As a hobby, there aren’t really any rules for cosplayers. Of course, every convention you go to will have its own set of rules posted on their website, but mostly these boil down to public decency and safety. As long as you are being respectful of other people around you, you can cosplay as whatever character you want with a simple or elaborate costume. You can change the costume or strive for 100% accuracy. Just try to be happy and comfortable in the resulting costume.
However, there are some ‘rules’ you can follow that will help you look your best in costume and improve over time. None of the items on this list are absolute must-follow rules, but they can help you become a better cosplayer and help you (and everyone around you) have a better cosplay experience.
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1. Practice good posture
The easiest way to look ten times better in your costume is to make sure you have good posture. This will keep your costume from wrinkling and help you look more confident overall. Check your posture in mirrors and window reflections throughout the day to remind yourself to stop slouching and stand up straight.
When it comes time for photos, you may even want to exaggerate your posture. Actively pushing your shoulders back and holding your head high translates well into photos, even if it feels a little awkward.
2. Treat your costume with respect
If you really want to look good in cosplay, you have to take care of your costume. Before the convention, make sure to pack it carefully, don’t just throw it into your suitcase. Make sure you take time to protect your fragile costume pieces and wigs so that you can look your best when it comes time to wear it.
You also want to make sure you treat your costume with care while you’re wearing it. Be careful in hallways so that you don’t bump into anything and check to make sure your costume isn’t dragging on the floor. Be careful when you’re eating so that you don’t get food or coffee stains on your cosplay.
You also want to make sure you bring a change of clothes. Don’t sleep in your costume or wear it all weekend and expect it to look as good on Sunday as it did on Friday. Not only will it start to smell, but it will also be more likely to get damaged or stained and wrinkled, so it’s best to plan on wearing a costume for one day to continue looking fresh for the whole convention.
3. Iron your costume
If your cosplay is made of a fabric that wrinkles (which is most fabric), always iron your costume before wearing it. This simple step will make your costume look so much more put-together and professional.
Whenever possible, I like to iron my costumes at home and then hang them up as soon as I get to the hotel. This way, I’ll only need to do minor ironing in the morning before I wear the costume. It’s a way to avoid spending an hour of your day ironing your whole costume.
4. Wear supportive undergarments
To look your best, you also want to pay attention to what you’re wearing underneath your costume. Shapewear undergarments are made to help create smooth curves under your costume. They’re especially useful when wearing any kind of tight superhero suit, but overall, they can also create a more professional appearance.
You can also get into the habit of wearing tights under your costume. Dance tights are more durable than cheap tights, so you can reuse them for all your costumes to add to a perfect overall look. Not only do they smooth out the color and shape of your legs, but tights will also help keep knee-high socks from falling down and prevent you from chafing in the summer.
5. Be considerate of convention and hotel staff
Just because you’re in cosplay doesn’t mean you can start breaking the rules of the convention or hotel you’re staying at. This means paying attention to areas that are off-limits and being respectful toward hotel and convention staff whenever they ask you to do something (like not taking photos in crowded hallways and not blocking doors). You’ll make your experience and the experience of everyone around you so much better if you remember to be kind and respectful.
It’s also important to pay attention to your hotel room. Be careful not to break anything with your large props, and don’t leave greasy makeup and body paint stains in the bathroom for hotel staff to clean up.
6. Plan ahead for the convention
Planning ahead is one of the single best actions you can take before cosplaying at an event. You don’t want to procrastinate with your costume and rush to finish it the week (or the day) before a convention. Developing your time management skills will ensure that you get everything done and don’t have to cut corners at the last minute.
It’s also a good idea to plan for your schedule at the convention. Work with your photographers to schedule photoshoots so you know when you need to be ready and in-costume. You may even want to time yourself getting ready before the convention so you have an idea of how long it will take and plan accordingly.
7. Take care of yourself at conventions
Nothing will mess up your weekend more than forgetting to take care of your basic needs. Make sure you take the time to eat at least two good meals a day and take frequent drink breaks. Otherwise, you’ll end up feeling tired and wilted before too long. And trust me, people notice when you’re not feeling great.
I know it’s difficult with all the raves and after-parties happening at cosplay events, but you should also pay attention to the amount of sleep you’re getting. If you’re well-rested, you’ll be able to keep up your energy. It will be easier to maintain good posture and keep from feeling grumpy and upset by the time the weekend is over.
8. Practice posing for photos
If getting good photos of your cosplay is a priority, make sure to practice posing before the event. Sometimes a pose that feels good doesn’t translate well to pictures, so you want to stand in front of a mirror and look to see which poses look good.
Make sure to wear your costume while practicing poses too. You may find that your pants aren’t as flexible as you thought and will rip if you squat down too far (that happened to me!). Your armor might also get in the way of your arm movements, so you’ll need to stick with poses that won’t ruin your beautifully crafted pieces.
Practicing what to do with friends in a cosplay group is also really beneficial. I can’t count the number of times my friends and I planned a group together and then couldn’t come up with a pose when someone asked for our photo.
9. Use makeup (and practice ahead of time)
While makeup isn’t necessarily required for cosplay (I know many people have religious and personal reasons for avoiding makeup), it will immediately make your costume look so much better. No matter what gender you identify as, it’s a good idea to learn how to apply basic foundation and contouring makeup. This will help to smooth out the color and texture of your face.
If you’re creating a makeup look that is different from everyday makeup (such as special effects scars, prosthetics, facepaint, or anything highly creative), you’ll want to practice before the day of the convention. Sometimes you’ll realize you need a different makeup product to get the effect you’re looking for. You’ll also have a better idea of how much time it will take to complete your makeup look.
10. Pay attention to convention policies
Sometimes in cosplay there are actual rules you have to follow. These can differ drastically depending on the convention you attend, so it’s always important to check the rules of your event before deciding what cosplays to bring.
There will always be some guidelines around public decency and costumes, so be aware of how much coverage is appropriate. Events will also typically have guidelines for props, and some are quite strict. Sometimes, you’re better off leaving your big or realistic-looking props at home for events that have strict policies.
It’s also important to be aware of rules involving masks. I don’t just mean medical mask policies, but also policies for full-face masks. Many cities and municipalities have restrictions against wearing full-face masks, so you will need to remove them once you are outside of the convention center in public areas.
11. Feel comfortable in your costume
The more comfortable you feel in your costume, the better you will look. This includes choosing comfortable materials and footwear, choosing a character you feel comfortable portraying and avoiding costumes that make you feel too exposed (or too hot).
Part of this means you need to take weather into account. Wearing a fursuit or a winter coat cosplay in the middle of the summer is not going to make you comfortable. The same goes for wearing a bathing suit at a winter convention. So, be sure to keep that in mind when deciding which costumes to wear to which events.
You can, of course, alter the costumes to make them more appropriate for the weather and your own personal comfort levels. Accuracy in cosplay is not all-important in cosplay, and there’s no reason you can’t have a little fun designing and altering the outfit to make it work for you.
12. Don’t be afraid to cosplay outside of conventions
Anime and comic conventions are not the only places you can cosplay. In fact, you’re much more likely to get excellent, high-quality photos, if you work together with a photographer outside of large events. This gives you the freedom to find better locations that will work as backdrops for your cosplay photos. It also means you won’t have to cram into a small corner of the convention center or have a crowd in the background of all your photos.
13. Roleplay your character (in moderation)
A big part of the fun in cosplay is taking on the persona of the characters you love. It can be a lot of fun to act cute and shy around a cosplayer your character has a crush on, or be adventurous and flirty. Cosplaying a courageous character can also help you practice being a more confident person, even if that’s something you struggle with in everyday life.
Of course, you don’t want to take it too far. It’s best to keep roleplaying within your group of cosplayers. You also never want to do anything obnoxious or dangerous that will be disrespectful to other con-goers and staff.
14. Learn something new with every costume
The best way to improve your costumes is to try something new every time. Maybe your first costume you’re just learning how to use a sewing pattern. Then for your second costume, you’re learning how to make a basic prop. Over time you try using different types of materials and designs until you can create intricate armor, swords, magic staffs, and anything else you can dream up. You’ll become more resourceful overall, and I find this creative problem solving to be one of my favorite parts of cosplay.
15. Respect other cosplayers
Even though you’re having fun cosplaying, you can’t forget about everyone else around you. Always be kind and respectful toward other people. There’s no need to trash talk other people’s costumes (even if they’re cosplaying the same character). Your costume may be the most intricate and accurate at the convention, but everyone is working with a different skill set and trying their best to have fun cosplaying their favorite characters.
You should also be respectful toward other con-goers and members of the public. If you have large costume pieces or props, make sure they don’t hit anyone passing by. It’s best to avoid crowded hallways when stopping for photos as well so that you don’t end up blocking traffic.