Written by Cheryl Cottrell-Smith
Did you ever want to cosplay but were terrified of walking around in public dressed in costume? Perhaps you bought your first cosplay and got a taste for the culture, but don’t know where to start?
Cosplay is an art form, but that doesn’t mean that newcomers aren’t welcome. It’s surprisingly daunting to head out the door dressed as one of your favourite characters, unless you’re a man or woman of steel, and many new cosplayers need plenty of support before they feel comfortable putting themselves out there in any place, at any time.
I began cosplaying less than a year ago, so I’m relatively new to the culture. The first time I ever cosplayed at a con was when I wore a Silk Spectre II costume to the Edmonton Comic and Entertainment Expo in 2014—I remember shaking in my boots the moment I left my apartment. I was terrified. What if there weren’t many people in cosplay? Would anyone laugh at me? Do I have time to run home and change into street clothes?
What if there weren’t many people in cosplay? Would anyone laugh at me? Do I have time to run home and change into street clothes?
Thankfully, I bit the bullet. I showed up, sweating buckets for fear of humiliation, and I couldn’t have been more needlessly worried. The level of acceptance was shocking. Children and adults alike would smile as I walked past, recognizing a character from one of their favourite comic books. A young boy would run up and say “I really like your costume” before running back to his parents. The level of connection at conventions is greater than anything I’ve ever experienced. Thousands of people with the same interests in a confined space means that you will almost always make a few new friends, if you’re open to meeting new people.
As Silk Spectre II, random strangers would ask to take pictures with me. Me. Someone who, forty minutes prior, had been dreading ridicule and laughter. Of course, for some people, this isn’t an issue. For those who might be less confident, however, it’s a true eye-opener into the world of cosplay. Cosplaying has become popular to a phenomenal degree and, if anything, the level of acceptance has grown to include practically anyone with some investment in popular culture. I mentally applaud the cosplayers who have been practicing their art for years, before the mainstream boom.
Since that first convention, I was hooked. I’ve transitioned from buying costumes, to piecing them together, to owning my very first sewing machine. I’m getting involved in the local cosplay culture, making friends with other cosplayers, and booking photo shoots. In my experience, there is no secret to cosplay, whether you craft your own armour or choose to buy your outfits. All you need is a little confidence to strut your nerdy stuff—and, failing that, a great support group to give you the boost you need.
My advice for newcomers?
- Be confident. Don’t let anyone trash talk your cosplay, especially if they don’t have the balls to do it themselves.
- Start out small. You might want to go straight to the Halo armour, but it takes professional cosplayers years to learn their craft. It might be wise to start with something less time-intensive.
- Wigs are a good thing. You don’t always need a wig for your cosplay, but there’s just something so complete about a costume that has a perfect wig.
- Correct shoes are also a good thing. You can wear whatever you want, but a Deadpool with white Nikes won’t have the same effect as a Deadpool with red boots or a full bodysuit.
- Document your cosplay. With the amount of time and effort that go into so many cosplays, is it any wonder that so many of us get professional photography? You don’t have to go that far if you don’t want to, but be sure to get a friend to take pictures of you rocking your costume for posterity’s sake.
Kristy L Photography and I held a photo shoot of my Maya Natsume (Tenjho Tenge) cosplay to show how easy it is to transform from a regular, everyday woman into an anime character. With a little tenacity, a beloved costume, and a spectacular photographer, anything is possible in the world of cosplay.
Honestly, folks—if I can do it, anyone can. Be whoever you want to be.
I’m going to leave you with some advice to noobs from a few of my favourite local cosplayers, all of whom have various degrees of experience. Do you have advice to new cosplayers? Leave a comment below!
“I started in about 2005; I had a friend who was super into [cosplay] and made all her own costumes and such. [She] asked me and a friend if we wanted to do a group with her, so we said yes. It was just for a fun casual photo shoot and that was my first introduction to cosplay.
I attended cons and made costumes with my friend all throughout high school and, when I moved to Vancouver, I still really wanted to cosplay. My friend’s mom helped me make a cosplay that first year out there (Toon Link). In 2009, I made my first cosplay, which was a white priest from Fat Princess with a small group at Sakura-Con. I made everything and relied heavily on iron-on adhesive stuff.
I’d try something a little more difficult every year, always doing my best to make everything myself. Sometimes I’ll commission or buy small things, like props or accessories, but by now I’d say other than wigs, I make 95% of my costumes myself—ten years after starting this crazy hobby.
I mainly cosplay characters from video games; for example, Final Fantasy X and MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arena games) like League of Legends.
My main advice for noobies is take your time! Ask questions—Google things because someone out there has asked the question before and can probably give you tips. Don’t rush.
Ultimately, it’s something that we do for fun but you want to feel good and look as good as you can, so plan ahead, give yourself as much time as you need (and probably more than you think).
But especially pick characters you love because ultimately it’s a super dorky hobby and we’re all just geeks dressing up as fictional characters.”
Alexa’s Facebook Page (Kumomi Cosplay)
Vicky Lau is an avid cosplayer with over ten years of cosplay experience. Since childhood, she has had an interest in Japanese anime and culture. Over the past decade, she has immersed herself in the artistry of costume design and creation, spending countless hours crafting costumes and props.
She is heavily involved in the anime community and has travelled to various anime conventions around the world. Combining her cosplay skills with her newfound passion in photography, she continues to expand her creative horizon.
“Cosplay is such an exciting and creative area for people! Get out there in the community and meet people, share your ideas and ask questions. It’s important to have the proper wig and makeup to enhance the overall look of your cosplay. And most importantly, always make sure to have fun!”
Vicky’s Facebook Page (Vivid Vision)
“I have been cosplaying for a year, with the Calgary Comic Expo marking my one year anniversary. I play one character: Wolverine. When I started, I wanted to do the character justice and made great attempts to replicate his look based on Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine from the film.
There are perhaps better costumes in terms of cosplay out there, as Wolverine is pretty simple. What I do, though, is bring the character to life. I don’t wear a costume—I become the character. People who interact with me have told me I sell the character.
For me, cosplay is part costume and part theatre—you have to become the character you’re cosplaying. I think that’s where a lot of cosplayers fall short.
As for my advice to those starting to cosplay: pick a character you like and bring that character to life. Most importantly, have fun with it. If it becomes too much stress and work, you’ve missed the point of the cosplay experience.”