Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How to Get Started in Cosplay

Cosplay: The art of portraying a character through the creative use of costumes.

Okay. You've seen a ton of awesome cosplays floating around the internet, at conventions, or you just love all those amazing costumes in movies, video games, etc., and you're dying to get in on the cosplaying action yourself. That's why I'm here: to show you all the ins and outs of getting started in cosplay by making your very first costume!

NOTE: If you're looking for a pre-made (or mostly premade) costume, Etsy and Cosplay Sky are two of the best places I've found online to buy high quality, screen-accurate costumes.

>     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >    Step One: Choose a Costume

Probably the easiest part of the entire process, the beginning of every cosplay begins with choosing a character, and then choose a costume worn by said character. You probably already have an idea swimming around in your head -- perfect! Choose that one.

One helpful tip regarding this decision: it's best not to choose something *too* challenging or intricate for your first endeavor. Try to let the costume match your skill set.  So, let's say you want to cosplay Iron Man... unless you're really ambitious, maybe pare the idea down a little and go for cosplaying Tony Stark instead -- that way, you can just make an arm of the Iron Man suit to complete the look!

Here's the thing: no matter how easy your costume is to make, as long as you look good, you will be pleased with the finished product and your audience will be impressed. It's better to do something too easy than too hard -- at least for your first costume. Then, as your costume-making skills and abilities grow, you can begin to stretch them farther and farther to make super duper complex costumes.

>     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >   Step Two: Begin Planning

Though you might want to just jump right in and have at it, making a game plan for your costume will make everything much simpler and faster in the long run.

This process should include:

- Gathering reference photos. Scour the internet for the best high-resolution photos of the costume that you can find. Posters, movie stills, even toy versions of the character provide invaluable reference to help you in your build. I've found the best way to store these photos is to pin them all to a good ol' Pinterest board, designated for that express purpose.

- Making a list of everything you'll need to buy. You might be surprised by just how many things you'll need to buy to create your costume (and how much those things can cost), so it's important to have a pretty good idea of what you'll be needing to purchase. This will also make the next part of the process much easier.

- Creating a budget + calculating the cost of the costume. Now, your budget doesn't have to be calculated down to the last cent -- somewhere within $10 of the actual price is a good place to start. And since you've already made your list of things you need to buy, just add up the average cost of all those items and you're all set to go!

- Drawing sketches of the costume. This one is optional, but I highly recommend it if you're planning on making any major alterations to the original costume. It also helps you get a better idea of all the different aspects of the costume, since you have to draw each one.

- Deciding where you want to wear the finished costume. You might already know this, but if not, start thinking. It's so depressing to have created an awesome costume, only to realize you have no where to wear it. I recommend movie premieres, fandom conventions, or just a photoshoot as the best opportunities to do so.

>     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     Step Three: Research + Purchase Materials

So, now that you've got a pretty good idea of where you're going with your cosplay, start researching online and in brick-and-mortar stores for the things you'll need to buy -- which you've already made a list of! ;)

If you're looking for a few pre-made items, such as boots or weapons (the things that look best when store bought and screen-accurate versions can be easily found), the best places to start your search are Amazon, Ebay, Etsy, and your local thrift stores -- you'd be surprised by how perfect some of the second-hand items are for cosplay, plus they can lower your budget considerably.

Here are a few online stores that I've found to be perfect for finding great sewing materials, which will most likely take a large part in making your costume:

- Fabric, craft foam, notions, etc:
   ~ Fabric.com
   ~ Jo-Ann
   ~ Hancock Fabrics

- Sewing Patterns:
   ~ Simplicity
   ~ McCall
   ~ Butterick

>     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >    >     >  Step Four: Accessorize

This is such a fun and integral part of creating costumes that sometimes can be overlooked. Here are the main accessories that you'll be needing to get to complete your costumed look:

- Weapons. Does your character carry a weapon, and the place you're planning on wearing the costume at would accept you carrying that weapon?  Definitely consider making or buying one to carry and pose with you while you cosplay -- it'll add a special touch to your costume. AmazonBUDK and Medieval Collectibles are great places to start your search for these if you want to buy them.

- Footwear. Never go with sneakers or flipflops just because they're easy -- they'll ruin everything of the costume that you worked so hard on! Thrift stores are a great place to find shoes that you'll only be wearing a few times, and you won't feel bad altering a pair that only cost you $5. A note about characters that go barefoot: You will probably want to create a pair of "invisible shoes" (tutorial by "...And Sewing is Half the Battle!").

- Wigs. Now, I have a more lenient opinion on wigs than other cosplayers, but that's just because wigs can so often make a costume look worse rather than better, unless you want to fork out the $30-$80 for a high quality, synthetic, lace-front wig. With that in mind, it might be better to completely forego buying a wig and just go with your natural hair, styled like the character's as best you can. But, if you do want to buy a wig, Arda Wigs has rave reviews, and eBay can have some pretty good finds.

- Prosthetics. I've found that Aradani Costumes is the absolute best place for high-quality, inexpensive prosthetics, which can add a convincing touch to your cosplay and make people look twice. "Wait, did that girl have pointy ears??" ;)

>     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     Step Five: Create Your Costume

Now that you've got all the necessary materials necessary to make your intended design, it's time to put your sewing and crafting skills to the test!

Here's a few extremely helpful links to get you started in your crafting.

12 Things You Need to Start Sewing (Fab Grandma)
Craft Foam Armor Tutorial (Penwiper Unlimited)
Foam Board Weapons Tutorial (Fire Lily Cosplay)

Let me tell you something crucial for this step: Google is your friend. Don't know how to do something? GOOGLE IT. Chances are pretty good that someone else has made the same costume before you and wrote about their process of doing so. Reading about their build can be extremely helpful for your own, and they may have even made some how-tos for the creation of some of the more difficult parts of the costume. Plus, if you have a question about the costume, they might be able to answer it! Many cosplayers are very open to helping others with their costumes. You can also check out the RPF, which is a great place to find answers from experienced hobbyists.

>     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     >     > Step Six: Have fun!

You've sewn, crafted and bought everything for your costume, and now it's finally time to put it all together and show it off!! Enjoy literally stepping into your character's shoes for a day. :D

And with that, you've completed your very first cosplay. Bravo, and congratulations!!!
If you followed my little guide to make your first costume, post a link to it in the comments below so I can see your wonderful handiwork. :)

P.S. Let me tell you: if you don't think your cosplay turned out perfectly, don't worry, because I promise that you will only get better from here on out. Also, never compare your cosplays to others -- only compare them to your previous work. That way, you will only see the improvement in costuming, and you'll only be inspired to keep getting better. ^_^


  1. I like where you said, "wigs can so often make a costume look worse rather than better". . so true! Very well written tutorial! Dr. Impson would be proud! :)

  2. This is a cool post. :] I shall be coming back to it at some undetermined point in the future. ;]

  3. AMAZING post - super helpful!

    - Ellie

  4. oooooooooh lovely lovely lovely! I am planning to Cosplay the 11th Doctor! I have the bowtie, tweed jacket and black slacks.. I just need boots and suspenders! =D

  5. This is so helpful! Thank you! :)

  6. Hello! Thanks for this, it's super helpful! :)
    One thing I've been wondering: What if I have a cosplay idea that I want to wear to a convention, but it's something very few people would recognize? Is it still fun as long as you like it yourself?

    1. I hope you don’t mind if I answer your question! I recently cosplayed as a Pokémon and was only recognized by one person. Even though people didn’t know what I was, they still complimented my costume. I think one of the best parts of a con is the experience!

  7. But if your character wears flipflops, is it okay then to wear them too?