Comic-Con Cosplay Tips From The Woman Behind The 'Black Panther' Costumes

Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong'o and Florence Kasumba in a scene from "Black Panther." (Courtesy of Marvel)

With Comic-Con kicking off this week, and cosplayers putting the final touches on their outfits, Black Panther costume designer Ruth Carter has one main piece of advice: don't take too much artistic license.

Over the course of her 30-year career, Carter has designed costumes for more than 40 feature films. She's also earned two Academy Award nominations for costume design, for Spike Lee's Malcolm X and Steven Spielberg's Amistad.

For Black Panther, Carter incorporated elements of Afro-futurism and Afro-punk into her designs. With the Dora Milaje, the elite all-female Wakandan special forces, Carter told KPCC's The Frame the aim with the outfits was was to honor the women as warriors, but also make them look as beautiful as possible.

Black Panther director Ryan Coogler told Carter that the Dora Milaje's costumes should cover their arms and protect their vital organs. Carter says Coogler told her: "We can't present them in a provocative way, we have to take them seriously. This is not about a bustier and a cheerleading skirt, but we also want their armor to look like jewelry." Carter says she was "overjoyed" at the idea and ran with it.

So for those looking to dress up as a Wakandan warrior, Black Panther (aka King T'Challa), or Killmonger at this year's Comic-Con, Carter offers these tips:

  1. Take your time. Don't be too quick to finish your costume. If you rush, you run the risk of missing some essential details. Choose the right fabrics and make sure you get the colors right.
  2. But don't let it consume your life! I've seen some cosplayer costumes where they were doing molds to get their beautiful Killmonger mask just right, but you don't necessarily have to go that far.
  3. Get crafty. It's okay to hand paint some of the designs onto the fabric. We had patterns printed for the film, but painting is probably your best bet to get the closest match.
  4. Don't try to reinterpret the costumes. Just make the costumes like you see them. For example, for the tabards that the Dora Milaje wear over their armor in front, make sure that they're all the same width. Don't stray too far from what you see in the film.
  5. Shop wisely for fabric. Some of the bigger fabric stores downtown will give you more variety than a chain store like Jo-Ann Fabrics. Make sure to check the upholstery fabric sections too. Specialty stores downtown are your best bet for finding just the right red stretch fabric for the Dora Milaje costumes.
  6. If you can't buy it new, get thrifty. Don't be afraid to find something in a thrift store and cut it up! That's what I do.

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