Alright. You want to cosplay but you don’t know who. Or you finished a cosplay, and you want to find your next one. How do you choose your character?
There’s two parts to it – find a character, then figure out if you can do them.
Finding a character
This is the easiest part. Just watch TV, a movie, read a book or comic, play a video game or table top game, etc. Most people do this daily.
Because 99% of the cosplays I pick are random, impulsive wants, I have a massive list of characters I want to do. Almost everything leads to me wanting to make something! To stay on top of it, I keep a running list of cosplays in Google Drive. It looks something like this:
This is useful if I get asked to be in a group cosplay (or see a posting about one, because you don’t always get asked BUT you should jump in and DO ONE). It also means I don’t have to remember I wanted to do a costume. I haven’t watched Men in Tights lately, and building a cosplay for it isn’t in the forefront of my mind, but since I have the costume on this list I can remember it next time a good opportunity presents itself.
Another option is to check out wikis, like the Fictional Characters Wiki, which has characters sorted by features like hair color, or the Anime Character Database, where you can get a whole page of blue-eyed girls with waist length blonde hair.
Narrow down your options to one costume (per day):
Doing more than one costume a day is plausible, but I think it’s more fun to do one costume and then spend the rest of the day enjoying the event you’re at.
There are three ways I settle on a final costume.
- Does this costume jive with my current cosplay goals?
- Are there any limitations that will stop me from doing it?
- Can I physically build it, or do I know anyone who can help me?
These are 3-5 things you want out of your cosplay. Usually, this will give you some vague idea for a character, and then you use your limitations to narrow it down.
Here are some goals to get you started
- To dress like my favorite character
- To get a cool photo
- The location of the event could be perfect
- A celebrity who played, voiced or created the character might be there
- You might be meeting up with a group of people to do a photo shoot
- To feel strong, cool or sexy
- There’s a sweet meme scene going on right now that you can’t miss out on (hello, Bowsette!)
- To wear something I would never wear
- To look like a totally different person
- To highlight something unique about myself (eye color, a missing limb, flexibility)
- To learn a certain skill
- To show off a certain skill
- To meet other fans (of the series, of cosplay, etc)
- Cosplay meetups are a big thing at cons. Check for forum posts and Facebook events to find them. Sometimes they’re also listed in the con’s pamphlet.
- To have a killer Halloween costume this year
- Let’s face it, this is the real cosplay goal :)
Once you figure out your reasons, you should also decide on your limitations. Common ones are…
- Do you have enough to time build the costume, and still relax, sleep, see your family/friends, and still go to work or school?
- If you don’t have enough time or run out of time, are there things you can cut out of the costume to still wear it? For example, an Ariel cosplay could easily convert into a hipster Ariel cosplay with a pair of glasses and a grimace.
- What will you buy, borrow or make?
- What do you already have that could fit this costume?
- Are there cheaper ways to make the costume? (This will require research for you, but I’ll outline simple ways to fake expensive materials later)
- Is this costume out of your skill level? If so, how far out?
- Do you have time to learn the skill?
- If you mess up, can you hide or remove or buy the part that you messed up?
- Room to transport everything
- How fragile is it?
- Can you build it to be collapsible, or bring it in pieces and assemble it there?
- How difficult is wearing the costume?
- Can you fit through doors?
- Can you eat, drink, use the bathroom, or carry stuff?
- Do you need help putting it on, taking it off, or maneuvering in it?
- Do you have people to help you and are you both willing to spend all of the time you’re in costume together?
- Weather at the event
- Will it be really hot or really cold?
- How much time will you be outside? Do you have to walk to the event or stand in line?
- How rain-proof is the outfit? How easy is it to protect?
- What you are comfortable in?
- Will pieces of the costume (heels, contacts, binding) become uncomfortable?
- What you are comfortable showing your family, friends, or coworkers/classmates
- Pictures of you will end up online
- Your employers will probably Google you at some point and find your stuff (hi any future clients of mine!) I would advise against Nazi costumes.
Finding your limitations will clear out a lot of costumes. Three weeks before a con is no time to start on a Big Daddy cosplay. However, it’s a good time period to throw together a Little Sister, and if you have extra time you can build her syringe.
A beginner cosplayer probably doesn’t want to try and build d.Va’s mech, but d.Va herself is a great beginner level costume where most of it can be purchased.
Around this point in the process, you probably have a good idea of who you want to be. Now consider the following…
- Do you need to change something about the costume to make it easier to deal with? For example, the first version of my Squirrel Girl required I take off the jacket, tail, leotard, and tights to use the bathroom (and then sit awkwardly in the stall trying to cover myself and avoid eye-contact through the gaps in the doors)
- Are you performing in this costume? I used to help a burlesque dancer with her costumes, and the clothes needed to be tear-away or easily removable, but the wigs had to withstand crazy head whipping
- Do you have a physical limitation or allergy that the costume needs to be built around? Chris’s right thigh is bigger than a normal thigh and made of carbon fiber. It can’t be surrounded by tight, restrictive fabric.
- Are the props necessary?
- Can you easily carry them/manipulate them? If not, can you fake their materials to be able to do so? (The answer is probably yes, you just need to do some research)
- Can you do so with merchandise/food/etc?
- Are they weapons? A lot of events have weapon checks and rules around weapons.
- Are they realistic weapons? Guns should have their orange tips. You can photoshop it out later. Don’t carry a real (or sharp) sword or knife.
- Does your costume match the event? If you’re going to a sci-fi event, a sci-fi costume will be well received.
- Do you have to wear the costume outside of the event?
- Many restaurants don’t allow masks in them. Bars might ask you to remove wigs when you’re ID’d. Children will stop you if they like you (we had a Daenerys get stopped a lot by kids who thought she was Elsa) or be afraid of you if you’re scary. Consider having horror elements easily removable or able to be hidden, like in my Spitter costume.
- Your personal limits
- Can you walk in these shoes all day?
- Are you okay with your entire con experience just being photographed? When we did the Powerpuff Girls we had to take off the costumes because we literally couldn’t get across the dealer’s room without being stopped for photos. In my opinion, having my photo taken is one of the most flattering things that can happen – I never thought I would take a costume off because it was annoying me!
Let’s Pick a Costume
Using the above, I’m going to pick four cosplays to build in this series of articles.
My goals are:
- To look as close to the character as I physically can
- To stand out
- To match the group I’m in (if applicable)
- To build something with a challenge, or that levels up my skills
- To have a costumed of a character I really like
- BONUS WANT: I want the characters to be usable in these blog posts.
These will be for these blog posts, so my only limits are:
- At least one should look much harder to build than it is.
- They should be beginner friendly, or use skills a beginner has or can easily learn.
- Time-wise, they shouldn’t take more than a few weeks to build. I work full time, do art on the side, AND I am a big believer in free time, so this translates to no more than 10-15 hours a week, or roughly 1.5-2 hours a day.
- Budget-wise – nothing too expensive. Ideally one should be under $30, and the rest under $100 per costume
- Note – budget is the area I’m the worst at, so we’ll see if I’m successful here :)
Next, I use my goals to filter my big list of characters I want to do, then make sure nothing about this costume will limit me from making it.
1) To look as close to the character as I physically can
This usually limits me to characters who are close to my height and build, but you don’t have to let that limit you. That’s still a massive amount of characters, so let’s continue.
2) To stand out
What is “standing out”? Sometimes it’s being the best cosplayer for this character. Sometimes it’s being the only cosplayer to do the character (there’s a fine line here because sometimes you do this and no one recognizes you) or the cosplayer who does something new with the costume.
One unique thing I like to do is to give an homage to the medium’s style, too. For example, the art from Borderlands or Windwaker has a distinct, cel-shaded style. Bringing the art style into the character would be a fun challenge.
Personally, I’m feeling really cartoony right now. I want to try to do another cosplay that captures the art and whimsy of cartoons. I also want to mess around with a cosplay that features lights. Finally, I love building eye-catching props and prosthetics, so I’ll probably do that. All of these are pretty easy skills to get started in, so it still falls within my limits.
At this point, I don’t have a character decided, but I’ve narrowed it down a ton. I’m going through cool characters from the media I’m consuming and getting some good ideas. I’ve also vetoed a lot of the characters on my google drive list.
3) To match the group I’m in
I just asked Chris and he’ll do a cosplay with me! This narrows my options for at least one costume down to pairs of characters.
Chris’s personal limits are he likes to dress as a guy, and he wants to keep his facial hair (so his character needs a beard or their face should be hidden).
When cosplaying in a group, if you want to look like the character, remember how you’ll look standing next to everyone. For example, if your character is short, but you’re tall, grab an even taller friend, and boom! You’re now the short character. You can also do fun tricks like change how your height appears by how you stand in relation to other characters (more on that later).
Since I want to cosplay as close to the character as I can, I have new limits. My character should be roughly a head shorter than Chris’s character (since I’m about a head shorter than him) and should be a smaller build than Chris’s character. If I do a male character, I’d chose a shorter and slimmer guy.
Personally, I would like a couple’s shoot from this, so I’m probably going to pick a couple that we like to get some kissy photos.
4) To build something with a challenge, or that I want to level up a skill on
Building Buu, I avoided body paint because, in the past, it’s been difficult to apply and keep on. Another cosplayer showed me the stuff she used, which didn’t smear or anything, and now I really want to mess around with that product. I’ll probably do a character who has body paint.
I would also like to do some makeup. I don’t wear makeup, so my skills there are limited.
It would also be cool to build a character who has something impossible about them. Maybe they fly, maybe they have 6 arms, maybe they glow. Maybe they have magical hair that I can form into the shape of one of their attacks.
I want to get better at building fake prosthetics, like ears or masks or gloves.
At this point, I have enough stuff to narrow each costume down. My requirements are:
- Costume 1: Bodypaint. Cool art style I can bring into the piece. Action character
- Costume 2: Prosthetics. Something impossible about the costume. Quirky character.
- Costume 3. A couple’s costume. The guy has facial hair or a mask. The girl is shorter than the guy. Cute couple. Ideally an easy one, the others will be challenging enough. This costume would focus more on the acting and modeling part of cosplay, instead of the building part.
- Costume 4. A couple’s costume. The guy’s face is hidden. The girl is pretty and shorter than the guy. A series we both love. Good action/couple shots and poses. Some cool kind of prop.
5) I actually like the character
I put a lot of time into my cosplay, and more time earning the money and skills it takes to build a costume. I’m going to do a character I adore. That wipes out a ton of characters. For example, we could do King Leonidas and Gorgo, but I don’t like 300 enough. We could do the Phantom and Christine, but the Phantom is crazy creepy. I don’t want to kiss the Phantom.
6) For these posts!
In this case, I’m going to use these costumes specifically to show how I build them. They need to be beginner friendly and should have something visually interesting about the character. A lot of times people think “beginner cosplay” is something like Captain Hammer, a really simple outfit that’s just a t-shirt and jeans. While that’s a fine costume, it doesn’t mesh with my other goals. I want to do beginner friendly, but it looks more complicated and cool than it really is.
The winners are…
Using the above, I have 4 winners for the costumes I’m going to build.
Huntress Wizard, an action character featuring bodypaint, and an art style I can bring into the piece.
Izabel, quirky character with some facial prosthetics, and something impossible about the costume (she’s the floating top-half of a teenager). Also, more body paint.
Isaac and Miria, a couple’s costume where the guy has a mask, and the girl is shorter than the guy. A cute couple that will be a really easy costume, focusing on the acting part of cosplay over the costume building part.
Red and the Boxer. A couple’s costume where the guy’s face is hidden, girl allows me to do some makeup practice. Featuring a lot of good couple shots and a really cool, light up sword. A series we both love.