A Beginner’s Guide to Cosplay

If you’re a geek, you’ve probably dabbled in costuming. Maybe like me, as a child you fashioned a bath towel into a cape to play Batman. (Or Robin, when my older brother told me there was only one Batman and I had to be Robin because I was younger and smaller. Too bad I didn’t know about the Multiverse… but I’m not bitter.)

Maybe Halloween was your only costume each year, so you became a favorite character from Star Trek, Ghostbusters, or Buffy. We’re drawn to the characters in our favorite stories and enjoy opportunities to be them. Cons provide the perfect opportunity to flex your costume muscles. Here are some tips, along with examples from a recent con, that I hope will inspire you to enjoy cosplay at whatever level you’re comfortable with.

Novice Cosplay

A few simple, iconic items added to ordinary clothing can create a simple, but effective costume.

Example 1: Wonder Woman. A gold tiara and wrist guards formed the core of the outfit. The remainder of the costume was a pair of shorts, a sparkly red top, and red high-­top Converse All Stars. It’s not expensive or elaborate, but leaves no doubt as to who she was.

Example 2: Jayne Cobb. A Blue Sun t­-shirt coupled with a yellow and orange knitted cap identified this wearer as Jayne from Firefly. I saw several versions of this costume. Some finished it off with khaki cargoes and combat boots, but jeans and sneakers worked too.


Building on your one or two key pieces, add ordinary clothing items that match your character’s look. You don’t have to match exact brands, styles, or colors. If you get the overall feel people will buy into your costume.

The Penguin
The Penguin

Example 1: The Penguin. A black overcoat with black furry collar was the cornerstone, bought from Goodwill, I might add. With a black suit, good shoes, an umbrella, and lots of attitude, this made a fantastic costume based on the Gotham TV series character.

Dr. Hank Pym and Ant-Man
Dr. Hank Pym and Ant-Man

Example 2: Hank Pym. This costume was mostly a business casual work outfit ­ shirt, tie, slacks ­ with a Pym Technologies name tag. It was perfected by a 3­-inch Ant­Man figure riding on Pym’s left shoulder.


It’s time to start crafting some of your own pieces and adding some props. Walk through a toy store or home improvement center and imagine how you could modify something off the shelf, or even completely craft your own prop.

Winter Soilder
Winter Soldier

Example 1: The Winter Soldier. At this con I saw several WS costumes, using a variety of items to craft Bucky’s bionic left arm, from body paint, duct tape, to actual metal. But perhaps the best was a young woman who opted to portray the Civil War version ­ after Iron Man had removed it.

With her left arm tucked into her leather jacket, she crafted a bionic stub. It was a brilliant look that, with a few military props and a touch of eye makeup, was a perfect screen image brought to life.


Example 2: Original character. One man was dressed in a Soviet military jacket and hat, complete with medals and insignia. That was coupled with a cloth mask and gloves, a la the invisible man. A pair of goggles completed the look. At first I thought it was an old Punisher or Captain America villain, or perhaps something from the defunct Charlton Comics line. Instead it was his own creation, put together with a uniform purchased on eBay and a creative eye.

Lady Cassandra - the last human earthling from Doctor Who.
Lady Cassandra – the last human earthling from Doctor Who.

Example 3: Lady Cassandra (Doctor Who). Lady Cassandra is a future human who’s had so many cosmetic surgeries that she’s nothing more than a piece of skin stretched in a frame, connected to a brain in a jar beneath her. The cosplayer dressed as one of her nurses and wheeled around the PVC frame with Cassandra stretched inside. If you’ve ever seen the episode, the image is striking. The prop demands all your attention and you hardly notice what the cosplayer is wearing ­- the prop completely defines the costume.


Vacuum forming, fiberglass molding, metal working, and other sophisticated crafting skills can be applied to costuming. These costumes look like they came from a professional studio (and sometimes they do) and require extensive time investment to build. Fortunately, there are groups in many cities that help members learn these skills.

Members of the 501
Members of the 501

Example: Darth Vader and StormTroopers: These members of the 501st Legion look movie perfect. Membership in the Legion is gained by building a cinema quality costume that is verified by the organization (this ensures consistency across all members ­ so when 100 stormtroopers gather, they all look alike).

I hope these examples provided a touch of inspiration. In a future article, I’ll point to some resources that I’ve found helpful.

Batman vs Superman
Batman vs Superman
The Joker
The Joker
Lara Croft
Lara Croft
Armor made from silver plastic spoons.
Division Agent from Tom Clancy's The Division.
Division Agent from Tom Clancy’s The Division.

John has a BS in Computer Science and professionally keeps software developers in check. He enjoys gadgets and gaming, and tries to keep abreast of issues around privacy and data security.


  1. I’m working on my 1st ever Cosplay. I’m still in the research phase, but looks like I have the skills to do Gruncle Stan from Gravity Falls. Planning on having it ready for Rose City Comic Con in Sept.

    1. That is so cool! I might have to plan a cosplay for RCCC myself! 🙂

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