How to Make a Last-Minute Cosplay

Posted by Elizabeth Ballou

[Image by Виктория Бородинова from Pixabay]

Convention season is starting, but maybe you’ve told yourself that you’re not going this year. I don’t have time, you say. I’ll save myself some money. Then you find out that the cast of your favorite show is speaking on a panel, an author you admire will be signing books, or the next game you’re aching to try will have a demo available. Before you know it, you’ve bought a con pass and made plans with friends…but you still have nothing to wear! And you can’t show up at a con without a cosplay, right?


Don’t fret, Cinderella. (Or should we call you Geekerella?) We’ve got you covered. The following five tips will help you pick an easy, yet polished ensemble you’d be proud to wear in convention centers from D.C. to San Diego.

Note: This guide assumes you have some basic sewing knowledge and that you know how to use a sewing machine. But even if you don’t, many of the tips are still applicable.


Raven Roth Cos as Black Canary (DC Comics)

Try a Modern Look

Say you’re trying to choose between Princess Peach (Mario) and Misty (Pokémon). Sure, Peach wears a gorgeous dress… but do you have time to fix every flounce in place? Not if you’re going to make it to the con in time, friend. Instead, try a character who wears clothing similar to modern streetwear. You may find that you already own some of the pieces you need. The addition of a decal, patch, or ribbon can transform an ordinary jacket into Mikasa’s jacket from Attack on Titan, or a normal pair of green khakis into Kim’s cargo pants from Kim Possible.

Plus, if you don’t have much sewing/crafting experience, you can focus on making the key accessories rather than making the whole outfit from scratch. Why reinvent the wheel if you bought the wheel on sale at Gap last year?

Suggestions: Kiki (Kiki’s Delivery Service), Frisk (Undertale), Lana/Pam/Cheryl/Malory (Archer), Marceline (Adventure Time), Velma/Daphne (Scooby Doo), Zoe/Kaylee/River (Firefly)


Betty B as Clementine (The Walking Dead)

Go Thrifting

If you don’t have much money to spare on supplies, hit up your local thrift store. It’s a hit-or-miss adventure, sure, but let your finds inspire you. Maybe you find a cap and t-shirt that would make the perfect foundation to a Clementine outfit, like the one above. Or maybe you find an old dress you can splatter with mud to create a Little Sister (Bioshock) effect.

The best part about thrift store cosplay pieces is that you can distress them however you want. Buy an old shirt and cover it in fake blood, roll it in dirt, rip it to tatters, or dunk it in a coffee solution to create a weathered, moth-eaten, or battle-weary look. (Try this tutorial for tips.) If it doesn’t work the way you expect, at least you didn’t spend much money on the piece.

Suggestions: Imperator Furiosa (Mad Max), Sally (Nightmare Before Christmas), Luna Lovegood (Harry Potter), Alana (Saga), Ygritte (Game of Thrones), Elizabeth (Bioshock Infinite), Ellie (The Last of Us), Tiny Tina (Borderlands 2), the Ghostbusters



MissChezza as Daenerys Targaryen (Game of Thrones)

Choose Loose-Fitting Clothing

Impeccably tailored cosplays look fly, but it can take days to fit a skin-tight garment to your measurements. If you’re not working from a pattern, tailoring clothes becomes even harder. But not every cosplay has to be a spandex superhero outfit! Capes, cloaks, A-line skirts, and baggy pants are your friends when assembling a cosplay with little time to spare. If you find a too-big item secondhand, you can just cut it down to size. Too small, though? Good luck adding panels on a deadline.

If you’re sewing your ensemble, you won’t have to worry about getting every measurement right. Throw in a strong safety pin or properly-placed belt and no one will ever know that your coat is three sizes too big.

Suggestions: Daenerys Targaryen (Game of Thrones), Rey (Star Wars), Esmeralda (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), the Wives (Mad Max: Fury Road), Jasmine (Aladdin), Raven (Teen Titans), River Song (Doctor Who), any Harry Potter character who wears robes



Crystalhardted as Blake (RWBY)

Buy Foundation Pieces

Yes, one of the most important aspects of cosplaying is making your own outfit. But the most important part is having fun and feeling comfortable. If that means buying some pieces so that you can focus on handmaking the rest, then go for it. Sure, you can sew each item the next time you go to a convention – but you’re on a deadline now, remember?

Say you’re cosplaying as Blake, the character pictured above. You know you can make the jacket, but then you’ll be out of time. Try sourcing the belt, bandolier, and top from cosplay piece providers. It isn’t the cheapest solution, but it’ll help you out in a time crunch.

Another solution is to order hard-to-find base items, since there are certain garments you won’t find in a thrift store. For example, when I cosplayed as Emma (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) at NYCC last year, I knew I’d have to buy her distinctive platform boots. I bought a pair on eBay and then painted/texturized them to get the result I needed.

Suggestions: any kind of ensemble



Beth Grimes as Edgar Allan Poe Dameron (Literature/Star Wars)

If All Else Fails, Get Creative

Okay, so maybe you’re super short on time and you can’t hack a traditional cosplay. Instead, use your brilliant wit to come up with something funny, like Edgar Allan Poe Dameron (pictured above). You don’t have to put together a meticulous ensemble if you’re trying the unexpected.

Since cosplay is built on creativity, anything goes. I have seen people cosplaying as everything from a naked Sim (they were wearing ‘pixelated’ sandwich boards) to Nyan Cat to Angry Birds figures. Choose a meme you love or smash unexpected characters from your favorite fandoms together. Who knows? You may end up as the next cosplay sensation!


Did this guide help you out? Let us know by tweeting @quirkbooks, and don't forget to enter our Book Pop! Digital Cosplay Contest to win an epic prize! Details here.

For more San Diego Comic-Con Prep Week posts, click here.