Cosplay Rules Everyone Should Know

A list of cosplay rules from contributor Amy Peters, based on years of her experience.

Cosplay Rules Everyone Should Know

A genderbent Keneki Ken, and writer Amy Peters as Suzuya Juuzou; both characters from Tokyo Ghoul. CR: Amy Peters

Kids dress up for Halloween, but as many people get older, walking around in costumes seems to be one of those things that falls by the wayside. Sure, there were always folks who wore Star Fleet uniforms or Klingon forehead ridges because they love Star Trek, or belong to the Society for Creative Anachronism, or are Civil War re-enactors. I’m here to tell you, though, that cosplay is no longer just people dressing up in Harry Potter robes or Stormtrooper armor waiting for a midnight book or movie release. Like so many geeky things, it’s getting (a little) more into the mainstream, and so maybe you think you want to cosplay, but you aren’t quite sure where to start.

That’s wonderful! Awesome! I fully support anyone who wants to get into the hobby! I mainly create costumes for my daughter, but dabble in cosplay myself. I am no expert, but I can give you some general cosplay rules. Online you’ll be able to find out lots more, but I may have a different take on some of it for reasons you may not see on tumblr.

First and foremost: do not ever believe that cosplay is for “young people” or “skinny people” or “muscle-y/toned people.”

It breaks my heart when I read personal laments online from people who, at age 26, say they are too old to cosplay. Or that they want to cosplay their favorite character, but she’s got huge boobs and a wasp waist and legs a mile long and they . . . aren’t those proportions.

Q as Crona from Soul Eater, writer Amy Peters as Suzuya Juuzou from Tokyo Ghoul. CR: Amy Peters

Q as Crona from Soul Eater, writer Amy Peters as Suzuya Juuzou from Tokyo Ghoul. CR: Amy Peters

I get it. I get it! Many anime protagonists are 15 year-old junior high school kids. A majority of female superheroes are exaggerated misrepresentations of real women, and male superheroes are ‘roided up caricatures too. And who the hell wears body tight spandex all the time, in real life?! Or in the case of anime, who carries around giant scythes as weapons?

As if the media telling regular people their bodies aren’t good enough in real life, here we have impossible ages and physiques to contend with too!

I’ll let you in on something not-so-secret: I’m 43 years-old, I weigh more than I should, and I wish my hair follicles would give up and just turn completely grey instead of looking ‘mousey’ with the mix of brunette and grey that it is. Based on my body type, I should only cosplay middle-aged to old, heavier characters, like Yubaba from Spirited Away, Pinako Rockbell from Full Metal Alchemist, or possibly Big Bertha from the Great Lakes Avengers. But my favorite character to cosplay? A skinny, 19 year-old androgynous boy, who also happens to carry a giant scythe.

And guess what? I have a great time doing it! People have a great time cosplaying. You don’t have to be perfect, because no one is. If you love a character enough to go out in public dressed like them, others at conventions are going to love it too.  Although in real life I have very little in common physically with my favorite character, I have lots of people who stop me to ask about my costume and ask for photos.

Q as Astrid from 'How To Train Your Dragon' CR: Amy Peters

Speaking of asking for photos, it’s always best to make sure it’s okay with the cosplayer to snap one.

A majority of the time, if someone is walking around in a costume, they’re going to be thrilled to accommodate. For example, if I’m stopped and get a photo request, I ask if they’d like a particular pose, or if they’d like to be in the photo too. However, sometimes people are in the middle of a conversation, or just not feeling it. Respect that. It’s creepy to see someone taking photos of you when you weren’t aware of it, no matter what the situation. So if they say no, don’t do it. Along that train of thought, as well, is a simple rule to remember: “Butt on the floor, pictures no more.” Cosplaying in a heavy costume can get hot and tiring. If someone is sitting down, leave them be. They’re sitting there for a reason, whether it’s resting, updating social media, or chatting with friends. Give them a chance to recharge, and when they’re back on their feet, ask to take that photo.

Keep your hands to yourself.

One cardinal cosplay rule to remember (this is posted on a convention’s website and usually somewhere at the con as well—like near the registration line so you have plenty of time to read it) is that cosplay does not equal consent. That means that even if a pretty woman is dressed up in a dead-on Psylocke costume, you are in no way allowed to touch her, harass her, proposition her, or anything else that is inappropriate. Disrespectful behavior can and will get you removed from a con. Some cosplayers don’t mind giving out hugs, but always ask first and once again, if they say no, that means no.

Toph from 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' and Q as Crona from Soul Eater. (Convention attendees are not allowed to be barefoot. Toph is wearing something called ‘invisible shoes’: soles and a loop over a toe to hold them in place so the top of the foot looks bare. They’re common at cons.) CR: Amy Peters

Toph from ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ and Q as Crona from Soul Eater. (Convention attendees are not allowed to be barefoot. Toph is wearing something called ‘invisible shoes’: soles and a loop over a toe to hold them in place so the top of the foot looks bare. They’re common at cons.) CR: Amy Peters

The costumes themselves run a wide gamut of expense, craftsmanship, and intricacy.

People can and do go all out for the most accurate portrayals of their favorite characters, spending months building the perfect prop weapons, sewing outfits, and styling wigs to match the gravity-defying styles of some anime characters. These people create incredibly impressive costumes, and their wins in cosplay contests (masquerades, to use con-speak) are well deserved.

Others—myself included—buy articles of clothing that match as closely as possible, then modify it to suit the character, and finally adding created pieces to bring it all together. And still others commission other cosplayers to create their costume, or purchase an outfit second-hand.

My point is, there are countless ways to come by a cosplay costume, and no one should feel their way is lesser than another. I can appreciate the hard work and effort that people put into 100% homemade cosplay, but I also don’t enter masquerades, so I don’t feel pressured to have to meet that level of craftsmanship. Most people start out ‘easy’ and if it truly becomes a passion, go more ‘hardcore’ and work on more elaborate costumes.

Q as Armin Arlert from 'Attack on Titan Jr. High.' Flower crowns are a fandom meme, just for fun. CR: Amy Peters

Q as Armin Arlert from ‘Attack on Titan Jr. High.’ Flower crowns are a fandom meme, just for fun. CR: Amy Peters

Regarding prop weapons: All conventions have very strict weapons policies.

They will have those policies posted online and at the site, and they are—rightfully so— severely enforced. Always read these rules if your character has a weapon and you want to have it with you. To bypass any issues, some cosplayers forgo a carrying any weapons. Trust me, we all know who Deadpool is even without the swords, handguns, and knives.

What if, however, your favorite character is the opposite sex than you are?

Remember that confession I had up above? One of my favorite characters couldn’t be more opposite of me. I’m female, and the character is male. When I cosplay him, I do it as if I were male, which is called crossplay. My daughter, who also cosplays, likes to occasionally take male characters and play them as if they were female (such as adding a long-haired wig or a skirt instead of pants). This is designated as gender-bend. Due to some of the creativity involved behind it, gender-bending is typically well received. Fans seem to like to see different takes on favorite characters.

As a matter of fact, variant costumes are interesting. Steampunk Ironman? Seen it.  Attack on Titan with giant Pocky boxes instead of ODM gear? Seen it. Zombie Santa? Seen it. If you can think it, you can do it.

Please don’t think that only popular characters are represented.

They are, and that’s a lot of fun. People get a kick out of all the Deadpools and any Deadpool variation people can dream up. But if your favorite isn’t insanely popular, that’s great too. Go for it. I’ve seen cosplayers’ faces light up when their less popular character gets recognized or they’re asked for a photo. I’ve made cosplayers’ faces light up and had engaging conversations with people who loved that I knew who they were. Everyone loves a little bit of appreciation, and if they’re brave enough to dress in costume, they deserve it.

And please don’t think that cosplay is only for extroverts who revel in a spotlight!

Being in costume can give you the green light to step outside yourself and act completely different than normal. I’ve seen quiet, reserved people become loud and enthusiastic once that costume is on.

Here’s another personal bit of information: I’m an introvert. Crowds aren’t my thing; my typical way to deal with them is to put my head down and move through as quickly as possible. I can get through a crowd like I’m greased! At a con, however, that may not be possible. Sometimes the number of people is crushing. If you have a touch of claustrophobia or get anxious, know that there are usually other areas with less people, so you can have space and breathing room.

Q as Crona from 'Soul Eater' and cosplayer as Grell from Black Butler. CR: Amy Peters

Q as Crona from ‘Soul Eater’ and cosplayer as Grell from Black Butler. CR: Amy Peters

There are countless communities and helpful blogs online for cosplayers.

Two of my favorites are cosplay.com (mostly US based) and worldcosplay.com (international). If you do a little research, you can probably find people in your area; meet-ups and photo shoots are not uncommon. I’ve met very nice, very interesting people through cosplay, and amusingly enough, being older than most of them is pretty cool. I may have a different perspective sometimes, with my mortgage and raising a child and all, but discussing and arguing about favorite anime or comics transcends age.

My last, semi-serious bit of advice? Tune your ears to your character’s name.

People don’t know you, but they will know your character. They may call or shout it out to get your attention! I love hearing “Juuzou! Suzuya Juuzou!” from somewhere in the crowd, because I know they’re probably recognizing me.

Finally, although I brought it up several times in this article, please don’t think I dislike Deadpool or Deadpool cosplayers. He’s a perpetual favorite of lots of people, including me, and for good reason: Deadpool gives you license to do lots of variations and funny things. His cosplayers tend to be a riot and all-around good people.

Deadpools and writer Amy Peters

Deadpools and writer Amy Peters CR: Amy Peters

Where to Cosplay

So if you’re curious, go to a convention (animecons.com for anime; conventionscene.com for comics). See people dressed up. Talk to them. Get photos. Get ideas. Try it out. You might find that no matter what your age, skill level, or bodily shape, you’ve gotten yourself into a new hobby.


If you spot yourself in this photos and would like to be credited, or have the photo removed, please email [email protected]Top photo: A genderbent Keneki Ken, and writer Amy Peters as Suzuya Juuzou; both characters from Tokyo Ghoul. CR: Amy Peters.

Cosplay Rules Everyone Should Know, by Amy Peters

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4 Comments

  1. Great post – thank you for sharing this. I do sometimes feel a little too old to cosplay but then I see the variety of people cosplaying events and realize you’re never too old 🙂

  2. Amy

    Thank you! It really pains me when people think they can’t cosplay because of their age. Life’s too short to stop doing something fun because people think they’ve hit a magical ‘now I’m an adult’ age.

    I’ve never had anyone comment on my age. Mostly I get hella props for being a cool parent, and younger people telling me they hope they can have kids and not give up on who they are too.

  3. I love this post! It pains me because many people say that I’m too old already to Cosplay. I’ve had no time to put up my Cosplay, but I swear I’m going to do it soon. Love your post <3

    • Amy Peters

      Thank you! I’m glad this article is striking a chord. I’d love to see your cosplay!

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