With Syfy's new show Heroes of Cosplay on the horizon, I've been thinking a lot about my relationship with costuming and what I think goes into creating a successful project and an enjoyable experience for the creator. For some people (like the ones on this upcoming reality show), cosplay is more than a hobby. It's a way of life.
I'm not to that point quite yet, but I've put together 10 basic steps that I can apply to any costuming project in order to ensure it's as rewarding, challenging, and educational as possible.
- Love it. If you don't love your project, you are WASTING YOUR TIME. You will spend a lot of time and money working on it. You will make mistakes and problems will arise that you never expected. In order to push through it, you have to love the character and the process so much that it overshadows the more stressful aspects of the experience.
- Do a lot of photo research before you begin. Before you settle on a project, make sure you research the character from all angles and put together a bunch of pictures. Get close-ups of the material/armor details whenever possible. All of this will help you begin to put together how you'll have to construct the piece and you'll know pretty quickly whether you have the skills to pull it off.
- Draw up your design and think about every single element before you get started. After you spend time doing research, draw up your own design for each of the separate pieces that make up your costume and make a list of materials you'll need. You can also start putting together the steps it will take to construct the costume. Having this determined ahead of time can save you from a lot of headaches later on.
- Make sure you have access to all of your materials before beginning. I don't like to start constructing the costume until I have ALL of the elements. It would stink to start and then realize halfway through that you still need worbla and have it out of stock or take too long to get to you to make it to the event. Organization is the key to success.
- Leave enough time. Once you know when the event is, make sure you have enough time to pull off your costume. More than likely you have a job, or school, or some other aspect of life to plan around. You don't want to let your costuming overshadow your other commitments and you certainly don't want to have to rush the process. You're putting your time, energy, and money into this venture. Make sure you can make the most of it or it's not worth it.
- Don't do "halfway cosplay." Maybe I sound stuck-up, but there's nothing sadder than seeing someone with badly constructed cardboard armor held together by duct tape. Obviously, you should do what makes you happy first and foremost, but I can't imagine that those people see themselves in pictures afterwards and think, "Nailed it." If you're going to do something, go all the way! If you can't afford to go all the way on a particular project, then I suggest scaling it back to something more manageable. Personally, I want to feel like I did the absolute best I could every time. The artistry of cosplay is in the execution, the polish, and the details. Anything less than that just seems like a waste to me. I don't mean that you have to do a full set of chain mail every time. I just mean that you should pick a costume that uses materials you can make look good. Again, I might be alone in that opinion so feel free to disagree in the comments. I just know how I feel about it!
- Make sure it's something that will make you feel confident. If you are self conscious about showing your belly, don't wear a costume that forces you to do that. If your friends want to do a group costume project and you don't feel like you can pull it off and have a good time, chat with them about trying something else or get them to help you you brainstorm ideas to adjust the costume design without destroying the recognizable silhouette of the character. At the end of the day you want to be standing tall and proud (or short and proud in my case!). Personally, I try to pick something appropriate to my stature and body-type but it all comes down to your preference. You're putting a ton of time into this. Make sure it's something that's going to make you feel like a million bucks when you finally get to debut it.
- Make sure you have the necessary skills to pull it off. If you don't know how to make armor, don't start out with an N7 suit from Mass Effect. If you don't know how to sew, don't start with a ball gown. My rule of thumb is that every costume has one element that I've never done before and the rest are skills I already have. That way I can minimize any mistakes in the execution and therefor I can avoid wasting time and money I don't have to lose. When you make a challenging, but attainable goal, you get to learn something and continue to grow as a cosplayer without setting your sites so high that you fall short and give up in frustration.
- Choose an appropriate venue for the costume. BronyCon is a kid friendly event. I definitely would not have gone with a super sexpot character design for that particular convention whereas donning a corset and thigh high boots for my Sindel costume for Halloween was totally fine with me. It all comes down to what you're comfortable with but it is something to think about. I also think you can make yourself stand out if you wear the right costume at the right venue. There weren't a lot of MLP cosplayers at PAX East, so my boyfriend and I really stood out from the pack there and got a lot of attention, whereas we were just more ponies at BronyCon. My Appa costume was hot on the heals of the release of the first season of The Legend of Korra so it was a big hit because the show was experiencing a renaissance in fandom at the time. These are all good things to keep in mind when it comes to making the most of your costume.
- Make a budget. This is so important. It's so easy to get into the middle of a project and find that you've spent hundreds of dollars. Be clear during the design process about how much money you have to allot to the project and figure out whether it's feasible to create your costume for that amount. For instance, I just looked at my bank account and even though I want to do a Xena costume really badly, I realized I couldn't possibly pull off paying for the armor materials or the leather/pleather and rivets it will take to make the dress. I will definitely be making that costume at some point in the future but when I sat down with my budget and my time line, I realized very quickly that it was a pipe dream at this particular point in time. Do not get yourself into a financial hole! Pick a costume that you can pull off for the right amount of money and you'll be much happier in the long run.