Either way, you’re here. Looking to make a costume, which can be a somewhat daunting task, especially right in the beginning, when you’re unsure where to begin.
Making a costume is not unlike writing a thesis paper or a business plan; it’s a lot of different components that have to successfully blend together to become one cohesive item. It helps to simplify by breaking things down to easy, organized steps.
Step One: Picking A Character
There are many reasons people pick the characters they do, when making a costume. Maybe they look like the character or share a similar build. Maybe they have similar personality traits, or it could be just as straightforward as a favorite character, knowing his or her history and having somewhat of a relationship with the character. I kind of like starting there, because I feel like understanding a character can play a huge part in how you represent them in costume, but that by no means is the only way to go about it.
Even if you already know which character you want to be, there’s still a lot of questions to be answered before you’re ready to begin construction.
As an example, let’s say you want to be Batman (…who doesn’t, at some point?).
What version of your character are you doing?
Are you going to make the old blue and gray Batman, or keep up with the times and attempt Christian Bale’s armored cowl? One of those is a lot more easy than the other, and while I wouldn’t discourage someone from making Bale’s costume if they were set on it, keep in mind that the more complicated the costume, the more time-intensive it will be.
Do you want to replicate the costume as closely as possible?
Or are you making your own version? For example, gender-bent or a wild west Batman. Maybe you’re going to simplify it and combine armor panels to make it easier to create and assemble. Either way, these are things you should be thinking about first and foremost, so you’re not backtracking any more than necessary later on.
Step Two: Gather Reference Images
Oh, the internet.
Thank god for the internet.
It makes this process so much easier than ever before.
The benefit of choosing a comic book character, aka one that is illustrated frequently and in multiple poses, is the fact that it’s typically not too difficult to find a 360˚ view of the costume you want to replicate. If it’s a version you came up with on your own, this is still useful, as in order to be recognizable, there are key features in every character that are identifiable regardless of the theme or change around.
One of the key phrases I use when searching for images is “concept art.” Even when looking for a comic book character (as opposed to a videogame or movie rendition), there’s often someone whose made a 360˚ representation of them, as a project for school or just for practice… etc. It’s really helpful and often a good way of weeding out unnecessary images (Have you tried google image searching “Batman” lately?).
Other ways of getting reference images aside from a search engine: comic books and compilations, movie and television screencaps, and also statues/figures (especially because they’re three dimensional!)
Step Three: Lists! Lists, lists, lists!
Sometimes even with all these images in front of you, and a character chosen, it’s still daunting to decide where to begin. I like to break down the components of each costume in various lists to help me stay focused and not forget anything.
What are the basic pieces you will need?
The beginning structure. Are you going to make a jumpsuit? Shirt and pants? Will you need special shoes or gloves?
What can you purchase?
Making a purchase list is the most efficient way to ensure you get everything you need – much like making a grocery list for the week or a specific recipe. I break down my lists in one of two ways, depending on the costume. One, by each individual item needed (Glove materials, boots materials, mask materials) or two, by stores I need to go to.
A lot of every day items can look like something entirely different with a little spray paint, especially with accessories like weaponry or a headpiece.
Will you have to learn anything new to make this costume?
Making a costume is more than just sewing up the jumpsuit and calling it done. Things like masks and utility belts can be complicated and require processes that you’re unfamiliar with. There are numerous tutorials online to learn about different materials to make things, but making a list of what you need to figure out is a good way to start your thought process. I tend to make a bookmark list too, with some tutorials I’ve found online, such as making molds or even seaming things like an invisible zipper.
Most importantly: a lot of costuming is trial and error, so remember to allow time for making mistakes and learning from them, as cheesy as it sounds. Even though you might not figure it out right the first time, sometimes seeing how something doesn’t work is often just as useful and important.
Make sure you think about your deadline (the con or where you’re wearing this to) and whether it’s feasible for you to make this costume and learn everything you need to before then. Rushing on finishing techniques is frustrating and disappointing, so overestimating how much time you think it will take is one way to help prevent that.
So now you know everything you need to start! In the next update, I’ll talk about how best to go about figuring out where to start, purchasing everything, and common troubleshooting spots and errors, such as what measurements are needed for what!