Congratulations, you picked a character you really want to cosplay! Maybe they are personality twins with you, or maybe they have the same birthday as you do; maybe they look just like you, or maybe they have powers that you always secretly wanted. Whatever the case may be, you’ve narrowed down your choice for cosplay and finally settled on one character (for now). But, what’s next? Where do you go from here?
Clearly cosplay is a broad word in terms of how or why to cosplay. It’s different for everyone, and what may be easy for me to make could be just as easy for someone else to purchase. The first rule in cosplay is to acknowledge that there is no wrong way to cosplay. It doesn’t matter if you painstakingly crafted every inch of your cosplay by hand, or if you had the entire thing bought off the internet and you tossed it on in the hotel room before traversing in public. Cosplay is fun and what truly matters is that you enjoy yourself while in costume.
Knowing that everyone will have a different way to collect what they need to complete their cosplay, this article won’t focus on how to sew the perfect circle skit for your Sailor Moon cosplay, or how much you should save up and expect to spend on an entire Noctis cosplay, complete with props. Rather, this article will focus on what you need to do to prepare for your cosplay, no matter how you pull it together.
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First, you’ll need to remember that most characters you love are hand-drawn and created with the imaginary “perfect body” standard. The artist or production team has established this look in order to make attractive and appealing characters that will help sell the show, movie, game, etc. and all the toys and other goods that will help empty fans’ wallets. Some of your favorite characters aren’t even human (take My Little Pony for example), but you still desperately want to cosplay them and that’s awesome! This step is the first step and oftentimes the hardest step to get past. You have to remember that characters are often drawn with impossible shapes: longer-than-life legs, or broader-than-possible shoulders, and you have to not let this drag you down until you no longer want to cosplay. There are so many tricks we cosplayers have figured out to help you look as fantastic as the character themselves. Take a deep breath, laugh out loud at some of the ridiculous proportions these characters share that we love, and let’s move on to step two!
Many years ago, I met cosplayer Riddle for the first time at a convention. She had a panel that day to describe her process for crafting cosplay. One of my biggest takeaways from that panel was this: when starting on the process for crafting/buying pieces for your cosplay, picture your character as a silhouette and think in terms of shapes. This rule of shapes works for artists as well—if you can break an image down into shapes, then you can draw anything (with a little practice)—and this is also true of cosplay!
For people who aren’t well-versed in PhotoShop and turning an image into a silhouette, try this simpler method instead: find a reference image of your character, print it out, then cut it out of the paper and turn it over. You’ll go from having a fully colored photo of the character, to only having an outline of them and their outfit. This is the key to seeing shapes. If you can make yourself look like the character’s silhouette, then you’ll have a successful cosplay.
So, right now you may be thinking, “Okay, I get the shapes idea, but what does that mean? What are you talking about?” And I get that this line of thinking may be challenging for some of you, so here are a few examples. Let’s say the character you want to cosplay is Lúcio from Overwatch. He has some pretty amazing leg armor and you’ve never built anything like it before. You print out a great reference image of him and then create his silhouette from it.
In the silhouette we can see that the top piece of his leg armor, the part that covers his hip, is a round disc-like piece. Now, you have a few choices here: you could recreate this piece with foam by cutting perfect circles from EVA form and sanding, priming, and painting them; or, you could use Worbla and cut perfect circles, warp them a bit using a heat gun, prime, and paint. Both of these methods would absolutely work and both would be lightweight and easy to wear on top of the leg armor. BUT, what if you looked at the silhouette version and simply saw the shape of the armor? It’s a circle. Looks pretty flat. What else is a flat circle that you can find at most stores pretty easily? A frisbee. Buy two frisbees, get them home, prime and paint them. Voilà! You just completed the top of his leg armor with some creativity and some shapes that match his silhouette!
I used to watch a vlogger on YouTube and I was excited when she said she wanted to try cosplay for the first time. She was really into World of Warcraft, and those outfits are challenging even for experienced cosplayers. She was nervous, and really had no idea how to sew or craft armor at all, but she understood that if you have the basic shapes in the right places, you can make it work. The character she had chosen had small pauldrons (shoulder armor) on each shoulder. Since she couldn’t make armor herself, she looked for anything that was cheap and had a similar shape as the pauldrons she needed. She was at a craft store one day and happened to walk down the aisle with kids’ crafts when she found a child’s thin felt hat (if I remember correctly) and it was the EXACT shape and size that she needed for her pauldrons. She bought four and took them home, used scissors, a little spray paint, and hot glue, and suddenly she had crafted the perfect pauldrons! It truly is all about the shapes.
We know that shapes are great for making cosplay happen, but what about our bodies? Can we do anything to help our real shapes look more “character-like?” Yes, you can! I don’t mean surgery nor do I support body shaming in any form. Here are some super simple tricks to get your real shapes looking more “in character.”
Long, smooth, gorgeous looking legs! Most female characters have this trait and some male characters do too! Unfortunately, not many of us in real life have this feature, so we have to trick our silhouette into looking more “leggy.” My favorite trick is wearing dance tights. Not only do dance tights smooth out the coloration in your legs and hide bruises or shaving stubble, nicks, or razor burn, they can help make your legs look fantastic in every photograph. They are also made specifically for those moves and stretches that dancers do regularly, which means stretching and contorting yourself for photos won’t run the risk of you running a tear in the them. They are almost tear-proof and come in many shades so you will feel comfortable in ones that match your skin tone. I bought mine off Amazon and I love the Capezio brand! I usually get a size up so I have extra room to stretch. I always wear them in any costume that shows any skin on my legs and I love the way they photograph.
Another trick for lengthening your legs, is if your character is wearing a skirt and you feel comfortable enough, you can cut the skit shorter to give the illusion of longer legs. Most booty shorts are short enough to hide everything regardless of skirt length these days.
Sometimes you just need to make sure that you aren’t showing off more than expected in your cosplay. Crotch covers come in various methods depending on cosplay, but here are also very strong suggestions for those of you out there who want a smooth, safe-for-children-look while in cosplay. For women, if you are wearing a tight bodysuit or have a very short skirt on that will show your crotch, wearing a panty liner will help to cut down on the mishap that is camel toe by smoothing out the entire area. This is a simple trick and one that is usually cheap as most women have panty liners available to them at home. For men, if you are wearing a bodysuit to bring your favorite web-slinger to life, or simply love classic Superman, a dance belt is a MUST. This will help to not only protect your crotch, but also smooth out the area, making you feel more comfortable while posing with small children who are bound to want to hug your legs or get a photo with you.
Stomach and Waist
I’ll admit that I often feel most self-conscious about my stomach area in every cosplay. Up until a few years ago, I thought that sit-ups, crunches, and sucking in my gut while holding my breath during photographs were the only solutions for giving me a smoother, tighter midsection. But, of course not! While sit-ups and crunches can help, it takes time to burn fat and create muscles, so don’t lose hope if you are giving this your best shot! But, here are a few tricks I’ve picked up in the meantime.
While corsets and waist-cinchers can be expensive, they can definitely give you that hourglass look you may need for a cosplay. WEARER BEWARE: These undergarments can be brutal on your body and you shouldn’t wear them for an entire day as they can restrict breathing and make sitting down and eating difficult. Please only wear them for a few hours and if you need emergency assistance, ask someone to cut you out of them with a pair of scissors right away! Personally, corsets don’t work for my body shape, so I used to just wear dance tights and pull the waistband up to camouflage my tummy. This works well for some costumes, but skintight bodysuits are not the best for this look as you’ll often have a strange indention where the tights end and your body begins, which is really hard to mask in a bodysuit. Now, I wear a one-piece shaper leotard under my bodysuits and it has helped tremendously! The shaper goes on like a shirt (meaning over your head) and has snaps at the crotch, making bathroom breaks easy. It’s made of the softest, silky material and stretches with me so it’s mostly non-restrictive. It’s also seamless, so you don’t need to worry about any unwanted lines appearing under your bodysuit. The best part? I got mine at Target and paid less than $20.00 for it! This also takes care of my stomach and my waist in one easy-to-wear undergarment.
Women have push-up bras aplenty out there, but what if that still doesn’t do the trick for you? You can search up fake breasts that can be bought online and slip over your chest, or you can try the sock trick (look that one up on YouTube). You can also add contouring to your chest to give the illusion of larger breasts if needed. There are many ways to trick this step into existence for cosplay.
Lack of Breasts
I was going to include this in the section above, but I think it deserves its own section. If you are cosplaying a male character or a character with a flatter chest than you have, you should use a binder. Do not tape your breasts down, or wrap an ace bandage around your chest as this can have dire consequences on your natural breasts and can even affect your breathing. A binder is a safe way to flatten your chest and they can be bought from Amazon. They come in a few different styles—tank top or full shirt—and are usually reasonably priced. WEARER BEWARE: Wearing a binder is fantastic and much safer than the alternative, however, do NOT wear your binder all day. As with other restrictive clothing, wearing a binder all day can cause pain when breathing, discomfort, or sore and tender breasts. Please follow the instructions of the binder and only wear it for the maximum allotted time mentioned (usually not more than 4-6 hours a day).
Have a larger nose than the character? Your eyes seem too far apart? You frown at your puffy cheeks? The one solution I have for this is simply makeup. Makeup comes in all prices and colors. You can find everything from acne-concealing foundation to false eyelashes at most drug stores, and if you don’t mind spending a little more, you can get nearly customized palettes at places like Sephora or Ulta Beauty. If you aren’t sure how to apply makeup, or you want to achieve a specific look but can’t quite figure it out, use YouTube for tutorials and tips to help make your face look like character perfection. Prosthetics are also available online to turn your human ears into elven ones, or give your chin, nose, and teeth a little more character. Read the instructions carefully before applying the prosthetics and always make sure you have remover at the ready for a quick and painless transformation after you’re done with them.
Now that you have your shapes all figured out and are on the lookout for shapes that will help to make your cosplay look perfect, don’t forget about the Internet! If you want to do cosplay, chances are you’ll find a handful of others who have already tackled that same costume. Read blogs, watch videos, and visit websites to learn how they made their cosplay—you may learn a few tricks, or see a certain shape in a different way. You may even learn that you have some of the supplies you need right at home! Don’t be afraid to reach out to a cosplayer to ask more questions, but also don’t take offense if they point you to Google or Bing. A lot of cosplayers learned how to craft by themselves, but there are so many more tutorials and how-to videos out there nowadays that sometimes Google or Bing is all you really need.
Time to dive in! Look at your references often and have ones that show your character from every side possible! Shapes or how clothing hangs off of them will help you to figure out what you need to do to create a similar effect on your own body. Never be afraid to modify the character’s design! Top too low or skirt too short? Alter what you need to feel comfortable in the cosplay, because if you don’t feel comfortable then you won’t be having fun.
If you plan your cosplay well in advance, you may be able to find pieces you need on Amazon and you can create a cosplay wish list that you can share with family or friends. You never know who will be excited and willing to help you create your dream cosplay!
Take your time with your build—cosplay isn’t usually something that can be created from start to finish and look perfect after one day of work.
And don’t get discouraged if a certain piece of your cosplay just isn’t working for you. It’s okay to scrap something and come back to it later. It’s also okay to admit that your first time putting cosplay together may not look “just right”—we all start somewhere and grow from there.
As always, HAVE FUN and GOOD LUCK on your cosplay! Have photos to share of your process or want to talk cosplay? Feel free to hit me up on Twitter at @ChinoChinako, or share your craft with us at @GeekGalsCo. We’re excited to see what you come up with!
Featured image credit: Michael Lu