Photo by Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images.
A Beginner's Guide on Getting Into Cosplay as a Black Person
Cosplay is more mainstream in the U.S. than it’s ever been before, with Black cosplayers contributing to its rising popularity.
When Megan Thee Stallion cosplayed as fan-favorite Shoto Todoroki, from beloved anime and manga series My Hero Academia, for her unforgettable PAPER magazine cover story, it felt indicative of a shift. A practice most would associate with pop culture conventions like New York Comic Con or Anime NYC, cosplaying is more mainstream in the U.S. than it’s ever been before. From well-known artists doing anime cosplay (Megan dressing up as Todoroki or Lizzo and Saweetie both dressing up as Sailor Moon) to figures like Jihatsu and Kiera Please becoming popular cosplayers on social media, cosplaying has grown in popularity in recent years, especially among Black people.
A number of factors have contributed to this rise of Black cosplayers. Although it’s common for participants to cosplay as non-Black characters in TV, film, video games, and other forms of media, there are also just more Black characters to choose from, too. There are also more resources for people to find the items they want for their costumes, with brands like Becca Supreme’s Kembeckled and ThouArtAnuli’s Super Baddie Kawaii catering to cosplayers who want a colored afro-textured wig or cute lashes to go with their outfit. And lastly, there are more communal events for cosplayers, with Black-owned brands like Awkward Nerd Events, Black Fae Day, Sailor Boom Party, Shonen Pump Party, Trap Sushi ATL, LAN Party, and Plus Ultra Entertainment creating spaces for folks to wear their cosplays year-round.
However, if you’re not already a cosplayer, it’s understandable to get overwhelmed by wondering how you should go about getting into it. Do you pick who or what you want to cosplay as first? Do you have to make your own costume or are there people who can make it for you? Where do you go if you want to cosplay? Well, we created a guide on getting into cosplaying for those interested, and spoke with several Black cosplayers to share their experiences, tips, and advice for cosplay hopefuls who want to join the Black cosplay community.Members of the Black Cosplayers Meetup pose at Day 2 of WonderCon 2023 at Anaheim Convention Center on March 25, 2023 in Anaheim, California.
Members of the Black Cosplayers Meetup pose at Day 2 of WonderCon 2023 at Anaheim Convention Center on March 25, 2023 in Anaheim, California.Photo by Daniel Knighton/FilmMagic.
What is cosplay? Is cosplaying for me?
Cosplay (the combination of two words, costume, and play) is essentially Halloween but year-round, where you’re able to dress up as a person, place, or even thing. There are no rules except to dress up. While most people who cosplay are Japanese anime fans who like to dress up as their favorite anime characters, that’s not a requirement at all. Cosplayers dress up as all sorts of people or things, with some of the most popular being Batman cosplay and Starfire cosplay. But others have also dressed up as Kel Mitchell’s character in Good Burger (if he lived in different universes), the girl on the Morton salt can, and the “bagel” sound effect from Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, to name a few.
“As soon as the thought pops up in your head, you should go get the costume,” said BeccaSupreme, a cosplayer who’s also behind wig company Kimbeckled.
A cosplayer dressed as Black Cat from "Spider-Man" and the Marvel Universe arrives at New York Comic Con on October 05, 2019 in New York City.Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images.
How can I get started?
The first step is to figure out who or what you want to cosplay as.
“Maybe it's just a character from a show. It doesn't even have to be your favorite show, but maybe there's something you feel connected to and you want to try it,” LaNeysha Campbell, a cosplayer and writer for the pop culture site But Why Tho, said. “I would say start there because it's easier to be more excited about cosplaying a character from a medium that you're excited about or that you're passionate about, versus putting on a costume that you are not excited about at all.”
Once you determine that, you can do some research to see what kind of style you want to go for. ThouArtAnuli, a cosplayer, member of LAN Party (a New York-based collective of content creators who throw events), and owner of apparel brand Super Baddie Kawaii, said Pinterest is a go-to for inspired looks, while VantaCreates, a cosplayer and digital creator, suggested looking to artist drawings for inspiration.
“Back in the day, we didn't have Starfire drawn as a Black woman. We didn't have a Black Princess Peach. But now we do, and there's tons of artists out there you can just ask for permission to use [for cosplay inspiration],” VantaCreates said.
From there, many cosplayers recommend starting with a “closet cosplay.” This type of cosplay includes taking your day-to-day clothes from your wardrobe to put together an outfit that resembles the character you’re cosplaying. Then, you can figure out how you want to get your costume, whether that be purchasing it from an online store, making it yourself, or hiring someone else to make it, all of which have their respective pros and cons. Sure, when it comes to making your own you might be saving on money, but it also may not come out like you envisioned. If you’re paying someone to make it, it’ll likely come out closer to what you wanted (especially if you’re a person with an underrepresented body type), but it’ll probably cost more, too. Work within your parameters and remember that the most important part is the cosplaying and not the making of it.
“Being a cosplayer is not solely about you creating the costume yourself. It's about you cosplaying the characters. It's about you being that character. It's not about whether you sewed this dress or crafted a sword for 16 hours,” Campbell said. “Either way, you're legitimately doing it, and that's what made me feel more comfortable [to] call myself a cosplayer, too.”
A cosplayer dressed as Chibiusa Tsukino from Sailor Moon during Day 3 of New York Comic Con 2021 at Jacob Javits Center on October 09, 2021 in New York City.Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for ReedPop.
Do I have to dress and look exactly like the character? What if I want to remix the cosplay?
Remixing or combining characters and ideas is often done and encouraged. If you’re not worried about accuracy, don’t feel pressured to have a costume that’s an exact replica of who or what you’re cosplaying as. If you want to give them fancy and elaborate eye makeup, or have them wear fishnets or gloves, it’s all up to you.
Many Black cosplayers incorporate their natural features into their cosplay in ways that feel more authentic to themselves, too. This is one of the reasons Becca Supreme began their business, Kimbeckled. After being tired of “shiny wigs” from costume stores, Becca chose to either alter their own natural kinky hair or make wigs that look like that. They also enjoy remixing characters that they cosplay, usually adding nose piercings to a character because they personally love nose jewelry.
Lizzette Lewis, better known as cosplayer Sailor Xtasy, has also become known for making popular remixes of characters, whether that be fusing two characters together (like this one of Sailor Moon and Harley Quinn) or using a particular standout fabric on a traditional costume (like her Ghanaian Kente cloth Sailor Sun).
“Most people love seeing different versions of their favorite characters,” ThouArtAnuli said. “It's like a collection of Pokemon — it's so many iterations.”
Members of the Black Cosplayers Meetup pose at Day 2 of WonderCon 2023 at Anaheim Convention Center on March 25, 2023 in Anaheim, California.Photo by Daniel Knighton/FilmMagic
What if I don’t have much money?
Closet cosplay is often the cheapest and easiest way to begin cosplaying. It’s also not uncommon to find pieces in popular clothing stores like Forever 21 or H&M, as well as thrift stores. Campbell shared a time she put together a Bumblebee cosplay on a budget of $40, making a shirt herself and only needing to buy a pair of boots and a skirt for the costume.
However, you can find affordable costume sellers online, especially on Etsy and eBay. Items are usually sold for less than $100, and they also take exact measurements, too (a plus considering sites that sell costumes tend to be size restrictive).
People dressed in costumes pose during the 5th annual Anime NYC at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on November 18, 2022 in New York City. Over 50,000 fans are expected during the three-day convention which is a three-day celebration of Japanese animation and culture.Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images.
Can I only cosplay at conventions?
Of course, you can head to any pop culture convention to cosplay. There are hundreds — big and small — across the world after all, whether you’re looking for one that’s strictly anime or is a more broad pop culture convention. There are also Black-owned or organized conventions like Dream Con, Blerd Con, CAAMCon Black Comics Festival, and Schomburg Center’s Black Comic Book Festival. But really, you can cosplay anywhere. No event or occasion is necessary.
“I cosplay all the freaking time. I literally will go to a rave and be like, ‘OK, but I'm gonna give a little bit of a Sailor Moon,’” ThouArtAnuli said, adding that she sometimes cosplays at home, too.
If you’re uncomfortable with dressing up on the regular, try and find events that encourage cosplay. In New York City for example, there are countless cosplay events put on by Black-owned brands: the Sailor Boom Party (a hip-hop and cosplay party), the Shonen Pump Party (a celebration of Caribbean and anime music), and LAN Party (who’s primarily known for the after parties they put on for pop culture and anime conventions). Nearby in D.C., there's also Plus Ultra Entertainment, which describes itself as an “inclusive nerd space for the Black diaspora dedicated to curating events and other unique opportunities that showcase and highlight various aspects of Black nerd culture.” Cosplay hopefuls in the South also have their own spaces with Trap Sushi ATL, which describes itself as an “experience fusing Atlanta + Japanese pop culture.” If you’re not in any of those cities, there’s Black Fae Day, an annual online movement where Black people dress up as fairies and elves (although they have in-person events around the U.S., too)
The beauty of more small-scale spaces like this is that they’re not as overwhelming as a convention, which can be a challenge to navigate as a cosplay newcomer. But they’re also affirming, too, as places made in response to some of the hostility — both off and online — Black cosplayers face.
“I’ve seen all the hate that Black cosplayers get. I’ve seen the hate that they get on the internet. I see the hate that they get in person. For a lot of people, especially the new people nowadays, it’s a thing where they lose confidence quickly because words do hurt, things people say hurt,” said Contro1freak, the DJ behind Shonen Pump Party. “It’s important in general for Black cosplayers to have a safe space where they can go and cosplay outside of conventions.”
Kiera Please attends the BoxLunch AX after party at The GRAMMY Museum on July 01, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for BoxLunch.
Who are some cosplayers I should look to for inspiration? How can I find them?
Social media is very helpful when it comes to finding Black cosplayers. Just like there’s Black Twitter, there’s Black Anime Twitter (or Black AniTwitter) that you can tap into. Several groups have communities on Discord and Facebook that are free to join, too, like Black Cosplay, Black Fae Everyday, Cosplaying While Black, and LAN Party.
But if you want a more direct group of people to follow, here are some recommendations by the cosplayers interviewed:
@CutiePieSensei, @RinneGoddess, @kiasangriany, @stallicorn, @beatbydime, @empressjasmine, @wendellcosplays, @chibithot, @tranquilashes, @chibimagicalgirl, @bishoujo_asia, @jihatsu, @afrococoapuffs, @finallyfamace_, @sunflowersinpai, and @senpaisunny
Along with these recommendations, some of the cosplayers also suggested reaching out to ones you already follow, and asking them for advice in cosplaying and joining the cosplay community, with ThouArtAnuli saying: “We love when people are expressing interest, and we're like, ‘Yes. Yeah, join us. It's great over here.’”
Another great cosplay resource that was born out of social media is the #28DaysOfBlackCosplay hashtag. Created by Chaka Cumberbatch (aka @princessology), the hashtag is used each February to celebrate Black cosplayers and encourage them to post their cosplays throughout the entire month. Some post each day, while others post once or twice during the month. Others simply post cosplayers they want to uplift. The hashtag, which has been used on over 70,000 posts on Instagram, has become one of the most popular ways to find Black cosplayers or share one’s cosplay.
Black Panther cosplayers Brandon Jackson as Killmonger (R) and Braxton Jackson as Black Panther pose at Day 2 of WonderCon 2023 at Anaheim Convention Center on March 25, 2023 in Anaheim, California.Photo by Daniel Knighton/FilmMagic.
Anything else I should know?
Unfortunately, whenever a Black person does, well, anything, there are likely to be racists, trolls, and haters. But the Black cosplay community is strong and supportive, with Becca Supreme stressing the importance of finding a community that extends beyond the internet.
Campbell shared a similar sentiment, saying: “Don't let anyone tell you who you can and can't cosplay. You're gonna have an interaction with someone in your comments, and they're going to try to dump on your cosplays. They're gonna say something negative about it, do not give those people energy.”
“Do not let those people stop you from doing what you're doing, and I encourage you to keep doing it if it's something that you enjoy, you love to do, because that's the most important part of it,” she added.
Getting into cosplay can be intimidating, but once you make that first step and just immerse yourself in it, it becomes easier along the way.
“If you spend so much time being afraid and wondering what other people are going to say about you, then you won't do anything, and you have to break yourself out of it,” Vanta said. “I'm really talking to myself, but it’s good advice as well.”
Victoria Johnson is a writer, host, and podcaster with over 10 years of experience reporting on music, anime, comic books, and film/TV. Her byline can be found in several outlets including Complex, Teen Vogue, Vulture, Polygon, Mashable, and VIBE. Victoria currently hosts the Sailor Moon Fan Club podcast, a three-year-long running show where she interviews incredible Sailor Moon fans (previous guests include Saweetie, Baby Tate, and Sasha Banks). Victoria also regularly produces and moderates panels for conventions, including San Diego Comic-Con, New York Comic Con, C2E2, and Anime NYC.
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