Last Minute Cosplay? No Problem! (7 tips for a quick costume)

last minute cosplay?

Sometimes you plan on wearing a cosplay to your next convention only to realize you haven’t started anything and there is only one week left. Or maybe you decided at the last minute that you want to go to a convention, but don’t have any costumes ready to go. 

To make a last minute cosplay, the rules are to 1) use what you have on hand, and 2) cut as many corners as possible. By simplifying the design of the character, you can finish your costume even if you only have a few days to get it done.

My friends and I have spent the night before conventions in the hotel room hot gluing costumes together and spray painting props to get a basic costume ready. While these experiences have taught me to plan ahead for my costumes, I also learned how to be resourceful and creative with whatever I have to work with.

1. Choose a simple character

If you’re not sure which character you want to cosplay, the best thing you can do right now is choose something simple. There are many characters in comics, games, and anime that wear a simple costume of jeans and a T-shirt or shorts and a tank top.

With these types of characters, all you have to do is raid your closet or take a quick trip to the clothing store to put your costume together. If your character has a slightly ripped or beat-up look to their clothing, it’s pretty easy to create that wear-and-tear in very little time. Use basic red or brown makeup to make blood or dirt stains where necessary.

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.

2. Design a casual version of your character

If you can’t come up with a simple character, you can choose to simplify the design of one of your favorites or create a casual-clothes version of your character. Many characters are highly recognizable as long as the wig is more-or-less correct (and you can pick that up at the convention dealer’s room). 

To create a casual version of your character, think about their typical color scheme and try to match it. Alternatively, you can look to the actual source material for your casual outfit. While many characters have a usual outfit that is difficult to mimic (like a school uniform), they’ll have other clothes that they wear for a day off.

For example, you may not be able to cosplay Tohru from Fruits Basket in her school uniform, but you can easily find the pieces for one of her casual outfits. Or, if you’re looking to cosplay one of the many marvel characters, you may not be able to put together their superhero uniforms. However, they wear many casual outfits throughout the films and comics that you can more easily mimic.

cardboard arm brace
You can use cardboard to make a lot of different types of props. It’s a versatile material for any last minute cosplay.

3. Cardboard is excellent for quick props

If you want to create props for your character, cardboard is an excellent last-minute resource. All those Amazon boxes that you left lying around have a new purpose! You can make swords, wings, horns, shields, and any number of simple items and symbols that can help people understand and recognize your cosplay.

Grab some paint and brushes from a local craft store to give your new prop a quick paint job and add details to the design. Depending on the size of the prop you are creating, you may want to glue together two layers of cardboard to better reinforce your prop and keep it from falling apart.

Always bring hot glue and safety pins with you to the convention. They can be used for any last minute fixes to your costume.

4. Use hot glue and safety pins 

If you’re running low on time to finish your project, hot glue and safety pins are your best friends. Glue bows onto the costume and use safety pins as closures when you don’t have time to add a zipper. 

Do you need to add a button for appearance? Use hot glue and use a safety pin for the actual closure. Are you adding cat ears to a wig? Hot glue them to a simple headband. You can solve almost any problem you run into with either hot glue or safety pins, so make sure you have these available.

They’ll also be really helpful to have with you if your last-minute cosplay starts to fall apart after you’ve been walking around at the convention (it happens even if you spend a lot of time on the costume). Hot glue and safety pins might be all you need to make quick fixes and get back out on the convention floor with your outfit intact.

5. Buy what you can

If you’re working on a cosplay at the last minute, you’re not going to be able to make everything from scratch. Use items you find at local clothing and crafting stores as a base for your costume and build off of that. 

Once you get to the convention, you’ve also got the whole dealer’s room available to help you fix your costume. You can often find items like cat ears, wigs, horns, elf ears, and other basic supplies there to complete your look.

attack on titan cosplayers
You can create a simple Attack on Titan cosplay with a brown jacket, white pants, and a printout of the Survey Corps crest to pin to the jacket.

6. Finish the most important parts first 

If you’re running up against a deadline, make sure to prioritize the most important parts of the costume. These are the parts that make your character most recognizable (like the wig) or the parts that hold the rest of your outfit together.

If you can’t finish the shoes, or you’re missing those leg straps on your Attack on Titan cosplay (more complex than they look!), don’t worry about it. Most people won’t notice, and if they do, they won’t care.

fairy costume
For one of the first costumes I every wore to a convention, I used a friends dress and created quick fairy wings out of cardboard.

7. Borrow from your friends

If your friend (or family members) has any pieces of clothing or old costumes that would be perfect for you, ask if you can borrow them. They may be a little possessive of their new sword that they spent time making, but maybe you can borrow the old version that they don’t use anymore.

At one point, I borrowed a dress from my friend that was almost perfect for my last-minute character. I had to use those handy safety pins to get the dress to fit correctly, but it worked out perfectly, and I didn’t need to try to find a whole lot of other pieces to finish the costume.

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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