EDITOR’S NOTE: There are a lot of general cosplay tips here, especially but not limited to those who want to cosplay Victorian-inspired works like Black Butler, so it’s definitely worth a read even if you aren’t cosplaying Grell. Thanks, S!
Hello there! I’m here to do a guest post breakdown of Grell’s outfit from Black Butler! I’m a costume design major and cosplayer with 5 years experience and was asked by Jenni to help on the Grell post. You can just call me S. for now!
Grell is a character who is full of little details that people either miss or ignore, which really degrades the value of Yana Toboso’s design. This is not a character for beginners, especially if you want a near-perfect cosplay right out of the gate. I’ve spent a lot of time working on my own Grell cosplay, and right now am in the process of updating it. My research draws inspiration from the manga, the musical stage show, and the anime, in that order. I will be talking about techniques and details used in all three, but ultimately it is up to you to decide what details you want to incorporate into your costume.
With that said, let’s start with the very basics! The first layer!
This includes the white undershirt and black pants. It should be noted that to Victorians the white dress shirt was seen as an undergarment, and therefore should be covered by a waistcoat (vest here in the USA, I use both terms interchangeably) and a tie. The tie should cover the top button of your shirt (which should be buttoned all the way).
Now, let’s discuss the collar. In the musical, Grell’s actor is given what is know as a wing collar. It is cut so that it has two small points that bend down over the necktie. This is a staple of the Victorian wardrobe, and what I personally recommend. However, in Yana’s original art for the manga, Grell has a high mandarin collar, it almost looks like a regular fold-down collar turned up. I have used both for various incarnations of my own Grell cosplay, and much prefer the wing collar. When buying a shirt, you should measure the length of your neck and add an inch to that, giving you the size collar to purchase, as they are sold by the neck circumference. Remember that you will be buttoning the top button, so try to get something big enough to not choke you!
Grell’s shirt does not have pleats. This can be a bit hard to find sometimes in an arrow collar shirt, but not impossible. I was lucky enough to find one on ebay without pleats and with a hidden button panel for about $25. I personally like the panel because Yana often draws Grell with a simple line from the collar down the shirt without indication of any buttons. If you should find one with exposed buttons, that can work as your tie will hide them for the most part, however make sure the buttons are white or clear, black buttons will not work. Those are meant for black-tie tuxedos.
Be sure that your cuffs are tight, and that the shirt sleeves are relatively sized to your arm correctly. It should be noted that many shirts are sold with open cuffs meant for cufflinks. These often make it hard to fit into the coat sleeves, but if you can manage it, get a simple pair of cheap cufflinks off eBay or sew matching buttons onto the cuff so that you can fasten them. I used two bronze skull shank buttons on mine for a little added panache, based on some art of Grell in the Rainbow Butler II Anthology.
Now we move onto the pants. There are a few major mistakes many Grell cosplayers make when doing the pants: (1) Getting poorly fitted pants, (2) Using black jeans/skinny jeans, and (3) Using cheap polyester pants.
Your pants should be slim fit, as in they are cut close to the leg but still have enough room to breathe. They flatter the body and give a more defined silhouette. Grell does not have front pants pleats (these should be reserved for a more uptight character like William). While there are lines down the front of the pants in much of Yana’s art, the way they sit on the legs keep me from suggesting pleats. If you do they shouldn’t be very rigid, opt for a softer fold. However, you should get a decent pair of men’s dress pants for any of the reaper’s costumes. These can be found easily at your local department store for anywhere to $20 to $30 depending on brand. They should be made from a relatively thick, sturdy material (but not denim!) like any pair of business dress pants. Make sure that they have belt loops and I advise pockets for your own convenience.
Do not for any reason use jeans or casual pants for any of the Black Butler characters unless doing the Making Of OVA or any of Yana’s modern fashion art such as the fashion plates that come with the Japanese DVDs.
When I say cheap polyester pants, I refer to the flimsy things that are often packaged with pre-bought Chinese cosplays off eBay. These are poorly made, have no weight, and are usually very shiny in photographs. You would be much better off buying a decent pair the first time round so that you have them for any future cosplays. As a note, everyone should have a white dress shirt and black pants as a cosplay basic in their supplies.
If you have more money to spend, Gentleman’s Emporium sells Victorian recreation clothing such as shirts and pants. However they carry a hefty price and often the details they have would not be seen or needed in your cosplay. Yana also plays very fast and loose with the period; so having clothing matching down to a T would be inaccurate to the original design.
Grell wears what are known as sleeve garters, you often see the satiny crinkle cut ones on saloon owners in westerns. Because shirts usually came in only a few sizes in the Victorian era unless you were wealthy enough to afford custom clothing, sleeve garters were worn to hold the sleeves in place and close to your arms. Grell’s are basically two black belts with small silver buckles. These can be made from black elastic sewn to fit your bicep and buckles bought at a craft store. You could also fashion actual belts from leather or pleather. I had known someone who used leather dog collars for theirs, and while I do not approve of that, you may find it useful as a last resort.
Yana had drawn Grell with a grommet belt for the promotional art of the reapers in Kuromyu T-shirts, however she recently included it in a picture of Grell’s reaper outfit so I am adding it here as well. It is a black (sometimes reddish brown looking, I suggest black) two-row silver grommet belt. These are easily acquired on eBay or any Hot Topic. (Editor’s note – I have one that was $10 at Walmart)
Grell’s bow tie is a western tie. It’s a simple strip of fabric or ribbon tied in a bow around the neck. In the musicals it is a ribbon, but Yana’s art in the manga make it seem like it is made from fabric. I used fabric for mine, but ribbon can work just as well. However, there are some notes on the actual tying.
The musical tie is pre-tied so that it has a perfect bow; the manga looks hand tied. The anime simplifies it so that it looks pre-tied but it could be either. I used a pre-tied one because in my opinion, it looks more proper. I had used a hand tied one in my Grell Mach 1 but found that it came undone too easy, looked too messy (even for Grell) and really didn’t look like a bow so much as a pile of ribbons tied about my neck.
As for the tie’s print, it is a red white candy stripe with thin pinstripes. I wouldn’t use a fabric or ribbon with thick red stripes because that will make you look like a circus clown. Also be sure to get white with red stripes and not red with white stripes, you might think those would mean the same thing, but they are different. One can look and tell which is which! I would be sure that you have enough stripes on the tie: Yana usually draws four or five stripes on each part of the tie save the knot which may have two or three. The musical has at least 8 stripes on the tie, making it look pink when viewed from far away. Another difference between the musical and the manga or anime is that the edge of the musical tie is red while the manga/anime ends on white. I used white on mine but red also looks good. It’s important to note the way the print lines up on the tie. The pinstripes are horizontal on the bows, and vertical on the knot and tails, any other way will look ridiculous.
Further, the length of the actual bow differs from manga/anime to the second musical and its rerun. In the anime and manga, the bows reach a bit past the lapels of the vest, they are quite long and a bit floppy, pointing downwards. In the first musical this is also the case, and it hangs about loosely on Uehara Takuya’s neck. The second musical and the re-run use a more standard bow size, which is what I ended up doing. There are different types of bow shapes that could work, the standard bow and the straight bow. The knot in the musical is a neat square and the manga is a bit messier, but never a round knot because you cannot see the pinstripes well with that.
Things not to do for the tie: sew red ribbon onto white fabric, draw red stripes on white fabric with a pen, or use a clip-on. Fabric or ribbon is typically cheaply available and looks a million times better. Also, when measuring for the tie band, wear the white collar shirt while measuring your neck to fit properly!
Grell’s shoes change a bit through the manga in terms of the heel. In Yana’s art for the character sheet the heels are somewhat thick and about four to five inches tall. However by the time the Campania arc rolls around they get thinner and about six inches tall. The shoes are two-tone red-black with a half-brogue along the vamp. The boots reach at least two or above the ankle and have black inverted-V lacing. Yana’s originally had black lining along the lacing grommets but this isn’t shown anymore. I would not suggest booties that cut off below the ankle because you can see Grell’s boots extend past the ankle. If you must, please wear black socks and not red. Many wear red to give the illusion of being longer, but it will only clash. Red socks should only be shown with Rookie Grell.
This is all about what is available to you and what you feel comfortable wearing. There are a line of shoes by Pleaser which are common for Grell cosplayers. The FLORA-1023, which are about 3 inches tall, reach the ankle, and have black snap buttons along the side to close. These are good for those who are not comfortable in higher heels and on a budget, as these usually run about $50. Also from Pleaser are the TEMPT-126, which has 4 1/2″ heels with a hidden platform in the ball of the foot, giving you heels that look about 5″. These retail for about $85 to $95 and reach the knee. Both have a full-brogue and are already red and black, and the TEMPT-126 lace with red ribbon, which should be swapped out with black boot lace.
If you are a male wanting to wear female-sized shoes, a basic rule of thumb is that your male shoe size is two sizes below your female size. For example, I wear a size 10 US male and a size 12 US female. East Asian countries use a unisex shoe size chart, in which case a male US 10 is about a 45/45 1/2″.
Alternately, you may choose to buy black shoes and paint the red. You should buy red leather shoe paint and consult an online tutorial for painting shoes. If you do not do this right the paint will crack and chip an hour or two after wearing. Make sure the shoes you buy are made out of leather and not patent leather (the shiny, glossy kind) or another material that takes well to paint.
In the Campania arc you can clearly see the lines where Grell’s shoes have been assembled. The red is built into the shoe and made of the same material as the black. The musical uses a sort of boot covers that are a bit like red spats. I don’t prefer this though. The lacing on the musical shoes are simple X’s as opposed to the upside-down V shapes.
I would avoid buying Chinese-made shoes. While the heels may be nice, the actual shoes leave much to be desired and are usually cheaply made. They will fall apart!
The gloves are black leather, but pleather works just as well. You can get them for anything from $6 to $30 on eBay. Do not get black costume gloves, and please for the love of all things holy do not get spandex gloves. Try a pair in a smaller hand size than your own with a thin lining, Grell’s hands are pretty thin and the gloves should reflect that to keep your fingers from looking to bulky when striking the “DEATH☆” pose. I would also suggest a short cuff to keep from jamming on your sleeves, but the musical has longer glove cuffs and seems to work fine; it’s something you have to experiment with. If they have knuckle-lines, that makes them even better. In the musical rerun the gloves seem to have patches of leather and patches of stretch-cotton, almost like isotoner gloves, but I wouldn’t suggest this, it looks better from afar on stage. Also do not get finger-only gloves (think what Lady Gaga wears) as these are better suited for Madame Red.
The wallet chain (the chain that sits on the hip) is silver in the anime, but gold and black in every other piece of media. It is made with black beads (most likely glass, but plastic are lighter and work in a pinch) with gold floral findings around the left and right of the beads and gold chain between them. There are about four beads on the top and bottom of the chain for 8 total. I used lobster clasps on each end to hook to either the belt loops or the grommets. You could also use it to actually hook a wallet but it might look a bit uneven. The size of the beads and length of the chain will vary from cosplayer to cosplayer. You may opt for bronze than gold on the chain and findings.
There are two main options for the glasses chains, the anime style and manga style. The manga style is the skulls with the rings in the mouths (like doorknockers) with 4 small beads followed by a larger one then 4 more small beads and repeat. This is the style I used, with 3mm plastic black beads for the small and 6mm for the large ones. The anime and musical promo shots use a simple black bead chain with silver links between the small black beads. Chains like this can be found in Wal-Marts and craft stores. The musical used black rope attached to the skull rings, most likely for visibility, and the original musical used a sort of combination of the manga and anime chains, with small beads and links connected to larger beads. The skulls are silver, I used pewter skulls for mine, but there are some pieces of art with white skulls. I would recommend silver personally, unless you have a silver allergy. Use a solid ring, not a key ring, for the skull mouths and black rubber glasses chain connectors. I would try to find skull charms with O-rings attached to the top of the cranium of the skull for easy attachment.
Variations: Yana drew art of alternate versions of the chains for the anime. I have also seen cosplayers use red beads for different versions of Grell such as the opera dress.
The glasses themselves according to Yana are red plastic. The musical uses a sort of translucent red which I prefer to a solid red plastic. In my opinion, the solid red plastic looks too fake and cartoon-y for cosplay; but this is all at your discretion. Choose a darker red, or it will turn out orange in photos.
The shape of the glasses are of some debate: the anime has a sort of pentagonal shape with points on the bottom that some cosplayers emulate, however this is merely the anime’s style of drawing glasses and not a reflection of the actual shape. You want a thin, rounded rectangle. Too big will look like hipster glasses and too thin will look like a crimson Ben Franklin. Try different glasses out, you can usually find a pair of reading glasses at a dollar store. The shape also seems to change between the Jack the Ripper and Campania arcs (as Grell’s glasses were busted by Sebastian) so you want to work with that. The post-Campania glasses seem a bit rounder, but they aren’t drastically different.
If you do not have a prescription I suggest punching out the lenses. Grell’s glasses are worn on the bottom of the bridge of the nose (unlike the other Reapers who wear them properly. Like the line in the musical: “Your all-important glasses are crooked again!”) but even so you will shift them up your face walking about a convention and you don’t want your vision impaired. Some cosplayers say that lens-less glasses are fine in photoshoots but personally I like the reflection that they provide, so I have two pairs of identical glasses, one with and one without lenses for con and photoshoot. This is up to you and based on your budget.
The arms of the glasses shouldn’t be so wide as to stretch the chain connectors, so try to get some with small to medium width arms.
Grell’s vest is a halter cut, meaning that it shows in the front and the lapels/collar wraps around the
neck with an exposed back. Grell’s has a panel (maybe two) in the back with a single adjuster belt with a gold buckle (it could also be silver, but I’m going with gold). The waistcoat is a walnut/chocolate brown with 5 black, possibly very very dark brown, buttons. I would recommend either fabric covered shanks or or fancy metal buttons instead of typical plastic eyed buttons, those will look juvenile. The bottom of the vest is a straight cut with an angle up to the buttons (see picture). Do not get a standard vest bottom cut, this works for Sebastian but not Grell. The lapels are black and either a light peak or notched depending on the art work, usually notched. Sebastian’s are shawl lapels and some pre-made Grell cosplays use the same pattern for the Sebastian vest as the Grell one, which makes it incorrect. The neck hole of the vest reaches down to about the bottom of the ribcage. There are two darts on the sides of the front reaching about to the edge of the ribcage from the bottom. The back of the vest is again exposed, a halter cut, but the back panel(s) have a soft downward point to them (see picture). In some art Yana draws it with a simple round cut like Sebastian’s, and in her notes says “it curves in a circle”. I had my adjuster belt sewn in for look, as it is already fitted to me without needing to be tightened.
In the musical the vest is a floral Jacquard – a textured, raised weave fabric common in period vests. While this works well on stage it can be a bit loud in person. A solid fabric will work, but you can also find vest material with subtle patterns and weaves that would give your cosplay some character. It should be noted that Jacquard and damask fabrics are usually very shiny and that is a no-no in most costumes.
The lapels are notched, however the bottom point does seem to stick out more than the top similar to a peak lapel in the first chapter the vest is shown, in later chapters, they are consistently notched. This would be the best option in my opinion, too exaggerated a peak would be too over the top, even for Grell. The lapels are not shawl lapels like Sebastian’s, but again many pre-made Grell cosplays use shawl lapels because the same pattern for Sebastian’s vest is used on Grell’s.
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