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Questions to ask when ordering a mascot costume

An organization makes a significant investment when purchasing a mascot costume. However if the person in charge of ordering doesn’t know what to ask they may end up with a sub par costume.

When ordering a mascot costume, make sure to ask your sales representative the following questions:

  1. Have you ever been a mascot performer?
    • If they say “no” then you should take this into consideration. If they have never been a mascot performer then how will they know what’s best for your mascot performer? Will they be able to effectively convey to the production staff what works and doesn’t work? Do they even have a role in the design/production process? We’ve heard performers say of some company’s creations “It’s like they’ve never even worn a mascot costume.” Often times you have seamstresses or people with a fashion/clothing background producing and designing the suits.
    • If they say “yes” ask “How long ago?” Some companies do have former mascots on staff. However, some of them haven’t been working performers in years. They may be advocating outdated methods.
    • If they say “yes” ask “For who?” A corporate, theme park, or minor league mascot has a different experience and knowledge than a full time professional sports mascot performer.
      • At AMAZING!! Mascots our costumes are designed by veteran mascot performer Kelly Frank. She spent 5 seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays of Major League Baseball, three seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL, and has also been a mascot for Arena Football, Major League Soccer, the WNBA, minor league baseball, minor league hockey, NCAA Basketball, Division 1 NCAA Football, in addition to being a parade performer at Walt Disney World and a seasonal character for Universal Studios Florida. She is still an active mascot performer. She tests out every costume and makes sure they have the most vision, ventilation, and mobility that is allowed with the design.
  2. Is there a charge for artwork?
    • Most companies offer a free design service. Others do not. If there is a fee ask what it includes (how many revisions are allowed, will it be in color or black and white). Also ask if the design fee will be applied to the purchase price of the costume.
      • AMAZING!! Mascots offers a free design service. We provide a basic black and white pencil sketch to begin the process, and do revisions to the black and white sketch. Once it is approved we provide a color version of the character. We retain the rights to our concept art.
      • Pencil sketch

        Pencil sketch

        Color concept

        Color concept

  3. Will we own the rights to the character?
    • Many companies include the rights to the character with the purchase of the costume. Make sure to get this in writing and have your legal department look over the agreement.
    • Other companies charge for the rights to characters. This can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. The rights to the Phillie Phanatic were notoriously purchased for $250,000 five years after his debut after the team mistakenly passed on purchasing the rights for $1,200 when they first ordered the costumes.
      • AMAZING!! Mascots charges between $175-$2,000 for the rights to our original mascot designs. The fee is based off the type of organization (corporate, college/university, high school, minor league, major league). You can avoid this fee by coming to the process with an existing character.
  4. What material is the head made out of?
    • If they say “Fiberglass” you do not want this head. These heads are very heavy and prone to cracking. This is an outdated method of producing costume heads.
    • If they say “Paper Machie” you do not want this head. Water breaks down paper, and a performer’s sweat can damage the head. Additionally this type of head cannot be washed properly. It is an old and outdated method of producing mascot heads suited for hobbyists and cosplay, but not professionally made mascot costumes.
    • If they say “ABS Vacuformed plastic” this isn’t a bad option, but it comes with some negatives. Plastic heads are far heavier than foam heads (some weighing as much as 15 pounds!). The hard nature of the head can be a hazard. Our mascot designer gave two different people black eyes while wearing two different ABS plastic heads. From a performance standpoint they are limiting (can’t face plant into a wall/hockey glass/floor, can’t “kiss” fans, etc.). The seam where the two formed pieced are glued together is often a weak point that comes apart over time. Additionally helmets are often screwed into place. This creates a pressure point and causes  weakness in the head’s wall over time. Plastic heads are more difficult to repair than foam heads. This style of head is best for corporate or theme park characters. Often an organization will need multiples of these costumes, and vacu forming is a less expensive option. Also they are an exact duplicate every time. Since corporate and theme park characters aren’t as active, they don’t mind the lack of mobility.
    • If they say “upholstery foam” this is not ideal. Upholstery foam is “open celled foam” meaning it is porous and can retain sweat and moisture like a sponge. This can lead to the growth of bacteria or mold. It loses it’s shape over time and eventually (7+ years) will rot and crumble apart.
    • If they say “Ethafoam” this is a good option. Ethafoam is a rigid closed cell foam that can be carved for details. We have encountered issues with helmets detaching from ethafoam heads. Also if it is carved there may be an issue with creating exact duplicates as carving leads room for error.  We have found that most companies that use ethafoam  use metal mesh in the mouths to keep them open. This is a terrible idea. Over time the metal rusts due to the performer’s exhalations. The metal can also come detached from the face and expose jagged edges, like we found in this costume head. If you chose a producer who uses ethafoam make sure that they don’t use metal mesh in the mouth.
      • AMAZING!! Mascots uses microcell foam. This is a lightweight closed cell foam. It maintains it’s shape over time. Because it is closed cell it does not absorb sweat and does not break down over time. For some features we use open celled “filter foam.” We use this for cheeks, noses/beaks, and eyebrows. We only use it in places that will not come in contact with sweat. Occasionally we produce duplicates of existing costumes using filter foam. This is not our preferred method (filter foam does absorb sweat and will break down over time) but do it upon client request.
      • Micorcell foam

        Microcell foam

        Filter Foam

        Filter Foam

  5. How much do your heads normally weigh?
    • If they say “we don’t know” this means that they are not a company that takes the weight of the head (and the comfort/safety of the performer) into consideration when designing and building a mascot head. This is a red flag.
    • If they say “5-15 pounds” this is pretty heavy and is likely made of plastic or fiberglass. Heavy heads can lead to performer injury.
      • Our heads are designed to be around 2-3 pounds with our “heaviest” heads weighing in at 4.5 pounds. Considering that the helmet weighs 1/2-1 pounds, that’s pretty light!
  6. Is there a helmet inside the mascot head?
    • If they say “no” this is not ideal. A mascot head requires a helmet to respond best to the performer’s movements. A head that rests on the shoulder, uses under arm straps, or clips into place is uncomfortable for the performer to wear and severely limits movement. Instead of being a lively animated character the mascot often comes off as a stiff, Frankenstein moving “guy in a costume.”
    • If they say “yes” ask what type. Baseball helmets offer a nice cushiony but tight fit. But the inner foam can absorb sweat and break down over use. Construction helmets are used, but don’t offer a great chin strap system.
      • We use lightweight street hockey helmets. We have found these to offer the best fit at the lightest weight. However we encourage your performer to find a helmet that fits them and that they like best and send it to us to install in the head. 
  7. Where is the vision in the head?
    • If they say “eyes” ask how much of the eye is see through. Some companies only make the black/iris of the eye see through. For best eye vision make sure that all of the area is see though.
    • See through eyes

      See through eyes

    • If they say “mouth” tell them to make sure it has as much peripheral vision as possible. This will be limited by the design. Also a lower jaw will limit the vision. You want as much vision as possible and may have to compromise on the look of the design to achieve this.
    • Wide open mouth

      Wide open mouth

    • If they say “neck” ask if it’s a sewn in screen or if it’s athletic mesh. A sewn in screen can be pretty obvious in a character and show up as a darker circle. Athletic mesh that has yarn crocheted into it hides it a little bit better. This method is best used in characters with longer fur. Vision through the neck takes some getting used to and can be less sanitary if you have multiple performers.
    • Neck vision

      Neck vision

      • We use all three vision options. The option chosen depends on the final design.
  8. Does the head have any vents?
    • If they say “no” this means they are a company that does not take the performer’s comfort into consideration.
      • We put a vent at the top of the mascot head. Hot air rises so we find it is the best place to put it. We sometimes put additional vents by the character’s ears.
  9. Do you put a fan in the head?
    • If they say “yes” that’s nice. Ask if it pulls air inside the costume or sucks stale air out. Fans work best in low impact corporate characters that stand around in one place.
      • We DO NOT put fans in mascot heads. Our experience with fans is that they ALWAYS break. The wires become disconnected and the battery terminals rust over time. They create noise which hinders the performer’s safety. We have also seen a fan become detached while on and cut the performers head. If you insist we will install one for an additional fee.
      • Broken, as usual

        Broken, as usual

  10. Is the neck attached to the head?
    • If they say yes, ask if it can be removed. Necks soak up a lot of sweat. It’s best if they can be detached from the head and washed.
      • We build our necks to the client’s specification but strive to make them detachable. Some designs do not allow for detachable necks. We also offer costumes with the neck built into the body (tucks into the head) or with necks that are attached to lycra hoodies. Hoodie necks allow the bottom of the mascot head to remain open creating maximum airflow.
  11. Is the costume body lined?
    • If they say “no” this is not ideal. The fur can be pulled out from behind. The friction caused by wearing an unlined suit will accelerate this. However unlined suits are slightly lighter.’
    • If they say “yes” ask what it’s lined with. Some lining just adds unnecessary weight/heat to the costume. We’ve seen suits lined with thick cotton fabric and even quilt padding!
      • We use lightweight athletic mesh to line our costumes.  We find that this adds to the life of the fur body while adding a minimal amount of weight.
      • Lined mascot body

        Lined mascot body

  12. Can the hands detach from the costume?
    • If they say “no” this is not ideal. Hands are the highest wear part of the costume. They get dirty and worn out faster than the rest of the suit. Buying a new pair of hands/gloves is less expensive than having to send your entire mascot body back to have the old hands removed and new hands attached.
      • Our hands are connected with velcro and snaps. We make our hands detachable so they are easy to wash and less expensive to replace. We make them connect with snaps and velcro so they are less likely to get misplaced.
  13. Can the feet detach from the costume?
    • See above entry for hands.
  14. What is the average lifespan of the different fur options?
    • If they say “what??” then they have not been testing fur for it’s durability and are likely using whatever fur they see fit, or is cheapest.
      • We can let you know the expected lifespan of your fur options. We have been observing and testing fur for years. We make note of the different fibers, thicknesses, and asses their lasting powers. Basic shag fur, for example, has a short lifespan and needs to be replaced more frequently. We prefer to use deluxe long pile fur and plush fur options.
  15. Is the costume machine washable?
    • If they say “no” do you really want this costume? A costume that needs to be hand cleaned, or taken to a specialty cleaner will take up a lot of time and resources. As a result the costume often ends up going unwashed and gets smelly fast. Also dry cleaning just sprays a layer of chemicals on the costume and is not an effective cleaning method.
      • Our costumes are machine washable. However you must use a machine without an agitator. An agitator can/will tear the costume. Our heads are washable by hand.
  16. Do the feet/sneakers have internal straps so the performer can secure their own shoes inside?
    • If they say “no” this is not ideal. Feet that are worn as “slipper” do not offer optimal arch support or responsiveness.
      • Our feet are built with straps to secure the performer’s own shoes inside. We find that this allows for the best mobility and foot support. Our feet are also built to be lightweight and durable. We can even make the cover detach from the base for easy washing.
      • Shoe strap system

        Shoe strap system

  17. How do you make your mascot bellies?
    • If they say “foam sandwiched between mesh” this works, but we have found it to make the costumes unnecessarily hot.
      • Our bellies are made out of athletic mesh and five to eight 1/4 inch pvc tubes. We do not use foam to pad out bellies as we find that it makes the costume much hotter and does not add to the character’s over all shape.
      • Get in my belly

        Get in my belly

  18. Do you offer any annual maintenance with the costume purchase?
    • Most companies do not offer annual maintenance with your purchase, and some charge up to $400 for a cleaning!
      • We offer a free annual cleaning with minor repairs for the life of the costume! You just pay shipping to and from the studio. We deep clean the costume and fix any tears we see. If we assess that the costume needs advanced repairs (zipper replacement, knees patches, hands replaced, etc.) we will give you a written estimate and will only make repairs if approved. We find this service valuable to keep our characters looking their best. We want you to have an AMAZING!! Mascot for years!

If you can think of any questions we didn’t answer here, or would like more information on ordering a mascot costume, please feel free to contact us using the form below:

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How much does your mascot head weigh?

Is your mascot head a literal pain in your neck? Have you ever weighed it?

When we produced a new costume head for the Brockton Rox we put it on our shipping scale to find out how much it weighed. It came in at a meager 2.5 pounds.

custom mascot costume

The head for the Greeneville Astros, constructed differently and larger in size came in just under 3.5 pounds.

Custom mascot costume

Gizmo

We just shipped out our latest custom mascot costume which was a duplicate of an existing design. The large (by our standards) head weighed in at 4.5 pounds a 25% decrease in weight from the previous manufacturer. Despite the decrease, we wanted it to be even lighter.

Curious about head weight, we polled our social media followers and asked them how many pounds their current heads were. We were shocked to hear that some heads weighed as much as 15 pounds! And we were upset about 4.5!

When you’re ordering a mascot costume ask them how much their heads normally weigh. If they don’t have an answer, chances are it’s not something they generally consider nor is it something they are striving to improve. For some terrible reason, a lot of mascot producers feel that bigger is better. Nothing could be farther from the truth. When it comes to the weight of mascot heads ounces add up and make a significant difference. Things such as the type of helmet, foam, and fur all add or detract from weight.

The great thing about ordering a custom costume from AMAZING!! Mascots is I’m the person designing your costume. My name is Kelly Frank and I’ve been wearing mascot costumes since 1998. I spent five seasons as Raymond for the Tampa Bay Rays and three seasons as Thunderbug for the Tampa Bay Lightning. I’ve also been a mascot for Major League Soccer, the WNBA, the NBA (backup), Arena Football, minor league baseball, minor league hockey, NCAA Basketball, a division I University, and I’ve been a Halloween performer for Universal Studios as well as a parade puppeteer for Walt Disney World. I also worked in the costumed character department at Universal Studio’s islands of Adventure repairing costume.

I’ve worn suits made by every major manufacturer and found most of them to be hot, heavy, and were unimaginatively designed. I feel the issue is the people designing the suits were never mascot performers themselves. They look at a costume design from a fashion or graphic design perspective. I cannot design your wedding dress, or create a wonderful merchandise ready graphic, but I can design a highly functional LIGHTWEIGHT and unique mascot. I know what elements will and won’t translate into a foam and fur costume.

So when you’re ready to order your new custom mascot costume, don’t get a big head. Save yourself a giant pain in the neck and go with a performer friendly designer, like AMAZING!! Mascots.