How to Choose What to Cosplay! (for the complete beginner)

what should I cosplay (7 questions to help you decide)

When you just get started cosplaying the whole idea may seem intimidating. Who could you possibly cosplay? Where would you get a costume? Do you have to make it yourself? You may think you have to start by cosplaying the simplest possible character costume, but usually, the only reason to do that is if you love the simple character.

In general, the best character to cosplay is the one that gets you the most excited. Of course, you still need to take the amount of time you have, your budget, and your skill level into consideration too, but there is a lot you’ll be able to learn if you use your favorite character as motivation.

While it’s not always necessary to start with a simple character, you also don’t want to jump in with a really complicated character design that uses full-body armor or a super gravity-defying hairstyle. It’s best to decide on a couple of favorite characters, look at their various costumes, and move forward from there. When choosing what character to cosplay for the very first time, ask yourself these questions to narrow down the choices.

1. What characters do you love?

The first and most important thing to do is make a list of the characters you like most. In many cases, this will be an instinctive feeling. It’s the characters that you really connect with while watching the show, playing the game, or reading the comic. These are the characters that will get you excited about cosplay and make the experience so much more fun.

Remember, the characters on your list don’t have to look like you. They don’t have to have the same hair color or body type. They don’t even have to be the same gender or race as you. Think of characters from all different types of media you enjoy, it doesn’t have to be specifically from a comic book or anime. 

2. How much time do you have?

Whether you’re purchasing a costume and getting it shipped or you’re making it yourself, you are going to need to give yourself time to get your costume together. If you already know how to sew clothing, you can probably create a costume in a short period of time. However, for most people starting out with cosplay, creating a costume from scratch will require the longest amount of time. 

If you are purchasing a costume from an online cosplay shop you also need to be conscious of time. In most cases, these are made after they’re ordered, so it will take a couple of months for the costume to be created and shipped to you. It will be a lot easier to get costumes for characters that are very popular because they are more likely to be already made and only need to be shipped.

The quickest costumes to put together are going to be the simplest. These are the ones that you can put together using the clothes you already have in your closet or clothing that you can easily find in a store. If you’ve got less than a week to the convention and you want to go in cosplay, try to decide on a character that has a simple design such as shorts with a T-shirt.

If there is really no time before the convention, you can always put together a casual cosplay instead of a full costume. This is a type of cosplay that is inspired by a character you love, but it’s not meant to be an exact replica of the character design.

Wigs can usually be shipped within a week or even purchased in the dealer’s hall at a convention. As long as you don’t require a highly styled wig, you should be able to find something that can work even last minute.

3. What skills do you have in sewing, clay modeling, woodworking, hair styling, etc.?

You probably have more skills than you think. Sewing skills are, of course, very useful for creating a costume from scratch, but that’s only the beginning. Are you good at styling your hair? Use that to style the wig for your character. Do you have any skills with clay modeling or woodworking? Those are super useful for cosplay props. Even knowing how to use makeup for photography and pose for photos can make your cosplay experience so much more rewarding.

If you don’t know any skills that will help you with any of your costume ideas, do you know someone who can help you? Maybe your mom or aunt can teach you how to sew together a quick dress for your cosplay. Maybe your stylish friend can teach you how to style a wig for your character. 

Even if you think all the characters you want to cosplay are too complicated, you can always ask for help and learn new skills along the way. If you’re willing to learn, you’ll be surprised at the complex costumes you’re able to make. To me, that’s the best part about cosplay. You get to be creative and learn something new with every costume.

anna from Shaman Kin cosplay
Simple costumes can easily be put together using basic thrifted clothing. For my Anna cosplay, I only needed a black dress, red headband, and cheap costume jewelry.

4. What is your budget?

Cosplay can be a pretty expensive hobby. If you’ve looked into prices recently, you’ll see that $150 for a decent-quality costume is the least of what you can expect. And that’s for the simpler cosplays that don’t even include a wig. 

Making a costume yourself isn’t necessarily much cheaper either. You have to buy the fabric, sewing notions, and any other materials you want to use for jewelry, shoes, and props. The price can add up pretty quickly.

If you have money available, or time to save up, then this isn’t a problem. But I know when I first started cosplaying back in college, I needed to pick and choose which costumes to wear based on my very tight budget. Since there were so many characters I wanted to cosplay, what I would do is choose one complex character costume for the year to save up and budget for. 

Then I would pick two or three simpler costumes that I could easily find clothes for. I would first look at my own closet and the clothing that my friends or sisters would let me borrow. Then I’d look for used clothing and thrift shops or cheap clothing online. This is what I did for my Anna from Shaman King costume. It’s simple enough to be affordable but iconic enough to be recognized even as a closet cosplay.

Tohru from Fruits Basket uniform vs. casual clothes
You may not be able to put together a school uniform or typical outfit of you favorite last minute, but you can find a casual outfit of the character and easily find clothing in your closet or clothing stores.

5. Do your characters have alternate outfits?

If you’re working with a tight budget or short time limit, you might find that it’s difficult to get a specific school uniform, superhero suit, or intricately styled clothing. However, many characters have alternate outfits that you can wear instead. Usually, it will be easier to find the pieces to put the costume together as a closet cosplay, making it overall cheaper and easier to put the costume together.

For example, if you want to cosplay as Wanda Maximoff, it might be expensive to buy the full scarlet witch costume and difficult to create from scratch. But if you look through all of the movies and shows she’s been in, you’ll be able to find many outfits that are casual and can be created using clothing you can buy at a department store or find in your closet (or your friend’s closet). 

6. Will you be comfortable in your costume?

Something else that you really want to consider before choosing your cosplay is the overall comfort of the costume. This includes things like taking the weather into account, how comfortable you are with exposed skin, what kinds of shoes you can walk around in all day, and what kind of props you can carry around.

As much as possible, you want to avoid wearing heavy coats and thick layers in the summertime, while you probably want to avoid bathing suits or similar garments for winter conventions. It’s also a good idea for you to bring comfortable shoes with you since most of the time you walk around a lot at a comic or anime convention.

Props are not always necessary for cosplay, but many people include them for added realism. However, sometimes the prop that you made will seem light enough at first, but over the course of the day, it will be pretty heavy. Make sure you take that into account and either create your props with lightweight materials or have a place you can put them when they become too heavy to carry around.

7. Do you want to be recognized?

For many people, the joy in cosplay is about connecting with other like-minded fans of your source material. If this is something that is important to you, you may want to cosplay as a character who is at least somewhat popular. The more obscure the character is, the less likely that someone will recognize you.

This is also something that you want to think about when deciding on the details of your costume. You can be as creative as you want with your costume, but the more accurate your costume is to the original design, the more recognizable you will be at a cosplay convention. 

This also goes for choosing to create a costume for characters that are a different gender than yours. While a crossplay (changing your appearance to look like the gender of the character) is usually more character-accurate, a genderbent costume (changing the gender of the character) might be more comfortable but less recognizable.

Emily Joice

My name is Emily, and I have been cosplaying since my very first convention in 2008. Over the years, I've experimented with all different kinds of cosplay costumes, especially loving the process of creating props and styling wigs. I also delved into cosplay photography, and love exploring how to optimize costumes so they look excellent in photos. Most of the photos you find on this site were taken by me over my years at anime conventions.

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