I’d mostly just done minor modifications to the pattern in fabric though, so this time, I wanted to take the pattern and turn it into a properly-fitted base bodice pattern. It took some time, but I ended up with two base patterns before I actually patterned out Kyoko: one shoulder princess seam pattern, and one armhole princess sleeve pattern. I used both for different parts of her outfit.
Since the jacket is fitted above the waist, I planned for this part of the red jacket to have princess seams. I know this isn’t accurate to the reference images, but since my goal was to make a flattering Kyoko cosplay and not a “one-hundred-percent-accurate” one, this trade-off was acceptable to me. Princess seams are extremely flattering and wouldn’t detract from the overall look of the jacket, anyway.