I've been cosplaying for almost a decade now, and in that time I've had my fair share of successes and failures. I've had costumes break apart in the middle of cosplay contest judging, forgotten entire parts of my costumes 3 hours away at home, glued my fingers together, and so much more.
However, I've learned from each experience, and now I'm sharing all of that with you, hoping you don't make the same dumb mistakes.
Special thanks to the SheProp Facebook group that gave so many great ideas when I asked for their "holy grail" tips. Y'all rock! Some of these are even directly copied and pasted from this wonderful community.
Without further ado... THE TIPS!
5 Foot Rule. When crafting, step back and look at your costume from a distance since most people will see your costume from 5 feet away or further. If it looks good at 5 feet, don't stress about it
Go for a walk in your cosplay before the convention. This lets you see what parts of the costume may be uncomfortable for a whole day of wear at the convention
Some costumes will be "good from afar but far from good" and that's ok.
If you can, always add a hidden pocket in your costume to store your phone, wallet, etc.
BRING WATER TO CONVENTIONS!!
Packing a good convention bag is crucial. See my tips for packing a bag like the pros here!
Iron. Every. Seam.
Con crunch is never worth your health. There will always be other conventions
PPE (personal protective equipment) is a must. Respirators and gloves especially. Many cosplay glues, resins, and dust are toxic.
As long as you learn something from each experience, it's not a failure.
Always make a mock-up. Maybe even several mockups.
You aren’t done sanding. You may think you are, but you aren’t.
The 6-2-1 Rule. For every day at a convention, you need 6 hours of sleep, 2 meals, and 1 shower. No exceptions. You'll thank yourself for this.
When you hate what you're working on and just get angry, walk away. Give it five minutes, or maybe even the whole night until the anger subsides. Once you come back with a fresh mind, you can find a whole new perspective and set of solutions.
PLAN PLAN PLAN. When making complex costumes, plan out the layers, your patterns, etc. all in advance. It'll save so much headache
You never have enough zippers, thread, interfacing, muslin, hot glue, super glue, bobby pins, bias tape, etc. If it's on sale, stock up o the basics.
Subscribe to your local fabric store's email list for coupons.
Don't buy expensive fabric until you have one of those coupons
Upholstery fabric can be fantastic for costumes and cheap. My entire Zelda costume was made with $3 a metre upholstery fabric and you can't even tell.
To avoid con crunch, set a deadline the week before the convention to have your costume done and finished. This gives you time for any final fixes and to pack without panicking.
Don't cut anything after 2 am. Actually, just don't craft after 2 am. Sleepy brains make stupid decisions.
It's okay to abandon costumes if they don't work out.
Don't cosplay characters just because you think they'll get likes.
Cosplay is a fantastic way to experiment with different gender presentations in a judgement-free zone
Youtube is your friend. Youtube has so so so many tutorials.
Speaking of Youtube... Drag and cosplay have so much crossover. Don't be afraid to look at drag tutorials too!
Hand sewing is your friend! Can’t get something under your machine because it’s in a weird spot? Hand sew it. Can’t figure out how to make something look nice without stitching showing? Hand sew it.
Cosplay is about the illusion, not the reality. It doesn't matter what you use as long as it works.
If it can go wrong, it will go wrong
Everyone on social media shows them at their absolute best, but I promise they also cried on their floor over a costume too.
Tidy as you go. It's so much easier to craft in a clean, organized workspace
Put the paint water and the drinking water in very different containers.
If wearing gloves at a convention, bring a phone stylus so you can use your phone easier.
Only use makeup on your face. Please don't do your makeup with acrylic paint, sharpies, hot glue horns to your head, etc.
Halloween stores can be a godsend, especially with their post-holiday 50% off sales. Here's what I pick up every year
Contacts are never a necessity for cosplay, but if you do get them, go see an eye doctor before you buy!
You can't have it all. Choose two from "have it cheap, have it perfect, have it now" and stick to them.
The long way is the short way. Spending that extra 5 minutes pinning that seam and making sure it's good to sew will save you the 20 minutes seam ripping that sleeve you just sewed inside out.
Add extra seam allowance to your projects in case you lose/gain weight and need to adjust your costumes.
write it down. All of it. Then when you suddenly drop the project and get back to it a LOOOONNNG time later, you can pick right up where you left off.
Find ways to work smarter, not harder
Use contact cement for gluing together foam, not hot glue
In fact, avoid hot glue when possible. Especially if you plan to wear your cosplay in the summer. Your glue will melt and your costume will fall apart
Spend the most time and effort on the top 1/3rd of your costume, it is what people look at first and most. If you gotta cut corners, cut them elsewhere
Don't be too hard on yourself if the first iteration of your cosplay is not "perfect". Unless you're lucky, you're most likely to repair or redo a certain part of it.
STRETCH!! We as cosplayers spend so much time hunched over while working and our backs are begging for a good stretch.
Social media isn't the end-all-be-all of cosplay. It's a way to build community and make friends, that's it.
If it isn't fun anymore, it's okay to stop.
If a costume is in a superhero or action movie, some element of that costume is probably CGI and you are trying to make it a reality. Give yourself grace for doing what even a team of professionals couldn't do!
In that vein, you're a team of one. Don't put the same standards on your costume made in your basement that is put on a movie costume made by a team of 20 folks.
Second-hand stores are your friend. The materials section has so many fabrics and sewing notions for dirt cheap. Juuuuust wash them first!
Before a convention, practice character poses in the mirror so that you can strike the best poses when asked for a photo!
Don't get mad or offended if someone cosplays the same character as you. If anything, you now have an immediate interest to bond over!
Comfort is more important than accuracy. I won't lie, I wear running shoes with most of my costumes at conventions because I'm not walking 15000 steps in heels.
Please only bind using a proper binder and don't wear it for over 8 hours. Bruised ribs are not fun!
If you want to know if something works - just do it! Don’t be afraid to try something new. Be it new material, or a new technique that you heard someone talk about. If you're worried you'll mess up, make a mock-up first!
Adjust the costume design to make it look good and be comfortable for YOU. No one is shaped like an anime character. You'll be happier, people will be impressed and honestly: no one will tell on you.
Make sure your convention cosplays have easy bathroom access!
You don't just have to cosplay characters you look like. Most cosplay is fake anyways with prosthetics, chest plates, hip pads, binding, makeup, etc. So have fun with it!
All for cosplay, cosplay for all. Anyone can cosplay.
Blackface. Never do it. Like. If you can take one thing from this list, just don't blackface.
Make sure you can sit in your cosplay or be able to remove parts of it easily so that you can.
You don't have to cosplay only at conventions. I think COVID taught a lot of us that, but cosplaying at home is fun too!
Sounds silly, but you can't make cosplay friends if you don't talk to people. It took me 6 years to learn that, but I also have anxiety so that could be a factor.
If you feel unsafe at a convention and can't find staff or security, go up to a random group of safe-looking folks and quietly explain your situation to them. Most of the time they'll totally get it and pretend to be your friend. I've even told a creep off before for a complete stranger!
Go to the panels at conventions. They're a great way to learn more, meet people, have fun, or just have a chance to sit for a while!
Don't let anyone tell you your cosplay isn't "good enough"
a good photographer can make even the worst cosplays look fantastic, but a bad photographer can make the best costumes look like a dumpster fire. Don't trust photos... they LIE
If you want to learn something new, google it. I've taught myself sewing, makeup, wig styling, armour making, photography, set design, photo-editing, and more all through google. There's an infinite number of free resources out there for you!
At the end of the day, we're all just a bunch of nerds in costumes. Don't stress too hard. You got this!