By WesJade Cosplay and Zaynab Asmal
If you’ve ever been to a comic or pop culture event, you will likely have seen people dressed in all sorts of costumes, many of them handmade. And while it is awesome to interact with these individuals, snapping pictures and sharing in the love of a character, you may have also wanted to join their ranks. So allow us to turn that spark of desire into a burning urge to make a costume of your own and join the cosplayer ranks!
But before you even begin, there are probably plenty of questions running through your mind, chief of them being “Where do I start?”
First, some ground rules:
1. Cosplay is about having fun.
There are plenty of other elements, but this should be the base you build your cosplay journey on. There are many things that people do for the sake of cosplay, but it should always be driven by love and enjoyment. In the making of a costume or skit, you can get stressed but if, at the end of it all, you aren’t having fun then maybe it’s time to step back and re-evaluate why.
2. You decide what your cosplay should look like (unless you’re entering a comp).
A big part of cosplay is letting your creativity run wild. You can look up a thousand reference images and check out every alternative outfit a character wears, but you’re more than welcome to build your own ideas. What if x character lived in y universe? What would they dress as? Feel free to explore those options in making your costume. And for every element in the costume, you can choose what to make it from and how. Just because something is a common technique does not mean you have to follow it.
3. You don’t have to be accurate (unless you’re entering a comp).
Always remember this, especially when real life is grinding you down. Don’t have the right color hair or wig? Leave it out, or wear a color you do have. Costume has a thousand small elements or several props? Make or buy only what you are comfortable with, or leave them out entirely. You can only put together a few parts of the costume or you have something that looks close to it? Go for it! Don’t pressurise yourself to be perfect when really, the fact that you tried is more than enough! Cosplaying – at any level – is always more fun than dressing like a muggle 😉
4. No one should ever make you feel bad about your cosplay.
And if anyone does, kick them to the curb or call on us to do it for you. There is no right ‘look’ for a cosplay and not even a judge in a competition – who is paid to evaluate your costume – would ever shame you for your effort. In this community, we celebrate diversity, effort and trying your best! So things like racism, elitism, sexism or body-policing have no place here, and we work hard to make sure everyone gets that message.
5. Don’t compare yourself to others.
We often see this with newbies to the game. They look at competing cosplayers or the awesome costumes people wear on the convention floor and feel intimidated or saddened by their work. If that happens, pop on over to the Cosplay Cape Town table and let us reassure you how much you have done and are capable of doing. Effort and trying is everything. Every cosplayer has a journey to go through, have their own circumstances and resources that help or hinder them along the way. Check out some old flashback challenges from local cosplayers to see how they’ve come up or just ask them how they made something you wish you could. Skill building takes time, but if you start, you will eventually succeed.
6. Never put someone else down for their work.
Maybe you don’t understand how someone won a comp, or why someone is popular in the community. Maybe you don’t like how someone interpreted a character or you think you could do better. The world provides us with enough negativity, so please don’t breath that toxicity into a community built on fandom love. Keep those thoughts to yourself, politely learn more about the community so you can understand how skills and reputation is earned, and channel any conflicting thoughts into bettering yourself or your cosplay skills. Don’t ruin rule number 1 for anyone, please.
There is so much more we could add there, but those are some of the essential things to keep in mind as you enter the cosplay scene. But now, what do you do to actually cosplay? Below you’ll find a very basic guideline on where to begin.
Pick a Character:
There are thousands of characters to choose from. Even this basic step can be daunting, but there are a few things to keep in mind when selecting your first character to cosplay.
Keep it simple – find a character that doesn’t require you to do intricate craftwork or sewing when you’ve done neither before. The simpler the character, the easier it will be for you to make the costume. Think of characters with uniforms or casual wear that would be easy to replicate, or characters with minimal armour pieces. Also take into account the hair colour of the character and how easy it would be for you to source a wig, if that’s what you want to do.
Choose characters you love – In all likelihood, you’ve watched a few programmes or movies you’ve grown to love. Pick a character from one of these. You’ll be more invested in completing the character because they’re dear to your heart.
Decide which costume of the character you want to make. Most characters have more than one outfit, and you can even look up official character art or fan art to find something you like! Sometimes it’s easier to pick an easy or casual look to begin the character, and then as you get more into cosplaying, have a bigger budget or learn more skills to make items, move towards the more intricate or well known versions of a character’s costume.
Level of comfortability – How comfortable will you be wearing this costume? Are you able to portray the personality of this character? If you’re the introverted type, cosplaying an outgoing or aggressive character might do well to build your self-confidence in general. However, choosing a reserved character might do well for you too, as it can ease you into the scene. Being in character is not essential outside of comps, but it adds another level of fun.
Like this Funko Pop Riddler, you might still have a giant question mark hovering on your head. Don’t worry: we’ll get there.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it can help to make a character wishlist of all the cosplays you want to do. This can be based on what you have on hand, the hair colors you want to work with, the characters you love the most or just some bad ass costumes you will want to make. Then based on the next two steps, you will be able to choose at least one that you can start on. But keep the list so you can refer to it when the next con rolls around!
Break it Down:
Break the elements of the costume down. This can help prevent you from feeling overwhelmed by the projects and help you figure out whether you can actually pull it off within your budget and time frame. Start at the top and list the components.
To figure out the components, you can check out character sheets of the character (created by the people who designed them or by other cosplayers, uploaded on the web), reference photos of the character (either HD screenshots from the original series, or official art/merchandise) or look at other people’s cosplays of the character. Youtube and Pinterest often have character breakdowns (searching ‘x character cosplay DIY/tutorial/how to/breakdown’ can usually get you on the right track) and cosplay amino and other such websites have forums teeming with questions and ideas. If you’re not sure how to make something, you can ask on those sites or on one of the local cosplay groups on Facebook – Cosplay Cape Town, Cosplay SA etc. By keeping it local, you often get more budget-feasible and specific responses.
If you’re planning on buying most of the items or using stuff from your closet, you will just create a shopping list for the character.
If you’re planning on making the costume, you will not just list the components for yourself, but also try writing out a basic plan of how to sew/craft each component that you want to make. For example: Shirt – find a pattern, buy fabric, trace and cut out pattern, sew pieces together; Pauldrons – make/find a pattern, buy foam/material, practice tracing it on paper, measure pattern to shoulder, cut out pattern on, assemble mock-up, fit to shoulder, trace pattern to foam…etc.
Doing this may help you to complete the project more smoothly.
Keep in mind that not everything that you list down for the character will be in the final costume. That is entirely up to you, your time and your resources.
Once you’ve selected a character and worked out what’s required for it, it’s important to make sure you can afford to make it. Cosplay can be a very expensive hobby and therefore it is important for you to consider how much you are willing to spend to bring your character to life. The more accurate you want to be, the more you will likely spend, so set yourself a budget and stick to it.
Try and source as much of your materials through recycling. This can mean making things out of paper mache, re-purposing things around the house and spending a lot of time googling DIY and craft ideas. But you can also get away with being creative in your crafting, or asking for help from others in the community or just the people around you. You would be surprised by how many people would be willing to Marie Kondo things for your crafts, or by the skills and tips your family members have that can save you a buck.
Once you’ve decided and executed the above, you can begin to gather your materials. This includes any tools you might need. Your list of components will also help you determine what fabrics and other components you’ll need.
Below you will find a list of suppliers of cosplay related materials (as recommended by BlackLily Cosplay)
- CosKraft – wigs, lenses, thermoplastic foam, cosplay supplies.
- Koncept Kitty – wigs, lenses, costumes, sourcing.
- Ludus Creations – custom made costumes and props.
- SinBin – custom made costumes and props, cosplay supplies.
- The Cosplay Cartel – custom made props.
- Fairy Fountains – 3D printing.
- Eye Voodoo – lenses.
- Deckle Edge – paint, brushes, arts and craft materials.
- Sondor – EVA and SPX Foam.
- Builders’ Warehouse – craft supplies
- Fabric World – fabrics, haberdashery.
- AliExpress – costumes and wigs
- Ebay – costumes and wigs
- Wish – costumes and wigs
- Arda – wigs
- MicCostumes – costumes and wigs
- Pinka Paradise – lenses, prescription and non.
Bear in mind that ordering from international suppliers is subject to long waiting times. Certain international suppliers might offer cheap, sub-par products, while others are expensive but good quality.
Thrift stores or China Towns are also great places to source materials on a tight budget, but be sure to give yourself time to compare prices! Visit charity stores around your neighbourhood, since they often have donated items going for under R100, or go to a local flea market and see if there’s anything you can use going for cheap. Also search local trading hubs and smaller bargain stores, especially those outside of affluent areas, where you can usually find items for a steal! Try to avoid hipster-y areas or mall stores as prices there can be a bit steep for a small budget, but definitely keep in mind secondhand stores or local hawkers in places like Wynberg, Mowbray, Rylands etc. Remember that you can always re-purpose an item of clothing or break something down for its materials.
Assemble the Costume:
These images are for the making of Rinko Ogasawara (Shirobako). For the full gallery showing a step by step breakdown of putting this costume together, check out WesJade Cosplay.
Now for the fun part: putting the costume together! Your breakdown list will help well here. Remember not to rush this part. This is where mistakes are prone to happen and you could subject yourself to frustration. On the other hand, if you’ve assembled a component, and you’re not happy with it, do it over. If you’re dissatisfied with the end result, it’s okay to do it over. Follow your pattern, and make adjustments where necessary.
Then it’s time for a fitting! Try your costume on. If you’re happy with it, and feel comfortable, you’ve done a good job. All that’s left for you to do is make-up and styling your hair/wig! Which will be talked about in another article. Keep in mind that neither of these are necessary but it certainly improves the overall look of your cosplay, and it helps to have practiced them before the con.
Finally! The end!
Some say a cosplay ends after it has its turn on the convention floor or the stage. But, does it ever really end? You can take the cosplayer out of their character, but does the character ever leave the cosplayer? O.o
More importantly, the end of a cosplay or costume is up to you! Re-wear it as often as you want (you worked hard on it!), rework it as you get time/resources/skills or even reuse it for other cosplays. The important thing is: have fun while you’re wearing it! Make friends in the cosplay community, get your loved ones involved or at least supportive of your work, and take a ton of photos! You deserve it!
And if you can, share it with others in the community! Get your name and work out there. You can even apply to be a featured new cosplay(er) on our site!
See you soon in the next post in our Cosplaying 101 series! Feel free to suggest or submit articles/topics to us.