General Cosplay Advice
I had thought about writing a comprehensive guide to cosplay, but seeing as how other people have already beaten me to the punch, (and seeing as how those other people are much better at this whole "writing" thing than I am), I thought I'd save my breath and just add one or two (or three or four or fifteen) more suggestions to the pile.
Here they are, in no particular order:
1.) Choose your costume wisely. It's generally best not to choose a character that's too obscure, unless you don't care if people confuse your character with someone else. (Although, the odds are that you will care.) If you choose a popular character, though, keep in mind that there may be at least ten, even twenty other people at that con cosplaying as the same character, half of whom are almost guaranteed to be better costumers than you can ever hope to be in your entire lifetime (and at least one of whom is guaranteed to be some sort of alien visitor from another dimension who has the ability to alter their molecular structure at will and turn themselves into an exact live-action carbon-copy of the character they're cosplaying.) Whatever character you choose, make sure its someone you like. If they're close to you in looks and personality that's even better, but above all, they should be a character that you'd think you'd have fun dressing up as. (Isn't that the whole point? To have fun?)
2.) Choose a costume that will look good on YOU. It's a well-known fact that, of all North American people who cosplay, roughly .0003 percent of them are of the same slim, wiry, Asian bodyframe as the characters they are cosplaying. The rest of them, (like yours truly), are more....amply proportioned. Now I'm not suggesting that a person of ample girth can't look good in a costume if it's been tailored correctly and if they take care in how they present themselves. But costumes are like roads. Some of them have weight limits which should be respected for the good of everyone. (If you want to dress as Gambler Rikku and you have a beer gut, then please...please... reconsider.)
3.) Details are everything. It's nice if you can get the general structure of your costume down, and for most beginning cosplayers, this is enough. But if you want to go the extra mile and have a costume that will turns heads and impress people, pay attention to the details. How many buttons are on the front? Is there piping on the collar? Is the fabric shiny or matte? How big are the pleats on the skirt? Get as many reference pictures of your character as you can and study them well. (You don't have to obsess over them, but a certain level of accuracy and attention to detail will let people know that this is not something you threw together at the last minute. And you'll look a LOT more dignified than the Gourry cosplayer who painted a bunch of milk cartons black and hotglued them to his chest and arms an hour before the convention started.)
4.) PANTYHOSE ARE NOT TIGHTS. If you costume requires tights, then get tights. Good pairs of opaque, well-tailored tights really aren't all that hard to find. (Try dancewear suppliers or online shops that sell Renaissance clothing.) If you try to play it cheap and use sheer pantyhose in place of tights, you are just setting yourself up for disappointment (and everyone around you for the shock of their lives when they look at you and see that you've forgotten to shave your bikini area. Or, if you're a guy, that you've neglected to wear a dancebelt. >_< )
5.) Don't leave for your convention without taking your emergency cosplay kit with you. Said kit should consist of superglue, tape (all kinds), mini-glue gun, gluesticks, sewing kit, scissors, extra paint (for any prop you might be carrying which has a painted surface), paintbrushes, duct tape, extra props and prop components (if they're not too large for you to pack and carry along with you) safety pins, and money. Remember the First Cardinal Rule of Cosplay: If anything can break, it WILL, and at the most inopportune time...
6.) Iron your f*cking costume!!! I've seen far too many costumes which seemed well-constructed but looked as though the person wearing them had worn them to bed the night before. All convention-class hotel rooms come equipped with irons, as far as I know. You'll find the time and effort put into ironing your outfit well spent. (Or at least, much better spent than the time and effort you put into stumbling around piss-drunk, making awkward passes at catgirls.)
7.) If you're wearing a hoop skirt, practice walking around in it BEFORE the convention. Remember that if you have to step backward, it's a good idea to slide your feet along the ground so you won't step on the hoops and trip yourself. (Tripping in a hoopskirt is like having a 230-megaton warhead dropped straight onto your dignity. This is especially devastating if you're a GUY, seeing as how-- being a man wearing a hoopskirt--you probably hadn't had all that much dignity to begin with.)
8.) Watch out when walking in hotel stairwells. For some reason, during an anime convention, they become dumping grounds for open cans of soda, trash and passed out DDR players, none of which you want to be brushing up against.
9.) Respect the hotel. Don't use the hotel's towels or washcloths to remove your makeup. Use tissues. Don't steal anything. Do not engage in pointless, petty acts of vandalism just because it's your first night out without parental supervision. And if you have hair color in your hair, stay away from the hotel hot tub. Nothing's more disgusting than going for a soak in the hot tub and finding it filled with blue scummy foam. Do nothing to make the hotel regret the fact that it agreed to host an anime convention (because if they refuse to host us next year, we're all going to pin the blame squarely on YOU, Blue-Haired Guy....and we know where you live...)
10.) Always ask before you take a picture. Most people are happy to have you snap photos of them but it's considered good form to give them at least a nano-second's worth of warning before you blind them with your camera flash. Conversely, if you're cosplaying and someone politely asks to take your picture, (and if you don't happen to be busy at the moment,) oblige them. Don't act like they're insulting you or have just asked you to participate in a four-way with them, their mother, and a diseased goat. (I mean, you're dressed this way because you WANT attention, right?)
...Oh, and SMILE!!! I know you may have had a long day and are hot and tired, but it doesn't take that much effort to flash a grin. (Remember the SECOND Cardinal Rule of Cosplay, kids: If you have 587 pictures of you taken in a single day, and you're smiling in 586 of them, then the one picture of you that will wind up being shown on A Fan's View is going to be the one lone picture where you looked like a frizzy-haired, narcoleptic zombie about to eat the brains of the person pointing the camera at you.)
11.) Ask before you glomp, DAMMIT!!! It's not nice to be going about your business and then having some stranger step out of the blue and bearhug you. If this were to happen at anywhere other than at an anime convention, you can bet the police and/or a can of mace would soon become involved. Respect other people's space.
12.) Don't hold up dumb signs with unfunny slogans on them. Because those of us who aren't morons will take them from you and hit you with them. Repeatedly.
13.) Take plenty of snacks with you. Hotels are frequently situated in places where there are few outside restaurants, and since room service costs so much that it would often be cheaper and less trouble for you to tear off a part of your own body and start eating it, it would be wise for you bring something nutritious and filling to nibble on. Remember TO eat, from time to time. (And sleep, when necessary. You don't want to be crashing and burning just before the long drive home. Especially if YOU happen to be the driver.)
14.) Don't compete if you're hyper-sensitive. You should compete in a hall costume contest or stage masquerade because it's fun and enjoyable, and because you want some feedback on your creations. Do NOT compete because you expect to win an award. Because odds are, you won't. Costumes are often judged on extremely subjective criteria and many excellent, professional quality outfits go without receiving ANY sort of recognition whatsoever. (Other excellent, professional quality outfits receive entirely TOO MUCH recognition, which isn't going to work in your favor, either.) If you don't think you can deal with constructive criticism given in a brutally honest, competitive setting, then don't compete.
15.) Have fun, dammit. (That was the whole purpose behind this hobby, wasn't it?) Never take it or yourself too seriously.
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Original art and content c. Amethyst Angel (Teresa Dietzinger)