As the NYC BNP squad gets ready to tackle New York Comic Con 2015, hundreds of other otakus, gamers, comic book nerds, and pop culture mavens are also prepping by getting their cosplay ready for the biggest con to hit the East Coast. Full disclosure: Though I’ve been hitting NYCC for a few years now, I’ve waited years to get in on the cosplay game, so I’m still relatively new. However, if you’re just starting out with cosplay — or thinking about doing it in the future — newbie to newbie, I’ve got some do’s and don’ts for your first year in the mask (or cape, or spandex, or ruffled shirt, or bands upon bands of double-sided tape — I don’t judge).
[icon_check]Do put a lot of thought into picking your costume. Obviously, you want to pick out something you really like, but if you want to go for a brand-new series that you just got into last week, maybe wait on that. After all, you want to make sure this cosplay is something you’ll like for a while and that will stand up. You don’t want to pick something you’re into this year but will feel embarrassed to rep next year.
[icon_check]Do go as obscure as you like. Trust me, someone will always recognize you. And if they don’t, they’ll certainly ask.
[icon_check]Do pay attention to the trends; that will reflect how many of which cosplays you’ll see. If you want to stick out with your cosplay, then this is something you’ll definitely want to look out for.
[icon_check]Do pay attention to the guests and panels. You may want to dress up as someone who will actually be there.
[icon_check]Do plan in advance. I’m not saying browsing costume shops the morning before the convention. I’m not even saying a week in advance. Plan several months in advance. If you’re buying a costume, make sure you’ve got all the clothes and accessories you need at least a month or two in advance, just in case something doesn’t work out and you need to troubleshoot. If you’re making your costume yourself, give yourself as much time as possible — many people plan their costume as long as a year in advance.
[icon_check]Do go for quality. If you’re buying your costume, don’t go with the retailer with one star whose outfits look like they’re fashioned from tissue paper but are 75 percent off. Yes, your pass to the convention was probably pricey. Yes, this is more expensive than those Halloween costumes you used to wear as a kid. No, even though you save money on this costume, you likely won’t be able to dress it up to your satisfaction. The thing is, it’s easy to spot quality in a costume. If a fabric is cheap, it will look cheap and it will rip and tear. You can do cosplay any way you want, and there are certainly ways to save money and still look good, but if you go for quality, then that costume will last you for future conventions.
[icon_x]Don’t just go to Party City. Please, I’m begging you. Just don’t. You can do so much better. The Internet is such a large, magical place! You can find what you’re looking for, for a reasonable price. Again, look for quality. Look for ratings and reviews; only go to trusted or recommended sellers.
[icon_check]Do consider measurements and fit when ordering online. This step definitely depends on the costume and your shape, but if you’ve got a figure that doesn’t fit into the cookie-cutter sizes of small, medium, or large (and most of us don’t), then you should really go to a seller that makes costumes to order according to your measurements. Also, make sure you take those measurements seriously. Don’t try and incorporate your weight-loss New Year’s resolution when you send those measurements in. Be truthful; hell, be generous. After all, you can always take an outfit in. And trust your own judgement—you know your body best, so you can guess how certain cuts will fit on your body.
[icon_check]Do use what you already have. You probably don’t have to buy every single element of your cosplay. Think about what you have in your closet and figure out what you can repurpose.
[icon_x]Don’t style your wig unless you really know how to. With wigs, really stick to the instructions. Get a wig cap and make sure to secure your hair underneath (e.g., braids, pin curls, etc.). If you’re totally confused about wigs, get one that’s already styled. If you’ve got a Rapunzel-length wig, prepare for tangles. Make sure you really care for your wig properly — or else you might be facing an elementary-school-picture-day level of bad hair.
[icon_check]Do reinterpret freely. You know what’s awesome about us nerds? We’re creative. So don’t feel like you have to replicate every thread of the costume your character was wearing in that one episode of the show. You really don’t — unless you want to, of course. Feel free to experiment with other outfits for that character, or maybe other reinterpretations completely. Maybe you want to do a futuristic version of the character, or perhaps a lolita version. Maybe you want to do a mash-up of two of your favorite characters. As I’ve learned from the gender-bent, steampunk Captain America I saw last year, the possibilities are endless. Speaking of…
[icon_x]Don’t be deterred by the race or gender of the character. For the longest time, I had trouble thinking of cosplays I’d like to do because I was so wrapped up in thinking about “authenticity,” meaning, I felt that I could only cosplay as Black characters. But as a huge otaku, I knew the options in anime were very limited. I felt like I could only dress as characters of my race and gender. My favorites were off the table. If you’re of that mind too, I have to say that you have every right to represent a character you love in your own way — with your own skin, your own hair, and your own body. And no one has a right to say you can’t or that you’re doing it wrong. (Unless you’re Julianne Hough doing blackface. In which case, no, you can’t, and yes, you’re doing it wrong.)
[icon_check]Do rope in friends. Seriously. One of the biggest pleasures of cosplaying is being able to do it with others. I’m always incredibly impressed when I see group cosplay. I’ve seen a family dressed up as Hiccup, Astrid and Toothless; a group dressed up as sailor scouts and Tuxedo Mask; a couple dressed up as Doug and Patty Mayonnaise; a group dressed up as Finn, Jake, Lumpy Space Princess, and Princess Rainicorn; and another group dressed up as Mal, Zoë, Kaley, and River. Even if you don’t have 10 nerds at the ready in your Rolodex (…and even if you still own a Rolodex), you can still do a cool two-person cosplay with a convention pal of yours. If you’re nervous about cosplaying or unsure about your costume, having your best friend sit with you on the train to the convention center while wearing an Ood costume will definitely be the antidote.
[icon_check]Do bring extra pins and clips. It’s very possible that something will pop, snap or tear. Clips will fall, pins will be lost, and wigs will go out of control. That’s just what happens when you’re fighting through the show floor. You walk in with not one purple strand of synthetic hair out of place, and you walk out with half your costume dragged beneath the feet of the guy in the 7-feet-tall Optimus Prime cosplay. That’s just how it goes. So be prepared with those pins, clips, and anything else you’ll need for a quick fix in the bathroom.
[icon_check]Do be comfortable. This is just common sense. Yeah, you might look awesome in your three-feet-tall stilts, but it definitely won’t feel awesome four hours from now. Conventions require a lot of walking, standing in lines, sitting in lines, and sitting in panels and screenings, so you want to make sure your costume is actually wearable in these situations. Otherwise, your costume will become no more than a big hassle. Which reminds me…
[icon_check]Do figure out how to use the bathroom. I’m sure you’re already housebroken, and that this seems like a totally unnecessary warning, but you know how really decked-out brides have a whole system for figuring out how to pee on their wedding day? Depending on your costume, that might be you. There are never any short lines at conventions, and that includes the bathroom line, so take that time to detach any appendages, slip off any exterior armor and figure out a game plan for your toilet time.
[icon_check]Do watch your appendages. I fully support your awesome Angemon cosplay, but just know there’s a special circle in hell for those who swat innocent bystanders with their wings while walking on the show floor.
[icon_check]Do LARP at the right time, in the right place. You know when isn’t the right time or right place to get really into character and have a Saiyan cosplay battle? When you’re cramped on line with hundreds of other people waiting to get into the next Marvel panel. Just don’t.
[icon_check]Do check out the show floor for great cosplay shops, accessories, gear. You’ll always find great items you can use for your current cosplay and/or cosplays you’ll want to try in the future. Get cards, get names, and check them out online afterward.
[icon_check]Do seek tips from amazing cosplayers. Don’t feel weird about asking them where they got their costume or accessories, or what fabrics and brands they used.
[icon_check]Do go to the cosplay competitions. The NYCC Eastern Championships of Cosplay is one of my favorite events each year because the craftsmanship is out of this world. These people are really pros, and it’s great to see what amazing cosplay looks like.
[icon_check]Do acknowledge your fellow characters. If you’re going for a character from a popular series/movie/book, then it’s likely that you’ll see other cosplay from that fandom, perhaps even the character you yourself are cosplaying as. Ninety percent of the time, those people will acknowledge you. Perhaps they’ll ask to take pictures together or just say hi or throw out some kind of nerdy greeting from that fandom (“Live long and prosper,” “May the force be with you,” etc.). I’m not saying you’ve got to be buddies. Believe me, I hate unnecessary social interactions and conventions take every ounce of energy I have. But if you want to be courteous — and if you’re comfortable with it — you can pose for a picture or just give a subtle nod. And if you want to point up your forefinger and thumb and show off your guild tattoo, then that’s cool too.
[icon_x]Don’t feel compelled to pose for pictures. You’re allowed to say no, and no one should give you shit for it. Just because you’re wearing a costume doesn’t mean anyone is entitled to capture your image. And if you’re cool with it, then feel free to set the rules of where it can appear and if your name can appear with it.
[icon_x]Don’t stand for anyone touching your wig, your costume, or you. Just no. It’s as simple as that.
[icon_x]Don’t let anyone shame you, whether it’s regarding your choice of character, race or gender of character, or how your body looks in the costume. Don’t let anyone stop you from having fun with it.
[icon_check]And of course… Do check out BNP’s Cosplay Corner for inspiration and a look at more awesome cosplay.