So YOU Want to Cosplay: An introduction

EPIC Starcraft cosplay


You wake up in the morning, practically vibrating in excitement, with the thought in your head: Today is the day.
What day is it? Why, the day of your first convention of course!
As you approach the front of the convention center, wearing your favourite superhero's logo proudly across your chest, you suddenly are struck with a strange sense… because standing before you in the long line waiting for passes, is the living embodiment of the superhero you so love. For a moment you pause, unsure if you actually woke up that morning, so striking is this person before you. But after a swift pinch on the inside of your arm, you realize you are not dreaming and that very much is a flesh and blood rendition of your hero.

This phenomenon is called "Cosplay deja vu", a term I just coined about five seconds ago. But if you are not familiar with the sensation that has been sweeping the Western geek world for the last ten years, you are soon going to find out more than you ever thought you needed to know. Cosplay is short for costume play, and as with most ridiculous things, it originated in Japan. The name is a pretty good indication of what is consists of: basically, a person attempts to replicate a character from some form of fandom, be it comic books, anime, live action TV, etc. At first it was not very big here in America, but as anime conventions became more popular more and more cosplayers began to pop up. Now the culture of it is huge, and it is uncommon to NOT experience cosplayers at a convention.

So you go to a convention, you see some absolutely amazing embodiments of equally as incredible characters, witness the attention they're getting and see how much fun they're having… and you think that perhaps YOU would like to become involved in this new and exciting branch of the geek world.


If you're ugly, cosplay Dr. Doom ;-)Well, getting involved is not that hard. All you need is some patience, a passion for what you are doing, dedication, and perhaps some skill level at being crafty (although this last one can easily be skirted). There is not some sort of fancy exclusive cosplay club. You don't have to know other cosplayers to cosplay, there is not some sort of judgmental creed that everyone adheres to. The main point of cosplay is to have FUN, and if dressing up as a fictional character is fun to you, then by all means you should do it.

The number one first and foremost rule about cosplay you always need to remember is this: hard work shows. Don't pick up some shirt at a thrift store that KIND OF looks like the one your character wears; don't buy 10 dollar wigs from the costume shop in the mall. If you're going to invest time and money into a costume, why half ass it? Besides, the more work you put into your costume to make it totally accurate, the more satisfied you will be at the end of it.

Still interested? Then the first step is to choose a character to cosplay. It always helps to go with characters you are familiar with; don't choose someone just because you like their costume or their hair is the same colour as yours. If you have been reading a comic recently and feel like you really connect with a particular character, then you are probably going to really enjoy embodying that character, and that will show to other people. That being said, you cannot always take this approach. For example, if you are a naturally tall and scrawny boy you are not going to be a very convincing Superman; if you are a short and chubby lady you're not going to be able to pull off Emma Frost. You will end up looking a bit silly and it will probably not be an enjoyable experience, which will be the end of your short lived cosplay days. Try to find characters that you enjoy but also fit your body type. And if you are new to sewing or crafting things, try to attempt an easy character on your first go (unless you are willing to shell some bucks out to a seamstress).


So you've chosen who you want to cosplay, what do you do now? You need to sit down and write a list of every little thing you'll need, from the details on their jewelry to the makeup that they wear. The more thorough your costume, the more convincing and awe inspiring you will be. Also, NEVER overlook the hair. Even if you are wearing an impeccably crafted costume that fits you to a T, if your hair is the wrong colour or style your credibility is going to go through the floor. In this scenario, I am choosing to make the costume myself, as it is always much more rewarding this way. There are other options for the costumes – like shops on eBay in China that will custom make you costumes of your choice – but these generally cost a decent amount of money and take a very long time.A well tailored costume on a girl who obviously considered body type etc

Head to your local craft shop and pick out the fabric and pattern you will need for your costume. I generally look through the patterns until I find something remotely similar to the costume I am constructing, and then I alter it as I need to. After you have found your pattern, you need to take a lot of time to focus on the fabric. Cheaper is definitely not always better, and if you are cosplaying you probably should not be on a budget as it is a money consuming hobby. There are several things you need to take into consideration: the type of fabric your character probably wears (for example, if you are cosplaying Supergirl, don't buy vinyl or jersey); the way it is going to feel on your skin (cheap fabric generally itches); and also the fact that you are going to be wearing this costume for a very long time so find something that can BREATHE so you do not contribute to the ever afflicting nerd funk.

Time for the hard work! Sewing is not difficult as long as you have patience and access to tutorials online. Obsessive perfectionism shows, so don't rush anything. Make sure you are beginning your cosplay with weeks and weeks to spare. I taught myself to sew entirely from tutorials on youtube and instructables (and also some help from some very patient friends), but if you are feeling intimidated you could always check out craigslist or look on for other cosplayers in your area. One of the great things about the cosplay community is that it is extremely receptive and kind, and they are always happy to welcome new people into their fold.

Props are also something you need to take into consideration, depending on how hardcore you want to be. However, one thing to remember: most conventions will not allow "live steel", so your weapons/props need to be pretty harmless (you'll have to "peace bind" them anyway, which means that you go to a special room and tie a ribbon around it that is basically a promise not to hit small children with your Thor's hammer). This means that 100% of props need to be made by you or someone you know, and you need to be creative and use things like styrofoam or plastic. Also make sure that you are willing to carry your props around the convention with you: again, it is all about how accurate you wish to be.

So now you have this great costume, but your hair is not the same colour or style as your character's… at all. Well, this is the most important part of cosplay in my opinion, as a wig can make or break your costume. Always go for high quality wigs: the ones in the price range of about 40 to 80 dollars are the ones you should be looking at. I buy mine off of amazon and eBay mostly, but local costume shops may have nicer wigs. The basic rule of thumb is this: if you are looking at the wig in the light and it has a fake looking sheen to it, it is a bad wig. A wig can still look like a wig, but the general goal is to make it look like at least slightly passable hair. Also make sure it is thick enough that the skull cap never shows through, because that ruins the effect entirely.


Example of a good wigWhen trying on the wig, make sure it fits your head. I always buy adjustable ones because my brain is so big. Nylon wig caps are an absolute must, as it is the best way to keep the wig on your head (aside from bobby pins) and it keeps all of YOUR hair from escaping when you can't get to a mirror for awhile. For ladies with long hair: do not ponytail your hair, as it creates a giant lump at the back of the wig. Twist it up and let it be loose within the wig cap, as it creates a much more convincing line.

All of this hard work, money, and time pays off, because when you are standing in front of the mirror and looking back at you is your favourite character… well, it's a bit of a rush.

As for convention etiquette while cosplaying…
Lots of people are going to stop you and ask for your picture. Make sure to practice a few poses beforehand so they do not catch you off guard. The key is to really get INTO character. I have encountered people cosplaying the Joker who grab people's faces and laugh, and other people cosplaying Jack Sparrow who will steal people's ice cream cones. The more into it you are, the more fun you and the people around you will have.

Please, please make sure your costume is wrinkle free and clean. I ALWAYS febreeze my costumes before use, because I know that I am going to be lurking around a sea of bodies for the entire day. It makes a huge difference for other convention goers, and I cannot stress this enough.

Despite this guideline I have offered, the number one thing you need to remember is to HAVE FUN. Cosplay is an enjoyable hobby that can make you a lot of new friends, and being someone else for a day is pretty damn exhilirating.




With San Diego Comic Con approaching and convention season in full swing, I am doing a series of convention related articles leading up to this mecca of geekiness. If you have any particular things you would like me to talk about, or any interesting/weird/cool stories and/or photographs of your convention experiences, please email them to me at


Molly McIsaac points her camera at everything and enjoys fictional characters with green hair. You can stalk her to your heart's content on Twitter.


All photographs in this article are taken by Molly McIsaac.


  1. I love getting dressed up for Halloween.  I love choosing a costume.  I love digging around for the perfect pieces.  I love running around with my wife and girls in costume.  I completely understand why people do this and I’m glad they do it.  However, I cannot bring myself to get into a costume any other day of the year.

    I’m sure I would enjoy it, but I can’t bring myself to do it.

    @Molly – I’d love to see a collection of the most complex costumes you see at SDCC.  That bone angel thing is fascinating.  I’m seen some very interesting costumes at Dragon*Con in Atlanta (Steampunk Ghostbusters that were breathtaking), but I’m sure SDCC blows it away. 

  2. Yeah, same here, I love dressing up and going out on Halloween, and I love appreciating the costumes at cons, but I don’t have it in me to do it myself.

    One thing I hate is when con-goers use the costumes as an excuse to objectify the more attractive cosplayers. Just because a hottie has graciously dressed as Ms Marvel doesn’t mean you need to loudly comment on how great her ass looks.

  3. Molly, I’m on record as not being the biggest fan of cosplay. But your article demystified it to the point where I think the next con I attend, I’ll have a slightly more optimistic bent to the whole process. Thanks for that. 


  4. Yeah, great article Molly. I don’t think I’ve ever "cosplayed" but I have a hand made/sewn jedi costume that I’ve worn for the premeire of Episode 3 and a couple of times for Haloween.

    @stulach – those Steampunk Ghostbusters were all kinds of awesome and so were the Steampunk X-Men!

  5. Woohoo! Thanks for putting me in there again. You’re so great haha. Come back to Chicago I have lots more costumes 🙂 <3

    As for the readers, cosplay is both time consuming and can be pricey. Nothing wrong with either doing it all yourself, doing some yourself, or having somebody else do it all. I just agree with the following:

    Don't half ass it. Please.

  6. Molly McIsaac Molly McIsaac (@MollyMcIsaac) says:

    @Kearstin; of course lady. You are an exempliary example of a great cosplayer. Besides, I don’t even have to TRY when I take photographs of you; you make them just by being awesome.

  7. Molly McIsaac Molly McIsaac (@MollyMcIsaac) says:

    @stuclach; Don’t worry, I will be taking PILES of photos at SDCC this year, and ifanboy will see the results <3

  8. I get the sense that what this article is inadvertantly saying is that short, chubby girls shouldn’t cosplay, they should just stay home. How many short, chubby, female superheroes have YOU seen?

  9. As a thin male, it offends me that this article implies short, chubby ladies can’t cosplay whatever the want.
    I disagree with this.  Everyone, regardless of size, should dress however the damn well please.
    I mean, after all, isn’t it stated in the article that "The main point of cosplay is to have FUN"?

  10. Molly, it is one thing for someone to decide for theirself that they are not the "proper" body type to embody a certain comic book character (and let’s be honest, how many of us are?). But stating it as a guideline gives the idea more cachet than I am comfortable with. The implication is if you are not as pretty as the character (or as you think the character is) you are not pretty enough to play the game. I appreciate your enthusiasm, and as a cosplayer myself I agree that the work we put into this should be highlighted and rewarded. But there are a number of contradictions in your presentation and I believe you are a little careless in some of your advice. Also, "and as with most ridiculous things, it originated in Japan." is a bit offensive.

  11. I wish I could write my thoughts as articulately as @disconnectedsmile and @magnetgirl but they pretty much summed up what I was thinking.

  12. "If you have been reading a comic recently and feel like you really connect with a particular character, then you are probably going to really enjoy embodying that character, and that will show to other people. That being said, you cannot always take this approach. For example, if you are a naturally tall and scrawny boy you are not going to be a very convincing Superman; if you are a short and chubby lady you’re not going to be able to pull off Emma Frost. You will end up looking a bit silly and it will probably not be an enjoyable experience, which will be the end of your short lived cosplay days. Try to find characters that you enjoy but also fit your body type"

    I take a fair amount of umbrage with that statement. I understand the sentiment you’re trying to drive at, but your intention doesn’t show. Telling someone that they "cannot" cosplay a comic character they love is straight trash. The world of comics is about pushing limits and doing what makes you happy. If a short, chubby girl wants to be Emma Frost, why shouldn’t she be? Maybe for just a day or two she wants to feel smart, sexy and powerful like Emma and if putting on a costume does that for her, then who the hell is anyone else to tell her she can’t? I’m a white guy, average in about every conceivable way, I think Hal Jordan is a badass mofo and I’d love to cosplay as him, but I’ll never have that special variety of balls. I saw a guy at FanExpo 09 in Toronto who was being Green Lantern wearing nothing little more than black and green body paint and some clothing to cover his non-child friendly parts. I shook his hand, because that dude has BALLS. I’ll likely never cosplay as Hal Jordan for any number of reasons, but I’ll respect the hell out of anyone that does because that’s someone following their dreams and isn’t that what comics are supposed to be about? If not, I’ve been doing it wrong.

    This article is filled with helpful tips for executing a great costume and that’s to be commended, but it misses the spirit of the issue. No one said being a nerd was ever going to be easy, but it’s called cosplay, not cossupereffingeriousdon’tlookfoolishyou’llruinit. 

  13. I saw that guy at Fanexpo too!  He was BADASS.

    Not as awesome as the Star Sapphires who did the same thing though 😉

  14. Molly McIsaac Molly McIsaac (@MollyMcIsaac) says:

    I would never say what someoe can or cannot do, these are
    merely suggestions. It is something I hear cosplayers bitch about constantly [the body thing] as like it or not that is part of the whole package of presenting yourself as accurately as the character. I have NO QUALMS about people looking the way they feel comfortable with; I am a raging feminist for gods sake. But, my belief in cosplay is the same with other sorts of fashion: different body types can support different looks. There is nothing wrong with this as I find all people beautiful, and this was all I was trying to illustrate.

    I just believe that if you are going to cosplay, don’t half ass it. Find a character that suits you in more ways than one. That is what it is about, to me and many, many cosplayers I know.

  15. @Molly By reinforcing the rigid attitudes about what characters people should or shouldn’t dress up as, you contribute to the scorn and mockery experienced by people who have the guts to cosplay characters they love regardless of what they themselves look like.

    I’m not a cosplayer myself, but I’ve seen it happen to my younger brother, and it can be BRUTAL.

  16. Glad they don’t do this where I come from. I’m sorry, it just looks silly to me.

  17. @Cedric It’s people having fun, not my cup of tea but I’m always happy to see them at the cons I go to.

  18. @Molly  – It was hard to move in the thing though. Corsets always do that to me hahaha

    To everyone else: I believe that cosplay is to portray the character, and that means the body type as well. To be as accurate to the character as possible. To which, I have no problem people who aren’t that type who cosplay them either, but, just understand, it comes with the territory. Don’t be pissed off that "the thinner prettier cosplayers" get more attention or are better "at it".

    If you’re upset about that and those are your focus, then you’re cosplaying for the wrong reasons. IF you are going to be upset, be upset at the artist who draws unrealistic expectations in human form, not at somebody who can remotely pull it off.


    Remember, cosplay is fun. More successful for some than others, but nonetheless, fun. Keep it that way. It’s not a race.

  19. the justifications for elitist, subculture snobbery is always entertaining. 

  20. As are the consistent jealousy and irrelevant negativity.

  21. I don’t think anybody’s suggesting we should be upset at people who DO have more superheroic body types.  It’s the act of drawing lines of who is and isn’t allowed to play.  It is called "play", right?

    I do appreciate Molly covering the topic.  

  22. My concern is that as “raging feminist” what you wrote “if you are a naturally tall and scrawny boy you are not going to be a very convincing Superman; if you are a short and chubby lady you’re not going to be able to pull off Emma Frost. You will end up looking a bit silly and it will probably not be an enjoyable experience, which will be the end of your short lived cosplay days. Try to find characters that you enjoy but also fit your body type.” ,could be viewed as reinforcing negative gender stereotypes. It’s not a matter of jealousy or trying to be irrelevantly negative but rather pointing out that only certain body types should be allowed to portray certain characters is unsteady ground to walk on. That’s a historically dangerous and harmful message to send to both males and females.  

  23. @Molly This article does not seem like it’s written for the many cosplayers you know who seem to understand these nuances. It seems like it’s written for people who do not know about it and it comes off as a warning rather than an invitation.

    I’ll absolutely give you the benefit of the doubt in that you think all people are beautiful and everything, but you don’t say that anywhere, and as you can see from how people have replied, it’s a pretty salient point. You do mention to have fun, but this comes well after you mention the body images.

    If cosplayers bitch about body types and such, they are just being mean to people who are trying something or doing something that they love, why they cosplay isn’t relevant.

    Also, you saying that people can’t do something is directly form your article where you say "you cannot always take this approach". That implies there are situations where someone can’t be what they want to be and that’s not fair.

    @Kearstin No one is complaining about thin, pretty cosplayers, not one iota. The best cosplayers represent an ideal to people, but when those people are mean and rude to "lesser" cosplayers, it doesn’t really help anything, does it? (Which is again, what is strongly implied will happen).

    People, myself included, are complaining that this article strongly implies and comes within inches of flat out telling people that they can’t do the things people want to do because for some arbitrary reason it does a fictional character disservice. That idea isn’t fair, because what a characters means to you or I may not be the same thing it means to someone else.

    However, I understand you asking people to not half ass cosplaying, because you’re passionate about it and don’t want to see it belittled, that’s fine. However, putting in effort and not having the body type are different things, and the latter is what irks people.

  24. its nothing to do with jealousy and negativity. It has to do with judgmental subculture rules based on physical appearance and treating fanboy/girl enthusiasm like a Hollywood Casting call. There is a reason why so many people are taking offense to it..and no we’re not just "jealous". You guys don’t realize that you basically told 95% of the comic fanboy/girl audience that they’re not good enough to play dress up with you?

  25. Paul Montgomery Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I’m willing to roll with the concept that there are levels or tiers within cosplay, but I’m with the others who’ve expressed the ideal that there be respect and encouragement for everybody who wants to dress up as a character. Imposing structure is fine for particular contests or pageants, but to shun or deny someone who doesn’t fit a certain body image or for playing "against type" isn’t any kind of positive progression. Exclusion is lame.  

  26. @Molly – I look forward to the photos.

    @mcbaker – I must have missed the Steampunk X-men.  Dammit! 

  27. The attitude expressed in the piece encompasess my concerns about adding a regular article on cosplay. The appearance of players being told what they should and shouldn’t wear seems to be a reflection on the culture. In comics and particularly here, no one has said that “because you don’t look a certain way that you shouldn’t read this book”, the fact that it’s even addressed in the piece that certain people shouldn’t wear certain things or they shouldn’t half-ass it begs the question, who decides? Molly? Other “professional” cosplay people? It appears that the piece takes it’s hobby too seriously despite the fact that the word “play” is part of the name.

  28. last time i wore a cape im public was fun but thats just the circles i hang out in i dont know about cosplay think i think it might be fun

  29. I don’t think Molly was saying other cosplayers are where the destructive criticism would be coming from, it comes from other fanboys/girls.
    I’ve been there. I used to be 200lbs. I’m friends with numerous cosplayers who are NOT slim or slender, but they so it because it’s what they enjoy. I’m not telling people NOT to, I’m just saying expect criticism and judgement from others. It’s the same with modeling, which I also do, you’re going to get it everywhere.

  30. Fun article. Always been curious about what goes on in folks heads for costuming. I’ll stick to Halloween, personally. Not enough time or motivation, which I understand you need a lot of.

  31. I think @Kearstin has made my point for me already so I won’t say anything more than good article Molly. 

  32. I’m going to assume that Kearstin is right in saying that Molly meant that criticism will come from more non-cosplayers than cosplayers but I can understand why people are put off by this article. The tone and certain word choices definitely give off the feeling of needing to be a part of the club to "play" as it were. 

  33. chiming in way late here…

    I want to start by saying that I love costuming. It takes a lot of talent and skill to pull a great costume together. I love seeing people all decked out at cons. And I honestly respect all the craftsmanship of cosplay. 

    But the whole point of putting on a costume is to be anyone you want to be. That’s part of the fun and fantasy of the whole thing. Saying your "first step"is to pick a character/costume based on your particular body type, not only undermines the fun part of dressing up, it also, as has been mentioned already in the comments, reinforces harmful gender stereotypes. 

    @Kearstin – Dimissing the criticisms of this article as being driven by "jealousy and irrelevant negativity" is not only disrespectful of others’ opinions, it also reinforces the same harmful stereotypes. 

  34. Wow, this might have actually been blown out of proportion. I appreciate your effort to inform those who have never seen cosplay molly.

  35. In my own personal experience, criticism comes mainly from non cosplayers. I cosplayed as the BLack Cat at NYCC last year, for the very first time, and had a blast. I even got a marriage proposal from brian michael bendis at one of the panels. Other cosplayers were super supportive,even in costume contests. The other con goers? not so much. I was lightly harassed, groped, and treated with very little respect as if my wearing a costume made me less then human. I realize that because I fit the standard body type for this character, and the costume was revealing I would get questions about my body. someone actually asked if my breast were real, on the con floor while i was posing with a fan. Also, posing for pictures can get to be…trying, especially if you are trying to have a conversation with a creator or shop. I was approached while eating pizza, obviously resting in the coat room and waiting in line for the ladies room.

    I will point out to to anyone that is thinking of going in costume, you really need to be secure with who you are and what you look like. I’m not saying that you have to be a certain body type. you just have to be very o.k. with how you look. I thought I was and had a great time at the con. It was a blast to be Felicia for the weekend. When I got home and searched the web to see if any photos of me were up, I did stumble on one thread where 2 fanboys were arguing over whether or not I was a man. ouch. Most of the "press" was good and I was even asked to do promo work for the discovery channel, but this one negative comment made me question if i ever wanted to cosplay again.  (the answer is yes)

    I agree with the advice about not half-assing it. you will have more fun secure in the knowledge that your costume is the best and most accurate it can be. makes all the difference.


    final advice? you only live once. go for it. dress up and have a great time. be kind to your fellow cosplayers and don’t let anyone get away with ass grabbing. 

  36. @molly I don’t think you meant for what you said to come out the way it did but you obviously struck a chord. You chose your words wrong. Maybe you should have gone into details about choosing a character to portray. I hate the fact that girls who are skinny with boobs always get to show of there bodies and no one has any criticism because thats the glorified aesthetic for females. Its so stupid, a good female candidate in my eyes should have some muscles, your playing a Super Heroine lady I wanna see some guns and muscle butts! I don’t care what size you are (ideally, work out ladies its good for you, being a physically strong female has many perks). I think a short and chubby lady with some nice legs could pull off emma frost and a corset would be flattering to a "chubby" girl so there goes your whole "But, my belief in cosplay is the same with other sorts of fashion: different body types can support different looks."
    If this is about having fun then who cares what people say, i think you should of said choose a costume that flatters your body type, so when you look in the mirror it sparks your confidence. If you feel good the Haters won’t mean anything. According to Anna looking too hot has its flaws too. So no matter what there will be haters.
    I did enjoy your article though, and your pictures. I want to be the Huntress 🙂 I do feel like I have to work on my guns though, i am currently doing cross training its awesome!!! Makes me feel like batman. And i have been working on my jump kicks.

  37. @ WonderAli – People stating above that cosplayers are dismissive of "not as good of" cosplayers, is also a stereotype. I’m not at hate here, I agree and disagree with a lot of things people are posting. All I’m saying is do what you want, but don’t flip out when people criticize you..

     Which brings me to…

     @Anna – My god girl, I’m almost 6ft tall and not petite. I get called a man CCCCOOOONNSTANTLY. In the end, I’m like "Mehh fuck you. I’m awesome and in costume. Kthxbai"



  38. I did it once. But I worked out all year before doing so. It’s such an ego boost when people do compliment you. By the time I get a criticism I’m like "show me your stomach," which is my favorite hater deterrent.

  39. If you have a tendency to sweat profusely in the summer, maybe not a good idea to dress up in spandex or wear a mask. 

  40. Okay, I thought I would share,..

    A recent JORDAN, JESSE, GO! episode begins with a 5 miunte or so bit on dressing up for a convention.