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Cosplay etiquette for conventions and online

Here's what you should and should not say to cosplayers, wherever you encounter them.

New York Comic Con Day 2
Image credit: Cosplay Central

When I first started cosplaying back in 2011, I never expected the community to get as big as it is nowadays. I began at a small convention in Sacramento, CA and thought it was such a cool experience to gather together from your favorite fandoms and dress up as different characters.

Nowadays, cosplay has blown up into a massive multimedia phenomenon, with thousands of cosplayers on social media. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the cosplay scene on TikTok has exploded with notable social media influencers such as Taya Miller, Alyson Tabbitha, and Jennings Brower.

New York Comic Con Day 4
Image credit: Cosplay Central

With cosplay now in the mainstream, that means many people try to say whatever they like to cosplayers. While many comments are great for boosting a cosplayer’s confidence, there are also others who can make a cosplayer feel awkward and frustrated with their words.

Last month, we asked cosplayers what they wished people knew about cosplay etiquette, and decided to compile a list of phrases that you should and should not say and do to a cosplayer, both online and in-person at events.

Nobody Is The “Best” Cosplayer

Cosplayers are not actors. There is not one single person playing the character, but rather hundreds of different people all dressing up as that character. When you tell a cosplayer, “you’re the best [character] I’ve seen,” that diminishes all the other cosplayers who have also dressed up as that character. Cosplay is not a competition.

New York Comic Con Day 4
Image credit: Cosplay Central

Cosplayers don’t want to be put up against others just because others are also cosplaying the same character. It’s even worse to say, “you’re better than X cosplayer”. It’s both backhanded and rude to both parties who just want to have fun. It’s best to simply tell them, “I love your cosplay”, and move on.

Giving Unwanted Suggestions

If a cosplayer is cosplaying as a certain character, chances are because they simply like them. That does not mean that they hate the other characters, merely that they like one better than others. With that said, cosplaying as one person does not give you the right to say, “you would’ve looked better as [insert character here] instead.” Saying this to a cosplayer makes one feel frustrated because it’s not about what a person looks like. It’s about them feeling confident with the persona they are portraying.

Cosplayers Are Not Quiz Games

When you see a cosplayer, that does not mean they know absolutely every little detail about the character or the fandom they are in. Some cosplayers just want to cosplay a certain character because they like the design despite not having seen/played the show, movie, video game, etc.

New York Comic Con Day 1
Image credit: Cosplay Central

Going up to a cosplayer and quizzing them immediately puts them on the defensive because you are implying they shouldn’t cosplay that character because they don’t know everything. Fun fact: You don’t need to know everything about a character to cosplay them. This also goes for cosplayers as well. If a person comes up to you and compliments your outfit, that does not mean you should start quizzing them.

Taking Photos of Cosplayers

Cosplayers like to be able to have down-time at a convention. Like actors, they can’t be in a costume all day long and need to have some breaks. When a cosplayer is in line for the restroom or grabbing a bite to eat, that means you should not be taking any photos of them.

The biggest thing to do is as if you can take a photo. Do NOT try to sneak a photo. Ask first! If they say no, then say thank you and walk away. Saying no is not an invitation to keep pestering them for a photo as it’ll only make you look worse.

If the cosplayer says yes, then strike a pose and say thank you afterwards. When you take photos, that also means you shouldn’t be trying to take any extra photos as well. This is further elaborated under the “Cosplay Is Not Consent” section.

New York Comic Con Day 2
Image credit: Cosplay Central

Lastly, if you happen to see a cosplayer taking a break with pieces of their cosplay taken off, don’t run up and ask them for a photo. They want to relax for a bit. Conventions take up a lot of energy, and everyone needs to take a break every once in a while.

Note for cosplayers: If you get a photo taken of you and the photographer has a watermark on it, do NOT try to crop the watermark unless you have their permission. Also be sure to credit the photographer if you choose to post it online.

Note for cosplay photographers: Remember, cosplayers can take photos with other photographers. You don’t own anyone. They can take photos with whoever they feel comfortable with.

Cosplay Hobby vs. Cosplay Job

There are some cosplayers online who make a living with cosplay as their full-time job. Frankly, that is not the norm. Most cosplayers have outside jobs and simply like cosplaying as a hobby. There have been many times online where I’ve seen people tell cosplayers, “you could make a lot of money selling cosplays” or “I want to have you make [insert character here] cosplay for me”.

New York Comic Con Day 3
Image credit: Cosplay Central

It’s already hard enough to make cosplays for ourselves, and it’s even harder for people we don’t know. Some cosplays can take years to make, and that doesn’t even include the price of materials. Kamui Cosplay has posted some of her cosplay costs, which can be upwards of $33,000 for just one costume.

If you want to buy a cosplay, then check out many of the indie artists on Etsy or look for cosplayers who actually have commissions listed in their bios on social media. Not every cosplayer does it for a living. Many just want to keep cosplay as a hobby.

Cosplay Is Not Consent

If you’ve been to a convention, chances are you’ve seen a sign posted that says, “Cosplay Is NOT Consent”. To put it frankly, this means that cosplayers are not there to be touched or harassed in any way, shape, or form.

There have been so many times when I’m at a convention and people want to pose with me in a photo and they suddenly put their arm around my waist. Do NOT do this. Not only does it make us feel uncomfortable, but we’re already sweating in our cosplays or have exposed skin that is completely covered in body paint. Strike a pose that doesn’t include you touching the cosplayer. There are plenty of different options.

Note: This also goes for props. If you ask to hold a cosplayer’s prop and they say yes, don’t go swinging it around. It’s a prop for a reason. Hold it like it’s porcelain and then gently give it back to the cosplayer.

New York Comic Con Day 3
Image credit: Cosplay Central

When you’re at a convention, you are also not allowed to sneak any photos of cosplayers. Photographers have been kicked out of conventions trying to sneak photos of people and can even be banned for life if they are sexually harassing cosplayers by trying to take photos up their skirts. Just don’t do it.

Cosplaying is also not a reason for you to try and flirt with cosplayers as well. I’ve seen messages from people on my Instagram asking for my age, interests, and even messages such as, “wanting to get to know me better”. My social media is not an invitation for you to try and be my friend or flirt with me.

Finally, and this is a biggy, don’t start asking cosplayers sexual questions while they’re in cosplay. If they have a significant other with them, don’t ask them either. It’s both extremely unnecessary and inappropriate. This also applies to online as well. Don’t go commenting like this on their social media. 99% of the time you will get blocked.

Asking About Who They’re Cosplaying

If you do not know what a cosplayer is cosplaying as, simply ask them like this: “Hey I love your cosplay but I don’t know what it’s from. May I ask who you are portraying?” Complimenting a cosplayer and then asking is much more respectful than simply blurting out, “what are you supposed to be?”. It comes off standoffish, and makes the cosplayer feel invalidated as well.

MCM London Cosplay Gallery 2021
Image credit: Cosplay Central

In addition to this, do not comment on how they are the 5th person you’ve seen cosplay that character. Yes, we know characters like Scarlet Witch and Loki are popular. We, like every other cosplayer who likes that character, just want to have fun. Again, cosplay is not a competition.

Critiquing Cosplayers

This one is a big issue in the cosplay community. Cosplayers don’t want critiques. We have spent hours upon hours looking at references, screenshots, and even character models that we know almost every little detail there is on an outfit. If something is missing or added, chances are that was a cosplayer’s choice.

MCM London Cosplay Gallery 2021
Image credit: Cosplay Central

We as cosplayers are already our own worst-critic, so we certainly don’t need others to give unwanted advice, both in-person and online. This also goes for cosplayers talking to one another too. If you see another cosplayer wearing the same cosplay, don’t go and give them critiques. Unless the cosplay is specifically asking, then it is not in your right to do so.

Borrowing/Selling Cosplays

One of my biggest gripes is when I get a message on social media asking if they can borrow or buy one of my cosplays. I have never let anyone I do not know borrow one of my cosplays. In fact, I have only let one of my closest friends borrow a cosplay and we were both on the same photoshoot together so I got it back at the end of the day.

To be honest, most cosplayers don’t feel comfortable letting strangers borrow cosplays. It’s like somebody asking to borrow a book and never getting it back again. We spend so much time and money on our cosplays, the last thing we want to deal with is having somebody steal them. And, most of the time, cosplays are custom fitted to us so the chances of another person’s measurements being exactly the same are very low.

Florida Supercon Official Cosplay Gallery
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There’s also many instances where cosplayers WILL sell their cosplays online. There are plenty of Facebook cosplay sale groups just for that reason. But if a cosplayer isn’t outright saying a cosplay is for sale, then don’t ask to buy it off them.

Cosplayer Does Not Equal Character

If a cosplayer is cosplaying as a character that you don’t particularly like, that doesn’t mean the cosplayer is ACTUALLY that character. There is no need to go up to a cosplayer and tell them, “I hate this character”. It will simply upset them. Think if you were in their shoes: if you just spent countless hours on a cosplay and somebody tells you that they hate who you’re dressed as, how would you feel?

Note: This also goes for fandoms as well. If a character is from a fandom you don’t like, keep that to yourself. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

In addition to this, do not immediately assume the cosplayer you are walking up to at a convention is going to be acting exactly like that character. Think of them as a person in a costume, not an actor portraying a character in a costume.

Cosplay Is For EVERYONE

No matter your race, gender, body type, etc., cosplay is for everyone. If a Black cosplayer is cosplaying as Wonder Woman, then she is Wonder Woman. She is not Nubia or “Black” Wonder Woman. This also applies for genders as well. If a woman is cosplaying Loki and it’s specifically The Dark World Loki, then they are Loki. They are not “Lady” or “Girl” Loki. (Lady Loki is a completely different character entirely.)

New York Comic Con Day 2
Image credit: Cosplay Central

Any sort of shaming on a cosplayer based on how they look is not tolerated in the community. Nobody has to look exactly like the character to cosplay them. Cosplaying is all about having fun and dressing up. Think of it like Halloween all year round, but with many different places to go and take photos instead of just getting candy from neighbor's houses.

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