How to Cosplay: 5 Steps to Becoming Your Favorite Character

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Who wouldn’t want to become Batman, have the hutzpah of Harley Quinn, or catch-em-all as Ash for a day? For pop-culture fans, cosplaying—dressing up as your favorite character—is a great way to honor your favorite art, meet like-minded enthusiasts, and showcase creativity. 

But it all begins with nailing the basics. From costume creation to turning your hobby into a side hustle, this guide will help you get started.

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What is cosplay?

Cosplaying is a popular hobby among fan communities that involves dressing up as characters from films, TV series, video games, comic books, manga, anime, and other fictional texts. Many practitioners build their own costumes, sometimes mashing up various styles and sources to create their own twist on a character.

Its roots can be traced back to the late 1930s, when fan zine publisher Myrtle Rebecca Douglas, aka Morojo, created “futuristicostumes” based on art from pulp magazines. She made her cosplaying debut at the inaugural World Science Fiction Convention in 1939 alongside her then-boyfriend  Forrest J. Ackerman. Inspired by her work, fans came dressed in their own costumes to the second Worldcon’s masquerade ball. In 2016, the International Costumers’ Guild named Douglas the “Mother of Convention Costuming.”

The term “cosplay,” a portmanteau of “costume” and “play,” was coined by director-producer Nobuyuki Takahashi after he went to the 1984 Worldcon. Since the early aughts, the phrase has become ubiquitous in “nerd” culture.

What are some examples of cosplay?

anime cosplay

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Cosplayers may gain a following thanks to the characters they choose to dress up as, their costume construction skills, or their social media following. Here are some of today’s biggest names:

Check out this incredible compilation of content creator Alyson Tabbitha’s ten-year cosplay journey to see the wide variety of options at your disposal.

Here are a few iconic characters that are easy for first-timers to try out: 

  • Comic books: Catwoman, Joker, and Harley Quinn (DC); Spider-Man, Storm, and Deadpool (Marvel)
  • Manga/anime: Deku (“My Hero Academia”), Goku (“Dragon Ball”), Ash Ketchum (“Pokémon”), Naruto, and Sailor Moon
  • Literature: Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger (“Harry Potter”); Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, and Galadriel (“The Lord of the Rings”)
  • TV/film: The “Scooby-Doo” gang; Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia (“Star Wars”); Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, and Arya Stark (“Game of Thrones”); Elsa, Mulan, Moana, and Belle (Disney films)
  • Video games: Jinx and Vi (“League of Legends”), Link and Zelda (“The Legend of Zelda”), Lara Croft (“Tomb Raider”)

Comic-Con cosplay Andre Luiz Moreira / Shutterstock 

Which fan conventions are best known for impressive cosplay?

These are some of the largest conventions in the world. If you’re looking to start small, regional events are your best bet.

What are the steps to creating a cosplay?

Cosplayers

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1. Plan ahead.

  • Research your character’s backstory, style, and various looks
  • Make a budget to make sure you don’t blow your rent money on creating your outfit—and don’t forget to factor in extras like makeup and accessories. 
  • Design your creation, especially if you’re planning to do a spin on a popular character—for example, a zombie or steampunk twist.
  • Order any parts, prosthetics, makeup, wigs, and clothing items you might need. 

2. Build your character.

For your first cosplay, it’s a good idea to start small. Maybe you have a piece that’s similar to one worn by one of your favorite characters; begin there and build out. 

For example, let’s say you have a yellow-and-red-checkered shirt that looks like the one Woody wears in “Toy Story.” From there, you probably already have jeans and a red bandana, and it’s easy to find a pair of brown cowboy boots. Then, add accessories: a cowboy hat, belt buckle, holster, and sheriff pin. The only difficult item to locate is a cow-print vest—which you may be able to sew yourself.

3. Rehearse.

Make sure you also have enough time to do a “dress rehearsal.” Consider these factors:

  • Are you comfortable in your costume?
  • Does it fit properly?
  • Are there any missing or nonfunctional parts?
  • Do you know how to apply your makeup, and that you won’t have an allergic reaction to the type you choose?

If you want to act the part, too, practice ahead of time. Cosplay isn’t just about dressing up; it’s about embodying the character. Gain confidence speaking in their voice and walking the way they do. Most importantly, practice your poses; if your cosplay is impressive enough, fellow convention attendees may ask to take pictures of you.

4. Research the event.

Learn as much as possible about the con you’re attending. Read up on policies and guidelines, as well as the culture of the event; you wouldn’t want to show up as a Disney princess at an anime convention. Finally, check what the rules are when it comes to prop weapons—some venues don’t permit attendees to bring replicas of guns, swords, or knives, for example. 

5. Have fun—and be safe.

Ultimately, cosplaying is all about embodying your favorite character and having a good time with your fellow fans. That said, be sure to protect yourself from anyone attempting to invade your personal space. If anyone makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to report them to security.

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