There are very few rules that you need to follow while you’re cosplaying. As long as you are practicing general safety guidelines and common sense, you will probably be okay. But there are some scenarios you might face while cosplaying that are not common in everyday life. It’s at these times that you need to understand the unspoken rules of cosplay etiquette.
Just like with general social etiquette, you’re not going to be completely shunned from the cosplay community or kicked out of a convention for accidentally breaking one of these rules. However, you’ll make the cosplay experience much more fun for yourself and your fellow con-goers if you take some time to understand the basic etiquette of cosplay.
1. Pay attention to event rules for costumes and props
Every convention and cosplay event you go to will have different rules for cosplay. The costume and props you choose to bring with you should always adhere to the guidelines of the given event. For the most part, these rules follow common sense, but be sure to familiarize yourself with any specific event rules before choosing which costumes and props to bring with you.
In general, these rules have to do with safety. There are going to be a lot of people at the venue so the event coordinators will often have rules about the size of props that you can bring. There will, of course, be rules about props that can be used as weapons as well. Other common safety rules include the requirement of shoes and a limitation on any lifelike blood and wound special effects.
Conventions will also spell out the rules for a socially acceptable dress code since it’s common for anime and comic characters to wear clothing that is not typical on an everyday basis. Many comic-con and anime conventions are meant to be family-friendly events, so there are common-sense limitations that are spelled out in the rules. If you have any adult-oriented costumes that you want to show off, consider going to an 18+ cosplay convention.
2. Make sure any prop weapons are harmless
If you are careless with props, you might unintentionally hurt someone. If you’re using a real bow as a prop (which is often allowed at conventions but not always), destring it, so there is no chance of causing a projectile arrow during photos.
You can also make sure there are no dangerously pointed parts to any staff, pauldron, helmet, or another costume piece that could accidentally poke someone shorter than you in the eye. Create small, reasonably sized spikes or use a flexible material (like EVA foam) that is unlikely to hurt anyone.
3. Don’t stop for photos in crowded hallways
Most of the more popular anime and comic conventions pull in a very large crowd. What’s more, summer is the typical convention season, which means hot weather brings all those people inside. It creates crowded hallways where people try to get from one place to another without going outside.
If you find yourself in one of these crowded hallways with a lot of foot traffic, do not stop for a photo. Every year there are people who don’t know this rule and end up creating crazy traffic jams within the halls of the convention center. Some event coordinators have gotten smart and added ‘no photo’ signs to the areas that tend to have the most congestion. However, most of the time it’s up to your own common sense.
Even if someone asks for a photo of you, wait until after you exit the hallway into a more open space before pausing for a photograph. Make sure you step to the side of any rooms or hallways and then stop for the photo. Most con-goers will be happy to follow you to a more optimal spot so that they can snap their picture.
4. Don’t touch someone or their costume without permission
This may seem like common sense, but it’s surprisingly easy for people to forget their manners when cosplay is involved. Don’t touch someone’s costume without their permission. It doesn’t matter if the person is cosplaying from the same series as you, or if you just want to see what material their cosplay is made out of. This includes cool-looking props, intricate wings, and crazy gravity-defying wigs. Don’t touch it!
It’s also important to remember that no touching includes randomly hugging someone too. Even if they are a perfect representation of your favorite character, it’s not acceptable behavior to hug someone without their permission.
5. Practice basic hygiene
When you’re in a crowded space with a lot of people at a convention, this means sometimes you’re going to be in close proximity to strangers. People will be close enough to smell you. While it’s unavoidable that some level of smell will be present on hot summer days, there is still a lot you can do to keep that to a minimum. Practicing basic hygiene is a way of respecting your fellow con-goers by trying to minimize any unpleasant smells.
And that’s really all it is: basic hygiene. Take a shower every day so the sweat and odor don’t build up on your body. Brush your teeth, so your breath doesn’t stink, and reapply deodorant a couple of times throughout the day to keep your pits from smelling.
The other thing that is not often mentioned is the odor that your costume can soak up. If you wear your costume all day on Friday, you might want to check for unfortunate scents if you plan on wearing the same costume the next day. Take a sniff of the armpits and other areas that are likely to carry a scent. If they smell even a little now, they’re going to reek by the end of the day. You may want to limit the amount of time you stay in the costume, or even switch to normal clothes for the day.
6. The golden rule of cosplay photography
You should not take a photo of a cosplayer without asking first. This has been a hot topic issue for the past couple of decades, and rules about cosplay and photo consent are finally being added to convention policies. This rule of etiquette was made to protect cosplayers since some nefarious personalities try to snap inappropriate photos.
Asking for photos in advance will also give you overall better pictures. The cosplayer will be ready to pose and act in-character for you. They won’t be eating or standing around looking tired and thinking about their sore feet.
7. Keep large props and costumes out of the way
It can be a lot of fun to make a gigantic prop for your cosplay that really brings the costume together. Whether it be a crazy styled wig, a large diameter hoop dress, or one of many oversized anime weapons, you need to pay attention to your surroundings at all times so that your costume does not become a nuisance to other con-goers.
These kinds of props tend to get in the way at cosplay events. You’ll need to be extra careful about walking through hallways so that you don’t bump someone and hurt them or ruin your costume. You also want to be aware of how big your costume is when attending panels, workshops, and screenings at conventions. Whenever possible, try to sit toward the back or sides of the room so that you don’t get in the way of other attendees.
8. Keep the hotel room clean
If you are staying at a hotel during a cosplay event, be respectful of hotel staff and property. I know it can be hard to think about keeping a room clean while changing in and out of costumes, so I will usually leave the do not disturb sign up for the entire trip. Then I’ll make sure to do basic cleaning before heading out so that I don’t leave a crazy mess for someone else to clean.
Some basic rules for keeping the hotel room clean include
- Clean any spilled makeup from the sink and shower. Be careful of makeup spills, especially if you are using any unusual makeup such as body paint. This can get all over the shower at the end of the day, so be sure to give the shower a quick wipe down so the color doesn’t stain and become difficult to remove.
- Replace any furniture that was moved during your stay. Some big props will require you to move furniture around to make space in the room. That’s perfectly fine, but be sure to move everything back where you found it at the end of your stay.
- Make sure all trash is in a garbage can or garbage bag. Don’t leave trash lying around the room. If it doesn’t all fit in the garbage cans provided, place any overflowing trash in a bag. Usually, you can find extra trash bags inside the small garbage cans in the room.
Remember, it’s customary to tip bellhops if they help with your luggage, and leave a tip in your room for housekeeping at the end of your stay (in the USA). Usually, about $5 per day is considered standard.
9. Beware your undergarments
If you are wearing a skintight costume (like a superhero spandex suit), be aware of the underwear you choose to wear. Thin spandex fabric will show everything underneath and there are some bits that your fellow con-goers do not want to see. You may want to wear shapewear, pasties, or a dance belt (for met) to make sure nothing unseemly is visible.
You also want to make sure you plan for possible costume mishaps. If your costume is revealing, consider using body tape to keep everything in place or wearing a nude-colored bodysuit underneath. I also like to wear shorts or tights under my costumes with skirts to prevent any possible panty shots.
10. Avoid comparing other cosplayers
You don’t need to tell someone that their costume is better than everyone else’s to tell them that you love their costume. Try to avoid comparing different costumes of characters, since that can really detract from the cosplay experience of less experienced cosplayers. It’s considered rude within the cosplay community to put anyone’s costume down and can make new cosplayers afraid to start because of the criticism they’ll receive.
Everyone cosplaying has their own level of experience and their own reasons for cosplaying. Some people have been cosplaying for years, are highly skilled, and love to create accurate costumes. Some people simply love a character and want to buy a costume when they have limited funds. It’s natural that these two costumes will look drastically different, but that doesn’t mean one person cares more about their costume and character than the other.
In the same vein, it’s best not to offer unsolicited advice to anyone. Even if you know a better way they could have made a piece of their costume, it’s simply not the place for you to insert your opinion. If the other cosplayer asks for advice, then by all means help them. But otherwise, try to be kind and supportive of all the skill levels and types of costumes you’ll find at conventions.
11. Don’t have a photoshoot in out-of-bounds areas
If you’re cosplaying at a convention, it’s pretty normal to try to find places away from the crowds of people to plan a photoshoot. This way you’ll have more space and you can avoid random people in the background. However, you don’t want to take it to places that are prohibited. At best, you are being disrespectful toward the venue that’s hosting the event, and at worst you could be putting yourself in danger.
There are so many reasons that areas could be off-limits. Sometimes it’s because the area is reserved for convention guests, sometimes they don’t want anyone trampling a carefully grown garden, and sometimes it’s because the place presents a safety hazard. For example, one year there were whole sections of the outdoor area at Katsucon sectioned off because sharp icicles were falling from the roof.
- Related reading: How to find good locations for your cosplay photoshoot
12. Be respectful even when acting in-character
When you are cosplaying, you’ll probably be adding in a little bit of role-playing. You’ll try acting and emulating your character’s personality and habits. This is all well and good if you’re cosplaying a character who’s known for being absolutely polite and respectful toward everyone. However, if you’re cosplaying a villain or a character known for their rude or over-the-top personality, make sure to not let the role-playing get too out of hand.
13. It’s okay to say ‘No’ to photos
If someone asks you for a photo, you are not required to say yes. You don’t have to let anyone take your photo if you don’t want to. It’s completely up to you. I know for many of us, it seems rude to say ‘no’ to people, especially if they ask politely, but it’s okay.
If you’re eating or resting or just too tired right now, then don’t do it. You can take whatever breaks you want and tell people that photos are not welcome at this moment. Usually, people will totally understand and leave you alone.
14. Don’t be rude to convention staff
Most convention staff are just trying to do their best to help the rest of us have a safe and happy time. While I have heard stories of staff members abusing their power and harassing attendees (in which case you should immediately report the staff member), most of the time if you’re asked to do something, pay attention and follow directions.
If you’re asked to move to the side of the hallway, told to stop taking photos in that particular spot, or asked to get an 18+ wristband instead of showing your ID, just listen to the staff and don’t make a scene. The same goes for hotel staff, sometimes there are policies that you have to follow whether you want to or not.
15. Credit the photographer
After the convention, you’ll probably be scouring the internet looking for photos people took of your cosplay. Sometimes you’ll even get business cards for cosplay photographers who took your picture at the event.
As a general rule, cosplay photographers will not be offended if you use one of their photos to show off your cosplay on your personal social media accounts (as long as you don’t try to sell the images). However, you should always link back to the photographer’s page and credit them for taking the photo.