I’ve been cosplaying since long before the word cosplay existed. Back then, we just called it going to a convention, or Renfaire, or Tuesday at Grandma’s retirement villa. But no matter what you call it, cosplay can be a total blast. All you need to get started are a few guiding principles…
There’s no law that says getting into cosplay has to break the bank. In fact, if you’re just getting started and are uncertain of either your skills or your commitment to the whole idea, it’s better if you don’t spend a boatload of cash. I’ve seen my share of big dreamers who found themselves, the night before a con, in a frustrated panic over an expensive, half-finished pile of would-be costume. There is no currency in reaching for the stars, if your budget (or skills) will only afford you a stepladder.
Besides, some really great cosplay can be put together on a minimal budget. Putting them together will take forethought and effort on your part, however. But in this, as in many things, thrift and import stores are your friend. The same goes for family closets. You never know what your elder relatives have hiding in storage, and are willing to give away.
Go With What You Know
It’s often best to start with a fandom/game/era that you are pretty familiar with. I’m not saying you need an encyclopedic knowledge of every character and their every inner thought, but a broad knowledge is helpful in avoiding mistakes. This goes for those who cosplay and those who don’t.
For those that cosplay, there’s nothing more mortifying than discovering an embarrassing mistake in your design, then having to live with it for the rest of the event. Unless your deviations from canon are deliberate (which is totally valid), save yourself some heartache and do your research first.
For those that don’t cosplay, just because you don’t recognize a particular cosplay, doesn’t mean it ain’t a thing. Or maybe it looks like one thing, but is another, or a variation. And if you don’t know for sure, you risk making an ass of yourself by delivering the yer-doin’-it-wrong speech. Basically, when in doubt, keep your yap shut.
It’s ALL About You
Cosplay is all about externalizing your inner landscape, taking what’s in your head and showing it the light of day. Understand that as scary as it might seem at first, this is something everyone does. EVERYONE. EVERY DAY.
Sure, not everyone gets into cosplay, but there are plenty of common means of personal expression. For example: some people grow facial hair and style it just so, the same goes for that carefully coiffed mane. Some dress in the particular style of a particular era, every day. Some people paint themselves in team colors and shout themselves hoarse at sporting events. Some people wear masks, or cover their clothes in sequins and march or ride horses or floats in parades. Hell, Louisiana makes a huge party of that every year.
It’s NOT About You
If you’re not into cosplay, whether you tried it and hated it, or it never interested you in the first place, then it’s not about you. Whatever you see, whether you approve or don’t approve, it’s not about you. Seeing some super hottie dressed in tissue-paper and makeup is NOT an invitation to you or anyone. Clothing is not consent. You may look, but don’t comment and don’t touch. Comments based on another’s appearance are never as funny out loud as they are in your head, and often come off as terrifying or perverse. And touching someone you don’t know, based on what they’re wearing, is just not acceptable. Don’t do it. Stop, pivot and walk away.
Because here’s the secret, however well-meaning you think you are being, or how much you may think that by dressing up, they’re “asking for it”, they’re not doing it for you. Cosplay is all about the person in the costume. Sure, showing it off can be fun, but it’s about making something you’ve experienced into something of your own, putting it on and owning it. As with any other clothing choice, wearing cosplay in public is a way of communicating, of expressing just a bit of who you are.
If it isn’t fun, don’t do it. Seriously, work, school and everyday obligations can be enough of a drag without a hobby piling on as well. There’s nothing wrong with putting work into your cosplay, just don’t make yourself crazy over it. And for the love of Pete, don’t let others make you crazy over it either. Speaking as someone who once got so caught up in What Was Expected Of Me by my fellows in a certain historical recreation group, a hobby that becomes work feels like a huge betrayal. Because it is.
Base your cosplay on what you love. Enjoy the process, from research, to making to wearing. And don’t ever, ever let anyone tell you it’s not good enough.
There you are, all the personal wisdom that’s fit to print. Now, go make something grand!
For more of Lisa's thoughts on gaming, narrative and geekery in general, try:
- Fair Game: Pop Culture in World Building
- Fair Game: On the Subject of Paladins
- Fair Game: Cultural Reference, Localization and Assumed Knowledge
Image attirbution: Solid Snake - By Michael Mol [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons Duella Dent is copyright DC comics (Images from all over the internet.) All other images were taken by me.