One of my favorite aspects of conventions is seeing all the amazing costume creations. Cosplayers spend months planning and executing amazing outfits to express passions for their favorite characters from movies, comics, TV, and video games. I’m always in awe at the sheer talent poured into every detail, every stitch, and every fabrication.
I was lucky enough to be invited to a group cosplay for SDCC 2011 as one of the Female Furies. As a beginner cosplayer, I didn’t own a sewing machine and had no idea where to begin. It was nerve racking attempting to replicate a costume from a few illustrations I found, but through trial and error and loads of advice, I was so pleased with the outcome.
I think back to how much fun the entire experience was, but I often wonder if I would have had the guts to create a costume if it wasn’t for the group inspiration. So for those still wondering if they can do it on their own or if they should, the answer is a definite YES!
Cosplay is one of the most surreal (and educational) experiences I’ve ever had and I have advice from some of my favorite cosplayers to share with you.
Jill Pantozzi, Founder and Editor in Chief of TheNerdyBird.com and former Editor in Chief of TheMarySue.com always loved dressing up for Halloween and any occasion where a costume was required. When she learned that cosplaying was an actual event, a social acceptable event typically during conventions, she knew she had to try it immediately.
Miss Chrissy Lynn, known for her amazing costumes and hair & makeup creations on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube, remembers her first costume was Catwoman based off of a Stan Lee’s re-imagined series. Since then she’s been transforming into dozens of new characters every year.
Mac Beauvais of Strange Like That Cosplay confesses her introduction to cosplay was nearly an accident. She had made a wonderful Poison Ivy costume for Halloween and her bestie (Chrissy Lynn) convinced her to wear it to Comic Con. The positive response she received became her motivation to continue to create.
I had the pleasure of speaking with all three ladies about the important aspects of cosplay.
Sugar Gamers: Now the important question: Do you make your own costumes or buy them?
Jill Pantozzi: “I’m a cosplayer who both makes and buys costumes. I know there’s a lot of talk within the community about whether one is “better” than the other but I don’t buy into that thinking at all. Go with your strengths.
I can’t sew very well so if I need something specific and complicated, I’ll commission a piece from someone else. Etsy is a great place to find ready-made pieces as well as talented sellers who could make custom items for you.
For simply buying pieces of a costume to put together as a whole, I recommend Ebay as well as merchants like Marshall’s or TJ Maxx where you can find cheaper pieces. Also craft stores and home improvement stores are good places to look for prop or accessory.”
Miss Chrissy Lynn: “The only items I have never made myself [because] I don’t sew spandex are my spandex body suits. I figure if someone is really good at it let them do it. In fact among my circle of friends in the community of cosplay we typically trade or commission each other based off of our talents, I do MUAH and SFX makeup as well as wigs so I’m an asset in cosplay groups and the community which is great to trade for body suits.
Making and building from scratch I find thrift stores, flea markets, and surplus shops are the way to go! I do a lot of steampunk, dieselpunk, and post-apocalyptic costumes and I find these outlets best. Closet cosplay is easy when thrifting; lots of characters are wearing basic clothes you can modify and alter.”
Mac Beauvais: “My costumes are often a bit of a hybrid. I am sort of a thrift store/recycled materials sort of cosplayer, meaning I often find materials I can modify or cobble together into something new. As an example, when I decided to make a Scarface puppet for my Ventriloquist cosplay, I got an actual dummy and sculpted new features for him. Or when I made a wrist crossbow for my Steampunk Poison Ivy, it was pieced together with odds and ends you’d never expect. I have a way of seeing things and finding new purposes for them. Some of my best pieces are the ones made from the cheapest materials or things I already had in my house.
I do make some cosplays from scratch, such as my sail dress Ariel, which started as raw fabric and materials. But I’m actually just learning to sew with a machine, so that costume was completely sewn by hand. There are other cosplays, like Vanessa Ives from Penny Dreadful, where I bought Edwardian/Victorian era replica items. I think there is no shame in purchasing the pieces you can’t or don’t want to make. It should be more about if they make you happy wearing them.”
SG: For beginners, what type of costumes or characters are the easiest to complete?
Beauvais: “The priority should always be what you want to wear. Who do you really want to be? Decide that, then you take your best stab at it. Most cosplayers I know have done many versions of the same character and upgraded their looks when their skill levels increased. Maybe the wig isn’t so great your first time, then try again when you have some more experience. Maybe you don’t love the fabric you used on a cape. Find better fabric and make it again when you’re ready.
Even if you do decide to tackle a simpler cosplay, find something unique that you can bring to it. That extra step can make any level of costume seem that much more exceptional.”
Pantozzi: “I think a great place for beginners to start are [with] characters who wear regular clothing. This way you don’t have to worry about logos or materials that may be harder to work with. For instance, characters from Doctor Who or someone like Buffy or Commissioner Gordon.”
Miss Chrissy: “I find that closet cosplaying is easiest when it’s steampunk or post-apocalyptic. It’s amazing what you can create without a sewing machine!”
SG: Are there any unspoken rules about cosplaying etiquette among cosplayers themselves?
Pantozzi: “I’d say be respectful to others is always the number one rule no matter where you are.”
Miss Chrissy: “Common sense and common etiquette such as kindness, respect and consideration are a no-brainer. It’s always proper to give credit where it is due when you’ve commissioned someone for a prop or costume addition, your cosplay is not complete without these important pieces and you should always give recognition. We all work very hard on these items and to help each other look good on the convention floor!”
Beauvais: “I think this goes for any setting, but treat others the way you want to be treated. Don’t get down on someone else’s costume. You don’t know them or what level of love they’ve put into it. Don’t get mad if someone is wearing the same character because you should be embracing those who love the same things you do. Don’t talk down about someone who is in a sexy costume or that you feel is showing too much skin. Even if it IS for attention, everyone is free to cosplay the way they want to. Not all cosplayers practice these things, but they should.”
SG: What’s the one cosplay hack you’ve learned that you can’t do without?
Beauvais: “Having a backup plan. Guaranteed, at some point or another, something will go wrong while you’re on the convention floor. Find somewhere on your costume (or bring someone with you) to carry repair materials. Fashion tape, safety pins, eyelash glue, anything you can use in a jam to make repairs. Being the girl scout equivalent of a cosplayer has saved the day many a time.”
Miss Chrissy: “Don’t rush! Take your time, there is no deadline for cosplay. If you start early and set yourself up for success you will not still be working on your costumes in your hotel room of the convention!”
SG: What do you love most about cosplay?
Pantozzi: “I love wearing my passions on my sleeve, as it were, so being able to show off what I enjoy in a prominent way is a lot of fun as well as seeing the reaction from others who love it as well.”
Miss Chrissy: “I love the work and research that goes into the fabrication and construction, the challenges of working with you mediums and foreign materials. The ingenuity behind not going by the books!”
Beauvais: “It’s nice to get to step away and be someone else for a while. I used to eagerly wait for Halloween to roll around so I could dress up, but now I get to do it year-round. It feels so good to put on that costume and share what you love in such a visible way.”
If you had any reservations, I hope this helps inspire you to start cosplaying. Wherever your inspiration comes from, grab hold of that and unleash it into fabrics and glue and armor and capes.
The girls go on to mention not to shy away from experimentation too. It is a learning experience and that’s all part of the fun. With each costume you will learn new skills to keep improving on an existing outfit or to become more ambitious for your next cosplay project. Pantozzi explains it best “There is no wrong or right way, there is YOUR way and that’s all that matters!”
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