Halloween might be long over, but if the desire to dress up in a costume is still burning within you then cosplay might be a great hobby to pick up!
The word cosplay, which is a portmanteau of “costume” and “play” comes from Japan, but the practice of dressing up as fictional characters at conventions is much older. The Japanese adopted the practice from Americans and gave it a new name, and as anime became popular in the West, the term cosplay also caught on.
Cosplay is heavily associated with anime and comic book conventions, but cosplayers will also organize their own meetups where they can stage photoshoots and admire each other’s art. For this article, I’ve interviewed Ilana Solomon and Kiga Tymianski, two designers and cosplaying experts who give their best tips for beginner cosplayers to know.
If you think you might want to get into cosplay, keep reading - we’ve got all the advice you’ll need.
Picking Your First Cosplay Character
Before you start putting together your cosplay, you have to decide which character you would like to portray. Solomon recommends you start off simple, with a character that doesn’t have a very complex design or costume, especially if you don’t sew. L from Death Note, in his white sweatshirts and jeans, comes to mind.
Tymianksi suggests that you choose a character that you love. “Some part of the cosplay process will be stressful, and when you get there it’s nice to pull some extra motivation from how much you love the character you’re making.” She says, “plus, when you’re wearing the costume, it’s nice to have that additional level of “hell yeah, I love this character” to give you some extra attitude.”
Don’t let your gender or skin color stop you with your choice. Set a deadline for a few weeks before the convention or meetup where you would like to debut your costume, but expect it to take twice as long as you think it will!
While it might make sense to choose a costume that fits with the theme of the convention, like an anime character for an anime convention or a comic book character for Comic-Con, there is often a lot of overlap between fandoms so it’s common to see people dress up as characters from a medium that doesn’t exactly align with the topic of the convention.
Costumes and Accessories: Buy or Sew?
Once you’ve selected your character, put together a list of all of the elements that make up their look, including all garments, accessories, shoes, and any special hair or makeup. You can look up photos of different designs of the character, as well as of how other cosplayers brought it to life for ideas. Next, make an action plan for how you will obtain each item, whether it means purchasing or making it.
For most, the biggest barrier to starting to cosplay is a lack of sewing skills, but Tymianski reassures there is no shame in buying all or most of your first cosplay costume. “Lots of people find wearing the cosplay to be the most fun part, and if you don’t care so much for the crafting aspect, why go through all that hell just so you can dress up with your friends for a weekend?” She says.
It is usually easy to find ready-made costumes for mainstream characters, but if your character is less well-known you might have to rely on thrifting, altering, and sewing to put a costume together. Sometimes, you can put together a contemporary character’s look with items from your closet or mainstream stores. You can also commission more experienced cosplayers to make your costume, in which case it is important that you give them credit when you post photos.
“Don’t be afraid of altering the character design a bit so you can feel good in it. “Some people want to be a character that exposes the midriff but aren’t totally comfortable showing off,” Solomon explains, “They can wear high-waisted pants! Being comfortable and looking good is more important than complete accuracy.”
If you do decide to take the leap into sewing, the best way to learn how is by taking lessons, which might be available from your local seamstress, though you can also find courses online. You will also have to invest in some sewing essentials: a sewing machine, pins, and fabric scissors are Tymianski’s must-haves.
It’s All About Attitude
Solomon has some words of wisdom, as well, “beginners often treat the outfits the way most Halloween party-goers would, but those with more experience treat it as they would any put-together outfit that needs to look good head to toe.” In other words, it’s all about the attitude. She recommends focusing on proper finishing techniques, which will guarantee that the costume will look well-made even if it’s not expertly constructed.
She also recommends not taking on too big of a challenge the first time, but to break things up and treat each new costume as a chance to learn something new. “Pick the one area you wanna get good at and then move up from there,” she suggests.
Tymianski echoes this sentiment, but she reinforces that making cosplay isn’t always easy. The secret to getting through, however, is boundless enthusiasm. ”Crafting is hard, and the willpower to push through when things are turning out in ways other than you expect might make or break whether you finish the cosplay or not.”
Don’t Compromise on The Fit!
No matter whether you buy or make your own, don’t compromise on the fit! For purchased costumes, having them tailored will go a long way towards selling the fantasy, while when you make your own, you should obviously construct to your measurements.
Finding cosplay accessories can be a little more difficult. While some experienced cosplayers may scoff at hot glue, especially as a substitute for actual sewing, Solomon recommends getting good at using the glue gun: “there is a lot of neat stuff you can do. I have made jewelry and headpieces using just hot glue and beads!”
Tymianksi, on the other hand, is a fan of foamsmithing, i.e. making accessories, armor, and even weapons out of EVA foam. There are excellent online resources that give the lowdown on how to work with this material to make different kinds of props, but this video is a great place to start.
Cosplay Makeup and Hair
Source: Paul Hillier (IG: Kamera Ninja)
According to Solomon, makeup in the cosplay scene has come a long way in recent years.
“It used to be something that was generally ignored, but now it's a pretty major part of certain cosplays.” This can go beyond beauty makeup, as she cites cosplayers utilizing artistic techniques like cell shading or drawing cartoon lines.
She recommends cosplayers learn at least basic makeup to help put a look together - cartoon characters usually sport perfected skin and big eyes, so learning some of those techniques is key, and YouTube can be helpful.
Wigs are often important for giving your character that bigger than life hair. They can be purchased online, especially on Amazon, but they can’t be just straight out of the bag. Once again, YouTube is the place to go to learn wig styling.
Other Cosplay Tips and Tricks
Source: Paul Hillier (IG: Kamera Ninja)
Here are a few other things you should keep in mind when putting together your cosplay look:
Iron your clothes
Solomon’s pet peeve: “[beginners] will buy a costume online and take it out of the bag and not iron or steam it, so they end up with major creases,” she complains, so please, pull out that ironing board!
Hide bra straps
For women, a visible bra strap is guaranteed to take away from the look, so make sure that you consider which underthings you will wear with your costume -- adhesive or adjustable bras will be a great investment for a wide variety of strapless or backless costumes.
Wear nude underwear
Nude-colored and seamless underthings are guaranteed not to show should your costume be made of a tight or somewhat transparent fabric. This is an important note for men, as well! Bunched underwear fabric under a superhero costume will ruin the illusion.
Strike a pose
Practice a few poses in front of the mirror, so you’ll be ready when people flock to take photos of you. Anime characters often have their own signature poses, while a fighting stance will suffice for most action and sci-fi characters.
Utilize social media
Local cosplay groups on MeetUp and Facebook can be an incredible resource for advice as well as for making new friends, so make sure to join a few!
Source: Ilana Solomon (IG: Luminata Cosplay)
While cosplay can seem like a difficult endeavor, Solomon advises against getting too serious, “it's really important to remember that cosplaying is about having fun and being creative!”
Are you thinking of getting into cosplay? Which character would you like to dress up as?
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