The Cosplay Continuum

Thanks to the magic of the internet, I feel like I have been following Tyraenna’s costuming adventures for years. In fact we discovered each other almost a year ago, bonding over our recent shared cosplay of Elizabeth from Bioshock:Infinite. While I had been at PAX, she had been at DragonCon. 

In honor of Halloween I have invited Tyraenna, one of my internet cosplay friends and a long-time DragonCon attendee, to share her thoughts on cosplay and being a cosplayer. After you read about the Cosplay Continuum, I encourage you to check out the rest of her cosplay at Quests of Quirkiness

Thanks, Meris, for having me here at The Fabric Alchemist to share some cosplay thoughts!  Also, if you happened to miss it, earlier this year, Meris guest posted on my blog about her cosplay experience at ECCC 2014 – check it out!

I have attended DragonCon in Atlanta, GA every Labor Day weekend for the past 6 years.  The first year I went, I threw together a last minute amateur costume (a fire fairy in case you were curious) and wore it one day of the con.  But that was how I caught the cosplay bug – seeing and experiencing it among my fellow geeks at DragonCon.  Cosplay, short for costume play, is amazingly popular within the geek community these days.  I’ve only been cosplaying for a few years, but it’s a pretty amazing hobby.

Since my first DragonCon, I have made almost a dozen costumes (this is not really that many … I have a day job), and have been getting more into this hobby with each one. I was cosplaying more than ever this year at DragonCon, and as a result I found myself paying a bit more attention to different things about other people’s cosplay – mostly, how different everyone is in terms of their skills, goals, and purpose.  Cosplayers get into this hobby for very different reasons.  So let’s talk about what I like to call The Cosplay Continuum.

Tyraenna’s 9 Dimensions of the Cosplay Continuum

  1. “Cosplay Whatever You Want” vs “Cosplay for Your Bodytype”

There are two pretty blatantly opposing camps on what cosplayers “should” wear.  I am firmly in the camp of you should wear whatever you want and are comfortable wearing.  There are others who think you should cosplay to your body’s strengths.

To a lot of immature and unaccepting people, cosplaying for your bodytype can mean things like, “if you are an overweight female, don’t cosplay as wonder woman” or “if you are a skinny red-headed male, you wouldn’t make a good superman”.  Here is an excellent comic that was featured on EPBOT last year that gets across how it can feel to be on the receiving end of rude comments.

When you get down to it, this debate ultimately deals with how you choose your costumes.  Do you choose characters you like or identify with?  Do you choose them because you think you look a lot like the character?  Some of the most convincing cosplays are those where the wearer bears a resemblance to the character.  I saw a Wolverine at DragonCon that pretty much could have passed for Hugh Jackman.  But costumes can be just as amazing regardless of your physical features, so don’t let that mindset rule your choices!  Here are two people with different body types and very different cosplay styles, but both have done amazing renditions of Ursula!


  1. Roleplayers (Actors) vs Non-Roleplayers

If you like to act out your character’s personality and behaviors while wearing your costume, this is called roleplaying (RP-ing) the character.  I always envy folks who do this well, as it is not a skill I possess, and I always feel super awkward if I try.  People do voices and accents and speak well-known lines or phrases the character is known for.

Others just enjoy wearing the costume, and that is enough for them.  Sometimes it’s just nerves or shyness or anxiety.  Regardless of your reasons, there is no requirement that you must roleplay your character when cosplaying.  I am on the non-roleplayer side of things – for me getting the nerve to find poses that suit my cosplays is a big enough challenge.

  1. Makers vs Wearers

Some cosplayers are all about the wearing of their costumes.  They enjoying becoming the character and might even go as far as to roleplay the character (see tenet #2).  They may or may not have made their own costume.

For others, it’s about the journey.  They cosplay because they enjoy the process of making the costume, and wearing it is just a bonus.  I land closer to the maker side of this slider – I still enjoy wearing my costumes, but mostly because so much thought, design, and work goes into their making.  Some people enjoy making costumes so much that they take on commissions, doing more work for others than for themselves.

Frankly, where you fall on this dimension might just depend on the amount of free time you have.  Not everyone has the long hours to spend putting together elaborate costumes.  But they still might be fans and enjoy wearing them, and there is nothing wrong with that.

  1. Professional vs Hobby

There might be a bit of chicken vs egg syndrome here. Most people who cosplay do it for enjoyment of it, I think.  It’s a hobby, and an expensive one most of the time, therefore a lot of folks have day jobs.  Like me.

Those who are exceptional at cosplay may be able to do it professionally, like Yaya Han or Kamui.  Everyone starts somewhere, and these ladies were not likely at the top of the cosplay community from the moment they started.  But it is pretty clear they love what they do, including the making of the costumes.  Once you are considered professional, it seems that a large portion of cosplay turns into modeling.

  1. Accurate vs Creative Design

Do you like to focus on all the tiny details of a character’s look so that you can make your costume match the character exactly?  If so, you probably value accuracy in your cosplay more than creativity or design.  I’ve seen some amazingly accurate costumes, and I always love the small details about them.


Personally, I fall at the other end of this spectrum.  I enjoy taking an idea and turning my costume into my own version of the character.  For me, my most fun costumes to wear are the ones where I have gotten to be very creative in the costume’s design – such as my ice fairy or my Rainbow Dash.  But that being said, I have done both.  Above is a sketch from my Rainbow Dash costume that I took from idea to reality, and below is the finished costume.


  1. Cosplay Only vs Convention Goer

I know of cosplayers who love it so much that they bring 10 costumes to a weekend long convention, and make sure they get to wear each one for a couple of hours.  That can’t possibly leave much time for experiencing the actual convention – catching a panel, etc.  Heck, some folks seem to take their cosplay so seriously that they spend convention time in their hotel room finishing costumes.  This funny video made by DragonConTV kind of sums up the silliness – with some Frozen song parodies.

Assuming you have finally left your room in costume, do you just go stand in one of the more crowded areas making yourself available for photos?  Or do you have things at the convention you want to do?  At DragonCon, the Marriott Marquis hotel is the center of all things costuming.  During the day, the costume track panels are there, but at night … at nice the three levels of convention space are packed with people who are there to either view cosplay or BE viewed cosplaying.  (And ALL of them are drinking …).  The biggest and best costumes know to come to this location in the evenings to display their hard work and have lots of photographs taken.

While I enjoy knowing that people want photos of my costumes, I’m not much for standing in one place waiting for attention.  I typically have places I want to go, people I want to see, and games I want to play.  I’m much more of a wanderer and convention goer, with cosplay as a high priority side goal.  Also, I refuse to bring my sewing machine to a convention.  If a costume did not get done, it doesn’t get worn as I am not willing to give up valuable convention time.

  1. Well-Known vs Eclectic

Certain characters are frequently cosplayed – Slave Leia from Star Wars, for example.  Zelda and Link are another good example.  You’ll always see tons of Stormtroopers at conventions.  Do you enjoy cosplaying as a super recognizable character like these?  You will almost certainly get asked for tons of pictures if so!

Although within the geek community you’ll almost certainly find someone who loves that one manga you do, there are plenty of characters that are lessor known and more eclectic.  My Lady Amalthea cosplay from The Last Unicorn is a huge childhood favorite movie for me, but was only recognized by a handful of people at DragonCon. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t still a lot of fun to cosplay!


I tend to do slightly more unique costumes than well-known ones.  And if I do a well-known character, I almost always put my own twist on it. Most cosplayers have probably done some costumes from each type.

  1. Last Minute vs Planner

When do you make your cosplay decisions?  Are they planned?  Are they last minute?  Some combination of both?

I’m sure we’ve all thought of the perfect costume like a week before a convention.  But I’ve not attempted to build one last minute like that – I’m much more of a planner and would rather put that idea on a list for the following year.  In fact, my list for next year’s costumes has already begun!

However, some folks thrive on that last minute energy!  If you are a last minute costuming ninja, please teach me your skillz!  For me a lot of it would be can I get what I need with enough time to make the costume?  I order from Amazon too much…  Honestly, Nasus was the closest I’ve come to a last minute costume since my first one – decided to make him about 6 weeks prior to a convention.


  1. Polished vs Done

This probably comes down to how much of a perfectionist you are.  And my suspicion is that over time your acceptance level for when something is finished, changes.  What one person is willing to call finished is not the same as the next person.  I hold myself to a pretty high standard and if I am unhappy with a costume, I won’t wear it.  I was nearly at that point with my corset for Rainbow Dash – if I hadn’t turned it into an underbust corset last minute, the whole thing could have been scrapped.

That being said I’ve also had times where I have gotten so frustrated trying to perfect something that I just get annoyed and finish it – calling it done however it looks.  This happened with the Nasus armor – I didn’t smooth out the Worbla and Wondeflex as much as I wanted.  I tried multiple methods, and finally gave in to the fact that it was not going to be anywhere close to perfect.  I accepted the fact that I am a beginner using the stuff, and just painted it.  My axe suffered the most I think.

Where do you fall along The Cosplay Continuum? Per most of my own answers, I wind up here:

  • Wear What You Want
  • Non-Roleplayer
  • Maker
  • Hobby
  • Creative Design
  • Convention Goer
  • Eclectic
  • Planner
  • Polished

In some things I’m definitely more middle of the road, like on the Well-Known vs Eclectic thing and on the Polished vs Done dimension.  On others, I’m pretty far to one side, like Creative and Planner.  Maybe Meris will chime in with where she falls on the dimensions? 🙂

The Fabric Alchemist admits to being: 

  • Wear What You Want!
  • Non-Roleplayer (wants to learn to pose better)
  • Maker & Wearer (I love the process and I love being at the convention in costume)
  • Hobby
  • Accurate (but is creative-design-curious)
  • Convention Goer
  • Well-known (occasionally drifts toward eclectic, but cosplaying husband prefers to be recognized)
  • Planner (because of my accuracy tendencies, I can’t avoid excessive planning)
  • Polished (to dangerous levels at times, but I am learning to say, it is “done enough, for now” and go to the con)

As you can see, Tyraenna and I overlap on many aspects of the continuum. Likely a reason we have become internet cosplay pals. 

I definitely would have guessed accurate for Meris – I mean, look at how amazing her recent Leiliana cosplay from PAX Prime turned out?!

Leliana Dragon Age Inquisition at PAX Prime BioWare Base

I also would have guessed planner, I am jealous of her skillz at choosing fabrics.  Wish I lived in Seattle to be able to take one of her upcoming workshops!  But I’ll admit to being totally off on the Role-Playing thing – Meris, your poses and cosplay photos really make me feel like you are getting in character, so I thought you might at least be closer to the middle of this tenet 🙂

Anyway, time to wrap things up; I have rambled enough!  One thing I’d like to stress here is that this is a continuum – it’s not wrong to be on any particular side of one of these tenets.  And you shouldn’t tease or harass any cosplayer for where they lie on the continuum because they are doing something they love.

Can you think of any additional things I might have left off the continuum?  Where do you fall along these ideas?  I’m sure everybody’s cosplay journey grows and changes over time, but it is interesting to me to think about where people fall within the above dimensions.  You can find me and more of my musings on sewing, crafting, cosplay, board games, and all things geeky at my blog –