How do you get into cosplay?

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Me as an agent of SHIELD with Black Widow.
Me as an agent of SHIELD with Black Widow.

I'm a sucker for costuming and drooling over amazing cosplay pictures online. (Megan, you rocked that Steampunk Princess Bubblegum cosplay as far as I remember!) But I live in a town where no major con will ever be.

In October, my local bike shop is having a "tweed ride" involving riding in period costumes, and I want to use this to give a try at cosplay (Victorian Mary Watson in her badass riding habit, for those who wonder).

I don't have an inkling where to start.

I can sew, but should I sew my whole costume? Alter some pieces of garment? Are there tacit rules for cosplaying? Is the devil really in the details?

Any tips would be great. Thanks and cheers! -Audrey

Good question! And with Halloween coming up, it'd be a fun time to share all our costuming tips. Admittedly, I like to call what I do "cosplay lite" because I can't sew and have no idea how to use Worbla. But despite having no skills when it comes to crafting, I have been able to pull off a few costumes, and all of them created without a sewing machine: (the aforementioned) Steampunk Princess Bubblegum, Cersei, Fantastic Mr Fox, and an agent of SHIELD.

My tips for beginners are this:

  • Amazon is your friend (especially if you have Prime). You can get all sorts of costuming things (including actual costumes, wigs, accessories, etc.), try them, and return them if they don't work.
  • If you can't sew, find a friend who knows how who can help do your dirty work for you/teach you how to do your dirty work for yourself. (My poor friend Jessica gets roped into so much nerdery.)
  • Hire someone to make the hard things. I couldn't DIY my Cersei dress, so I took to Etsy to find someone who could.
  • Talk shop with cosplayers, follow them on Instagram (they often show you behind-the-scenes of their costume-making), and watch their tutorials on YouTube.

Your turn! Any cosplay geeks in the house? What are your tips for getting started in costuming?

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  1. Hmm, I thought I posted already but it's not showing up, so I will try to say it again…

    I have two pieces of advice. 1) Figure out the precise names of the styles, materials, accessories, etc. that you want. You like the look of that black leather thingy hanging off a belt to hold something? Guess what? Doing a google search for black leather belt thingy MIGHT get you what you want, but if you learn that what you're actually looking for is called a frog, you'll get a lot further. A Victorian riding hat is a specific style of hat that you will likely want. Do you want your costume made out of muslin? silk? what KIND of silk? And why? Do you want to be perfectly authentic? Do you love the look? Do you want to be cool despite wearing many layers? Do you want to be warm enough to not have to wear a coat? What is that specific trim you like called? Figure out what you want, and what it's called, and then you'll have lots and lots of reference information for making your own, or doing informed shopping searches, or asking someone specifically what you want. Now, on the other hand, if you find an item of clothing that you love that inspires you to base a costume off of it, go with the flow! Be flexible with your ideas if you find something new to go for.

    2) Start early. This may come too late to you, but I have been shocked at how long it takes to first research, then find, then get or make what you need – like, several months. Especially if you change your mind a few times, which happens. πŸ™‚ But don't be afraid to continue working on a costume even if you didn't make your initial deadline. There will certainly be other chances to wear it, even if it's just for Halloween, and having completed a good costume to your own specifications is so satisfying that it's completely worth it. Heck, you'll probably SEARCH for reasons to wear it, which might mean you branch out into newer things! Never been to a con before? Having a great costume is a great reason to want to go…. πŸ™‚

    13 agree
    • Thank you! The part about knowing the materials is bit daunting (right now I want… er, a tweedy kind of tweed? A Victorian hat made of straw? Where do you learn the name of things anyway?) but I see what you mean. I guess I'll have some homework to do before I get here, but precision is the key.
      I love the part about actually looking for reasons to wear a costume, looks like something I'll totally do!

      2 agree
      • In terms of learning what things are called, this is actually surprisingly easy – especially for historical clothing items.
        Go to your library. Look for books on the era of history and region of the world you are interested in – and make a point to look for books with pictures.
        Then, when you see something you like, write down what it is called in the book.

        The Victorian era will be especially simple, since there is a lot of art & photography, and there are plenty of books on Victorian fashions.

        2 agree
  2. If anybody tries to cosplay police you, they are a jerk and their opinions don't matter. I firmly believe in the power of thrift shopping. Could I have sewn my entire Moonlite All-Night Diner uniform for the Welcome to Night Vale live show? Sure. But I found some great pieces at Goodwill and modified them–and it was awesome. No matter what your skill set, your costumes are no less (or more) legit that anybody else's. The point is to have fun.

    If you have friends around who like to cosplay, maybe you can do meet-ups with them at cultural institutions or friendly businesses. Just know that some places will ask you to remove full face masks for child protection and obviously implied or actual nudity won't be as accepted as it is in a convention environment. I work at a zoo and people have showed up in group costumes before–just to visit the zoo! History museums and tea rooms will probably think your steampunk group is adorable. Go to a roller derby bout with your Star Wars flight crew. Or if you're the costume geek and have a friend who is more into photography, just doing photo shoots in interesting locations and posting them online can be rewarding.

    For me, a big pleasure of costuming is creative and production processes–I like wearing them, but the planning is just as fun. So think about what's the fun part for you. Do you want to learn lots of different crafting processes? Do you want to do awesome things in a group with your nerdy friends? You can find ways to focus on the things that are best for you.

    15 agree
    • Um, yes, absolutely agree with everything here! And now I really want to do a photo shoot with some of my costumes….

    • I can't even cosplay lite (I once bought a shirt that seemed very Kaylee-inspired to me, and I felt a bit like Kaylee wearing it, but that was it), but this is making me wish I had a steampunk group with whom to dress up and go out to tea!

      4 agree
    • Yes to all of this. Also if you have friends who do cosplay they may have items you can borrow (a wig, accessories, something). I'm a huge fan of "starting" my costume at the thrift store because it's easier to modify than start from scratch, plus depending on what I'm doing a second hand shirt or dress is probably cheaper than buying raw fabric. I think my very first costume was a Silent Hill nurse (shout out to the Pyramid Head homie!) – thrifted white dress-shirt and thrifted shoes, mask from a party store, cloth mache using scrap cloth, white opaque tights pulled over my head/mask, body paint, and I think white cardboard for the hat. I think the tights were the most expensive part of it.

      Oh, also some of my friends have occasionally had crafting parties – everyone brings whatever they're working on and gather at someone's house, usually the person with the most tools. A lot of the guests bring tools/spare materials as well. It's a great way to pool resources ("Are you using that extra bit of lace?" "Nope, I'm done with it, have at it!") and know-how ("Can you give me some tips on how to do xyz thing?")

      The costumes at Dragon*Con are even more impressive when you realize how many hours of work went into them and it's a great topic of conversation to meet people.

      3 agree
    • Thank you! Getting told off by the cosplay police is something I have in the back of my mind but they're jerks anyway, then it's all good.

      Aaaaand now I have to find cosplay-inclined friends or a local cosplay group. Seems even more fun when seen as a group activity, to be fair.

      1 agrees
    • I cannot be the only one who wants to see that Moonlite All-Night Diner uniform!

      2 agree
  3. My number one tip for a cosplayer who isn't super skilled at sewing (like myself): search thrift stores for clothing items that are close enough to what you're looking for, and alter them as necessary. Altering existing clothing is, in many cases, way easier than sewing from scratch – and if you're using thrift store clothes, way cheaper too!

    3 agree
    • The thrifting trick was suggested by many commenters so I guess I'll start here! I agree it's way easier (and time-consuming, hopefully) to alter than to create. Thank you.

      1 agrees
  4. For me, the final push to get into cosplaying was the realization that you don't actually have to MAKE everything you wear in your costume, like others have written. I had been dreaming of cosplaying as Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus for years but as a beginner at sewing, I was intimidated by the thought of sewing a 50's-style dress from scratch. But when a dress with a solar-system pattern went on sale on ModCloth, I snatched it up, and bam, I cosplayed as Ms. Frizzle at Dragon*Con this year.

    For you, I would echo the suggestion of thrift stores. They often carry a lot of tweed items. And I would say the only "rule" of cosplay is to have fun! Don't get hung up in details (unless you genuinely like details) and don't keep tabs on if someone dressed as the same character has a "better" or "worse" costume than you–two other Ms. Frizzles from Dragon*Con were featured on i09 in a "best cosplay" series and I wasn't, but we each brought our own unique things to the table (one had a Razor scooter painted as the ubiquitous School Bus) and I just had a blast wearing the costume in general!

    3 agree
    • OMG MS FRIZZLE?!

      You are my new idol. That is amazing. So many snaps for you!

      That reminds of a a Flo from Progressive cosplay I saw a few years back at Otakon. I love the off-the-wall cosplays you don't expect to see.

      1 agrees
      • I went as Flo for halloween at work 2 years ago, and it was awesome. People were still calling me Flo until the day I left. I was able to put it together in about a week (Progessive actually has PDfs of the logo and her badges available for download on the website!). The only thing I wish I had had was the "name your price" gun.

  5. I'm so excited to see someone else is also interested in getting into cosplay but a little lost on where to start. I haven't officially started anything yet, although one year I made a Hit Girl costume for Halloween that I was proud of. I just watch a ton of videos on your YouTube to help me get inspired. I recommend theCommander Holly or MangoSirene channels.

    4 agree
  6. Cosplay is as much a skill set as it is a hobby. As you get more familiar with it, you'll find you're feeling more capable of taking on bigger/bad asser projects.

    You're not great at sewing? Thrift stores, the internet are great resources for you to find pieces. As with any resource, it can only go so far and so you may hit some walls. When you hit those walls, you may be challenged with learning a new skill or innovating your way around it.

    I built an entire Pyramid Head cosplay for a couple cons back in my early-mid 20s. I literally spent about 200 to 300 hours making it. It was a trial making it and there were so many skills I learned along the way, in addition to learning new materials. It was really great fun (which is the important part) going through the problem solving aspect.

    I really would encourage you to take on projects which are challenging but not impossible feeling. You may not be as polished as someone who has cosplayed longer, has more time/money, or does it professionally, but some of the best costumes can be "closet cosplay" where you pull pre-existing elements together.

    One of my friends did Garcia (Criminal Minds) from a closet cosplay this past Dragon*Con and it was SPECTACULAR. She had badges printed up at FedEx/Kinkos, bought her wig on the internet and wore her typical glasses. The resemblance to Garcia was uncanny.

    Seriously, have all the fun and give a finger to all the haters (you know which one πŸ˜‰ ). And COSPLAY THE HELL out of anything you make!

    5 agree
  7. And for future inspiration, search Pinterest and/or Google Images. That's how I got the idea for cosplaying Princess Caroline from Bojack Horseman πŸ™‚

    Ooh, and look up "Disneybounding" – essentially, dressing as a character, but using normal clothes. A way to cosplay every day!

    3 agree
  8. Never be afraid to experiment with your costuming! You may not be good a sewing or crafting things with worbla or bondo now, but if you play around with it and read up on it you'll quickly be able to pick your way through it and pick up a new skill set while you are at it. Start small and work your way up to harder things. I would start with altering thrifted clothing and move up from there. Get a couple extra shirts/pants/dresses/skirts that you can take apart to learn how things are patterned out if you are interested in pattern drafting. You can also start out with the "quick sew" patterns. They are all really easy to put together and a great base pattern to have on hand for other costumes.
    There is never one set way to do anything. That is the great thing about the art world! If sewing something one way doesn't work for you don't be afraid to be unorthodox and do it how you feel most comfortable.

    Costumes don't have to look good on the inside!! Some of my best looking costumes look like a hot mess on the inside because i'm not a professional seamstress, but I've had TONS of compliments on it because the part that people see is the most important.

    Look for hole in the wall places or mom and pop stores to buy your costuming materials from. They are typically cheaper, and you'll be helping out a business. I found a place out in Phoenix a while ago that sells fabric and supplies cheap, but they are good quality (example heavy duty snaps, set of 7 for $1, compared to the same set from a big box store for $6.)

    I also agree on time. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time because costuming can be VERY stressful, and having a week to finish three costumes will pretty much kill you (been there, done that, wouldn't recommend). And don't get hung up on details. So long as you have the basics people should be able to recognize your character. If you have time to add in the details and want to then do, but don't stress yourself out to make it perfect if you don't have the time. You can always upgrade your costume for a later con or activity

    3 agree
  9. Dance apparel websites, along with Amazon and eBay, are your best friends for cosplay! I have VERY minimal sewing skills on a machine, and I'm ok at hand stitching. Despite that, I made 4 or 5 cosplays for cons last year.

    As for the lack of cons in your area, Facebook is a great place to find a group that's in your community. The one in Milwaukee (where I am now) posts regular cosplay events where people meet up and just take pictures together. No con needed!

    3 agree
  10. As a former cosplayer (and considering getting back into it again), there aren't any rules. I think there really is only one rule that many cosplayers adhere to, which is:

    Don't buy a premade costume and pass if off as your own. Give credit where credit is due.

    Other than that it's a free-for-all. I've cosplayed as characters without sewing a single thing…I went to a thrift store and bought all my pieces…then modified them to replicate the character. I've sewed things from scratch, made my own shoes/boots, styled wigs, and made faux-weapons. I think really as long as you have fun and feel good, you're doing it right. And seconding someone's above comment…"it doesn't have to look good on the inside", as long as the outside reflects what you want then who cares. I know I've had bits of my costumes held together with duct tape. Here are my base rules for cosplaying:

    1) Give yourself a TON of time to complete said costume. This is from concept to finish product. Give yourself enough time to check out thrift stores, online shops for things you can't make/get, shipping, sewing/crafting time, fittings, finishing touches.
    2) Research and plan how you're going to make the costume. I like to make a list of every part of the costume (either drawn up if it's original, or printed out if it's an existing character/outfit) and how I'm going to make that piece.
    3) Scope out thrift stores for items so you don't have to make them (toy guns you can custom paint later, clothing items that either don't need to be modified or need minimal modification. Why bother sewing a white button-down shirt when I can just BUY one for cheap?).
    4) Hit up the fabric/crafting stores. Scope out patterns to be easily modified, pick up supplies to help you craft accessories/armour/weapons/whatever.
    5) Order anything you need from online EARLY (Worbla, wigs, ears, costuming necessities). Shipping can be a bitch sometimes.

    My last piece of advice is START SMALL. Amateur cosplayers always make a big mistake by picking something too complicated for their first costume. Start small, get experience, and work upwards.

    Story: I had a friend who's first cosplay EVER was Lulu from Final Fantasy 10. She was a great seamstress, and was able to make the dress easily enough, but then she had to attach faux fur, which was very difficult as her machine wasn't built for it, and then the tireless application of floral appliques…and then THE BELTS. I had to come help her because she couldn't do it on her own, and we're talking just days before the con. We did complete it. But, day of, she only wore it for a half-day because the skirt was too heavy. In hindsight, making "faux belts" out of light fabric would've been better, and would've held up.

    1 agrees
    • Oh wow, thank you, so much precious advice! Duct tape. I'll remember that.
      I'm in awe that you actually made shoes.

      1 agrees
  11. I'm trying to get into cosplay too. If you're the crafty type, get on Pinterest and start searching for tutorials on how to make costume pieces. You'd be surprised how cheaply and easily you can make some impressive-looking pieces. Pinterest is a goldmine for make-up tutorials as well. Also, craft stores are like my home planet. I like Michael's selection, but their coupon policies aren't great. At Jo-Ann Fabric, you can double up on coupons. You should also invest in a glue gun. I feel like MacGyver with mine. Think about repurposing. You may already have clothing or objects around your own place that can be made into costume pieces. I'm not a sewing expert either, but I've learned a few basic stitches from Youtube. Costume patterns are your friend. They may look intimidating, but I feel like they take the guess work out of it.
    I just started out making gifts for friends and Halloween costumes for my kid. But with each craft, I've gotten more and more confident. Take it one project at a time and build upon your skills.

    2 agree
    • Oh I had never thought about Pinterest this way. I only used it for my wedding so I thought it was only for flower decor and pretty venues! Thanks for the advice about the glue gun and tools, too.

  12. Went to website for Worbla…..craaaappppp I don't have the money/time for this but MUST MAKE ALL THE COSTUMES…..

    2 agree
  13. You may not have a major con IN town, but you might have small meet ups around you (our town does a halloween, christmas and summer "parties" that are basically mini cons.) Also, you might be able to find a major one within driving distance!

    The only rules that apply to cosplay only apply if you are in an actual cosplay contest (most will require you to make 85% of your costume by hand or something similar) or being paid to cosplay a part (historical reenactments). If you are cosplay solely for your own enjoyment, then there are NO rules!! As long as you are happy, then it's 100% okay to do your own thing the way you want.

    I try to do as little sewing as possible (fabric is not cheap where I am at). I always look for something that I can alter first, and if I can't find anything, I then resort to sewing (although I'm not great at it). If I'm doing something "serious" (meaning I'm either entering it in a contest or I want it to be pretty perfect) then I will try to get every detail right. If I'm just going to a con, I don't stress myself and I will do what I can in the amount of time I have (I've even bought a costume last minute and worn that!). In the end, it's only about you!

    2 agree
  14. I know I'm late to this party, but you can do anything you out your mind to. I started off putting closet cosplay stuff together for my family (me, partner in crime, and toddler) a few years ago, then suddenly decided just over a year ago that I was going to make everything from scratch. I was a year out from the convention I needed it for, and had 80,000 new things to learn, but I buckled down, lol. A few things got dropped for the sake I of time and sanity, but I came away with two completed cosplays, and two updates to previous years (those were completed worth the generous help of my mum). If you have a specific goal, make a plan, find resources, source materials, learn learn learn, and get to work! I met a ton of great people in my area, and we have a cosplay specific store that offers supplies, classes, and workshop space, so that she a huge blessing. Network with cosplayers in your area, as others have mentioned. And if you want you aee what you can do with zero knowledge base, take a look at my page I can't believe I made all that. https://www.facebook.com/RakishLassCosplay/

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