Go for it!
Cosplaying - a.k.a. dressing as and creating the costume of a character from anime, comics, television, film, etc. - is one of the best ways to express yourself and get out of your shell, especially considering the rapid growth of comic book and other genre conventions across the globe. You don't need to cosplay in order to attend a convention, and many veterans of the convention scene recommend going to a smaller event first or trying really simple costumes before diving in head first.
With the rapid growth of cosplay fostered by social media, the popularity of superheroes, and the TV show Heroes of Cosplay, there has never been a better time to start cosplaying.
How do I find conventions? Animecons.org is a great resource, as you can search by region or location. Local comic book stores or table top gaming places will also have flyers about upcoming events. Google is your friend, but some of the smaller events will be harder to find this way because of the amount of advertising the larger conventions do. Once you find a convention to attend, you'll often see booths with different conventions advertising their shows, keeping you eternally in the loop!
How do I choose a character? Pick a character you love, or that you think looks really cool. Choose someone you would be comfortable portraying for a day. Take into account what it will take to make the costume, how much it'll cost, and the comfort level of wearing it in a big convention center that will often require a lot of walking.
But isn't making costumes expensive? How can I cut down the costs? Starting small definitely helps. A lot of pieces (especially for TV characters - think Doctor Who or Supernatural) can be found at a thrift store and then altered (cutting off the sleeves, fabric paint, etc.) to get the specific look of the character. Budget as you go - I like to list all of the pieces of the costume and break down what I can make versus buying. The more research you do, the cheaper your costume will be!
Do I need to know how to sew? Nope! With the amount of commissioners (people who make cosplay costumes as a business) and online shops, you can purchase costumes, though they'll always be more expensive than if you made it yourself; usually a couple hundred bucks for a basic outfit, minus a wig and accessories. Alternatively, there are lots of places like JoAnn's Fabrics that offer sewing classes and asking friends and family for advice can often lead to some sewing lessons. You can get a decent sewing machine for $100!
What if I don't know how to make ____ piece? Tutorials man! DeviantArt, tumblr, and internet searches can all yield step by step guides for how to make armor and other accessories, and most characters have been cosplayed before so there're always other cosplayers out there that can help. If you're directly messaging someone, be sure to keep your questions specific in order to get the best responses.
What about wigs? Wigs can be found locally at beauty supply stores, or can be bought from cosplay shops overseas in China and Japan through sites like eBay and Amazon. Alternatively, there are many retailers catering to cosplayers starting to pop up in the US, including Arda Wigs, Epic Cosplay, Gothic Lolita Wigs, and Match Wigs. Wigs from retailers that have their base in the US will have larger cap sizes than ones ordered from overseas and are recommended for men or those with a lot of hair. Don't forget to wear a wig cap under your wig - basically a stocking for your head that you can get from a beauty store or pharmacy. This will make sure your wig fits properly!
What about costume contests? Most conventions have costume contests as a main event. These events are intended for people to show off their hard work and thus are typically limited to people who made their costumes themselves. There are divisions based on the amount of awards competitors have earned in the past, ranging from Novice to Master. For more information about costume contests, check out the International Costuming Guild Guidelines, which are located on their website. The costume contest is an event that is not to be missed at most conventions - you get to see the best costumes at the convention all in one spot, up on stage!
Wait! What if I don't have anyone to go to a convention with? Hop on social media! People will be posting out going to an event on twitter, instagram, tumblr, etc. and using hashtags is the best way to find people to meet up with at a convention.
What should I bring to a convention if I'm cosplaying? All of the basic essentials, plus things that would help you in case of a wardrobe malfunction - like a mini sewing kit, safety pins, or a bleach pen. Depending on the costume, duct tape is also a lifesaver! If you've wearing make-up (which is heavily recommend to achieve the looks of characters) things like blotting paper or pressed powder are great to have on hand! Also remember to take breaks to eat and drink water!
Remember to have fun and to make friends - that's why we do what we do, after all! Cosplay really is for fun, and the more you do it the more friends you'll make and the more connections you'll make in your local community.