Cosplay 101: The Ultimate Guide to Everything Cosplay

by Anime Garden
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Cosplay 101: The Ultimate Guide to Everything Cosplay

For someone new to our community, cosplay may seem a little weird.

Some newbies even find it intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be that way. Attending conventions, being a part of the cosplay forums and communities, finding your passions, and dressing up—how daunting could it possibly be?

And to show you what I mean, I’ve crafted this beginners’ cosplay guide. I’ll show you what it is, what it means, and how you can do it with the skills you have right now.

What is cosplay?

Cosplay is an amalgamation of the words costume and play. Cosplayers portray fictional characters, like our favorite anime characters, cartoons, or animated movie heroes.

The term cosplay originates from Japan, and we generally use it as both a verb and a noun. You can cosplay. Your outfit can be cosplay. You can be a cosplayer.

So cosplay is sort of like playing dress-ups, right?

Not really. From the outside, it might appear as though there’s not much difference between cosplay and dress-ups.

But there are many little (and important) intricacies that define cosplay as its own entity, separate from dress-ups, RPGs, and fancy dress.

Firstly, cosplay is viewed as a lifestyle by the many people who practice it. Cosplayers take their craft seriously, and invest major time and effort in creating their larger-than-life alternative persona. For us, cosplay lets us portray a character and showcase our own creativity, too.

Dressing up in a costume, on the other hand, is usually more of a one-time deal. You might wear a costume for Halloween, for example—or for a fancy-dress party. As an added bonus, you’re likely to get everything you need for your costume in one place—or in one package. Cosplay generally needs a lot of different components, and customization, that separate it from one-and-done costume dress-up.

Secondly, we have the intent of cosplay. Part of the excitement of cosplay is planning and designing our outfits—not just wearing them. Often, people who plan their Halloween costumes (or any costumes) months in advance find that this is their gateway to the world of cosplay. If you are someone who is passionate about the journey to your costume—and not just the act of wearing the costume that one time—welcome to our world!

How can I get started in Cosplay?

So maybe this is it—you’ve decided you want to be a part of the cosplay world and you just need a cosplay guide to help you get started. Or you’ve just realized that the months of preparation you put into your Halloween costume, only to wear it once, leaves you wanting more.

Whatever your reasoning, here’s how you can spread your creative wings and showcase the unique part of yourself that only cosplay can reach. This is your six step cosplay guide for getting started as a cosplayer.

#1. Get Crafty

Everyone has some kind of creative skill—whether it’s sewing, art, sketching, finding the best fabrics, coming up with amazing color schemes, or finding inspiration on YouTube and Google. Wherever your creative talents lie, there’s a way to use them to set your cosplay apart from the crowd. At the same time, there’s no hard set of skills needed to be a cosplayer. Despite the misconception that all cosplayers make their own outfits, you do not need to know how to sew.

The important thing is to go with your strengths, and have fun. Cosplay is all about being true to yourself, and wearing your heart on your sleeve—literally.

When you’re designing your outfit, look in the likely—and unlikely—places. Try thrift stores, Amazon, and explore niche cosplay stores. There are no rules when it comes to finding your best cosplay outfit—just go with your gut, your budget, and your skills.

#2. Choose a Cosplay

Cosplay inspiration—or inspo—can come from the most unlikely of places. Sometimes I come across cosplay ideas when I’m surfing the internet, but most of the time it comes from somewhere else entirely.

Anime and Cartoon Cosplay Inspiration

Do you have a favorite anime or cartoon? Many cosplayers are inspired by their favorite TV or online show—which gives you plenty of footage to get ideas from. Some of us also get ideas from our friends. If you’re constantly being told you would like xyz show, maybe it’s time to have a look.

Online Cosplay Inspiration

Another way to get character inspiration is to keep a folder on your laptop or mobile device. Then you can save pictures of fun or quirky characters you come across. Further down the track, as you decide what you like—and don’t like—about each one, you can sharpen your ideas until you come up with something that really speaks to you. Google, Pinterest, Instagram, and even TikTok can be great places to find tips, tricks, and ideas on cosplaying. YouTube also has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to finding your ideal character.

I tend to get most of my inspiration from characters I love. This has a little added motivation, too: it makes me want to do the character justice.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, if I don’t feel any kind of connection to the character, I don’t feel like I need to stay true to them. This gives cosplayers a certain amount of freedom to experiment.

Inner Inspiration

What I’m saying is: it really comes down to what you want to get from your cosplay experience. Do you want to jump into a character you’ve been watching for years, and go on the cosplay journey under that guise? Or do you want to try your hand at a few different characters until you find what works? Or make up a character of your own? There is no right or wrong way to cosplay—just have fun with it, and don’t hold back your inner creative genius.

#3. Find Cosplay Communities

Facebook, Reddit, Google+, and various other social media platforms offer places for cosplayers to form a community—or to find existing communities. Most cosplay communities are welcoming of new members who share a passion for their lifestyle, so the trick is really just to find a community that suits exactly what you want.

Communities are useful for a lot of reasons:

  • To share your newfound advice with fledgling cosplayers
  • To ask questions about the craft, and get advice from the more experienced cosplay world
  • To get feedback on different conventions

#4. Choose a Convention

The conventions you choose are going to be based on a lot of factors:

  • The genre
  • Location—or distance from where you live
  • Costs—including food, accommodation, and travel
  • Who you want to see
  • The size of the convention

Many new cosplayers find they are more comfortable attending a smaller convention the first time around. Crowds are less daunting, it’s easier to socialize, and you are more likely to meet people. Whatever kind of convention you choose, pick on that makes you feel comfortable, but still offers everything you want.

#5. Don’t get caught up in face paint and makeup

One of the greatest pieces of advice I could ever give a beginner is this: don’t rely on makeup or face/body paint to save your cosplay. Focus on the cosplay itself, and use painted nylon stockings or bodysuits as a base. Then you simply need to powder your face (because shiny, sweaty cosplay is never cute) and you’re ready to go for the entire convention. Makeup wears off quickly, or smudges, and face paint is messy, sticky, and uncomfortable. Aim to make your cosplay an entire mood without the paint, and you’ll be much more comfortable long term. If you take one piece of advice from this cosplay guide, this will be the one you value most at a convention.

#6. Do it for love

Perhaps the ultimate tip for getting into cosplay—and loving it—is to enjoy it for what it is: a hobby, a lifestyle, and a passion.

Sure, there have been people who got famous from cosplay, and made a lot of money from it. But these people didn’t do it for those reasons. They did it because they love the cosplay life, and they got famous because they are darn good at it.

Becoming a cosplayer because of a desire to get famous is likely to be disappointing. Pro cosplayers are ultra-competitive, and the cosplay-for-money set are often embroiled in drama and behavior that hurts other people. Don’t be that guy.

Competitive cosplay is great, but hurting other people on your way to the top is a sure-fire way to see yourself ejected from the community that you’re desperate to be a part of. Enter the cosplay world with a desire to have fun, and you’re likely to find it.


Cosplay is all about wearing your heart on your sleeve and enjoying your hobby with likeminded people. As you grow within your community, cosplaying can be about a lifestyle of inclusivity, fun, and diversity; where your creativity and passion is welcome.

When it comes to following this cosplay guide, just remember: there’s always someone willing to help you on your new and exciting journey!

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