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Foam armor closures & attachments: snaps, buckles, zippers, and grommets

Creating a beautiful piece of cosplay is one thing; Deciding how to attach and secure it is entirely another!

Foam Attachments/Closures
Image credit: Candace Birger

When securing foam armor, there are a multitude of options available -- and the sheer amount of options can become overwhelming. How can you know which one is best for any particular piece?

There are 3 main points to consider for foam armor closures and attachments:

  1. Does it look aesthetically pleasing? A stray buckle or messy snap can break continuity in a costume. Plus, you can actually improve your foam armor aesthetics with a few fun closure options -- but more on that below.
  2. Is it secure enough to withstand wear? One of my biggest ‘oh no’ moments was raising my arm on stage and hearing the tear of Velcro. Know what your plan is (Wear all day? Wear to compete? Wear for a photo shoot?) and plan accordingly.
  3. Foam Attachments/Closures
    The moment of truth: How strong is Velcro? | Image credit: Candace Birger
  4. Does it need to be permanent or detachable? Simple enough -- do you need to detach for transport or to even get the costume on/off, or can the piece you’re attaching stay permanently affixed to its base? This is probably the very first question to ask yourself, as it will drastically alter the course of your decision-making for attachments.

Even before I begin crafting my cosplay, I take a solid look at the design and pinpoint each foam armor piece. I plan out and mentally discuss the three points above, as this will determine the order of your design and where/how each connection point will be established.

To clarify, while this article will mostly deal with foam-to-foam closure (like armor for a forearm that needs to close around the arm), I’ll also gloss over some foam-to-fabric closures/attachments as well.

As I’ve said before, the attachment and closure options are practically endless. But I have about 5 that have become my go-to options.

1. Fabric Adhesive (permanent foam-to-fabric closure)

If you are permanently attaching foam armor pieces to a base fabric, then you’re looking at a strong, flexible glue option. This could be foam panels that attach to a base pair of pants or leggings, armor pieces that attach to a shoe slipcover, or even finger armor that needs to stay affixed to each moving finger joint.

Fabric Adhesive
Image credit: Aleene's

My absolute favorite option here is the brand ‘Aleene’s Original’ Super Fabric Adhesive. It applies like a thick gel, dries relatively quickly, but can flex with a 4 way stretch fabric without ripping!

PROS: Permanent, Strong

CONS: Permanent (So this depends entirely on your needs)

2. Zippers

When you think of zippers, you likely think of fabrics; but when it comes to foam closures, zippers are the new ‘trend’ -- and for good reason!

Zippers are easy to attach to foam but also give a strong, solid closure that looks clean and doesn’t poke or distract.

Foam Attachments/Closures
Image credit: Candace Birger

To attach a zipper to foam, score the wrong side of your foam (where you’ll adhere your zipper) a few times with a box cutter. Apply hot glue, which will expand the foam slightly and open up the scoring you just did. Press your zipper edge onto the foam, and repeat for the other side of the closure and zipper.

PROS: Strong, Clean, Easy to do solo, Long connection point

CONS: Can break aesthetic continuity (Zippers in Renaissance???)

3. Grommets and Lacing

Fancy lacework and grommet application isn’t just for corsetry. If you’re closing a piece of armor such as the inside closure of a forearm piece, you can add to the aesthetics of your cosplay with the same lacework as a corset.

Typically, I choose to add fabric loops to each edge of the foam closure. You can also add metal loops here for detailing purposes or simply lace through the fabric loops directly.

Foam Attachments/Closures
Image credit: Candace Birger

Another option is to add grommets to each side of the foam directly instead of fabric loops for the lacework. When adding grommets to foam, always back the foam with some fabric glued to the underside to add strength. Lacing grommets right on foam without a strength backing can tear the foam. Important to note: Try to keep your foam size at 6mm or less for grommets, or it will be too thick for the grommet attachment.

I use this option when aesthetics are important (feminine or natural attachments), but the downside here is that it will take you much longer to suit up when you have to lace up each piece of armor.

PROS: Aesthetically Attractive, Wide point of connection

CONS: Lots of prep work, Harder to lace up on your own

4. Magnetic Snaps

Oh, if I could sing the praises of magnetic snaps! When you don’t need the strength of zipper closures but want something that’s easy to attach/close, easy to install, and has a clean result, magnetic snaps are the answer.

Foam Attachments/Closures
Image credit: Candace Birger

These buttons are usually found on purse closures but can be purchased at most craft stores as well. One side ‘punches’ into the base piece while the other is affixed to your top armor.

With magnetic snaps, I always hot glue a piece of nylon to my top piece of armor and affix the snap to the nylon rather than directly to the armor itself. The base piece can be a fabric base or another piece of underlying armor (use the nylon strip hack again here).

This is by far one of the easiest attachments to do on your own without a second set of hands, as you just need to hover your armor close to the opposite closure piece, and the magnets will help finish the job and guide the snap to full closure.

PROS: Simple, Reliable, Easy to take apart for transport

CONS: Can be pulled apart with a little force, A single connection point

5. Velcro

This is likely the one you’ve used before whether for fabric or foam closure. With Velcro, you can score the underside of your foam armor and hot glue Velcro. Then, score the topside of another piece and hot glue the opposite Velcro. Voila!

Foam Attachments/Closures
Image credit: Candace Birger

This is an extremely simple way to attach foam to foam or even to fabric, but the strength of Velcro for foam closures can be far less reliable than many of the other options above.

For this reason, I tend to use it sparingly. I like to feel confident that my attachments will withstand an entire day on the con floor without too much fussing. But Velcro can be extremely simple to connect pieces together, so it’s hard to pass up if you’re looking for fast attaching on-the-go.

PROS: Fast attachment, Cheap, Wide attachment points

CONS: Weak attachment

Typically, every cosplay I create incorporates all five of these attachment options in some way. That may seem confusing, but when you find the benefits of each, it’s easy to see why all five are integral to most costume designs.

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