Cosplay Etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts to Say to a Cosplayer

When I started cosplaying in 2011, I never expected the community to be as big as it is today. I started at a small convention in Sacramento, CA and thought it was a cool experience to get your favorite fans together and dress up as different characters.

Today, cosplay has become a massive multimedia phenomenon, with thousands of cosplayers on social media. Since the start of the pandemic, the cosplay scene on TikTok has exploded with notable social media influencers like Taya Miller, Alyson Tabbitha, and Jennings Brower.

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With cosplay now in the mainstream, that means a lot of people try to say what cosplayers like. While many comments are great for building a cosplayer’s confidence, there are also others that can make a cosplayer uncomfortable and frustrated with her words.

Last month, we asked cosplayers what they’d like people to know about cosplay etiquette, and decided to compile a list of do’s and don’ts to say and do to a cosplayer, both online and in person at events.

No one is the “best” cosplayer

Cosplayers are not actors. There is not one person who plays the character, but rather hundreds of different people, all dressed as that character. When you tell a cosplayer, “you are 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.

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

Give unwanted suggestions

If a cosplayer is dressed up as a certain character, chances are they just like them. That doesn’t mean they hate the other characters, just that they like one more than the others. That said, cosplaying as one person doesn’t give you the right to say, “You would have looked better as [insert character here] instead.” Saying this to a cosplayer makes one feel frustrated because it’s not about how a person looks. It’s about them feeling safe with the person they’re portraying.

Cosplayers are not quiz games

When you see a cosplayer, that doesn’t mean they absolutely know every little detail about the character or the fandom they’re in. , video game, etc.

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Approaching a cosplayer and questioning him immediately puts him on the defensive because you’re implying that he shouldn’t dress up as that character because he doesn’t know everything. Fun fact: you don’t need to know everything about a character to dress it up. This also applies to cosplayers. If a person comes up to you and compliments you on your outfit, that doesn’t mean you should start asking questions.

Take photos of cosplayers

Cosplayers like being able to have downtime at a convention. Just like actors, they can’t be in costume all day and need a few breaks. When a cosplayer is in line to go to the bathroom or get something to eat, that means you shouldn’t take any photos of them.

The most important thing you can do is like you can take a picture. DO NOT try to take a photo secretly. Ask first! If he says no, then say thanks and walk away. Saying no is not an invitation to continue pestering them over a photo, as it will only make you look worse.

If the cosplayer says yes, strike a pose and then say thank you. When you take photos, that also means you shouldn’t try to take additional photos as well. This is explained in more detail in the “Cosplay is not consent” section.

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Lastly, if you see a cosplayer taking a break with parts of their cosplay removed, don’t run and ask for a photo. They want to relax for a while. Conventions consume a lot of energy and everyone needs to take a break from time to time.

Note to cosplayers: If your photo is taken and the photographer has a watermark, 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 to cosplay photographers: Remember, cosplayers can take photos with other photographers. You do not own anyone. You can take photos with whomever you feel comfortable with.

cosplay hobbies vs. cosplay work

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

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

If you want to buy a cosplay, check out many of the freelance artists on Etsy or look for cosplayers who actually have commissions on their social media bios. Not all cosplayers do it for a living. Many just want to keep cosplay as a hobby.

cosplay is not consent

If you’ve been to a convention, you’ve probably seen a sign that says, “Cosplay is NOT consent.” To put it bluntly, 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 for a photo and all of a sudden they 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’s completely covered in body paint. Strike a pose that doesn’t include you touching the cosplayer. There are many different options.

Note: This also applies to accessories. If you ask to hold a cosplayer’s accessory and they say yes, don’t swing it. It is a support for a reason. Hold it like porcelain and then gently return it to the cosplayer.

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When you’re at a convention, you can’t sneak photos of cosplayers either. Photographers who try to sneakily take pictures of people have been banned from conventions and may even be banned for life if they sexually harass cosplayers by trying to take upskirt pictures of them. Just don’t do it.

Cosplaying is also not a reason for you to try to flirt with cosplayers. I have seen messages from people on my Instagram asking about my age, interests, and even messages like, “I want to get to know myself better.” My social networks are not an invitation for you to try to be my friend or flirt with me.

Finally, and this is important, don’t start asking cosplayers sexual questions while they’re in costume. If they have a partner with them, don’t ask them either. It is extremely unnecessary and inappropriate. This also applies online as well. Do not go commenting like this on your social networks. 99% of the time they will block you.

Ask about who they’re dressing up

If you don’t know how a cosplayer dresses up, just ask them like this: “Hey, I love your cosplay, but I don’t know what it’s about. May I ask who you’re representing? Complimenting a cosplayer and then asking is much more respectful than just saying “what are you supposed to be?” He appears distant and makes the cosplayer feel invalidated as well.

MCM London 2021 Cosplay Gallery

On top of this, don’t comment on what the 5th person you’ve seen cosplaying that character is like. Yes, we know that characters like Scarlet Witch and Loki are popular. We, like any other cosplayer who likes that character, just want to have fun. Again, cosplay is not a competition.

criticizing cosplayers

This is a huge problem in the cosplay community. Cosplayers don’t want criticism. We’ve spent hours and hours looking at references, screenshots, and even character models that we know almost every little detail that goes into an outfit. If something was missing or added, it was probably the cosplayer’s choice.

MCM London 2021 Cosplay Gallery

We as cosplayers are already our own worst critic, so we certainly don’t need unwanted advice from others, both in person and online. This also applies to cosplayers talking to each other. If you see another cosplayer wearing the same cosplay, don’t go criticizing them. Unless the cosplay specifically asks for it, then you have no right to do so.

Loan / Sale of cosplays

One of my biggest complaints 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 don’t know borrow one of my cosplays. In fact, I only let one of my closest friends lend me a cosplay and we were both in the same photo shoot together, so I got it back at the end of the day.

To be honest, most cosplayers don’t feel comfortable lending cosplays to strangers. It’s like someone borrowing a book and never getting it back. We spend so much time and money on our cosplays that the last thing we want is for someone to steal them from us. And, most of the time, cosplays suit us, so the chances of someone else’s measurements being exactly the same are very low.

Official Florida Supercon Cosplay Gallery

There are also many cases where cosplayers will sell their cosplays online. There are many cosplay sale groups on Facebook just for that reason. But if a cosplayer doesn’t say outright that a cosplay is for sale, then don’t ask them to buy it.

Cosplayer is not equal to character

If a cosplayer dresses up as a character you don’t particularly like, that doesn’t mean the cosplayer is REALLY that character. There’s no need to walk up to a cosplayer and say, “I hate this character.” It will just annoy them. Think if you were in their shoes: if you spend countless hours in a cosplay and someone tells you that they hate who you are cosplaying, how would you feel?

Note: This also applies to fandoms. If a character is from a fandom you don’t like, keep it to yourself. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.

In addition to this, don’t immediately assume that the cosplayer you approach at a convention will act exactly like that character. Think of them as a person in costume, not an actor playing a character in costume.

Cosplay is for EVERYONE

No matter your race, gender, body type, etc., cosplay is for everyone. If a black cosplayer dresses up as Wonder Woman, then she is Wonder Woman. She is not Nubian or “black” Wonder Woman. This also applies to genres. If a woman is disguised as Loki and is specifically The dark world Loki, so they are Loki. They are not “Lady” or “Girl” Loki. (Lady Loki is a completely different character.)

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The community does not tolerate any kind of shaming of a cosplayer based on their appearance. No one has to look exactly like the character to dress it up. Cosplaying is all about having fun and dressing up. Think of it like Halloween all year long, but with lots of different places to go and take photos instead of just buying candy from neighbors’ houses.

Do you have any cosplay tags that are not mentioned in this list? Be sure to let us know by sending us a message on Cosplay Central’s Instagram, Twitterand/or Facebook.