Help! 10 Tips for Scared and Confused New Cosplayers
Cosplay is complicated. It sounds simple enough on the surface—you admire a character and you want to dress up like them. But it involves a head-to-toe transformation involving wigs, hair dye, skin care, makeup; sewing, making, or buying a costume; measuring yourself; researching the details of your character's costume, hair, and shoes; and urgh it can get frustrating at times—even painful.
My top three tips to keep in mind:
- Choose comfort over exactly matching the anime. Your character wears 9-inch stilettos because it is a fantasy world where that does not cause agonizing foot pain. You're not in that world, unfortunately. You can get flats or shorter heels in the same color, still look like the character, and your feet will thank you. Same goes for impossibly big wigs or improbable dresses and weapons.
- Don't worry about your body type or size. Most anime characters are skinny, even tiny. And you can still look cute af cosplaying as them, even if you're not!
- Be confident in your costume. Be prepared to handle criticism, perhaps even by thinking of comebacks in advance. But the thing is, most people will love and compliment your costume at a convention! So, don't worry—what is the opinion of one bully weighed against the ten people who say "nice costume"?
10. Skin Care
The foundation of makeup is skin care, and I usually do makeup first, then the costume, then the wig, then the shoes when putting on my cosplay. So, skin care!
The basics of a skincare routine are:
And you should do these steps before adding makeup. Also, you should definitely use cleanser when removing makeup, so you know the skin is totally clean. Makeup particles left behind can clog pores, causing acne, and leaving it on is just generally unhealthy and unsanitary. Leftover makeup will also stain your pillowcase and sheets. Make especially sure to take mascara off (I use makeup remover wipes) at the end of each day, or your eyelashes will dry up, crack up, and fall off. Yikes!
So, make sure you start and end your cosplay day with skincare, especially cleanser (Not soap, soap's pH is too harsh for facial skin, ideally you should use a product marked as a facial cleanser. I personally like Neutrogena's cleanser.). Good skin care is a primer for a good makeup application. And practice thorough makeup removal at the end of the day.
Here's a good article about skincare for cosplayers.
- Keep it waterproof. Waterproof mascara. Setting powder or spray on the facial makeup. All-day lip color. You will be at a con all day, and you will probably be sweating.
- I like to put makeup on first, then the costume, then the wig. Because makeup sometimes involves loose powders that scatter onto your neck and chest. That would look bad if they got on to your costume. So I get my makeup how I want, set it, then put the costume on. Saves so much stress. Also, it can be hard to put a costume on over a bulky wig, so I do the wig last.
- The best makeup for cosplay is stage makeup, such as Ben Nye, especially if you'll literally be on stage (like doing a skit or panel) or for photography.
- If your character doesn't wear makeup (because most anime girls don't), it's still a good idea to do minimal, natural-looking makeup to smooth out your appearance, hide flaws, and give your eyelashes that big anime-style look. Most anime characters have a dark eyelash line, so I would recommend a liquid eyeliner (or a pencil for the more timid). Dudes should do this too.
Wigs are probably the best way to transform your natural hair into glorious waves of anime fabulosity. The convenient thing is that they can be taken off instantly, unlike permanent or semi-permanent hair dye.
The tricky thing about wigs is that they can be heavy.
- Splurge on a wig. It will have better coverage, more fibers, and more styling options than a cheap wig.
- Use hairspray and gel to style it.
- Get a wig brush. They have wider teeth.
- Cut it! Most wigs are too big and are made with the intention that you will cut the hair to match your character and make the wig more comfortable to wear. Just be careful, cuts into a wig's hair are permanent.
- Get a wig that's comfortable to wear all day, even if it's not quite as long or big as the anime character you're going for. People will get it.
- Wash it gently with cool water and liquid soap in a sink or bathtub. Then air dry it somewhere. Wash every day at a convention, because otherwise it will get sweat buildup and smell nasty.
- Get a wig cap. It will help immensely in terms of taming your natural hair underneath the wig! I like to use the kind with a hole in the top.
- Use pins for extra security. You can use regular hair pins and/or safety pins. The trick is to hide them under the wig hair.
- Steam your wig - it's a great way to detangle a wig, clean it, or give it some umph. Works like magic on old, scraggly wigs. I have the steamer I personally use from Amazon below! Definite lifesaver! I wish I had learned about this earlier.
- Brush a wig with a regular hairbrush. It will rip out too many strands. Human hair grows back and wig hair doesn't, so you need a wig brush.
- I prefer NOT to use wig glue or tape. It's probably not necessary, and you're likely going to be removing the wig when you take breaks at the convention.
- I bought wig detangling spray but I don't think it's necessary. Steam or soap and cold water work just fine.
- Use heat directly on a wig, unless the seller says that is OK. If you're not sure, take a test strand and see if the heat melts or vaporizes it. Better safe than sorry!
- Use a wig made for Halloween. Most of these are cheap and crappy. For cosplay, I like Arda Wigs. Nothing beats wigs from professional experts, as opposed to bargain warehouse stores.
7. Hair Dye
Permanent or non-permanent hair dying costs less than a wig (unless you do it at a salon, which can get expensive). Temporary dyes and hair chalks wash out, allowing you to have an "unnatural" hair color at a con and take it off when the con is over.
- Have a friend help you to make sure the dye is on all your strands.
- Bleach your hair before dying an unnatural color. Bleach it bright white. Then the color you dye it will come out a LOT brighter!
- Shampoo and condition your hair after rinsing. It will take a long time to rinse out in the sink or tub. Just be patient!
- You will probably get dye on your pillowcase, so try using one especially for that purpose (like an older one).
- Use these wipes, or a similar product, to get dye off your face, neck, forehead, ears, hands, etc. Another awesome thing I wish I had known about earlier.
- Make a mess. Colorful hair dye is messy. Put newspaper or plastic sheeting everywhere. Use vinyl or latex gloves.
- Leave a mess. If you do get dye on something (you will), clean it up quickly, before a stain has a chance to set in.
- Walk away/dry without rinsing the color out. You should be able to run a jet of water through your hair and have it come out clear. If not, you have dye buildup that will get on everything your hair touches.
6. Making a Costume
Learning to make your own patterns, select fabric, and sew a costume involves a lot of learning. Some people learn by doing, others can learn from written instructions, others by watching a video or watching a friend sew, etc. But here's the basic process:
- Get reference images for your character. You should be able to see the character's full body. Images should include details of the character's accessories and shoes.
- Start by buying items you think you could find cheaply and don't want to bother sewing. Examples: belts, t-shirts, necklaces, shoes. T-shirts are great because they can be altered by cutting, fabric paint, and dying.
- Make accessories you want to make. I like to start with the smaller things and work my way up. That way, my hand has become steadier by the time I tackle the bigger things. The basic process is to draw the thing, measure yourself, estimate the size of the fabric you'll need, buy the fabric, cut out the thing, and sew the thing.
- Move up to sewing bigger pieces. If I can, I prefer altering clothes that already exist from eBay or thrift stores. But if you want to sew the costume, it's the same thing for each piece you make: measure yourself, estimate the size of the fabric you'll need, buy fabric, cut a piece out, and sew. I like hand-sewing because I'm not that good with sewing machines.
Some basic sewing tips (I don't know a whole lot about sewing myself):
- Bias refers to the grain of the fabric. It's important when cutting pieces to sew together that you plan it so that the bias matches.
- Many fabrics have an "outside" and "inside". Make sure you check carefully so you know the outside of the fabric will go on the outside of the garment.
- Don't go too tight. It's always better if the final product is too loose than too tight. Add about half an inch (or 1cm) for stitches.
- It's always a good idea to iron fabrics before sewing. But watch out, some fabrics cannot withstand heat (I actually melted a tank top this way!). Just Google "[your fabric type] + heat". Some can be steamed instead of ironing. A lot of people also like to wash and dry fabrics they buy before wearing them, but the same rule applies; always check to see what is and is not safe for your type of fabric.
- Avoid overly shiny fabrics, because they tend to show up badly in photography.
- Similarly, watch out for fabrics that might be see-through in direct light. Because then a photographer might get a picture of more than you wanted to show! I like cotton because as long as there are enough layers of it, you're usually good.
If at all possible, I prefer to alter existing clothing than to try to sew my own, which is a big fat hairy deal. But if you're one of those types who likes sewing, or couldn't bear the thought of cutting up an old skirt, go for it.
5. Buying a Costume
I get it, sewing is frustrating. And you might not have the time to make your own costume. Making one's own costume is ideal, but lots of stores online have great costumes. And, if a costume is extremely detailed or wildly fantastical, it's not likely that it will be easy to make it from crap you salvage from Goodwill, yard sales, and the clearance aisles. But as I experienced with the above Madoka costume, there are certain issues with bought costumes I want to address:
- Sizing. Ok, most of these are made in China. They have um, smaller bodies than most Americans. Especially in the boob department. Check the size guide very carefully because you might be an XXXL in China even if you're like, a Medium here. So do not just use your American size!
- Given that they have itty bitty titties, if you are a more "endowed" girl, you might find it necessary to go for the custom sizing option, which is usually available on eBay and Amazon. This also applies if you have a larger posterior. The sizes are arranged by most online stores to assume that your size in one area corresponds directly to your size in other areas. So they think if you have a skinny ass, you have small boobs and vice versa. When this isn't the case, go customized size. Also, measure yourself correctly using a measuring tape.
- Also because they're from China, they'll take usually a month to three, or more, to arrive. Custom-sized costumes are made to order. And hell, even regular sized costumes might have to be sewn on-demand. So expect a wait, and if you're planning to go to a con, order your costume WAAAAAY in advance! Give yourself 5-6 months, just to be sure.
- Despite this, I generally find Chinese-made costumes to be decent quality and reliable, holding up to multiple wears and closely resembling the characters. You're paying a lot, so they generally try their best. But the less you pay, the less quality/matching of the character you might see. I love Amazon for buying costumes.
I only have second-hand experience of this myself. I never bothered to make Kyoko's weapon (from Puella Magi Madoka Magica). I carried and ate apples and pocky as props for her instead. Props are hard. But just like with sewing, it's all about getting detailed reference images, figuring out what materials are needed in what quantity, and cutting, painting, gluing, etc. I recommend cardboard for weapons because it's cheap and light. Make sure you're not violating the weapons policy of the convention you will be attending (they usually have one online). One tip is to start with a white coat of paint, so the colors will show up brighter on top of it, than if you start painting directly onto cardboard or wood. For a large spear or scythe, you could start with a broom or mop handle and glue on a cardboard blade. You can spray-paint the entire prop, and metallic spray-paint is good for weapons and fake jewelry. But make sure you put lots of newspaper down, use gloves and maybe goggles and a face mask just in case, and make sure that the area is well-ventilated. Safety first! A shed or garage is a good place to do this.
3. Convention Hygiene
Some participants at conventions are a bit... noticeably funky. Some people also forget to shower or use deodorant during the excitement of the con weekend. Do not be those people! No one will tell you that you stink, probably. Just make sure you wear deodorant, refresh yourself by cleaning up a bit in your room between panels, and shower every night or every morning, at least. Nobody wants to sit next to somebody who stinks. It's courtesy.
2. Convention Etiquette
On the subject of courtesy, let me put on my "big sis" pants and say:
- Don't yell.
- Don't block up the halls.
- If you want to take someone's picture, try to do so in a place that is not interrupting the flow of traffic through the halls (go off to the side with that!).
- Don't harass or stalk people.
- Don't shout lewd things, or touch people without their consent. This should be obvious, but apparently, it isn't to some people.
- Ask to take someone's photograph. Respect their privacy.
- It is generally against the rules anyway, but try to refrain from running, because you might hurt someone accidentally.
1. Cosplay Practicality and Closing Thoughts
Conventions and cosplay come with some practical considerations. You don't want to impede your movement. Make sure you can breathe. Pace yourself and drink water. It's OK as I said above to wear a lower heel or a flat shoe. You have to walk in the shoes all day. Accuracy can go f*ck itself as soon as my feet hurt, if we're being honest. Generally, it's good to compliment people if you like their costume, and to say nothing if you do not. Make sure your costume is such that you could get up and run to the nearest exit in an emergency. A lot of anime characters have costumes that aren't practical, but yours should be altered to fit the needs of reality. Since obviously, you can't alter reality. Unless you're really committed to that Haruhi Suzumiya cosplay. Remember that the point of cosplay is to have fun. Silence your inner critic and just enjoy the party.