What is Closet Cosplay? (and why you should definitely try it)

how to create your closet cosplay

Closet cosplays are my favorite way to put a costume together. Not only is this cheaper, but it is also the most comfortable way to walk around a convention. If I can find a to create a closet cosplay for a character I love, I definitely will!

A closet cosplay is when you create a costume using normal clothing instead of making the costume yourself or purchasing it from a cosplay store. Creating a costume in this way is typically less accurate, but it’s also cheaper and more comfortable. 

If you’re just starting with the hobby, a closet cosplay is the easiest way to create your first costume. It’s a great way to test out this cosplay thing while still feeling relatively comfortable in ‘normal’ clothing. Even today, more than 10 years after my first cosplay, I still like to put together some closet cosplays for characters that have simple designs.

What is closet cosplay?

Closet cosplay is when you create a costume for your character using everyday clothing. Even though you are not specifically constructing or purchasing the costume, you are still trying to mimic the look and style of the character so that you can be recognizable in the cosplay.

Some people may think of it as a lesser form of cosplay since it will usually be less accurate to the original character. However, the reality is you can create recognizable and uniquely creative costumes even when you’re limited to the clothes you can find in a thrift store.

Traditionally, this would be put together using only clothes from your wardrobe. Nowadays, it’s more common for a closet cosplay to be comprised of clothing purchased as a thrift store or even clothing from shops and online retailers. This gives you a chance to find elements of the outfit that are specifically suited to the character’s costume.

This also doesn’t mean you won’t purchase or make any piece of your costume. For example, you’ll still have to purchase a wig or create an identifying prop that your character carries. I would consider it to be a closet cosplay if most of the outfit was put together using everyday clothing.

There are, of course, limitations to the kind of costumes you can create. You’re not going to be able to put together a superhero uniform from thrifted clothing, and you won’t be able to find anything with the specific designs and embellishments that define many main characters. But there are still so many possibilities for you to choose from.

izzy from Digimon
Even though it’s a super simple costume, I like to keep Izzy from Digimon because it’s comfortable and easy for a lazy Sunday at the convention.

Why closet cosplay?

Wearing a closet cosplay to a convention is just as fun as wearing any other type of costume. You get to dress up as your favorite character and express your love for the show or game they’re from. But there are also some benefits to closet cosplay that make it a great choice even for seasoned cosplayers.

It’s cheaper

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, the number one reason that most people will choose a closet cosplay is that it is much easier on their wallet. You don’t have to worry about buying all the materials and tools you need to construct a costume, and you don’t have to purchase an expensive costume that you’ll only wear a few times at a convention.

Many costume pieces you’ll need will already be in your closet, costing you nothing at all. A simple black dress or a white button-up shirt are common examples. But even if you do go out and buy the pieces of your costume, you’ll often be able to find what you need at thrift stores or sold cheaply on eBay. 

It’s more comfortable

In general, a closet cosplay is a lot more comfortable to wear for long periods of time than an outfit that is made to be a costume. This is because everyday clothing is intended for people to wear all day long. It needs to hold up to more wear and tear and is made with at least some comfort in mind.

Costumes that are bought from online cosplay shops tend to be made with uncomfortable fabric that doesn’t breathe well. By the end of the day, I tend to feel sweaty and uncomfortable. The comfort of a costume you make will depend largely on your skill and the complexity of the costume. Personally, I know I’m not that great at sewing. Even if they look fine, the costumes never feel quite right on me the way retail clothing does.

Closet cosplay is also more often done with characters who have a simpler design. They’ll be more comfortable to wear because they don’t have as many extravagant pieces attached to weigh you down during the day.

You can be more creative with the design

Most of the time you can’t be completely accurate when putting a closet cosplay together. Instead of looking at this as a limitation, think of this as an opportunity to be creative with your costume. 

Maybe you can’t find the exact scarf that matches the character design, but you can think about the type of fashion your character would wear, then choose a scarf in a similar color that works for your character’s personality. While it would technically be inaccurate, you can still stick to the spirit of the cosplay and give yourself a chance to be more creative in your wardrobe choices.

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.

You can usually wear it outside of conventions

Most costumes would look odd if you tried to wear them in public outside of a convention. They’re simply not made for everyday wear and will only be worn a few times a year at a convention. Closet cosplays, on the other hand, are more versatile. You can easily mix and match the pieces with other clothing in your wardrobe too. Its use is not limited to just cosplay at a convention.

Even if you purchase a piece of clothing to use specifically with a cosplay, there is no reason you can’t also wear it outside of the convention. Got a green pair of converses to wear for a cosplay? They look great as everyday street shoes too!

You can have a costume quickly

A closet cosplay is the easiest way to create a last-minute costume. By choosing a simple character and making a quick trip to the store, you can put together a costume for your convention in a single day. Even skilled cosplayers would struggle to create an outfit from scratch in a day.

Purchasing a costume won’t be any quicker either. When you buy a costume from an online shop, it’s usually made to order. You will have to wait for the costume to be made and then shipped to you before you’ll have it in your hands. You usually need to plan one or two months in advance to make sure you’ll receive your costume on time.

How to find clothing for your character

The struggle with closet cosplay is finding the right clothes for your character. Some costumes are pretty basic and easy to find clothes for, but others will require more time to hunt down the pieces. 

Break the costume into pieces

When looking for clothes for a closet cosplay, my first step is to break the costume down into pieces. Typically this means I’ll be looking for a shirt/coat, skirt/pants, and shoes.

I’ll start my search on eBay or Amazon because I can get a more specific idea of what the type of clothing I’m looking for is called. Then I will either find a piece of clothing I like, you use the new search term to find something at a used clothing store. 

For example, I’ll start my search looking for a ‘red skirt.’ Then I’ll narrow it down to a ‘pleated red skirt’ when I see the results and figure out what the type of skirt I’m looking for is called. You can use your new search term to find cheaper alternatives or a more accurate version of the article of clothing.

I’ll repeat this process with all pieces of the costume before buying anything so that I can make sure I find pieces with colors and styles that look good together.

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.

Choose your character’s casual outfit instead of their main outfit

Sometimes you’ll really want to cosplay your favorite character, but there’s no way you’d be able to recreate their main outfit with everyday clothing. A school uniform, for example, is difficult to put together using everyday clothing, but your character probably wears casual clothes at some point. Look for an episode where your character doesn’t wear their uniform and try to put that outfit together instead.

You can do the same thing with superhero costumes. While the characters in the MCU all have their suits, they also all wear casual clothes at some point in the series that many fans will instantly recognize.

Closet cosplay vs. casual cosplay

The terms casual cosplay and closet cosplay are often confused with each other. You may hear people using them interchangeably, but they actually refer to different types of cosplay experiences. 

For a closet cosplay, you are trying to find clothing in your wardrobe or purchase it cheaply to create the actual, recognizable outfit that a character wears. It’s a low-budget way of putting a costume together for an anime convention or cosplay event.

On the other hand, casual cosplay is about taking inspiration from a character to put an outfit together. You’re not necessarily trying to recreate a costume, but instead, wear clothes that invoke the feeling of a character you love. It’s a much more subtle form of cosplay.

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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