Top Do’s and Don’ts of Cosplaying in Public

do's and don'ts of cosplaying in public

Whether you’re cosplaying in public right outside of a convention or in your hometown, there are some common courtesy and safety rules that you’ll want to follow. Overall, cosplay is a fun and wholesome activity, but it can easily get out of hand if you forget where you are.

As a whole, the rules for cosplaying are about respecting other people. You are bound to stand out simply by wearing a costume in public, so it’s important to take the initiative and avoid any dangerous or questionable behavior.

Of course, you also want to have a good time when cosplaying. There is no need to feel bogged down with too many rules. Use this simple list of six Do’s and Don’ts to help you navigate the public in costume.

Do expect people to stare

Even though common courtesy tells us not to stare at other people, when you wear a costume out in public, people will stare. This is especially true when you are out cosplaying on your own. But even at conventions, people will be walking in the area going about their everyday business and stare, wondering what’s going on. Try not to be offended by people looking at you.

Leah and Padme star wars cosplayers
If you have any prop that people might mistake as a real weapon, be sure to keep it out of sight if you are traveling in public.

Don’t walk around with disruptive props

Even though people will stare, you still want to avoid any attention grabbing props. Specifically, you want to avoid props that make it look like you are armed with any kind of weapon. Members of the public may not understand that the prop is fake, and become alarmed. 

This includes anytime you leave the vicinity of a convention. For example, when you are going out to a local restaurant to eat, leave the dangerous-looking and oversized props in your hotel room. 

The only exceptions to this rule are when you are at a convention and within one or two blocks of the central location of the con, when you are walking to or from your hotel, or when you are clearly setting up a photoshoot. The presence of camera equipment is an unconscious queue to members of the public that any props in the vicinity are fake.

fawn cosplay
By looking in parks and hiking trails around your community, you can get amazing backgrounds that work with the character you are portraying.

Do find hidden spaces for photoshoots

There are so many amazing places for photoshoots hidden in communities around the world. You probably have a park, hiking trail, sculpture garden, beach, or beautiful architecture nearby that would be a great place for setting up a photo shoot.

While many people will only wear their cosplay at conventions, setting up one of these photoshoots is the best way to get pictures of your costume without so many people walking in the background. You can also choose the best kind of location to compliment your character’s setting, instead of relying on only the places near a convention center.

Don’t trespass on non-public territory

When looking for these hidden gem spaces for photoshoots, avoid trespassing on anyone else’s property. Public places are generally safe to stage cosplay photoshoots unless it’s someplace like a public art gallery, but you need to get permission to go into and take photos in any non-public place. 

Frozen cosplayers
If you are cosplaying popular characters in public, such as Disney princesses, you may be stopped by families and children to take pictures.

Do express your excitement and expertise

It’s okay to be excited while wearing cosplay. I’ve read some forums where people seem to get second-hand embarrassment whenever they see someone in cosplay acting anything other than perfect. But the reality is that most everyday people don’t care, as long as you’re not disruptive.

In fact, many people you pass in public may end up sharing your excitement. I once had a great conversation with a couple of elderly ladies about sewing and costume construction. While you probably don’t want to regale a stranger with the intricacies of the anime you’re cosplaying from, many people will be curious. It’s okay to talk about your excitement for cosplay to people who ask you what you’re doing.

Don’t act in character with strangers

On the other hand, you do not want to force any passing strangers into your role-playing. If you are cosplaying a character who is obnoxious or arrogant, you still need to be kind and courteous to people. They did not sign up to be harassed by a random cosplayer.

The same rules apply at conventions. It’s fine if you’ve agreed to act in character with a group of friends, but to anyone outside of your group, you should behave respectfully. 

I remember a number of years ago when Soul Eater was popular, there were a couple of people cosplaying the character Black Star, who decided to bring his obnoxious, attention-seeking antics to life. They would shout at crowds of people and act entirely inappropriately, giving both the character and the show a bad name even though it was just a handful of people. Don’t be that person!

Marvel group meetup
If you are getting together with a group of cosplayers, be sure to choose a wide open space so that you don’t block access to the sidewalk.

Do meet up with other cosplayers

Meeting up with a group of other cosplayers is a lot of fun. You can organize a photoshoot or simply socialize with people who have similar interests. It can be a themed meet-up just outside of a convention, or you can plan to meet up with other cosplayers from within your community.

Many communities will plan these types of get-togethers using Facebook groups, cosplay Meetups, or online forums. See if you can find groups in your area to get connected to other cosplayers near you.

Don’t block the sidewalk

When arranging photoshoots and meet-ups, be sure to plan for a wide-open area so you will not block sidewalks and pedestrians. Many cities (like Washington DC) even have laws about blocking public walkways.

Parks, beaches, and large town squares are ideal places to arrange these get-togethers. Many conventions have designated areas for large photoshoots in order to keep traffic from being bottlenecked, so you may have to sign up for a spot ahead of time.

boot covers for cosplay
You can use boot covers over top of your sneakers to cosplay with comfortable shoes for many different cosplays. Otherwise it’s a good idea to bring a pair of flats.

Do wear comfortable clothing

When wearing cosplay in public, even if you’re only going to a photo shoot, you want to make sure you bring comfortable clothing. Bring or wear comfortable shoes and make sure to take the weather into account. I like to separate my costumes into the ones that are appropriate for summer and the ones that are appropriate for winter. Then  I will alternate which costumes I wear depending on the season.

Don’t ignore the rules of public decency

Any time you are out in public, even at a convention, you need to respect the rules of public decency. Even if it’s sweltering and you want to wear a bathing suit cosplay, many public places will not allow this kind of attire away from a pool or beach. 

Even though it may be annoying or inaccurate to the character, it’s best to wear costumes that are a little more conservative when you are in public spaces. If you’re doing a photoshoot in an outfit that shows a bit more skin, you might want to wear a coverup before and after when you are walking around.

Do travel with other people 

Cosplaying in public can lead to unwanted attention, especially if you are a female or young cosplayer. To keep yourself safe, it’s best to always travel with other people. A group of three or more is ideal, but make sure to always stay with at least one other person. This is even more important if you will be walking around at night.

Don’t do anything dangerous

Don’t go seeking out danger either. Don’t hop over fences or barriers to get a better photoshoot spot. Don’t try to slide down a banister instead of walking down the stairs. Avoid over-exerting yourself in the heat. Use your common sense and keep out of trouble so that you don’t get hurt.

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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