Cosplay 101: Conventions and Cosplay Etiquette (Part One)

Avengers cosplayers Rachael Barney, Rich Oliver, Alexis Kaisharis and Chris Mallarkey. Photo © K Clancy Photography

Avengers cosplayers Rachael Barney, Rich Oliver, Alexis Kaisharis and Chris Mallarkey. Photo © K Clancy Photography

Wearing costumes for fun is far from new and costume parades were an integral part of early comic and other media conventions. But cosplay as a concept, in many ways a whole separate world to comic and other media fandom, has only become truly recognised in its own right very recently. Cosplayers the world over pour their heart and soul into the creations, many going to great lengths to come up with something unique and eye catching, and here at downthetubes we wanted to find out more about their craft.

Holly Rose Swinyard, a cosplayer for over a decade and editor of The Cosplay Journal, has obliged with a series of articles…

Welcome back to Cosplay 101. Last time, we explored how to go about getting involved in cosplay and putting your first costume together. Now it’s time to start thinking about what to do now you’ve got it.

The biggest part of cosplay for most of us is getting to wear our costumes, showing off all the hard work we’ve put into our creations and the best way to do that is to go to a convention! Conventions are great for cosplayers to hang out, see friends that might live far away, get photos of our costumes, and maybe even get inspired for our next build.

But what’s the best way of doing a con? Do you have to do the whole weekend? Can you travel in cosplay? What about the other people at the con?

There are so many questions that you can ask about going to your first con in cosplay (trust me, I asked all of them when I did my first one) but I hope address all of them and more.

But this article isn’t just for cosplayers, it’s also for photographers and other attendees so you know how to deal with the sea of cosplayers before you head to an event…

Flavia in Cosplay as Elyos

European cosplayer Flavia in Cosplay as Elyos

Going to your first convention: Go Local or Go Big?

There’s this idea with going to your first convention that you need to jump in the deep end and go to some big con in London, get the “whole experience”, and a few years ago I would have agreed with that. But the convention scene in the UK has changed a lot and now, with the London shows becoming so big, there are other ways of going about it. A lot of us nerds have social anxiety issues, or are just plain shy, so throwing yourself in head first just might not be the best thing instead it’s worth going to a local small town convention before you venture off to the MCM or London Film and Comic Con.

The thing with local or small town cons is that they have this amazing family environment, and I don’t just mean they’re great for kids, even though they are. It’s more that if you are on your own, it’s a good chance to meet other cosplayers and get to know some people in the scene. People will welcome you into the community wherever you go in cosplay, but at these smaller events, it’s a lot less intimidating and it’s more than likely these cosplayers are from your area so you can make friends, or even when you do feel ready to go to a bigger show you have people to go with.

Or, of course, if you and your friends want try this cosplay malarkey out together you can test drive your costumes to make sure they don’t fall apart on you – this happens even to the most experienced cosplayers every now and then – and it will really help you not be overwhelmed by the whole thing when you get to a larger con.

When you do go to your first convention in costume, please make sure to check the convention guidelines on costumes and props before you go. You don’t want to get caught out and not be allowed in or have your hard work taken off you at the door. Events will often say “family friendly” and that will be reflected in their costume guides, asking cosplayers not to bring realistic weapons, or gore as well as not to wear costumes that could be seen as overtly sexual. Every con will have its costume guidelines on their website so you can make sure your cosplay is a-okay!

Please don’t think that because you haven’t been to a big con or travelled a long way to an event that you aren’t doing it properly. This really isn’t the case. There’s a lot of cost involved in larger conventions and somethings just aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. That doesn’t make you less of a cosplayer or a geek in any way. In fact, I often find that small town cons are actually a lot more fun, there’s less stress involved, and you can actually relax and sit back without worrying that you are going to miss something. Plus, there’s likely to be some really different stuff from the more main stream, media centric events that large comic cons can often be.

Whatever event you go to though, you should always remember to bring cash, as queues at cash points can be long and often the machines can run out altogether. It’s so annoying when you want to buy that cute pin you’ve had your eye on all day and you can’t get any money out.

If you do want to go to one of the big conventions then I suggest you listen up (or I guess in this situation read) to the next two sections. I’m going to be covering all and everything I can think of about going to a convention big or small.

Boba and Jango Fett, along with Warcraft Raider at Thought Bubble 2014. Photo: An Englishman in San Diego, via Thought Bubble Festival

Boba and Jango Fett, along with Warcraft Raider at Thought Bubble 2014. Photo: An Englishman in San Diego, via Thought Bubble Festival

Hotels and Travel

Hotels are pretty much always going to be the biggest expense for a con, and a lot of the hotels near big venues will put their prices up if they know that a convention is happening. It’s a good idea if you’re going in a group to try and get a hotel together. It cuts costs and it’s nice to be have that social side the whole time, like a big nerdy sleep over, but don’t try to cheat the system and cram as many people into one room as you can. The hotels have these rules for a reason and you don’t want to lose your room because you tried to play the system.

If you want to try and save some more money, and don’t mind travelling on the mornings of a multi-day event, you could look for a hotel a little bit away or an Airbnb that you can share with more people. Airbnb is a really good option for cons, because you can also save money on food and drink because you’re likely to have a kitchen and be able to make up food packs for the day and cook cheap meals in the evening. Plus this is a super cute group activity for you and your buddies.

As for travel, it’s pretty much common sense. If you are going be doing it on public transport I would suggest  booking trains and coaches in advance, to get the best price you can, and making sure there are no issues on the day you’re travelling.

Public transport can be a bit of an issue for costumes whether you are wearing them to the convention or carrying – this generally only happens if you are just going for the day or if you’re staying a little bit away from the venue – but you need to be aware that not all members of the public are going to care that you spent weeks on your creation. If your costume involves larger pieces like wings, armour, large weapons, it’s best to package them up safely and securely with a big “FRAGILE” sticker on it so people are aware and, hopefully, will give you some room to keep your things safe.

If you have weaponry of any sort you must keep it package up in a box, or a bag, or wrapped up in a tarp/ bin bag/ sheet and well secured, as you can be arrested for carrying a weapon even if it’s convention safe – this has happened more times than I would care to go in to.

I’d also recommend wearing a coat, jacket or hoody over your costume if you can. This can save you from awkward situations with strangers and mean that your costume is safe from any kind of accidents with drinks, food, gross sticky stuff on trains, jam… and who knows what else. You just don’t want to risk it.

If you are travelling in costume or changing at the event, make sure that the event or the venue has a cloak room so you can store your bags and cases. There’s nothing more annoying than finding out you’re going to have to lug your things around with you all day! If there isn’t a designated cloak room, see if a friend with a hotel room is happy for you to store your things there.

Some cons may have changing areas but often you will need to change in the toilets, which is less than pleasant, so I would recommend getting a hotel, Airbnb or staying with friends nearby if you can. It really makes life easier and you won’t need to worry so much about your cosplay or bringing extra things. Of course, that isn’t always an option, so it’s a good idea to contact the event and ask about changing areas. You may find that they make a space for changing if you ask.

Cosplayer Ash Cybershock, from Folkestone, had a few words with some Classic Car lovers! Photo: Antony Esmond

Planning Your Day

As a long time convention goer, I don’t really do this as much as I used to but when you first start out, planning what you want to do and see is a really great way of getting the best out of a con. Looking online to see what panels, Q&As, guest signs and other events there are going to be at the convention means that you can see what you’re interested in and how you want to spend your time, especially since a lot of larger conventions now have specialised apps so you can follow and mark up what you would like to do.

Of course, you don’t want to go overboard and be rushing from one thing to the next, that’s not fun either, but having a few way points during the day when you know you will be doing a certain thing helps give you structure in what otherwise could be chaotic.

The other thing that is worth noting for first time cosplayers is if there are any cosplay or fandom meets that you would like to attend. These are a great way to make friends and to meet other cosplayers who are the same fandoms as you, maybe even share your ships and headcanons (the dream). Often there will be a few photographers who have been arranged for that meet so you can get pictures with people and of your costume after all your hard work.

The best thing about meets, in my opinion, is sharing your love for costume creation, getting tips on making costumes and maybe even finding inspiration for your next build. But if this all a bit too much for you, you can simply chat and exchange Facebook/ Twitter pages so that you can always come again next time when you’re feeling more confident.

Meets are great fun but they can also be a bit intimidating, so don’t worry if you feel a bit overwhelmed. Everyone is friendly and you can always just talk to one or two people if you don’t want to jump right in, maybe take a friend (even if they don’t cosplay) for moral support.

The best way to find out about meets is to join some online cosplay groups or community as most will arrange meets for cons, especially if they’re based in your country (for example, Disney Cosplay UK will have meets at most main UK conventions).

The thing you really don’t want to miss out on at a convention is the con floor itself! Every convention will have an Artists Alley and the Market Place as well as the booths, galleries, small exhibitions and maybe even video games to play or TV shows and films to watch as well as a cosplay zone full of interesting cosplayers to talk to about the hobby and give advice.

I would definitely advice getting yourself some souvenirs of the event, maybe a print or a sketch from an artist of a cool shirt that you’ve wanted for ages, as it can really put the cherry on a very exciting cake.

Conventions are different for everyone and we each find our own way of doing them and enjoying ourselves there. You don’t have to do all the stuff I’ve suggested, but it might be a good place to start if you are feeling like it’s all getting on top of you and then the next convention down the line you’ll know what you liked and what you didn’t.

This is especially true if you change from one day to two or three days at a convention as you can spread things out and have a more relaxed time over multiple days if that’s what you would prefer.

Or you can do even more stuff, that’s really up to you!

Cosplayers at London MCM Expo, June 2015. Photo: Antony Esmond

Cosplayers at London MCM Expo, June 2015. Photo: Antony Esmond

Self-Care: In and Out of Costume

It might sound hokey, but this is important! Being in costume is often really tiring and can even be painful – high heels rubbing your feet, wigs getting heavy or being too tight on your head, large props making your arms ache – and don’t even get me started on binder pain! So it’s a really good idea to build some self-care time into your schedule and to know how long you plan on spending  in your costume. Don’t overdo it just because you’ve put time and money into a costume, you can always wear it again.

Getting dehydrated can be done really easily, as costumes can be hot and convention centres can be hotter and not having time to eat or drink enough (or at all) is a very common mistake for old and new cosplayers alike.

Make sure you bring some food and water with you, so maybe take some time to make a bag to match your costume, or include some good sized pouches or pockets to carry snacks. It takes a little more work but your health is worth it.

One of the biggest mistakes that cosplayers make is not taking a proper rest. Having some time to sit and relax during the day and get out of your costume if you can, will make you feel a lot better and you’ll be more likely to enjoy your day and your costume. But the one thing that often doesn’t even come into people’s head is that if you need to get changed, then just get changed. There really is no point pushing yourself to the limit just so you can wear your costume all day. Make sure you can get quick access to your hotel or bring a change of clothes to the venue if you have to. Trust me, I learnt this lesson the hard way!

When it comes to after convention self-care, I would definitely recommend having a shower or a bath when you get back to your hotel. It’s one of the great things about having a hotel room – you can take the time to chill out and relax. Soaking your muscles and giving your hair a good wash and clearing your mind after a day hectic day with all sorts of makeup and hairspray plastered to you whilst wearing, what is likely to be a very sweaty, costume is a utter joy. It makes you feel human again, or as close as possible at a convention anyway.

If you are wearing a chest binder or other shape wear underwear, high heels, a heavy/ restricting costume, or even just spending a whole weekend on your feet it’s worth bringing some ibuprofen gel (deep heat/ tiger palm/ other brand) to massage into your muscles at the end of the day. You’ll thank yourself for taking the time to do it when you feel fit as a fiddle the next day.

Something I have started doing in recent years is bringing a first aid kit with me. You never know if your wig or headgear is going to give you’re a headache, or if your shoes will rub or maybe even something worse, so having plasters, painkillers, wrist and knee supports or medication for stomach bugs on hand is a must. Hopefully, you won’t need any of it but there’s no point on being caught out and having your weekend ruined.

If you haven’t eaten properly during the day, it’s a really good idea to have some easy to eat snacks to hand in your hotel room and stock tea, coffee, soft drinks, or whatever it is you drink, so you can replenish your energy stores. I know that breakfast bars and crisps are the cosplayers usual snack food of choice.

Once restored, you can go in search of proper dinner or a drink, but don’t ever feel like you have to rush straight out again if you don’t want to. There can feel like there is a pressure that you need to keep going late into the night, and of course for some people the social stuff is self-care in and of itself. You’ll be able to judge what you need (but the shower/bath time is good for everyone). There are plenty of different options to suit everyone and every type of personality.

If you want to be social but aren’t into drinking, you can always get a group of friends together in your room, get some takeout and watch TV or a film or play games together. Personally, I love nothing more than a group of mates all going out a nice restaurant, just debriefing the day and having a laugh, or maybe you just really want to go to bed.

I hope this has helped some of you plan for your first convention in cosplay, or in fact your first convention ever, or maybe it’s given a few old timers some new tips for surviving in costume.

Next time, we will be looking at how to behave at conventions so that you and everyone else gets the best out of their weekend, and the etiquette of photography at conventions for both photographers and cosplayers.

Looking forward to it!

Holly Rose SwinyardHolly Rose Swinyard was once described as a 21st Century Marlene Dietrich…. But if that film icon was British and a cosplay geek. A self-proclaimed fashion experimentalist and long-time cosplayer, Holly writes about their experiences working their through these two very eccentric worlds, and how they have found themselves through creating, crafting and cravats.

• Follow Holly on Twitter @lilistprince | Instagram – @lilprincecostumes | Facebook | Blog | Patreon

• Holly is also the Editor of The Cosplay Journal, a new coffee table magazine which focuses on the diversity and craftspersonship of the UK cosplay community. You can check it out at

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