Five Questions With Kass McGann

Kass McGann

1. First off, tell us more about yourself and what you do!

My name is Kass McGann and I’ve been doing studying and replicating historical clothing for about 20 years. In 2003, I started the sewing pattern company in order to share this information with other people. Since then I’ve also published nearly 20 e-books that describe the clothing from various places and time periods and how to wear it.

2. What’s your favorite thing about Japan?

When I was studying at Doshisha University in Kyoto, and I was reading The Tale of Genji for school, I could walk down the same streets as the characters in the book did. And that really affected me. The way that ancient things live next door to modern things and it’s not at all weird. When I lived in Kyoto, it was very common to see Geisha dancing to modern music at the Maharaja disco in Gion. Or a yakimo salesman peddling his snacks outside a totally modern office building. In the West, we’re all about preserving things and keeping them separate. In Japan (and Kyoto in particular), the past is right there with you, everyday. It’s a part of everything.

Do you have a favorite anime?

I do! I was really into “Ranma 1/2” when it was just out, back in the day. Something about it just appealed to me. I also was an aficionado of “Oh My Goddess”.

3. What was it about historical costuming that got you hooked? Was there a particular outfit or historic clothing trend that got you hooked?

It was. There is a dress in the National Museum of Ireland called the Shinrone Gown. It was found in Shinrone, County Tipperary in 1847 and dates to the late 16th or early 17th century. No one knows anything about who wore it or who made it, and at that point (1995), no one had studied it extensively. I spent the next three or four summers flying back and forth to Ireland to examine it. In that time, I didn’t just learn about 16th-century Irish clothing making. Or even dyeing and weaving. I learned about the culture that produced the woman who wore that gown, what was important to them, and a little about what was important to her. Without anyone trying to make it do so, this garment told the story of a life. It told about her changing circumstances, her pregnancies, the changes happening in Ireland during her lifetime, lots of things you wouldn’t expect to find out from a piece of clothing. And that’s when I realized that one of the rare things that ties us to the past is that we all wear clothes. And those clothes protect us as well as let us show off who we are. And they tell stories. They wear us! That connection to the past really charmed me. That’s why I approach historical reconstructions a bit religiously. It’s important to get it right because you are honoring a real person of the past by doing so. And as someone who likes to dress up and pretend to be someone else on the weekends, I realized how essential costume is to that, not just because it’s the thing that makes you look right, but it’s the thing that makes you feel right. Even when the costume is fantasy, it is still an essential element of who I’m trying to be.

4. Can you tell us more about one of the panels you’ll be presenting this year?

Yes! I’m doing a costume construction panel called “What Makes That Shape”. It’s about how to look at an outfit and figure out what kinds of pieces you will need to make your costume look like that. It’s a technique we use in historical replica making when we don’t have an original garment to examine so we’re basing out reconstructions on portraits and illustrations. There’s a world of difference between what a circular skirt and a multi-paneled skirt looks like in terms of shape, and this method can help costumers figure out what they need to make without a lot of trial and error. It saves a lot of time and material. And I think it will be of great use to the attendees at Anime USA for their future projects.

5. Finally, what are you most excited for at Anime USA?

The Ball! This year I made sure I didn’t have any panels that conflicted with the Formal Ball. So I’m going to be out there cutting up the rug!

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