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So You Wanna Be a Cosplayer: Part 2


So when we last left off, I had just finished explaining about cosplay preparations for shopping, construction, and actually making a custom costume for a convention. This post will cover what to do after preparing.

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? Let’s run through a quick refresher (for the full article, click here to check it out).

ONE: Pick a Character. Not just which one, but which version and how accurate the costume will be.
TWO: Gathering Reference Images. Pictures of character and costume from as many angles as possible.
THREE. Multiple Lists. Helping to organize what you need and what you need to do, including any tutorials or things you think you might need to learn.

So you have all your research completed. The next step is to get everything you need!

Step Four: Purchasing

Buying everything should seem so self-explanatory that it doesn’t require a step description, but there are some ways to go about it to help both your finances and your sanity.

these things come in BATCHES.
these things come in BATCHES.

If you plan far enough in advance, you can wait for discount sales. Stores like Michael’s and JoAnn’s have massive weekly sales and joining their mailing lists gives you access to a ton of coupons, especially around major holiday weekends (though not exclusively). Some of them will be store-wide or even a percentage off your total purchase, like 40 or even 50% off! I try to make an effort not to buy anything full price at these stores, because chances are if it’s full price this week, next week it won’t be. This changes when you’re under a time constraint, of course, but if it’s possible, it can help save you a lot of money.

Also be aware of which stores in your area accept competitor coupons. This is something I’m not so good at, but it can be wholly successful if you’re willing to put a little time into figuring it out. Thrift stores and discount stores like Wal-Mart have a lot of options for cheap clothes that might be something you can modify to look like what you want.

I also like to plan shopping days mid-week, if your schedule allows for it. That way the stores are less crowded and it takes less time to get what you are looking for.

There are a couple of ways you can purchase things, and neither are better than the other per se, it’s just about finding what works for you. You can buy everything in one or two days, hitting up multiple stores and checking things off on your list, which sometimes saves time because you’re not making so many trips. You could also break it up by the pieces you’re making and shop for them individually, which is often financially better.

What I do is mark off what I need and where, but also when I need it.

For example, when making an Iron Man costume a few months back, I knew I needed craft foam, cheesecloth and modpodge first. I wasn’t sure yet what kind of spray paint or sealant I’d need, so even though it was on my list, it wasn’t something I needed right away, so it was pushed to the bottom.

swatches to match snaps & zippers
swatches to match snaps & zippers

Something to keep in mind as you shop: carry swatches of your fabrics with you. Swatches are little scraps of fabrics and they’re important for matching colours, like if you needed a red helmet to match a red shirt, you’d bring the red shirt to the store, right? Same goes for fabric. You might hit up multiple fabric stores on your search for the perfect ones, and having swatches of what you’ve already purchased ensures you’re not going to buy something that clashes or doesn’t completely match.

Step Five: Beginning Assembling

Easier said than done, right? Let’s break this down in to sub-steps, if you will.

so many fabrics.....
so many fabrics…..

Here are all your items in one giant pile on your table.

Maybe a bit overwhelming?

Break down how you want to start the costume. Are you the kind of person that would like to tackle the hardest thing first and get it over with? Or are you someone that does better working on something simple first, and saving the hardest for later? Do you do better working on multiple pieces at once? Those are all logical ways of going about making a costume, but make sure you know how you function best, because making a cosplay costume can be surprisingly frustrating, and if you’re easily discouraged, starting with the hardest part first will just make you struggle even more.

For me, I like to make the main part of the costume first. For Iron Man, it would be his chest panels. Sometimes, like with Iron Man, it’s actually the hardest part, but usually it’s just the biggest part. It stresses me out to start working on smaller stuff first, because the main piece is primarily the most important.

This is another point when your lists are great. Let’s look at another example. A few years back I made a Nightwing costume for a child, this costume in particular:


Breaking that down, I made a list of simple necessities:

  •    shirt
  •    pants
  •    boots
  •    gloves
  •    mask

I’m someone that functions well on having things to check off and see that I’ve done them, like a stupid toddler kindergarten reward chart, but it is the best way for ME to complete a costume. This would be the list I made for assembling Nightwing’s costume:

Checklist for a Nightwing costume
Checklist for a Nightwing costume

Notice that I have a little box for every step…haha. This isn’t necessarily the method that’ll work for you. You’ll figure out what works best for you once you start.

Step Six: Assembling!

You already decided what you needed to make, what you could modify, and what you could just plain buy.

“just plain buy”

weathering a boot
weathering a boot

Obviously the bought-to-wear items don’t need to be adjusted, but sometimes they might need a little love. For example, if your character is wearing army boots and you buy a pair, weathering and wearing them down a little, instead of a brand new, shiny pair of boots. Little things like that help to make a costume look cohesive instead of patched together, and make you more believable as your character.

spoiler alert, the new robin is going to a boxer dog
spoiler alert, the new robin is going to a boxer dog

Weathering clothes is easy and can be really fun. Tools like super rough sandpaper and acrylic paints are great for this, but also just the basic wear and tear of actually wearing an item can help too (if you have the time). You can get creative with this too; once, I needed to tear up a cape and make it look pretty beat up, so I chased my friend’s boxer dog around the yard and let him attack it and get it covered in grass stains. I washed it after, but it worked really well!

Modifying clothes

Modifying clothes to fit a costume can be easy, but sometimes it looks more easy than it actually is, especially if you’re modifying the actual fit of the clothing (as opposed to the visual look). There are so many ways to modify clothes, and a lot of tutorials for them, so this is where Google is your best friend. Sites like Instructables and eHow offer countless tutorials on what to do to t-shirts or jeans, for example, which can be a great starting point.


Also, modifying clothes is a great way to create the “less important” parts of a costume, which can alleviate stress and allow you to focus on hard parts. For example, the green t-shirt under Robin’s red tunic, or the collared shirt the Joker wears underneath his purple suit. These are items that you can, in theory, buy in the store, but maybe they’re not the right colour so you have to dye them.


simple comparisons are hard to see when things are pink and fluffy
simple comparisons are hard to see when things are pink and fluffy

Arguably the hardest part of making a costume is actually, well, making it. Often there will be parts of your costume that you can’t find or easily modify, and it’s better to just make it. Making a pattern from scratch is really hard, but fabric & craft stores like JoAnn’s sell patterns for a variety of clothes. Don’t be turned away by the example images, look at the SHAPES of the clothes and try to imagine how it would look with the colours and fabrics you need for your costume. A witch’s cape could be the right length for a Robin cape. A dog jumpsuit could make a perfect Pikachu. There’s a chance you’ll have to change the pattern around a little (say for ears or a collar) but it’s still easier than making it completely on your own.

muslin for Joker's tailcoat
muslin for Joker’s tailcoat

For me, as a costume designer, my process might be different than yours since I make all my patterns, but one thing that I do that you could learn a lot from is making a “muslin.” This is basically a “test run” of your costume, made with cheap fabric (muslin is cheap cotton) that is similar to your final fabrics.

For example, if you’re making a Catwoman costume, you might buy really good spandex that’s the perfect colour and shine. But you could find cheap spandex to use to make a test/muslin and make sure the pattern and size fits you the way you want, instead of wasting the expensive fabric you purchased.

left, the muslin for right, the final product
left, the muslin for right, the final product

Sometimes I will go through four or five muslins to really lock down the look that I want. That isn’t something you necessarily need to do, but making just one can be extremely helpful. If nothing else, it familiarizes you with the pattern and the instructions, so that you don’t make as many mistakes with your final product.

Not all costumes are just primarily sewing. You might need to knit or crochet. You might need to make armor or construct things out of various materials, like cardboard and plastic.

The key is to be okay with failing. Each costume is something new, whether you are a professional costumer or someone interested in a new hobby. It’s going to take a few tries to get something to look how you want it to, and it’s going to be frustrating. But in the end, you’ll get a costume that is well thought-out and looks great. And all that effort will be entirely worth it.

Until the next costume idea comes along! 😉

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Comments (1)


Such great detail! Thanks for sharing!

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