The fantastically costumed fans parade through the convention, dressed as their favorite anime, movie, superhero, or book characters. From sexy to gruesome, science fiction to steampunk, the possibilities are endless when designing a cosplay costume. While experienced cosplayers design elaborate outfits that perfectly match the selected characters, beginners should focus on choosing a character and building a simple costume piece-by-piece. When collecting the parts of a cosplay costume, fans should start with the obvious elements, such as outer garments, accessories, makeup, and hair.

The Character

Selecting a character is the first step in the costume design. Whether fans portray a well-known persona, such as Superman, Sailor Moon, or Doctor Who, or a lesser-known character, such as Mercy Thompson or Akasha, each has specific elements that immediately make the character recognizable.

Character Ideas


Starting Points

Superhero or anime Comic book




Mask or makeup

Victorian inventor Steampunk/steamfunk

Alternate timeline

Victorian attire

Clockwork mechanical accessories

Mad Scientist Steampunk/steamfunk


Victorian attire

Wild hair

Mechanical accessories or weapons

Fae Fantasy Ethereal makeup and hair

Gauzy attire

Alien Science fiction Green skin


Space suit

Zombie Science fiction


Torn clothing

Theatrical makeup





















Fans should use the best-known elements of the character’s attire to grab the audience’s attention. This can be Superman’s large “S” on the chest and a billowing cape, a long blonde wig in Sailor Moon’s hairstyle, or Dr. Who’s striped scarf and brown fedora.


A large photograph or poster of the character in the desired costume is helpful when making a cosplay costume. Once fans carefully examine the elements of the costuming, they can make a list of the essential pieces of clothing, whether a royal blue spandex bodysuit with a red cape, or a tan jacket with a fedora. Making a cosplay costume does not mean that fans must sew, although some fans do make their costumes from scratch. It usually means that they put together the pieces to make a complete costume.

Outer Garments

Beginning with the outer garments, fans select the spandex, jacket, trench coat, or skirt that the character wears. Color is as important as style.Superman would not be the same character if he appeared in red spandex and a blue cape. Sailor Moon would not be the same without her short skirt and sailor-style top with a red bow. On the other hand, Dr. Who had 12 incarnations, so if the cosplayer mixed a brown trench coat from the 10th incarnation with an overly long, striped scarf of the fourth incarnation, a purist would probably notice, but most casual fans would simply see the Dr. Who persona.


The accessories also help make or break the cosplay costume. Whether the character wears a mask, stockings, elbow length gloves, or a bow tie, all are recognizable elements in that particular character’s personification by the cosplayer. If the exact style of red boots is not available, then a Sailor Moon cosplayer might wear red high heels to complete the costume. Cosplayers portraying vampires, such as Akasha, may wear plastic fangs, while zombie fans may drip small strips of fake skin or body parts as they move about the convention.

Makeup and Hair

Although the fan’s eye color and skin tones may not match the character’s eye color and skin tones, it is more important to make up the eyes and lips to match the character’s look. Theatrical makeup used as a light base before adding dark shadows around the eyes and cheekbones better emphasizes facial features. Body paint, markers, henna, or temporary tattoos can replicate tattoos or artwork featured on the character’s body, such as Mercy Thompson’s coyote paw print tattoo under her belly button. A commercially produced or custom-made wig can replicate the character’s hair. Alternately, fan may dye their hair or use a weave to add length to natural hair if necessary to portray the character.