Cosplay is a fun way to express yourself, honor your favorite character or genre, and get creative with a needle and thread. While you can buy plenty of cosplay costumes ready-made, being able to sew and put an outfit together is a major plus. You can save money, dress in truly personalized ways, and impress everyone around you with your DIY look.
If comic conventions or a dress-up party are just around the corner and you’re stuck for inspiration, read on to see some fantastic cosplay costume ideas, plus links to resources where you can learn to bring those cosplay ideas to life.
Types of Cosplay
Although the term “cosplay” might sound like one big club, a whole lot of variety is contained within the concept. Anime lovers may dress up as Monkey D. Luffy or Lelouch Lamperouge, Star Wars fans as Princess Leia or Han Solo, or historical reenactors as warriors or maidens in corsets. Kids might want to dress as something cute like a mermaid or a tiger (and some adults might, too!).
Your imagination is your only limit when it comes to cosplay costume ideas. Oh, and your sewing and crafting skills. Learning how to make costumes and a range of accessories can expand your cosplay world, but there are plenty of ways to get started even if you’ve never picked up a needle and thread.
Read on to learn about the main types of cosplay, with lots of fun examples to inspire your next costume.
Anime Cosplay and Manga Cosplay
Manga is related to anime in that they are both originally Japanese art forms, but manga are still comics while anime is animated cartoons or video games. Manga and anime cosplay outfits might look pretty similar to the uninitiated, but fans know the differences, and the characters.
Female characters in both genres often have enlarged eyes and small noses and mouths, and a fun challenge for cosplayers is to imitate this look with makeup.
Star Wars Cosplay
When it comes to Star Wars cosplay, many people go all out and buy or rent their costumes. But if you want to expand your skills and gradually learn to make movie-quality costumes yourself, Skillshare instructor David White teaches a class on how to do exactly that.
You don’t always need a fancy outfit to make a successful cosplay costume, though. In the images below, the clothing itself is pretty simple. It’s the accessories that tell the story.
Star Trek Cosplay
Star Trek cosplay is often pretty simple, because many characters wear similar high-necked, primary-colored cosplay uniforms with a logo on the breast. Details like pointy ears, colored eyes, and hand gestures are important, too. You’ll find all kinds of strange creatures from outer space at Star Trek conventions, too.
All cosplay is character cosplay, in that you’re dressing up as a fictional character from a movie, comic, book, historical period, or your own imagination. But some characters are more distinctive and identifiable than others. If you want to dress in a really famous cartoon character cosplay that practically everyone is going to know, you really have to nail the details. That might be adding the right shade of lipstick, wearing a wig so your hair matches, or going all out with your color coordination.
Superhero Cosplay and Comics Cosplay
Superheroes from comics or movies usually have some special power and features that make them completely magical, whether that’s the ability to fly or x-ray vision. While we don’t recommend trying the flying part, even if you’re committed to your art, there are other ways to capture that special power through costume. Add a flowing cape or cloak, super-high heels, metallic cuffs, or whatever it takes to recreate the magic of your favorite superhero or comic book character.
All cosplay is fantasy, really. But the fantasy genre is a particular book, movie, or animation genre that’s set in an imaginary world. It usually combines elements of the past and the future. Fantasy conventions might include characters from fantastical pasts as well as the future, as is common in steampunk costumes.
Another important accessory is cosplay armor, especially if you’re dressing up as your favorite fantasy warrior. And don’t worry, there’s no need to forge “real” armor in a fire, because we’re talking about making armor from foam and other lightweight, easy-to-use supplies.
Animal cosplay costumes are often full-body costumes. If you’re comfortable following a sewing pattern and can work a sewing machine, you can definitely learn to sew your own full-length bear, bunny, or other cute animal outfit. However, you don’t have to go the whole hog (pardon the pun). You can find a costume animal head (made from rubber/silicone, papier mache, or faux fur) or can don a pair of ears, paws, a tail, and a bit of animal-like makeup for a simpler animal cosplay outfit.
Horror cosplay is ideal for Halloween. As you can see in the below examples, a key trick to horror cosplay is the use of stage makeup, and sometimes prosthetics to imitate a bleeding wound. The clothing itself can be simple if you use dramatic makeup. Learn the fundamentals from Skillshare instructor Violeta León’s tutorials.
Like fantasy cosplay, sci-fi cosplay is set in a make-believe world that’s quite different from the real world. Sci-fi conventions include cosplayers from a wide range of series, including Star Wars and Star Trek. Sci-fi is usually set in the future or in a parallel, dystopian present. Humans are sometimes mixed with other creatures or have physical features that make them not-quite human. You can dress up as recognizable sci-fi characters or invent your own.
Like manga/anime cosplay and superhero/comics cosplay, cosplay that’s based on other characters needs to be immediately recognizable to be effective. It’s not enough to have a costume that’s similar to that worn by your character—it needs to go all out! Buy the right fabric, wear the right wig, and grab the perfect accessories.
Historical cosplay can be anything from a Roman soldier to a Victorian lady–and much else in between. Armor, corsets, and big flouncy dresses are important parts of historical cosplay. You can choose to be as historically accurate as you can or take liberties for the sake of creative expression and play.
To make your historical warriors look like the real deal, you need cosplay armor. Luckily, metallic-looking armor is pretty easy to make, and you don’t need blacksmithing skills to make it. However, if you would like to learn to make real metal accessories (think, faux battle swords and shields) then some good old-fashioned metal-working and woodworking classes can help turn your fantasy into reality.
Corsets are great for many historical cosplay female characters, and you can also use them for burlesque or boudoir-themed costumes.
Easy Cosplay Ideas
Whether you’re a beginner at cosplay or just don’t have time to put together a complicated outfit, some cosplay outfits are quick and easy. The fairy-like dress in the image below could be made by deconstructing or upcycling a simple floaty dress.
Some easy cosplay for beginners ideas can be put together from items you already have in your closet, such as knee-high boots, gloves, belts, and ribbons.
Cosplay for Beginners
Cosplay is totally accessible for beginners—as you’ve seen so far, there’s a lot of variety within the art form. If you’ve never participated in cosplay before or haven’t made a costume from scratch, there are many easy ways you could get started. However, as Skillshare instructor Emiline F. highlights: “If you’ve never sewed in your life and don’t own a sewing machine, an 18th-century ball gown made from scratch may not be the best first project to pick.”
Instead, you could choose a cosplay idea that revolves around a couple of distinctive accessories, such as animal ears or a sword. Or, upcycle something you already own or that you find in a thrift store and turn it into a playful cosplay costume. If you need a bit more guidance before you even begin, check out Emiline’s course: How to Plan a Cosplay From Start to Finish.
Who Will You Be Today?
Skillshare instructor and cosplayer Mary D’Agostine started sewing her own cosplay costumes because she hated having to rely on others to make the costumes that she could imagine. After a few years of attending anime conventions, she leveled up her sewing skills, and now she is able to make anything she dreams of. This could be you! If you’re bored with commercially sold cosplay costumes, learning to make your own costumes and accessories will open up a new world of creative play for you.
Next time you plan a trip to comic conventions or other cosplay events, make it your goal to wear something totally unique and handmade. You can be whoever you want to be!
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