Cosplay 101: Getting Started

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I’m often asked how I got into the hobby of cosplay and surprisingly enough my answer is simple; I saw something that I wanted to try, loved it and have been cosplaying now for the past three years. The first exposure I had to the wonderful world of cosplay were photos of a beautiful Japanese woman dressed as Rikku from the video game Final Fantasy X. I was intrigued that someone put so much time and detail into the outfit. She truly looked like Rikku come to life which instantly captured my imagination. How much fun it must be, I wondered to portray a character you love. Unlike Halloween, which only allows you to dress up once a year, cosplay gives you the opportunity to wear a costume for conventions and photo shoots.


I began doing some research and discovered that the word ‘cosplay’ is the merging of the words ‘costume’ and ‘play’. Although dressing up like a character is hardly a new idea, in Japan (where the term was created) they focus on original costumes often made by the cosplayers themselves. The subjects are usually characters from anime, manga or video games. Photography also plays an important role as well as touring the convention circuit. Cosplay truly is a celebrated art form among the Japanese that has spread like wild fire throughout the world, especially the United States. Cosplay no longer applies to just Japanese pop culture; people dress as characters from comic books, cartoons and films.

I looked up several more pictures and online communities regarding cosplay before selecting my first character; Aerith Gainsborough (pictured above) from the video game Final Fantasy VII. I chose her because she was someone I loved and I was moved by her story in the game. Since I don’t know how to make clothes from scratch, I looked up a commissioner on eBay. Once my dress and jacket arrived from China, I began putting other piece’s of the outfit together and shopped around for boots, bracelets, a necklace, flower basket, hair extension and hair bow. In the end the cost was roughly $200.

Makeup and hair also play an important part. You have to explore your options and decide weither or not you can achieve a particular hairstyle. You may have to dye your hair, buy a wig or use hair extensions (I’ve personally done all three). In some cases wigs may need to be styled, dyed or cut in a specific way. This is a process that involves a lot of experimentation. Makeup may be used for obvious reasons as well as airbrushing if the character has an unnatural skin tone (such as blue or orange).

Whether or not you want to take the time to conduct photo shoots and upload pictures online is completely up to the individual. Some people are content with creating a costume and attending conventions while others may want to take it a step further and create an online gallery or possibly, their own website. When it comes to photo shoots, what you want to keep in mind is selecting locations and backgrounds that fit the character. For example, Aerith’s occupation was a flower merchant who spent her free time tending to her garden in a church. She was murdered by Sephiroth and acted as a spiritual guide throughout the remainder of the game and in the Advent Children CGI movie. Some of the photos I took were outside of a church and at local parks. I incorporated flowers as well and took a photo in front of a window basking in the light. I understand how difficult it can be to find a decent backdrop that fits the theme you are going for. I was stumped when it came time for my Slave Princess Leia photo shoot; unfortunately I don’t live near a desert and I don’t know anyone with a place that looks like Jabba’s palace. So my photographer and I had to improvise and took some photos outside by a tree and I posed on my bed. Sometimes you have to do the best with what you have and that’s not necessarily a bad thing; a bit challenging yes, but this is where you can get creative. In the end I was very pleased with how my Leia pictures turned out.

One location I cannot stress enough that is NOT okay to take photos is cemeteries. I literally become enraged when I see cosplay photos of people standing on graves. Cemeteries are a place for mourning, not a playground and you are disrespecting the person who was laid to rest as well as their family and friends. If you want to take grave yard themed photos, buy some fake tombstones and put them in your backyard. Get creative, don’t violate graves.

Here’s a breakdown of the best advice I can give to someone interested in getting into cosplay:

  1. Choose a character you know and love.
  2. Do your research and Google images of the character you want to portray.
  3. Select which variant you want to cosplay.
  4. If you’re not making the costume yourself, shop around for a ready made version or hire a commissioner via eBay or cosplay.com (check feedback first).
  5. Be as accurate as you possibly can. Pay attention to every detail (not just clothing) such as hair, jewelry, footwear and weapons.
  6. If you’re serious about this hobby, make sure you are doing this for yourself. Although there’s nothing wrong with dressing up for your partner, that fire will burn out soon enough. You should be doing this because this is what you want to do.
  7. Have fun with it.

Happy cosplaying!