The next step is to start researching! This can be time-intensive even if you generally know what you are looking for, but even more so if you don’t, so here’s a few pointers. Often, research and costume breakdowns (as described both in the panel linked above and in the section below) go hand-in-hand, since you may need to research what something is before you can come up with any sort of plan for it.
- Get your references in order. If the costume is from a live-action property, you may get lucky and find information from the costumers or from other fans who have seen the costumes in person (or spent the hours watching the series or movie so you don’t have to). If the costume is from a video game, see if models of the character have been released or ripped. Some game companies also put out cosplay guides these days with breakdowns in them! If the costume is from a 2D animated property, see if character reference sheets have been released. These should show all angles of the character in order to keep the artists on model as they draw.
- Look for tutorials or WIPs posted by other cosplayers of the same outfit. This doesn’t always exist, but you may get lucky and see someone else’s breakdown of the outfit, how they made specific pieces, or if you get extra lucky, you might find a tutorial or other instruction on how to make specific pieces. Don’t count on finding this, but it’s a good thing to just see if it exists.
- Use other cosplayers as a guide. This doesn’t mean that you should copy everything they did, but rather to look and see what others cosplayers did and whether it works for you or not. What fabrics did they use? What other materials? How does it appear to wear? How did they interpret tricky bits of the design? Seeing how others turned something from an image into real life may spark some inspiration, and can give you ideas on what works (and doesn’t) in real life.
- Determine who this character is. What culture are they from? Era? If their garments are inspired by historical and cultural garments, looking up information about how to make garments of that culture and era can help you gain pattern and tutorials for those garments. It helps to first find out the name of the garment if it is something you are unfamiliar with, and then look for how-tos from there. You may not end up making something entirely culturally accurate, since it’s a cosplay, but it can get you much closer to modify the types of garments that the costume design is based on. If the setting is purely fictional, is it based on any particular culture and era? For example, many fantasy series are loosely based on medieval Europe, and looking at clothing from that culture can help you figure out what you are looking at and how to make it, even if it will almost certainly require modifications.
- Once you have determined who the character is, you can use that for more editorial decisions about the costume as well. What fabrics would this character wear? Would it be mostly natural or synthetic fibers, or does it not matter? Is the outfit more formal or casual? What textures would make the most sense? How can you make the colors and textures cohesive in real life? What kind of weathering and other details would this costume have? Much of this will be determined by the nature of the costume itself (such as requiring a stretch fabric for a bodysuit), but you will always have at least some leeway to make these decisions.
- Once you have your breakdown done, how are you going to make each piece? Are you doing sewing with fabrics? Armor? How are you going to attach pieces together? What is the order of the layers of the costume? How are you going to finish items on the surface (such as painting vs. using vinyl on armor pieces)? Even if you have some ideas, I would recommend combing through as many tutorials as you can get your hands on for more ideas on construction methods, especially on specialty sewing techniques you may not find in commercial patterns or sewing books and on cosplay-specific crafting methods like armor.
- Combing through the sections for what you are making on our master tutorial list, as well as doing research on your own on the google, can give you many ideas on how to go about construction. Choose a method that fits your skill level, time budget, money budget, and the effect you want for the costume. You can place any level of importance you want on those individual categories, and even take into consideration other things, such as comfort. Even if you don’t know the specifics of what you want to do and are just looking through, say, the armor section or the horns section generally, you can apply the principles of those tutorials to the specific costume you are making, and even combine techniques if you find something that seems like it would work.
- If you find a tutorial or advice on a technique but it’s not for the specific outfit you are doing, keep in mind that shapes and colors can always be changed to adapt to what you need.
While you are doing your research, it helps to also be simultaneously working on a breakdown. This is a listing of everything in the costume that you will need, and can range from very basic to very complex. This will help you to know what you are looking at when you are looking at a complex costume, will help break down the costume into manageable pieces, and will give you a starting place to work from.
- Get your references in order. Clear images that show are angles are best, but not always possible to find, depending on the design (I’ve personally done a lot of weird old JRPG cosplay where there is only one image of the outfit…). If there are multiple conflicting references, combine them for the effect you like best, or choose one and stick with it. If you are to be competing with the costume, be sure to include all references and explain your rationale for choosing from one ref or another.
- Start labeling each part of the costume. It can help to print out a physical copy of a full body shot or character reference sheet so that you can label each piece of the costume and sketch out parts that may be unclear or that you want to fully understand how they work. You can also sketch out things like the layering of parts of how pieces attach to each other, or any modifications you are making or parts you have to make up (such as if there is no back shot of the outfit).
- I like to make an Excel spreadsheet that lists each material I need, how much I need, and the estimated cost, since it helps to see each material clearly laid out and helps with budgeting. Some people prefer to use an app like Cosplanner. Do your breakdowns however fit you best.
- Start with the most general and move into more specific. For example, first label “skirt” and “blouse,” and then go into more specific things such as “circle skirt” or “knife pleated skirt,” and then even more specific, such as listing out potential materials, tutorials you might use, patterns you might use, etc. This is why a lot of your research and breakdown work will happen simultaneously!
- Figure out material choices, as discussed above. If you are stuck on materials, look at the backs of pattern envelopes for similar garment types and see what they suggest. I also recommend simply going to a fabric store and looking at and touching fabrics (and taking flash photos) in order to find materials that have the properties you need. Does the material on the reference look thick or thin? Does it drape stiffly or fluidly? Does it have any particular shine to it, and if so, what is the quality of that shine? Does the fabric need to stretch in order to encapsulate the body?
- While choosing materials, also keep in mind things like who the character is/the the world they come from, your skill level, your budget, and your personal comfort. If you are going to be wearing something covering in a warm climate, for example, be sure to choose natural fibers so the costume breathes.
- Start gathering things like tutorials and patterns. If you don’t know where to start on sewing something, look at the shapes of the garment compared to real-life garments, including what other cosplayers have done. Look at sewing patterns and see what types of garments are similar to the garments you are trying to make, and start thinking about how to modify the shapes into what you need. If you are doing historical costuming, do the same, only with historical or culturally-specific garments. If doing armor, see how others have patterned armor in similar shapes.
- Start figuring out how to make things! Once you know what everything is in the costume and you have some ideas of techniques, you can start deciding on techniques to use. You may find it helpful to create a document that you write out your breakdown in (so listing out each piece) and then creating a written description of the item, adding reference images, and compiling links to tutorials. This way, you can always go back and reference this document later when you are working on the costume, ensuring that you don’t lose any of your important references or tutorials. If you are competing, you have the added bonus of being able to adapt this document into one where you record what you ended up doing to present to the judges.
This may seem like a lot of steps, and it is, but once you gain experience with cosplay, a lot of this becomes quick decisions that you can make based on your experience. It can be very helpful to look at something as overwhelming as an entire character design and break it down into smaller, manageable components, especially if you are just starting out on your cosplay crafting journey and don’t know where to begin. By following a step-by-step road map such as this, you can get over that initial hurdle and start making!
I see what you mean about the top half and bottom half not seeming to line up. It isn’t that they don’t line up, it’s that the garments are made out of a fabric that doesn’t exist.
The open shirt seems to be long and continue down into the sheer part on the bottom as a single garment. The purple garment appears to be a separate skirt. While you can find (or dye) sheer fabric that goes from white to black in a gradient, you aren’t going to find fabric that goes from sheer to opaque in a gradient.
This is what I would advise: make the long open shirt garment out of a white to black gradient chiffon, whether you buy that material or dye it to have the gradient. If you are able to dye it, nylon chiffon tricot would have almost the exact same drape and sheerness level as the white on the reference. Nylon can be dyed, but it requires high heat and acid dye or acid added to the dyebath, and getting a smooth gradient may be difficult. A sheer material like chiffon will become more opaque once dyed a dark color, though it will never be fully opaque.
Then, for the top part, above the belt at the waist, line the garment with an opaque fabric, but continue the sheer material all the way up so it looks cohesive. This way, you can get the crisper and more opaque look of the top half, the belt will hide where the fabric transitions, and you can still get the look of the sheer material. Use more of the sheer material, this time overlaid on a longer piece of the same opaque material but not sewn down to it on the bottom, for the shoulder cape detailing.
If you do go with chiffon tricot, an advantage is that the edges don’t fray since it’s a knit and not a woven, so you can get the tears along the edge of the sheer fabric on the capelet without having to worry about finishing the edges. If you get a polyester woven chiffon, you can melt the edges with a lighter (carefully, and in a well-ventilated area), and if you get a silk chiffon, you can do a very small rolled hem for those areas.
Oh, JRPG-style clothing designs with few references. I will do my best. (I do a lot of this kind of thing for my own cosplay work, and often just have to shrug and make something up)
The garment seems to be based on a robe design, only it’s half a robe (sleeve + half the chest + bottom drape). The black robe is a separate garment underneath, which you can see on the left part of the first image – the purple part seems to stand away from the chest (and the black part) just above the sash in the middle. The black robe underneath contains the god + decorations on the chest and gold , decorations underneath, while the purple seems to be edges in thin gold trim. The problem is that the part above the sash and below the sash don’t seem to line up.
This is what I would do: get some fabric and try draping this on a form. It can be you or someone close in size to you if you don’t have a dressform (or don’t want to make one out of tape). There’s a few things you would need to experiment with.
First, try taking a long, thin rectangle of cloth and see if you can get it to drape the way the artwork shows. I think this is what it is /supposed/ to be, but I have a feeling it isn’t going to to drape correctly.
The next idea would be to take a diagonally-cut piece of fabric and try wrapping it and see how that works.
If that doesn’t work, you may need to create a seam that is hidden underneath the sash that attaches the two together but allows for the top to fit properly and the bottom drape to hang properly.
While doing your draping, be sure to put a sash or a sash placeholder on top to see how the top and bottom look with the sash on and to make sure that the draping stays in place. You can see on some of the artwork that the purple fabric on his left side (our right) bulges out some, as if there is extra fabric there. Try arranging it so that this happens and see how it affects the drape of the bottom.
As for how it all goes together, it seems as if it’s a separate garment worn over a black robe. I’m not sure how the tails work in the back, so that will be up for interpretation. I would probably do something similar for the back and the front if I were making this, though you can always end it at the waist in the back. I would personally interpret the extra floaty bit of purplish fabric off to the side and behind him (behind his hand that’s holding the weapon) as part of the tails or drape from the backside.
I also sent this to my gf for a second opinion (thanks, babe!), and she sees the purple garment as a jacket worn on only one arm, with the extra hanging bits on the side where the bottom drape is as the other sleeve. This would honestly be an easier way to construct this, so I would mess around with a lightweight jacket or button-up shirt to see if you can replicate the effect, and then use that as a pattern reference. You may still need to lengthen the bottom drape on his right (our left) side, but that might get you closer.
The purple part also has two rows of circular-cut ruffles near the shoulder, which you can see clearly on the right side of the first image and on the sprite image. One row seems to be above the arm/over the shoulder, and the other seems to be below the arm. These seem to continue onto the back. There may be a third either ruffle or flap of fabric underneath the bottom ruffle (underneath the word “fantasy” on the top image on the far right side), right on the side of the garment, but it is unclear in the refs what exactly that drape is or where it comes from, so use your best judgment there.
If you need to keep the drape in place on the bottom, you can use snaps or hooks so it attaches invisibly to the black garment underneath.
Really, most of this garment is going to be trying things out, draping fabric, tacking it in places, and seeing how it looks, since a lot of it is open to interpretation without clearer references.
Gold iron-on vinyl is probably going to be your best bet, since you’ll be able to cut it to shape and attach it without visible stitching. It also won’t fray at the edges, so stitching won’t be needed. The problem would be the size of the vinyl, since even the rolls sold for hobby use aren’t very large. In order to get around this (and have a more efficient use of material), you may need to hide small seams in the trim so that the designs are made of different pieces. I would recommend hiding any seams in a place where they won’t be as noticeable, such as where a seam would naturally be. The best place on the hanging parts on the lower portion of the tunic would be just above the filigree designs at the bottom, so that the thicker design portion is one piece and the long strips are separate. Another possibility would be to create the trim as one piece (or two pieces) and the filigree as a separate piece in the middle.
Red lines denote seams. First option is on the right; second option is on the left.
By hiding the seams in the vinyl along natural break points, they won’t be as visible than if you put them somewhere in the middle.
If you don’t want to use heat-transfer vinyl, you can also just regular vinyl (such as the gold matte 4-way pleather from the Yaya Han collection at Joann’s) and use an iron-on adhesive such as extra strength Heat N Bond; the problem with this method is that it won’t be quite as sturdy, but it should hold up if you make sure to touch up the attachment every so often. Make sure that whatever fabric you use, the edges don’t fray.
I know that this is almost the opposite of “no topstitching,” but if you wanted a more dimensional look, you could also satin stitch the whole thing so that the pattern is raised embroidery rather than fabric.