Cosplay rules – should you follow them or break them? Well, Senpai is here today to debunk and clarify some of these so-called cosplay rules!
I myself have been cosplaying and running events for over 10 years while knowing a bunch of cosplayers in the community that have been around for just as long. So I feel I can make an adequate observation with the most important cosplay rules.
In this post, we will discuss the 10 most important cosplay rules you need to know. This article will help you with regards to cosplaying and what’s considered proper etiquette, so you don’t have to go through awkward moments not knowing any better.
Without further ado, let’s take a look of some of these cosplay rules:
1. Cosplay does NOT mean consent.
You might have had this one at a cosplay convention somewhere!
This is one of the most important rules in the cosplay world. Just because someone is cosplaying, does not mean you can treat them differently. That’s essentially what it boils down to. So if someone is doing a bikini cosplay, it doesn’t mean you can snap photos of them without asking for permission…or catcall them or start touching them. If someone is cosplaying with an elaborate outfit with an amazing prop, it doesn’t mean you can start touching their costume and playing with their prop weapon. For example, someone broke my Marth Falchion sword at a convention because they decided to swing the sword around without asking me…not cool.
Cosplay is not consent is a pretty big topic, so check out this article to learn more about it. But to simplify things, when it comes to interacting with a cosplayer…always ask for permission first.
2. You can’t really cosplay whoever you want.
This is more about cosplaying whoever you want…with some exceptions.
The truth is that you really cannot cosplay whoever you want. Well you can, but not without potentially offending people. In other words, offensive cosplays are generally not allowed. This includes doing cosplays such as changing your skin color or cosplaying someone that’s disrespectful.
The saying, “You can cosplay whoever you want!” does come from a good place though. But you need to be careful, as some cosplays can be offensive to people. For example, it’s disrespectful to darken your skin for a cosplay, so don’t do that. Also, stay away from characters that perpetuate racial stereotypes. So while generally, the world is your oyster when it comes to cosplay ideas, it’s technically not true when they say you can cosplay ANYONE you want.
3. Always ask permission to take a photo.
Always ask for permission before taking a photo of a cosplayer.
This is definitely one of the golden rules of cosplay. For most of us, it’s like second nature. But if you’re new to cosplay or attending convention, then you must know that you need to ask for permission first, before taking a photo of the cosplayer. A simple, “Excuse me, can I take a photo of your cosplay?” will do the trick.
Almost every cosplayer will oblige, because it is considered a compliment when someone asks for their photo. Think about it; if someone asks for your picture, then it shows your cosplay is good enough for someone to snap a photo of!
Again, it’s considered proper etiquette to ask before you snap a photo. That way, the cosplayer can prepare a pose and look their best before the photo is taken.
With that said, there are times where it’s impractical to ask for permission all the time. Some of these situations include:
- When a cosplayer is on stage during a Masquerade/Cosplay Contest. If you’re taking part in the contest and going up on stage, it’s reasonable to expect that attendees sitting and watching will take pictures of you while you’re up there.
- During a rave, a convention photographer gets on stage to take a photo of the crowd dancing. I’d say it would be unreasonable to stop the music and ask everyone in the crowd for their permission to be in the photo.
- When you want a general photo of the convention grounds, is it reasonable to ask the hundreds of people in front of you for their permission?
I have an entire article regarding photo consent at conventions.
But to sum up what I talk about: as an attendee or photographer at a cosplay convention, be courteous and ask for permission before snapping photos of a cosplayer. As a cosplayer, with so many people at a convention, there might be times where you’re in a photo without you knowing, but that’s to be expected when you’re at a large, public event.
Asking for permission to take a photo – a cosplay rule you should follow if possible? Yes. But it’s also pretty much impossible to enforce in every situation during a cosplay convention.
Not at all!
I feel like a lot of beginners and newcomers to cosplay believe cosplaying = have to be skinny first. Simply because we’re constantly bombarded with beautiful, skinny cosplay models all the time!
Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with being a slim cosplayer and there are wonderful cosplayers that fit this category. But cosplayers come from a variety of different backgrounds and sizes, and you don’t have to be one specific body type in order to dress up. Whether you’re plus size or the opposite of a supermodel, don’t let that stop you from cosplaying.
Put it simply…ANYONE can cosplay.
5. No photos of cosplayers while eating/drinking.
Most cosplayers are more than happy to pose for a photo for you! Nothing feels more fulfilling for a cosplayer than for someone to ask for their photo; it validates their costume and/or crafting work.
However, there are times where you should NOT ask for a cosplayer’s photo (e.g. during a photoshoot, while they’re changing out of costume). You should not ask while they’re sitting down and eating food. Bothering them during this time is not a good idea. Not only that, cosplayers generally don’t want to pose with food in their mouths, lipstick smeared everywhere and wigs are off. It wouldn’t make for a flatting picture anyway.
So wait until the cosplayer is back on the convention floor to take their photo.
6. Cosplay accuracy is only a preference.
Cosplay accuracy is one of those passionate topics that people talk about a lot. I wrote an entire article about it, so click here if you want to read that. In general, cosplay accuracy is all about your own preference. If you want to be as accurate and challenge yourself, go for it! But if you just want to have fun and stretch your own creativity, then don’t worry about cosplay accuracy.
With that said, there is a type of cosplay accuracy that is incorrect. That would be things you cannot control, such as your skin color or your body type. For example:
“Your cosplay has to be accurate, so you can’t cosplay this character if you’re White/Black/Brown/Asian/Mixed.”
No way at all is this true!
Is it more difficult for certain ethnicity to cosplay? Definitely, and that’s been a big issue in the cosplay world for a while. But does that mean you’re not allowed to cosplay a certain character if you’re not the same background as that character? Of course not!
No matter what race or ethnicity you are, you have the freedom to cosplay a variety of characters. Again, going back to point #1, you have to be careful to not cosplay something offensive. But other than that, you have countless options.
7. Be careful with compliments.
“Your Elsa cosplay is sooooo much nicer than that other girl’s Elsa cosplay!”
“Your Bulma cosplay looks better on you cause you’re skinnier.”
“Sword Art cosplayers usually look terrible, but you’re the exception.”
Complimenting a cosplayer on their costume is never a bad thing!
However, if you’re going to complement a cosplayer, don’t do so at the expense of others. Because you never know who you end up hurting when you insult others. For example, maybe that other Elsa cosplayer is her best friend. Or that person you said is skinny…used to not be skinny and very self-conscious of their weight.
A lot of normies do this and while I’m sure they have good intentions, this doesn’t actually compliment anyone.
So the next time you want to give praise to a cosplayer, just skip the need to bring others down at the same time.
I wrote a whole post on the aspects of complimenting a cosplayer. Click here if you want to read.
8. Knowing the fandom is optional.
This one is controversial; because I’m sure some of you feel you need to know the character you’re cosplaying. But I don’t believe it’s true.
For instance, I’ve cosplayed Sasuke from Naruto but I haven’t watched all 10,000 episodes of Shippuden to know everything about Sasuke. On the flip side, I’ve asked for photos of cosplayers and started talking about the character they’re cosplaying…only to get a blank stare from them. It’s pretty obvious that they have no idea about the character they’re cosplaying…and that’s okay. You do you.
Some people cosplay certain characters because they’re popular, while others want to cash in on that cosplay hype. Everyone has their own reasons for cosplaying a certain character, and being a hardcore fan of the series may not be one of them. It’s okay, you don’t have to be.
9. Making your own costume is optional.
For beginners in the cosplay world, it’s quite the misconception that you need to make your own costume in order to cosplays. Using myself for example, I don’t make my costumes as well. Sewing is a very difficult skill to learn, and if you don’t want to learn how to do It, then that’s totally fine.
There are many cosplayers (including the professional ones) that don’t make their cosplays; they buy them! There are so many reasons why it’s smart and effective to buy your own cosplay and sew one yourself. So you don’t have to worry about being a fraud or fake if you can’t make your own cosplays. Buying cosplays is totally normal!
The only situation where you can’t buy a cosplay is for a masquerade. In that scenario, all costumes must be made by yourself.
10. Always tag/credit the cosplay photographer.
When you post cosplay photos online that someone else took, it’s considered customary to tag the photographer who took and edited that photo. When someone sees your amazing photo, they want to know who took that wonderful picture.
So when you post their photo, be sure to add in the description at the end: “Photo taken/edited by @photographer.” Notice with the photos I post on this blog, I always tag the cosplayer(s) and photographer (unless it’s a royalty-free photo where I cannot trace the origin). I lead by example. 🙂
I have some more misc cosplay rules below you should definitely also know. Not as crucial as the ones already mentioned, but still worth talking about..
Not cosplaying in public or outside of the convention grounds. (one of the debatable cosplay rules)
This one is a bit confusing, so let me explain.
Unless you’re in the vicinity of a very large convention with several cosplayers out and about (e.g. 2-3 blocks away), I do NOT recommend walking around cosplaying in public. This is for your own safety; if you’re in an area where people have no idea that there’s a convention going on (e.g. public transit), you may draw unwanted attention to yourself. There’s no hard cosplay rule saying you can’t have your costume on in public, but I personally don’t recommend it.
While in the Western world, you might be able to get away with cosplaying in public/outside of the con, in other parts of the world cosplaying in public can be considered a big no-no. When I interviewed Pikachan Cosplay from Egypt, she mentioned how she has to be careful when cosplaying in public. Otherwise, if something were to happen, society in that part of the world would blame her instead.
My other friend from Taiwan mentioned that cosplaying in public is considered rude. And being generally disruptive with big costumes is disrespectful.
While it’s true that the experiences of these two are not universal, I still recommend avoiding cosplaying in public unless you’re very close to the event.
If you want to learn more about the do’s and don’ts about cosplaying in public, click here to read my article about it.
Don’t act stupid at a convention
Going to a cosplay convention and dressing up as your favorite character can definitely bring out the inner kid inside you. And that’s okay. But that doesn’t mean you should act immature and stupid at a convention! Doing stuff like yelling on top of your lungs or being inconsiderate to others is totally not appreciated. Cons can be a stressful place and the last thing your fellow attendees and staff/volunteers want is you acting childish.
So have fun like a kid, but act like an adult. This also includes con after hours, when you have some alcohol in your system. Have fun but be respectful. 😉
“You can’t cosplay that character because I’m cosplaying them.”
If someone tells you that you can’t cosplay a character because they don’t you want copying them…they’re completely wrong. The only exception is if you guys are doing a group cosplay and you’re choosing which characters from the group you want to do.
But just because your friend cosplayed someone you like, doesn’t mean you can’t do the same character as well! If anything, having a character you both like is great in terms of cosplay budgeting. You can offer to buy or borrow the costume from your friend when they’re finished with it, saving you BOTH a lot of money!
“Take a shower and wear deodorant”
I mean technically, it’s not a mandatory rule. But please, for the sake of everyone, stay fresh with good hygiene and smell good for the convention!
Con funk is a real thing at conventions. During a con, remember to follow the 6-2-1 rule: (at least) 6 hours of sleep, 2 meals and 1 shower PER DAY.
“Cosplaying is supposed to be fun.” (The most important cosplay rule of them all!)
It’s not cosplaying if it ain’t fun. Nuff’ said.
Here are 10 Cosplay Rules you need to know:
- Cosplay does NOT mean consent.
- You can’t really cosplay whoever you want.
- Always ask permission to take a photo.
- Cosplay is for all body types.
- No photos of cosplayers while eating/drinking.
- Cosplay accuracy is only a preference.
- Be careful with compliments.
- Knowing the fandom is optional.
- Making your own costume is optional.
- Always tag/credit the cosplay photographer.
And there you have it; 10 cosplay rules explained for you.
I hope this post helps you with cosplay and conventions. Now you no longer have to worry about doing something wrong, because now you know all the cosplay rules in and out!
How do you feel about these cosplay rules? Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments below!
My name is Roger Senpai. I’m a cosplayer that’s been in the community for well over a decade now. I’ve traveled all over the world to Anime and Comic conventions and hosted my own cosplay events. Now I’m writing articles for new and experienced cosplayers like you to help inspire, save you money and improve your cosplays!