The WWAC Guide for New Cosplayers

Elements of Cosplay Style gown

Welcome to our summer cosplay series! For the month of July, WWAC’s Lifestyle section will be featuring articles on a variety of cosplay issues, from getting started in cosplay to issues of race and gender in cosplay. We started with Lindsey’s “Fail Better” about cosplaying when you have anxiety and body image issues. In this piece, KM and her friend Julie A. share some tips for getting started cosplaying once you have jumped over the often intimidating beginning line.

Cosplayers. They crop up at conventions, midnight releases, and comic book stores like daffodils in spring. You’ve admired them from afar as they prance around in character, posing for pictures and sometimes even becoming highly gif-able Internet sensations (I’m looking at you Deadpool cosplayers). You may have always imagined becoming one of these costumed champions, thinking it an impossible dream. But what if it wasn’t so impossible after all?

The truth is, even the most complex, film-set-level cosplays all boil down to a few key elements: determination, creativity, and good planning. I talked to my friend and long-time cosplayer, Julie A., and together we compiled some tips and tricks for aspiring cosplayers wondering where to start.

Kelly K Cassidy Cosplay, Thought Bubble
Our own Kelly K. doing Cassidy from Preacher Cosplay at the 2014 Thought Bubble UK Con.

Getting Started

The best thing you can do when working on a costume is to get started early. This will give you plenty of time to thoroughly plan your outfit, create a budget, and get all the components you need. The last thing you want is to be waiting for that wig you ordered or hunting for the perfect shoes the day of your convention. Cosplay can also get expensive, so create a budget and purchase your costume in parts. This will be much easier on your wallet than shopping for everything at once. A tip from Julie:

“Due to past mistakes and disasters, I spend an obnoxiously long time budgeting. I have a folder of twenty cosplays, each with somewhere between two and twelve links of references/items/tutorials. Once I finally commit to a cosplay, I research the hell of it so I have a ballpark range of money. I’m planning to cosplay Peridot, my first in over a year, so I am going all-out. After three hours of research, it’ll cost roughly $75 over the course of four months!

Choosing a Character

Like Julie, I keep a running list of characters I’d like to cosplay in order of difficulty and materials required. I tend to favor simpler cosplays of characters that resemble me (which is admittedly easier for a white person than a POC due to the limited range of POC characters), but that doesn’t mean you need to spend hours searching for your doppelganger. Wigs and makeup work magic, so use them! That said, for new cosplayers, I suggest a costume that won’t require much that you can’t find at your local Goodwill. Human or human-appearing characters in casual dress can be a good place to start. But once you’re more comfortable costuming, don’t be afraid to get creative. There are no authenticity police judging you on how closely your costume resembles the original character, so spice it up! Princess Thor? Zombie Ripley? Steampunk Commander Shepard? Pinup Snow White? Bring it on.

Photo by True Blue Spark & Mech Turtle
True Blue Spark (L) as Steven Universe and our own Jamie Kingston cosplaying as Garnet.

Creating Your Costume

For a long time, my inability to work a sewing machine deterred me from cosplaying. But while it’s helpful to know how to sew, it’s not at all necessary. Take a stroll through your closet, your parents’ attic, or your local thrift shop to find what you need, and stock up on carpet tape and fabric glue. Again, the best thing you can do is start early and budget. You’ll also want to collect loads of reference images. This will help you know what kind of material you’re shopping for even if you aren’t sticking straight to the character. When compiling your cosplay, you should:

  • Consider the weight, breathability, and flexibility of all materials you use. That thick velvet cape or tight leather corset may look good on the hanger, but I guarantee it will not feel good after five hours in a convention hall with hundreds of other people.
  • Break big suits down into small pieces. This is good for travel as well as physical mobility.
  • Use lightweight material for any props, and, if possible, break large props into small pieces so that you can carry them in your bag when you don’t need it. Never bring real weapons to a convention, and check all guidelines before hand. Also know that if you fly to your convention, any fake weapons should be checked. (I would normally advise against checking luggage, but there is no way that sword, hammer, or staff is making it through in a carry on.)
  • Try to ensure that your costume won’t be ruined beyond repair when it comes time to remove it at the end of the day, especially if you are wearing it for multiple days at the same con. Painting any tattoos or body art onto panty hose will make it much easier to reassemble the next morning. And, if you don’t want to spend hours applying paint for a costume that involves changing your skin color, seriously consider alternatives like body suits.

Convention Time

You’ve got your costume. You’ve got your passes. Now to ensure that you and your cosplay survive what will be several days of a lot of people and not a lot of breathing room.

GET YOURSELF A SITUATION BAG. I don’t care if it clashes with your costume; you will need it. This is where you can stow all your emergency items, food, cash, and any goodies you pick up along the way. I recommend a backpack or shoulder bag that you can carry hands-free with plenty of pockets. Some items you should absolutely have:

  • Sewing kit: Keep this for quick fixes, as well as tape or glue for emergencies.
  • Makeup kit: Whatever you used when you put your costume face on that morning should be in your makeup kit for touch ups. Throw a compact in there too so you don’t have to crowd into the bathrooms every time you want to check your eyeliner.
  • Easy snacks: At big cons, you never know when you’ll get a chance to eat, so always pack several quick and easy snacks.
  • Water bottles: Stay hydrated! This will help fight off fatigue and sickness in addition to being good for you.
  • Medicine: This should include painkillers and some mild, fast-acting cold medicine. Con crud can ruin an otherwise fun experience, so start taking vitamin C regularly in the months before your con, and take something as soon as you start feeling yucky.
  • Hand sanitizer: I am so serious about that con crud. Trust me.
  • Extra tampons/pads: This is essential for period-havers. Even if you’re not currently on your period, someone else might be.
Thought Bubble Cosplay, 2914, Bane
Our Own Claire antagonizing a Bane cosplayers at the 2014 Thought Bubble UK Con.

These items are small enough that you’ll still have plenty of room for your wallet, phone, and purchases. And, as Julie points out:

“Even if you don’t use everything, sharing with a desperate stranger is a great way to earn friendship!”

A few more tips: Don’t be afraid to check your reflection often. It’s not vain. It’s good planning, and how you can stop any costume catastrophes before they happen. Pin any loose hairs, hats, straps, etc. that might fall out of place.

Interacting with the Crowd

Sometimes we get so caught up in the art of cosplay that we forget that it is also a performance. When you’re out on the convention floor, people will be looking at you and interacting with you. In costume, you will have a higher profile than your average con-goer, which is important to remember if you aren’t used to attention. Keep all this in mind when deciding who you want to cosplay and for how long: if a lot of attention makes you uncomfortable, consider a more casual costume, or only spend one day of your convention in costume. That said, you are not required to be in character the whole time or any of the time. How you act in costume is your business, so don’t feel obligated to act a certain way that makes you uncomfortable.

NYCC Cosplay Is Not ConsentAs with any large group of people, there are bound to be a few sour grapes in the bunch. Harassment can be a deterrent for some people, but many conventions are updating their policies to protect attendees from harm. If you do run into some gross people, here are a few things to remember:

  • No one is entitled to take your picture without your permission because you are in cosplay.
  • No one is entitled to touch you without your permission because you are in cosplay.

There is strength in numbers. Report any harassment to staff, because it’s likely that you are not the only person they have/will upset.

A final reminder: don’t be disheartened if your cosplay doesn’t turn out the way you thought or didn’t receive the reaction you were expecting. Learn from the experience, and try again at the next con. Though planning and maintaining a costume, especially an elaborate one, can be stressful, it can also be extremely rewarding. Julie shared an early experience that sparked a love of cosplay:

“My first cosplay was technically Halloween of 8th grade. My aunt helped me throw together a Kikyo (Inuyasha) costume, complete with a spray painted bow and a sad black wig with my hair sticking out the sides. It was pretty ghastly, but I felt like the coolest motherfucking fourteen-year-old that night.”

Cosplay is about fun and self expression. It’s about paying homage to the things you love. There is nothing and no one that can take that away from you, so have fun with it! And when it’s all said and done, come share your cosplay experiences with us at WWAC!

My thanks to Julie A for sharing her experience and resources! For more tutorials, resources, and advice from the pros, check out the forums at For more convention tips, read our Con Season Survival Guide. And if you don’t want to go full-on cosplay, try stealth cosplay. Check out our stealth cosplay columns Beauty & the Geek and the retired Quick Change for more tips and ideas.

KM Bezner

KM Bezner

KM is a queer Nashvillian who reads a lot of books and watches too much TV. She hopes to one day retire as a recluse book printer with a farm of pigs.