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A Basic Introduction to Cosplay

Posted about 1 year ago by Mirissa Sorensen

Cosplay (a portmanteau of the words “costume” and “play”) is a hobby that is becoming more mainstream as nerd culture dominates more of people’s media consumption. At its heart, it involves dressing up as your favorite characters from television, comics, movies, books–or whatever else you’re into. I made my first cosplay in 2017 but only recently started to dive into it more. Here, I’ll introduce you to the basics so you can see if you might like to join me in the fun.

Why Would Someone Cosplay?

Love of Fandom

For me, cosplaying is a way to become part of my favorite media. Most of my costumes come from the Star Wars universe, which is my favorite fandom. While I enjoy reading and watching the things that Lucasfilm publishes and creates, creating and wearing my cosplays feels like I’m part of the universe instead of just consuming it.

Learn New Skills

I came into Star Wars as an adult and immediately connected with the character Ahsoka Tano, so she became my first cosplay. (Some advice? Learn from my mistakes and pick an easier first costume to start!) I had almost no budget and no idea what I was doing, so my costume was…not great. But it gave me a chance to dip my toes into this new world.

Since then, I’ve gone through three more iterations, making large and small tweaks. I’ve been able to learn new skills, refine other skills, and identify where it’s best to just have someone else do the work for me. In that way, cosplay has become a way to develop my creativity and confidence in my crafting skills. Thanks to this costume, I can now shape Sintra (PVC sheets) with a heat gun, work with tiny LEDs, dry brush, finish 3D prints, and add rivets to leather.

Check out the progression of my costume below. By the way, if you come to RippleCon on June 24th at the Main Branch, you’ll get to see Ahsoka 5.0, featuring a new, more flexible headpiece!

Where Do Cosplays Come From?

Make It Yourself

There are really only two main ways to get a cosplay: buying or making. Many cosplayers–myself included–spend hours designing and building what we wear. There are even online communities created to support the “build” of different types of cosplay, including Facebook groups for building your own custom Mandalorian. Thanks to said groups, YouTube tutorials, and premade sewing patterns, I’ve been able to puzzle my way through most of what I need. You can find sewing patterns that will work for many costumes with minor modifications, and some creators even make cosplay-specific patterns to sell on Etsy or share with others in the cosplay community. My Alicent Hightower cosplay (pictured below at my first-ever cosplay competition at GalaxyCon Richmond 2023) started off as a medieval dress pattern that I found at a thrift store and got to the finished product through tweaks, draping, and several try-ons.

Even when I make nearly my entire cosplay, there will always be things beyond my skill level or things that just aren’t worth my time. For example, helmets and headpieces are always going to be worth buying to me. I made every piece of armor from the neck down on my custom Mandalorian, but ordering a fiberglass helmet allowed me to spend more time customizing the rest of my armor and accessories instead of gluing and sanding a 3D-printed helmet.

My custom Mandalorian cosplay, pictured here with BB-8 at a convention.

Buy It

You can also purchase your entire cosplay. This doesn’t always go according to plan, especially when ordering the cheapest option you can find. I ordered my Imperial Officer from a cheap online site, and it came in huge (as you can see below)! Thankfully, I should be able to modify it using my sewing skills. If you’re going this route, learning some basic tailoring can be a lifesaver. But if you’re not getting it custom made, purchasing a costume can often be cheaper than taking on a big project. If you’re interested in cosplaying popular anime or Marvel characters, you’ll find a lot of success going this route as these costumes are frequently mass produced. You can even get pre-styled wigs.

Me striking a silly pose in an oversized Imperial Officer uniform.

Closet Cosplays

The cheapest and easiest route, however, will always be what are called “closet cosplays.” That’s going to your closet and making a costume from what’s already there. If you’ve got an orange sweater and red skirt then, congratulations, you’re the proud owner of a Velma cosplay! A yellow sweater and blue jeans will give you the amazing aardvark himself, Arthur. For my Ravenclaw student, I borrowed a gray sweater vest and tie from my husband, grabbed an old graduation robe, and threw on a black skirt and white shirt from my closet. (I already had a wand and patch to tape to my chest, but the costume would’ve been just fine without it.)

My Ravenclaw "closet cosplay."

What Do You Do With Your Cosplays?

Connect with People

One of the best reasons to take up cosplay is that it makes you part of a larger community. I have made friends through cosplay, both in person and through my Instagram account. If you’re shy, it can give you a solid foundation on which to connect with people. If you’re already confident, you can attract a following. If you’re a Star Wars cosplayer like me, you can even work towards joining worldwide organizations like the 501st and Rebel Legions. We attend community events, often raising money for or promoting charities–and look great while doing it.

I’ve also started to include my family in my cosplay hobby. I got my husband involved after my first year marching with the 501st in the Dominion Christmas Parade. Now, he cosplays as a Jawa and a Starfleet commander from Star Trek. I’ve also made costumes for my nephews. My latest success was a British WWI officer uniform for my history-obsessed nephew, cementing my “cool aunt” status.

Take Pictures

Creating a new costume is an accomplishment, and many creators will use their new costume to create social media content with photoshoots and video creations. Taking pictures in interesting locations can also just be fun. For this picture, my husband and I were in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina and decided to take pictures of his Jawa. The angles in the photo worked out to make him look perfectly Jawa sized.

I’m still getting the hang of taking pictures in my cosplays, and it’s a skill I want to build up going forward. There’s always something new to learn.

Attend Events

The most common use for cosplays is, of course, attending events. If you’re not part of a charity organization, these events will most likely be conventions. Richmond is home to several conventions, or “cons,” including GalaxyCon, VA Comiccon, Heroes Assemble,, and more. Cons are a great place to show off your hard work and appreciate the hard work of others. I love to people watch, take pictures, and shop the vendors. In 2023, I even competed in my first competition. I didn’t place, but I didn’t expect to; there’s just so much talent out there!

So, are you ready to dive into cosplay? Richmond Public Library’s first ever comic con, RippleCon, is just around the corner. It will be a great place to try out your first costume–storebought, homemade, or closet cosplay. Join us at the Main Library from 11:00am – 3:00pm on Saturday, June 24th. There will be a cosplay competition, vendors, activities, and more. I’ll see you there!

A RippleCon poster with photos of featured guests (the 501st and Rebel Legions, Marvel colorist Jason Keith) and lists of panels (The Halfling and the Spaceman, Author Talk with Mary Terrani, Rare Comics & Collectibles with Paper Tiger).

Mirissa Sorensen

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