Most conventions take place in hotels and convention centers that have plenty of air conditioning. Even though many of these anime and comic conventions take place in the summer, it’s not uncommon for people to wear costumes that are not fit for the season since they know the air conditioning will be available.
However, there are going to be times when you have to leave the building. Whether you’re getting food, traveling to and from the hotel, or there is an emergency fire evacuation (it happens), you need to be prepared with tactics to stay cool in the heat. Make sure you take it seriously too. One year at Otakon, a friend of mine actually had to be medically evacuated because he passed out in his costume due to the heat (don’t worry! He recovered quickly).
The best way to stay cool while cosplaying is to take frequent breaks and drink plenty of water. You also want to be sure you have removable layers or fabric that is breathable.
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1. Use lightweight fabric (and breathable)
If you are making your costume from scratch, you have control over the fabric that you use with the costume. You can plan your costume and the materials you use based on the time of year you plan to wear it. For hot summer weather, this means making your costumes out of lightweight and natural materials.
Generally, you can tell how lightweight a material is by going to a fabric shop and feeling the fabric. Lighter-weight fabrics won’t have as dense a thread count, so they will physically feel lighter when you lift them and drape the fabric. Just be sure to check to make sure your fabric of choice is not see-through. Even outerwear, like jackets, can be made of lightweight material (try linen).
Natural materials are also better for hot weather. These materials (such as cotton, linen, rayon, and even lightweight wool) are naturally breathable. They won’t trap heat inside the garment as easily as synthetic fibers. It’s also easier for these types of fabric to collect moisture from your skin and let it evaporate, instead of trapping it inside your costume.
For this reason, you should avoid materials that are highly synthetic. Fabrics like polyester are essentially a type of plastic fabric. Using polyester fabric is similar to placing a sheet of plastic over your skin in the summer. It’s not very breathable at all and will end up trapping heat. Unfortunately, most store-bought costumes are made of polyester. So you may want to make sure you choose a costume with short sleeves and less body coverage if you plan to purchase a costume.
EVA foam, Worbla, or even leather armor are also not breathable materials and will tend to make you feel hotter.
2. Create removable layers
If you want to wear a costume with long sleeves, an armor layer, or heavy material, try to make these parts easily removable. When you’re inside the convention center or hotel, you can keep these extra layers on, but this will also give you the option to remove the layers when you go outside.
This could be something as simple as having a short-sleeved shirt under your anime school uniform jacket. Or it could be something like adding velcro to a shirt under your armor so you can take it off outside. Whatever your costume is, think about ways you can pin, velcro, or button pieces with extra coverage so you can remove and carry them instead.
3. Use adhesive cooling pads under your costume
For a little added cooling relief, you can slap on a couple of cooling pads. These are little adhesive cooling gel packs that are meant to help soothe fevers for babies and children. You can use them for hot days too, by placing these cooling pads on the back of your neck, inner wrists, or lower back to help cool you down.
Alternatively, you can also sew pockets onto the inside of your costume (or create an undershirt vest). Place ice packs inside these pockets to keep you cool for longer. This is especially useful for anyone who wants to wear a fursuit or heavily armored cosplay.
4. Take frequent breaks
When you’re wandering around the convention, don’t feel bad about finding a spot to just sit for a while. Staying still and conserving your energy can help keep you from overexerting yourself. When it comes time to take that walk outside to the lunch restaurant, your body won’t be too tired before you even take a step outside.
In addition, you may want to take frequent breaks in your hotel room. This might not make as much sense if your hotel room is a far walk from the convention center, but it’s a great way to take a real break if the hotel is not too far off. You can take heavy or tight pieces of your costume off to give your body a break. Don’t forget to also take your wig off to help cool down your head.
If your hotel is a far walk off, consider taking a taxi (or Uber/Lyft) to get to the convention instead of walking half a mile. I know it may seem like unnecessary money, but it can make a big difference in your ability to keep cool and enjoy the convention, especially if you’ll be arriving in the middle of the day.
5. Drink twice as much water as you think you need
Obviously, you need to drink water. But when wearing a costume on hot days, it’s very easy to become dehydrated before you even realize how thirsty you are. I recommend making it a rule to carry around a large water bottle and stop every half hour to take a drink. You can even set a timer on your phone if that helps you remember.
Nowadays, most summer conventions will include water refill stations. Most of the time there are disposable cups available too, but depending on where the convention is, you may need to bring your own reusable water bottle (AnimeExpo in CA didn’t have cups available, but most other conventions did).
6. Add vent holes to your costume
If your costume is relatively heavy, and you can’t make easily removable layers, you can instead leave discreet holes in the costume to allow air to flow through. For example, you can leave the underside of the armpits unsewn or leave a side-seam unfinished to make the costume more breathable.
This probably won’t make much of a difference if you are already using a lightweight, breathable material, but it can help a lot if you’re wearing a polyester costume or a heavy fabric.
7. Don’t make your costume too heavy
Dealing with a heavy costume can put you at risk for heat-related illness even more than dealing with a hot costume with too many layers. The more you exert yourself when you’re simply walking around, the more your body temperature will rise. Make sure you be conscious of how heavy your armor and props are, and leave them behind if it takes too much effort to carry them around.
In a similar vein, make sure to choose footwear that you can easily walk in or bring a pair of shoes to switch into. You want to avoid wearing anything that’s going to make walking around too exhausting.
8. Make sure you eat
Your body needs energy to function. Don’t skip meals on hot days because that will give your body less fuel to use to keep you cool throughout the day. If possible, try to find cold foods to eat, such as salads, cold sandwiches, yogurt, fruit, etc. This will do double the job by being refreshing while also giving you much-needed energy.
You can also make it a point to find air-conditioned restaurants where you can sit and slowly consume your meal. This will give you a chance to sit in a chilled space (since convention centers tend to be on the warmer side due to the crowds), and a chance to rest for while and relax.
9. Choose your costumes according to the weather
Of course, the best way to beat the heat while in cosplay is to choose your costumes according to the weather. Pick lightweight costumes for the summer and leave the heavy costumes for winter conventions.
If you’re determined to cosplay a specific character and their regular character design is not summer-friendly, try looking for an alternate version of the character’s clothing. For example, most anime school uniforms will have a winter and a summer version. You’ll also find superheroes have their regular costume, but also they’ll have some version of normal clothing that is more suited for hot weather (or vice-versa).
You can also redesign a character’s costume to take the weather into account. Some people will create a swimsuit version of their character. You can also remove elements to make a costume sleeveless, give the character an up-do wig (long hair can be pretty hot), or alter the costume to allow more leg, chest, or stomach to show so you can keep cool through the day.
There is no rule saying a cosplay costume has to be 100% accurate. Honestly, it can be pretty fun to use your creativity and resourcefulness to adjust a costume while still making it recognizable.