Costume Notes: Mulan

When will my reflection show who I am inside?

“Reflection” was the first Disney song that hit an emotion note and made me cry. It spoke to an inner struggle that a 15-year old girl knew too well. I won’t claim that at 15 I was actually able to articulate my specific identity issues, but I felt those words nonetheless.

Photo by B-Rawk Photos.
Photo by B-Rawk Photos.

Beyond the lyrics of “Reflection,” Mulan is Chinese and I am half-Chinese. Our connection was cultural. She looks like me and says “Ai-ya” to express annoyance and surprise like my mom’s family does. (Apologies if I’ve told this story before.) My Po-Po told me and my mom the fable about the “woman warrior”, who snuck into the Chinese army to save the life of her kid brother (who she believed was too young to go to war). As she relayed this story, my connection with Disney’s “Mulan” deepened, and because of this memory Mulan connects me to my Po-Po. Sometimes I imagine that my Gung-Gung and Po-Po are hovering around like the Ancestors in the movie. I’m still waiting for them to send a dragon guardian.

As I anticipated, because of my wish to do right by Mulan, I procrastinated so badly on Mulan’s construction that I did not have the opportunity to try on the full costume until the morning of the convention.

When I first saw my reflection in a car window and I was overwhelmed with emotion. As a cosplayer, my geek has a way to express itself. I can become characters I admire for a few days each year. The lyrics of “Reflection” have taken on a different meaning as a cosplayer. I don’t mean that my true inner self is a ruthless spymaster or element-controling Avatar, but I really feel like I found my niche in the geek community when I found cosplay. Mulan was a new experience. After 15 years of calling her my favorite Disney heroine, I got to become her. I’m not finding the right words. I felt like a part of my heart fit into place.

TL:DR – Mulan means a lot to me. Cosplaying Mulan was a dream come true. 


Now, let’s get into the costume notes! 

First of all, here are all of the reference images that I used for what I am calling “Mulan’s Victory Outfit.” (For a collection of other great Mulan costumes tutorials – her matchmaker dress and army armor, as well as nearly every other female Disney character, check out Happily Grim.)

Underdress – Self-drafted based on a long shift and bodice block from a Japanese pattern book, poly-cotton blend curtain liner (same fabric I used for Ezio’s under tunic).

This was a pattern that I knew I had, so I did not actively seek out commercial patterns that could be used for modifications. Look for something with a high front neckline, just below the collar bone and a slight A-line skirt. The A-line of this skirt helps the navy robe keep its shape. Center Back and Center Front are both on the grainline. I added a 14″ side zipper. After some adjustment of the back darts, I think I ended up with an underdress pattern that will prove useful for future costumes. It fits snuggly, with just enough room for movement.

Blouse – Modified and combined two commercial patterns, silk-cotton blend from Pacific Fabrics.

  • Simplicity 1692 (vintage 1940s), View A for sleeves
Simplicity 1692
  • McCalls’s M6959 view A, bodice front and back (with some modifications to extend over the waist)
McCalls 6959

I used the front and back bodice patterns as they came in the pattern, with some size adjustments (size 8 at the bust, size 12 at the waist). Then I took the skirt patterns for View A and used them as a guide to extend the bodice beyond my waist and just over the top of my hips. This was to ensure that the blouse would not ride up because it would be secured under the waistband. (I will add a diagram of this modification.)

The sleeve cap and the armhole, although from these two different patterns and different pattern companies, thankfully were very close in size so I didn’t bother to do any adjustments to the sleeves. A close look at the sleeve cap reveals that I was in a rush and didn’t bother to smooth out the gathers. Will I fix this? Maybe. No one noticed.

The sleeve cuffs and the cross-body wrap are fastened with tiny snaps. It was much easier and less stressful than installing button holes and ensured that the blouse didn’t gape at the bust (extra snap there).

Robe – Modified McCall’s M695* commercial pattern for the bodice and self-drafted skirt portion; poly-satin from Allyn’s Fabric in Denver. (*This Simplicity 6674 pattern might also work for the robe bodice – it is a similar wrap dress to the McCall dress, but one version includes a wide trim.)

I started with McCall’s M6959 front and back bodice (same as the blouse) and modified like crazy to open up the armhole. The pattern sets the grainline parallel to the cross body neckline of the wrap dress. This allows for the bodice of the dress to wrap snuggly around the body, but for Mulan’s open (almost surcoat-like) robe, that grainline orientation resulted in a lot of odd rippling around the bust and along the open armhole because most of it was on the bias. I more or less kept the neckline shape similar (make sure that it conceals the teal blouse), but changed the grainline to be straight up and down over my bust. This gave the top of the robe more stiffness. I also doubled the fabric on the top of the robe (front and back), while the skirt was a single layer.

Opening up the armhole was mostly trial and error. I made four different muslins, each one folding a bit more of the fabric back from the side seam and fidgeting with the grainline. In the end there was no side seam for the top of the robe at all.

Photo taken after breakfast, before I put on the sash. Note the open side and armhole.

Once the shape of the bodice was set and the pattern edges were trued, I created the pattern for the 2-inch wide maroon trim. The blue trim is bias tape that I made from the blouse silk-cotton fabric.

The skirt and faux wrap bodice are separate pattern pieces with the seam hidden by the waistband and sash. There is a 7-inch hidden zipper on the side seam of the skirt. The skirt is the same A-line shape as the skirt of the underdress, but cut on the bias with the grainline angled in same orientation as the asymmetrical hem. The rippled effect you sometimes see with bias dresses is less evident because the underdress helps the robe hold its shape. I chose to cut the skirt on the bias because in many of the reference images Mulan’s dress has some drape. It is not an A-line or ballgown shape. It hangs and often clings to her shape. The bias grain gave me a bit more movement, which was great because I often posed for photos in her “come at me” crouched pose on the rooftop.

Sash and Waistband – Two layers of rectangular fabric for each piece. The pink sash is 60 inches long and 3 inches wide (fabric from Colorado Fabrics). The maroon sash is 6 inches wide and just about a yard long, pinned into place (fabric from stash, used for Booker’s neck tie). Both are crepe-like fabrics.

Shoes – These were silver flats I picked up super cheap at Value Village, then covered in black fabric. I enjoyed learning how to cover shoes in fabric, but really I should have just kept shopping and looking for plain black flats. It wasn’t worth the work or the unconfirmed fear that rain will cause the fabric to come off.

Wig – I bought the Pippin wig in Black (064) from Arda Wigs, but ran out of time to style and cut it to the appropriate length. I’ve already noticed that the Pippin wig needs to be resized before I do any other styling. I have a small head and the hair has a mind of its own. I also considered a wig from Epic Cosplay.


I wore my normal hair, which conveniently worked for all three costumes that weekend.


Make-up – I had a strange conversation with myself: How do I make myself look more than 50% Chinese without resorting to stereotypes and caricatures? As a rule, I don’t think people should restrict their cosplay because of ethnicity, but I do believe there is a line that can be crossed when you try to “become” a different race or ethnicity for a costume. Focus on the costume and the props. To the people worth building relationships with in the geek community, your natural skin color shouldn’t matter when you cosplay.

You can still take the stylistic elements of Mulan’s look for your cosplay- black wig, smooth black liquid liner, rosy cheeks, and pink lips. I used an Urban Decay black cream liner (“perversion” is the color) applied with an angled brush, Clinique Chubby Stick lip crayon in Curviest Carmel with some pink-mauve gloss and Clinique multicolor flower blush in Peony.

Sword – Self-drafted pattern based on movie animation, foam board, spray insulation foam, fast mache, plasti-dip, and spray paint. X-acto knives, sandpaper, and paint brushes were my only tools. Read the full tutorial and get the template here.


Medallion – Self-drafted pattern based on movie animation, craft foam, worbla, cardboard. I used a pendant loop, pierced through the heated worbla. “Chain” is a trim I bought at Joann’s. I bought about 1.5 yards and needed maybe half of that. Read the full tutorial and get the template here.


I will follow up with a more detailed construction post about the Sword and Medallion props. I want to provide the scans of those templates for you, but that will have to wait until after I move to our new home. I had so much fun as Mulan. I can’t wait to cosplay her again at GeekGirlCon in October! Here is a teaser photo to tide you over until our full Disney “Princess” photoshoot with Rockbomber Studio is ready:

Photo by Rockbomber Photography
Photo by Rockbomber

6 thoughts on “Costume Notes: Mulan

  1. This costume looks fantastic! You did a great job.

    I toooootally understand what you mean about getting emotional when trying on a dream costume for the first time. I had the same reaction when I finished and wore my Sailor Jupiter for the first time! It’s definitely one of the best things about cosplay.

  2. Love this so, so, so much! I have had similar thoughts/feelings re: Mulan and the Reflection song, so it was fun living vicariously through you and your cosplay. I think you did an amazing job and I can’t wait to see your prop posts!

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