Cosplay Crash Course: A Short History and 7 Steps to Start

Morojo and the Beginning of Cosplay

Sounds like the name of some science fiction or fantasy character, doesn’t it?  Probably a great hero or heroine.  I assure you, she was very, very real.  In fact, she was the mother of the art known today throughout fiction-based conventions from ComicCon to Anime Central as COSPLAY.  Morojo crafted the first fan costumes in recorded history, and showed up with her partner at the first World Science Fiction Convention in 1936, wearing garb right out of an H. G. Wells novel.

Today, Morojo’s idea has become a cultural phenomenon, yet it’s still held as something “only nerds do” except at certain times of the year.  Like right around two weeks from now when children all over the United States will engage in the most basic form of cosplay there is.

That’s right!  Every little child dressed up as their favorite character, whether it be Disney or Pixar, or something else entirely is your little cosplayer!

How cool is that?

So What IS Cosplay?

Cosplay is the word created when someone throws the words costume and play into a particle colider and comes out with epic fun.  The term interchangeably refers to the costume itself, and to the act of wearing the costume and taking on the character in public.  Remember how I said every kid dressed up as their favorite character on Halloween is engaging in Level 1 Cosplay?  Well, here’s an example of Cosplay well past Level 1.

The folks in this video are a professional cosplay team.  There are a number of them, particularly on Facebook nowadays.  A few I follow are Panterona, Lisa Lou Who, and just because I’m a fan of Fifth Element, Arcanekani.  The time, energy, and level of care put into each costume are obvious to just about anyone who takes a look.

Personally, I want to do this some day.  After all, who doesn’t want to show up as their favorite character somewhere and just rock the world for a bit?

Thing is, cosplay is actually a ton of work.

7 Steps to Great Cosplay

1. Choose a character you LOVE!  Maybe it’s that merchant voiced by Robin Williams in the beginning of Aladin, or maybe it’s that character in your head that’s always making snarky comments about how the heroes in movies hold their weapons.  Whoever it is, make sure this character is someone that sparks the giddy Halloween five-year-old in the back of your head that’s had WAY too much candy.

I can eat it all now, right? RIGHT??
I can eat it all now, right? RIGHT??

2.  Decide WHERE and WHEN you want to present.  Some people love to walk around conventions stuffed into things like the massive Hulkbuster from the video.  Personally, I’ve got a cosplay of the Drow Bard character in the works, but that’s years down the line, and will debut at either a ComicCon or a fantasy convention of some sort.  Others keep their cosplays handy year round and occasionally troll their hometowns just for fun, depending on what the cosplay is.  (After all, if your cosplay is an anime character that weilds a giant chainsaw, that may not go over well with local police, even if it’s a prop.)  Which brings me to…

3.  Figure out if you’ve got what you need.  See, now you’ve got to plan and create the costume.  Sometimes, this is incredibly easy.  Clark Kent?  Suit, tie, coke bottle glasses, spiffy shoes, perhaps a notepad.  Superman?  Well, you COULD buy the red, yellow, and blue online, or you could MAKE it.  Up to you.  If you make it, it’s time to go hunting, and much tougher than the Clark Kent costume.  The Hulkbuster above?  Mountains of prop foam, rigging, framing, fabric, contraptions, stilts, paint… I think you get the idea.


4.  Assess your skill level.  Everyone starts somewhere.  I can’t bring my Drow Bard cosplay out yet for one simple reason.  I haven’t built the skill set required to fully bring him to life.  I also cannot build a mech suit cosplay, though I do see that as being tons of fun.  Cosplay – at least in my experience –  is less fun when you pic something far out of your skill range and end up like the image to the right…

5.  Embrace THRIFT!  Seriously, cosplay can get downright expensive, especially when you find a costume like Elsa, and REALLY want to get it right.  I mean come on, did you SEE Once Upon A Time’s Behind the Scenes explaining costumes?  Elsa’s cape was some kind of genuine crystal encrusted sheer silk!  Unless you’re cosplay Bruce Wayne, best go with the slightly less expensive, non-imported stuff that still looks great.

Fantastic places to hit up for supplies:

  • Thrift Stores – always.  Seriously, discount vintage clothes, inexpensive leather jackets and trench coats, boots, dress clothes, etc.
  • Craft Stores – ESPECIALLY during seasonal sales!  These places have all kinds of crazy prop-making stuff, as well as costume decor supplies, especially the ones that have fabric sections as well as craft sections.
  • Toy Sections – Wal-Mart, K-Mart, etc.  Again, great place for simple prop bases.  Kid’s toys are full of battery packs and blinky lights that can absolutely be removed from their cheap cases and repurposed in things like wizard staffs and crystal balls or glowing potion vials.
  • Attics, Basements, Old Halloween Costumes – Cosplayers are masters of repurposing.  Show me an old T-shirt with a bizarre scale design, and I’ll show you a wicked pair of scaled anaconda bracers (note to self, old snakeskin print T-shirt…)  Not sure what to do with that silk shirt that still has worn sleeves and seams but the body’s still solid?  A healer’s herb satchel or a wizard’s spell component pouch.  Perhaps even a simple coin purse.
  • Also check out this article by the amazing Kata Marija Cosplay!  Plastic bottles as armor pieces?  Who knew??

6.  Pay attention to detail.  Good cosplay is an art.  If you’re cosplaying Belle and you’re carrying around a daisy in a glass dome?  Well, people would know by the dress, but they’d wonder why you’ve got an enchanted daisy instead of a rose.  This doesn’t mean lose your health or sanity over a costume.  That’s why we have Step 4.  If a costume is to crazy for you to take on at a given time?  Don’t!  Which brings me to the last tip or step.

7.  HAVE FUN!!!  Shout it from the rooftops.  The cosplayers in the video have a ton of fun (despite the long, caffeine fueled all-nighters to meet convention deadlines) doing what they do.  If you’re new, and this article got you interested, don’t be intimidated.  I know, I’ve shared a lot.  I’ve made it sound like work, and like anything I see as worth doing, I want to cosplay well when I do it.

But the best cosplay I’ve ever done so far was completely on accident.  I own a camel brown trench coat.  Up til last year, the thing fit like a glove, and I took it to the last convention I attended.  All my friends had cosplays planned and packed.  I had nothing.  So, I looked at them getting ready like…

Then realized…

I had a brown coat.  Specifically a brown trench coat.

This coat was light enough, that before we left the room, I put it on, and told everyone at the convention I was a Firefly Browncoat.  I had several people tell me that was amazing and I should cosplay Malcom Reynolds at some point.  I still might.

For those who know cosplay, I’m sure you knew most of this.  For those who didn’t I hope maybe this sparked an interest in possibly trying it someday.  If so, what character would YOU cosplay?

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