You’ve been to the conventions, you’ve seen the amazing costumes, and you’ve finally decided to build your own custom costume for Comicon. Cosplay is a worldwide phenomenon — estimates that 12,000 people will attend the World Cosplay Summit in Nagoya, Japan in August of 2014. With so many people in love with the hobby of dressing as their favorite characters, there are plenty of tips and tools available for those who are building their own costume for the first time.

Getting Started

It may sound obvious, but you have first figure out which character you want to dress up as — not an easy task. If you are interested in cosplaying an anime or manga character, Anime Planet has a comprehensive database of characters that includes images and information such as hair color and other tags. If you are interested in cosplaying a character from American comics, The Superhero Database is a similar site that offers much of the same information for Marvel, DC and other heroes.

Whoever you choose to cosplay, the first stop for finding your costume is your own closet. Anything you already own can be integrated into your costume – shoes, leggings, hats and boots are all common items that you may already own that can cut down the overall workload and cost of your costume dramatically. If your character wears armor, you may find that motorcycle or ATV helmets and armor make a fine base to build upon. Football armor and other sporting equipment can be the beginning of a great costume, and all it takes to modify a helmet or set of football gear is some acrylic paint and a little creativity.

Get Crafty

One of the more labor intensive parts of assembling a cosplay outfit is the sewing. Often, you can simply modify clothing you already have to fit the character, but in some cases you may need to create a piece yourself – this is especially true of many anime cosplay costumes, as characters in anime often have elaborate outfits. Many sites, such as Sewing Patterns, offer free or inexpensive sewing patterns that can get you started on crafting your own outfit, even if you don’t have a lot of experience.

If your costume has armor, it’s best to build your own rather than try to find real-world combat ready armor to alter. While many cosplayers use fiberglass molds to create realistic lightweight armor, online tutorials can give you the skills you need to craft armor from materials that are much easier to procure and use. Amethyst Angel offers a series of comprehensive tutorials for prop armor-crafting that employ simple tools such as hot glue guns and inexpensive materials such as styrene and craft foam.

While large sheets of styrene aren’t easily found in most craft stores there are many companies that offer it in bulk at an affordable price, though you may need to order it online. Styrene is highly moldable and can be affixed to fabric or plastic with nothing more than a hot glue gun, making it an ideal tool for crafting your own cosplay armor. While there is no wrong way to enjoy yourself cosplaying, taking the time and effort to craft a costume of quality can give you years of enjoyment showing off your skills and love of your favorite shows at conventions and gathering around the world.