By Jacqueline Rzesa– Collegiate Staff
Cosplay is a complex art. Compared to other forms of costuming, cosplay is inordinately time and work intensive. Only so much general information can be conveyed, and each of the headers below requires its own article to fully explain. While the following guide outlines the basic elements to complete a cosplay costume, it’s no replacement for proper research. For this reason, links to tutorial sites to help guide that research are provided throughout.
Costuming v. Cosplaying:
Costuming is assembling and wearing a costume. Cosplaying is costuming and playing a character or role. That role doesn’t refer to acting alone. It also refers to how convention groups treat and refer to cosplayers like the character of their costume. Most conventions focus on cosplaying, which is why the term “cosplaying” is frequently used in the place of “costuming” when referring to convention costumes.
Means of creating a costume:
Controversy surrounds how the creation of a costume affects its worth, but all of the following means are considered valid.
Premade: When someone buys a premade costume from sites like Ebay, Amazon, or Hello Cosplay. It’s the easiest and most expensive means of forming a costume. It’s the least time consuming. Out of the all means, costume details tend to be the least accurate.
Commissioning: When someone hires an artist to make a costume, or component of one. Commissioning is the best when a cosplayer wants to support local artists. The accuracy of a commissioned costume depends on the artist’s knowledge and experience.
Modification: When someone takes a pre-made object or outfit and turns it into a unique costume. Modification is best performed when time is limited and items that closely resemble character items can be found. Modified details tend to be more accurate than buying premade, but less accurate than commissioning or creation.
Creation: When someone creates a costume from scratch. Creation is the hardest and cheapest way to make a costume. It’s also the most time consuming. Out of all the means, costume details tend to be the most accurate.
Ultimately, a cosplayer should decide on a means based on their time, budget, experience and motivation.
Differences in item and material requirements make giving general costume price estimates difficult. Common costumes tend to be cheaper than obscure costumes, and simple costumes tend to be cheaper than complex costumes. Other choices like wig, shoe and material types also factor in.
Assuming that a cosplayer owns none of their equipment beforehand, a simple costume will usually cost between $50-$200. A complex costume will usually cost between $250-$1500. The average is around $120.
Time of preparation:
If someone plans to attend a convention with a costume, basic costumes should be started at least three months ahead of time. Complex costumes may require 5-7 months. Huge projects may require a year or more.
The prep times listed above don’t only account for production time, they also account for shipping and other complications. Shipping complications happen regularly, and delays can cost tons of project work hours. Commissioned artists can drop the job. Costume pieces can break. Skill can be overestimated, and some final processes required for costume completion might be undoable. A total change of plans might be required due to a school or work time constraint. With the time for actual costume assembly thrown in, the best thing that a cosplayer can do is to give themselves as much time as possible.
Anything and anyone can be cosplayed. Basic ideas can be vague, but final concepts should be specific because many character appearances vary by game, episode or chapter.
The character or concept chosen can affect the number of photographs taken of a costume at conventions. Characters from popular media tend to be in more photos than characters from unpopular media. Popular characters tend to be in more photos than unpopular characters. Rare costumes tend to be in more photos than common costumes. Complex costumes tend to be in more photos than simple costumes. However, a well-executed costume will always be in more photographs than a poorly-executed costume.
Achieving a balance between favored characters/concepts and popularity can be difficult. Take some time to weigh the importance of each, and use that to narrow down costume ideas.
Collect multiple references of a character’s outfit with at least one shot from the front, back and side. If a character has props, do the same with each one.
Never use screenshots as a reference. Media lighting conditions often distort a character’s color scheme. With animation, some details may be forgotten, distorted or intentionally removed due to scene requirements or time constraints. Artbooks, concept designs and promotional material can be more reliable.
For people cosplaying original characters and concepts, sketch out designs from each of the three basic angles. Simplify core details, but render everything in color. Props and unique pieces of armor and clothing should be rendered complexly on their own detail pages.
Wigs are mandatory, even if a cosplayer’s natural hair matches their character’s hair. Natural hair doesn’t photograph well.
Never use a Halloween wig. Halloween wig fibers usually have a bright sheen, which ruins photographs. They’re not intended to be styled and usually break if styling is attempted.
Always read product descriptions on fiber type. Fiber type can affect the appearance and feel of a wig. More importantly, some fibers will burn if straightening or curling irons are used. Pick a fiber type of a wig based on the styling requirements for a costume.
Makeup is mandatory. Cameras distort and harshen appearance without it. The amount, types and brands of makeup required will vary by costume.
It’s highly recommended to watch or read multiple character specific tutorials before buying makeup. These tutorials often include item lists and show what products will look like when used.
All materials used should align with a character’s status, history, and personality. Characters of high status typically require high quality fabrics with complex patterns. Characters of low status typically require low quality fabrics with simple or no patterns. Characters may express opinions on specific clothing styles or fabric types which may seriously limit cloth and metal options.
Some character objects and clothing pieces have specific materials listed. In those cases, materials don’t have to be exact, but they should closely resemble the correct ones.
The best way to keep costs down is to check the websites of popular fabric and craft stores for coupons and special offers, and study material alternatives. For instance, instead of styrene or wonderflex, armor and metal can be replicated with craft foam.
Props aren’t considered mandatory, unless a character is never shown without an item or accessory.
Research the purpose and history of props. Some characters will die without them. Some outfits only exist because of a prop’s presence. Guns and other weapons look weird if they’re held improperly. Understanding the history, purpose and use of items prevents embarrassment and ensures accuracy.
The torso and leg portions of a costume vary way too much to address generally. Search the master tutorial list linked at the top of this article for torso/leg wear guides.
Cosplay shoes should always match a character’s status and personality. A knight character will look silly with gray UGGs. A business character will look silly with sandals. Unless a character is normally portrayed with a weird shoe type, keep reality in mind.
The Golden Rule:
In closing, it’s always better to complete a simple costume well, than to complete a complex costume poorly. Nobody should feel pressured to break their budget over a costume, or to make projects that they don’t have the skill or time for.