How to Make an Anime Costume: Explaining Cosplay and Anime Conventions

by TessaSchlesinger

by Tessa Schlesinger. Making an anime costume takes time, experimentation, and effort. Here's how you can make your own anime costume as well as wow the critics!

Cosplay is the art of dressing up in the costumes of anime characters. Each year, there are several anime conventions which ardent cosplayers attend. They are dressed as their favorite anime character and some cosplayers spend the entire year designing and making their costume. Others get together in groups and spend that same year working together as a team. These are the serious cosplayers. Their costumes look as if they are professionally made. The amazing thing is that most of these cosplayers make their costumes themselves and they started out with no expertise. Here’s how they did it, and here's how you can learn to do it, too.

Deciding on The Anime Character

Deciding on the anime character may, in some respects, be the easy part. Yet, if a wrong decision is made here, then the rest of the costume may be blown. You have to chose according to your capability. Don’t chose a difficult anime costume if you’re new to cosplay. Rather settle for something that has a few simple pieces to put together.

Some anime costumes involve extensive skills in making props, like getting the right buttons, making hats, or putting together a sword or a dagger with the right emblems. All sorts of tools and skills are required for this.

If you’re working in a group, you can combine skills. One person may have expertise in making hats and shoes. Another person may know where to source feathers or gems. Working together as a group is not only fun, but good sense when many different skills are required.

Take all of this into consideration when selecting your character.


Sketch the costume once you've decided on the character...

sketch the costume
sketch the costume

Start with something simple...

Looney Robot - first anime costume
Looney Robot - first anime costume

Meet my daughter, anime geek, Looney Robot - the pride of my life!

Anime Blog

Looney Robot Tells You All About Anime
It's a bit of a understatement when I write here that I love making and wearing costumes. I'm borderline obsessed (=__=). There's nothing I love more as an artist than expressing myself through garments that defy the conventional wardrobe.

Sketching the Various Angles of the Costumes

It’s important to know exactly what is involved in making the costume. So, either sketch the costume form all angles or get photos of the costume from all angles. Then write down every single item that is needed from that costume. It is vital that you do this. Sometimes, one can make the entire costume and the week before due date, one does one’s final fit and discovers that something doesn’t quite look right. One then finds out that a small emblem on the right cheek is missing. Sometimes, that particular emblem takes months to order from a far away a place. Do your check list for what is needed immediately after you’ve decided what anime character you’re going to cosplay.

Anime t-shirt

How Long Does Anime Take?

Time Frame for Creating Anime Costume

Some ardent cosplayers may make a costume the week before a convention. Most begin the work the day after the last convention. Ideas are chucked about until characters are decided. Work begins anything from eight months to D-day to six or seven weeks before the convention date. Remember that materials and fabrics need to be sourced, ordered, tested, and put together. There’s a lot of work to be done and, often, when something new is attempted, it doesn’t always work out the first time.

Starting sooner is better than starting later.

Looney Robot as Sakura
Looney Robot as Sakura

Start Taking Measurements

Getting Your Body Measurements for your Anime Costume

Yes, you have to take your measurements and make your pattern! While there are a few patterns that are commercially available, hardcore cosplayers tend to select anime characters where the costume design aspects are not commercially available. So, you will need to know how to make a pattern and work from scratch.

Looney Robot, a highly experienced cosplayer that I know has been designing and making costumes of every ilk for many years. She sketches them, makes the pattern, sources the fabrics and materials, and she says that size is important. If the wrong size is made, the costume never quite looks right. The right fit it is vital!. Fit, at all costs, must not be fatal! Incidentally, She says that commissions generally cost between between $250 to $500 per cosplay costume, depending on complexity. She says that a costume designer would need your measurements and would explain to you how to send her accurate measurements (someone else would have to measure you as you cannot contort while taking measurements as it affects the true measurement).

When you have the measurements, a costume designer can work out the amount of fabric you need. When purchasing, order a little extra. Things do go wrong!

"Steam Punk Leia" aka, my daughter, with her anime group do a photo call at San Diego Comic-con 2012

Steam Punk Leia
Looney Robot and her group at San Diego Comic-con 2012
Looney Robot and her group at San Diego Comic-con 2012

Getting All the Materials Together
It can be a struggle to get some of the materials together. Where does one find a yellow pendant shaped like a star? Is the exact color fabric of Haruhi Suzumiya’s school uniform available? Where does one find thigh high boots the exact color that Meg of Burst Angel wears? And if one does find thigh high boots, do they have the right heel and what dye does one use that will last the full four days of the approaching convention? Chii Pink has an amazing costume, and on face value, it looks like pink cotton, pink tulle, and black laces? Is it? Check to see if those are the only materials used in making her anime costume. Then, find out where to get it. You might find the fabric, but it is the right shade of pink?

Sourcing and ordering fabrics and materials can take many months. The sooner your start the better. Eight months ahead of the convention is not too soon as, for many of the anime costumes, you might have to order directly from Japan (or any other country).


Mother's Boast... She's my daughter!

Gothic Lolita Anime
Gothic Lolita - Looney Robot
Gothic Lolita - Looney Robot

Sometimes it's difficult to draw the line between Anime and just plain costume, but, hey, I'm the mother! I just watch!

Zombie Walk...
Zombie Walk...

The Hard Work of Cosplay Begins

Beginning to put together the costume at about six months ahead of due date is not too soon. Some cosplayers prefer to start with the props while others prefer to start with the costume. It’s probably a matter of taste. However, in making things like buckles for shoes (shoes have to last the full four days of any convention so they do have to be made sturdily) or handles for swords, some experimentation may be needed, so the majority tend to start with making the props.

If working together in a group, generally a day of the week is selected and everybody gets together on that day. Some select a Saturday afternoon while others select a weekday evening. They spend months meeting at that time each week, working together in order to get their group anime project ready for the anime convention. Some have found it better to work in groups as skills are learned from each other.

Fittings take place throughout this time, as well as testing the various props to see that they will withstand the wear and tear of real life wear.


Getting on the cover of the International Anime Magazine, Cosmode, is BIG! Upper Right Corner - She's in white and pink!

Cosmode Magazine, Looney Robot and Group, Top Right
Cosmode Magazine, Looney Robot and Group, Top Right

Due Date...

Anime Costumes Should be Ready a Week in Advance...

Costumes should be ready by the week before the convention. If working together in a group, decide on poses for cameras. If you’re single and never done anything like this before, work on various poses as well. Take the poses of your cosplay character into consideration. You want to be as much alike the original as possible.

Anime: Preparing for Emergencies

Be guaranteed that just as you enter the anime convention, the buckle will fall off your shoe, the stitch will rip as you bend, and the gem will come undone on your nail. That's the way it works. So you know it's going to happen? So make sure that you take along needle and thread, glue, and extra gems, buckles, feathers, or anything else that might be needed if things come undone.

The Ulimate Accolade for Anime

Photocalls and Getting into Cosmode Magazine...

Perhaps, the ultimate accolade is getting yourself into Cosmode magazine. Many cosplayers through the years have been featured in the magazine. Creative and skilled cosplayers find themselves regularly starring in photo shoots, sometimes gaining entrance to that exclusive anime magazine more than once or twice a year. And I'm told, it's all worth it....

Updated: 03/21/2013, TessaSchlesinger
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TessaSchlesinger on 01/23/2013

Perhaps, one day when I'm rich, I'll come back to the UK! :) But I do know what you mean. I would miss a lot of things!

JoHarrington on 01/23/2013

Perhaps one day, when I'm rich, I'll come over to America on holiday to attend one. :)

TessaSchlesinger on 01/22/2013

Jo,, it is, indeed, very big here. There are so many masquerade and anime conventions here!

JoHarrington on 01/22/2013

I'd love to experience something like the conventions in America and Japan. They are in Britain, but they're relatively new and not so big. They're growing though, so maybe I will get my day cosplaying!

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