Unveiling the Secrets to Recognizable Plain Clothes Cosplay

Not every character you may want to cosplay wears a distinctive suit with a huge emblem on their chest to identify them. In fact, some of them wear more or less the same things we might. So how do you make your plain-clothes characters recognizable? The Phoenix Sisters are here to advise.

While roleplaying or photographing a character in everyday attire may seem simplistic, the art lies in capturing the essence of our beloved characters. Fear not, cosplayers, for we unveil the secrets to mastering recognizable plain clothes cosplay!

Strike the Pose

Much like the stars they emulate, cosplayers can channel the spirit of their characters through iconic poses.

One example is the Sailor Scouts from Sailor Moon. These characters spend as much time out of costume (if not more) as they do in costume, but they have signature poses that make them instantly recognizable. For example, Rei, aka Sailor Mars, stops mid-strut for one of her main freeze-frames. Meanwhile, Minako, aka Sailor Venus, points an accusing finger when she breaks the fourth wall. So, when we did pop punk outfits for these two, we made sure to strike those specific poses.

Accessorize with Purpose

A well-chosen prop can really identify a character for the viewer, even if they don’t have a signature symbol.

Take our “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” shoot, for example. Faith’s special knife that she got from the mayor and Buffy’s trusty stake serve as visual cues that instantly connect us cosplayers to our chosen roles. They also add depth and authenticity to their portrayal. Using these props helps us pose in ways that show what these characters love to do—the roleplay part of cosplay, if you will.

You can also use a prop in the background. For her Jessica Jones cosplay, Kelly used a well-placed liquor bottle to remind us of Jessica’s struggle with coping mechanisms. By placing this prop in the background, we subtly referenced Jessica’s background struggle within the photo.

Celebrate Iconic Features

Sometimes, it’s the subtle details that make all the difference. By highlighting features synonymous with the actors who brought these characters to life, such as Sarah Michelle Gellar’s distinctive nose, cosplayers can pay homage to the iconic portrayals that have captured our hearts.

Check out Crayle’s contouring job in her Buffy photo to see what we mean. Make-up can be a useful tool in making you look more like a certain actor or character, making even the simplest facial expressions resemble those of the character.

Speaking of facial expressions, we always recommend practicing the faces characters make in the mirror before hitting the con floor or stepping into the photography studio. Muscle memory applies to facial expressions too, and like so many other things, practice makes perfect.

Accentuate Unique Traits

Beyond the clothes they wear and the facial expressions they make, characters are also defined by unique choices they make to keep up a certain aesthetic.

For instance, Faith has a tribal tattoo on her bicep, so Kelly always draws that on.

In “Death Note,” Misa Amane wears a different outfit almost every episode, but her hair is almost always styled the same way. So, Crayle made sure to style her hair in Misa’s signature pigtails when she cosplayed her.

Quick Tip:

To get small pigtails to stand up more (like Misa’s), as opposed to laying flat against your head, use multiple hair ties. Layering them on top of each other gathers the hair further away from the scalp.

The Power of Pairings

Placing your character alongside a more recognizable counterpart can instantly elevate their recognizability.

Karen Page may dress pretty plainly in business casual most days, but when you put her next to the Punisher or Daredevil, you can instantly tell who she is. Crayle conscripted her husband to do just that this past February for a downtown photoshoot.

If you can’t find someone who already cosplays a main character, you can always do what the Phoenix Sisters do: convince someone (politely, of course) and help them put the costume together.

Set the Scene

Context is key when it comes to plain clothes cosplay. By selecting the right setting, you can remind viewers who your character is through their surroundings.

Cassandra and Eve from “The Librarians” each have their own style—Cassandra with quirky color combinations and Eve with a more government agent look. But it’s much more clear that they are from “The Librarians” when we stage these characters next to a massive bookcase full of tomes and curios.

Setting the stage is even more important for Crayle’s Karen Page, whose style can be less distinct. To make her instantly recognizable, we always had notebooks on hand and even posed her right outside a newspaper office to remind everyone that Karen becomes a journalist.

Add Creative Edits

In the digital age, the possibilities for creative expression are limitless. You can add extra effects or context to your cosplay photos through various programs. While Photoshop is a popular choice, we prefer Canva and Paint.net, both of which are free.

For our “Librarians” photos, we took a shot that already included the magical news clippings book up front and center, and then edited Cassandra’s visualizations from when she explains “mathemagics” to the rest of the team.

For a Sarah Connor cosplay, we created a Wanted poster with fun text on it to immerse you in the world that Skynet tried to create for humanity. Sometimes, just adding the right text or logo to a photo makes a plain clothes cosplay recognizable. In fact, there’s nothing stopping you from typing the character’s name or catchphrase right onto the image.

In the game of plain clothes cosplay, every detail matters. By incorporating these tips into your cosplay repertoire, you’ll be sure to capture the essence of your characters so that other people can identify and enjoy them right away. But even if others don’t recognize you, remember that the point is to have fun. Embrace your inner hero and cosplay whoever you want, even if people don’t get your character right away.

Hey, have you ever wanted to dress the Phoenix Sisters up, like they were your own personal dolls? You haven’t? … Well now, we’re sure you kind of do! And you can! Just get the PSC Paper Doll packs here: https://www.patreon.com/phoenixsiscosplay/shop

Follow Phoenix Sisters Cosplay HERE.

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