Congratulations, you want to cosplay! You’ve watched lots of series, read lots of series, or been abducted to dress up with your friends. You’ve picked a character, or had one selected for you. You’re excited, but where do you begin?
Here are some basic ideas and cheats to help you succeed with your first cosplay. In this “Cosplay 101” blog post for beginners, I will use my Yuri!!! On Ice cosplay as an example to walk through the steps. Just remember, that no matter what, smile and HAVE FUN!
Step 1: Your Character
My very first piece of advice for beginner cosplayers is this: do your research. Get lots of reference images for your character. Front, back, sides, props … collect as many references as possible. A good tip for references is to go to Google and look up the character or search for art book images. Usually, art book references will differ from the final design that you see elsewhere, but more often than not they provide much more detail!
If you plan on role-playing when dressed as your character, look into YouTube, Crunchyroll, Netflix, or the episodes you own at home to learn how your character moves, reacts, poses, speaks, laughs, etc. Learn a few catch phrases (most characters have at least one) and practice with your friends, or in a mirror to get them memorized. Just remember that not everyone will recognize your character, nor will everyone understand your characters’ characteristics as well as you do, so don’t overdo it! If you come off as overwhelming at a convention you may find that making friends is more difficult to do.
Step 2: Clothing
Let’s look at what your character is wearing: Are they fully covered or scantily clad? Are they wearing summer clothes or winter clothes? Are they wearing something that you could buy at a store, or something that you’ll need to make from scratch? Start making a list of each article of clothing from the hair accessories to the shoes so you can see exactly what lies ahead of you in planning. Also, keep in mind when you’ll be wearing this cosplay so you aren’t in a bikini in the winter or covered in warm polar fleece in the summer.
If your character is wearing less than you’ll feel comfortable in, feel free to take artistic liberties and wear a leotard or spandex shorts under a short skirt. You can buy affordable leotards online through Amazon or buy spandex shorts at Target or Walmart if you don’t own any at home. Remember, cosplay is an art form so artistic liberties are allowed! I personally love to see personal touches added to common cosplay—it makes the cosplay stand out and adds your own personal touch to it. Many people tackle costumes that they may not feel comfortable wearing on a daily basis by adding skin-colored tights or skin-colored unitards so that they feel more covered without distracting from the character’s look. This is also a great cheat if your character has tattoos or body paint—you can paint the leotard or buy one in any color and you won’t need to paint on your skin. Plus it will keep the tattoo/design looking perfect so that you don’t need to redraw it on yourself each time you wear your cosplay.
After you figure out if you can simply buy your characters clothing, check Goodwill, Salvation Army, or other local thrift stores to see if they have what you need. Check your closet, your family members’ closets, or the closets of your friends. You’d be surprised at what you can find for cheap, or even for free, that will help you complete your cosplay! Ebay or Amazon will definitely give you more than enough options for shoes, just check the comments for any size issues (the shoes could run large, small, or true to size) and get insoles so your feet won’t be in pain while you wear them if you don’t get a chance to break them in beforehand.
If you find that you need to make a few (or most) items from scratch, hit up your local fabric stores for sales and clearance racks to find the fabrics that you need, or check to see if they have an app that includes coupons. If you need help picking out the best fabric for the job, check what others have used through Cosplay.com, ACParadise.com, DeviantART.com, or Cospix.net. Ask questions to those who have completed the same or a similar cosplay to yours (most cosplayers love to help others with simple questions about fabrics or stitches). If you’re really stumped, but have some money saved to dedicate to your cosplay and want it to look very professional, ask commissioners to make your cosplay to your exact measurements/requirements. I highly recommend Catherine of God Save The Queen Fashions and Emily at Majestic Lunacy at DeviantArt. Keep in mind that commissioners often have a waitlist for costumes so be prepared to ask how far out the wait is before you start asking for price quotes, and note that they will charge you for materials, time, and their work so the prices will reflect a one-of-a-kind commission. Can’t afford a personal commission? Check Ebay or Amazon for completed cosplay up for sale. I also recommend EZCosplay.com for some amazing cosplay looks.
Step 3: Props
Your character may have a weapon, shield, or furry animal friend with them at all times and now you’d like to add to your design by incorporating this into your cosplay too. The best way I’ve found to get props together is to shop Halloween stores after Halloween is over. They usually have cheap weapons or shields that are plastic, light to carry around, and easy to paint over or modify. If it’s nowhere close to Halloween, check your local toy store or Amazon for cheap deals on play weapons or stuffed animals. Sometimes dollar stores will also have some pretty awesome deals on things that are easy to modify into nicer-looking props.
If you really want to make a prop yourself, draw out the design of the prop you are making in its most simplest shapes, then head to your local Lowe’s or Home Depot to look for materials that can be cut to size and pieced together at home with a few power tools or super glue.
If you want an amazing looking prop and are willing to pay for it, try Ebay, Etsy, or commission Harrison of Volpin Props. Again, keep in mind that commissioners often have a waitlist for props so be prepared to ask how far out the wait is before you start asking for price quotes. Check Ebay and Amazon for props and pricing as well.
Step 4: Wigs and Contacts
You’re all set and excited for your cosplay debut, but you have just one problem … you don’t have the same color hair or eyes as your character. Wigs are very easy to find these days so check Arda-Wigs.com, EpicCosplay.com, or Ebay for a huge selection on color, style, and length. A wig cap will help to keep your head from itching and a nice brush with metal bristles (one used for doll wigs) will help keep your wig always looking well-groomed.
If you currently wear contacts or have a prescription written down from your eye doctor, feel free to purchase colored contacts online from ExoticLenses.com, PinkyParadise.com, HoneyColor.com, or a site that your doctor can recommend. Contacts can take some time to arrive, so make sure you order these as soon as you can. However, if you’ve never worn contacts, or never been to see an eye doctor, DO NOT BUY CONTACTS. Because contacts sit right against your eye, without the proper size and shape that your eyes require, you can easily damage your eyes. I strongly encourage anyone who really wants theatrical lenses to see an eye doctor before they purchase any online.
If you can’t wear contacts or are maybe afraid to try them, go the cheap route – buy colored eyeshadow and eyeliner. Makeup has taken huge leaps and bounds to be safer for your skin, and it comes in so many different colors that you can easily find one to match your characters’ eye color. This is a great way to change your eye color without changing your eyes at all. You can apply the makeup around your eye for that colored effect.
Step 5: Ready for the convention!
You have everything you need now, so it’s time for the convention! Try everything on at home so you can make sure you have the proper undergarments needed. Make a list of all the pieces of your cosplay that you need to pack and bring a few reference images with you to help you ensure that everything goes on correctly. I’ll often take a copy of a reference image and check off each piece as I pack it and then check off each piece again after I’m done wearing it at the convention, this way I know I have everything I came with.
Make a “Cosplay Emergency Repair Kit” and include needle and threads, safety pins, bobby pins, beads (if you’ve created jewelry), hot glue gun with hot glue sticks, batteries, Band-Aids, and extra makeup and makeup brushes. Be prepared for hugs, pictures, fans of your character, and people quoting lines from the series your character is from. And remember to HAVE FUN, because in the end, cosplay is all about the fun and friends you make along the way!
Check out the slideshow to see progress photos of Jeannette’s Yuri Katsuki cosplay!