I’m getting ready to start my next cosplay (to go with the group cosplay of the University club I sponsor). So I really should maybe come clean about my last cosplay: Zombiemom.

Zombie mom

With Kiogenic at commercial shoot for Visioncon

I did this twice- but each time Kiogenic came home from college to do my makeup. The above is for a commercial shoot for the con that I volunteer for: Visioncon.  (Preregistration going on now!) Below, my premiere as a zombie in my town’s annual Thriller dance:

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“Zombie Housewife”

In both cases I thought WAY too much about my costume (which I did make). So in honor of that, I present an overthinker’s guide to Zombie Cosplay!


Want to be a zombie? You’d better get started on a costume.  It’s surprisingly complicated to do well.

It’s true that some people phone it in by taking a few old things and ripping them up.  But you’ll want yours to be better than that! To produce the best possible and most detailed outfit for this event, we recommend that you look at reference photos, watch the Thriller film, and then consider the following:

  1. What’s your backstory?

This is important.  You have to have somewhere to start, and you’re going to sell it better if you have a clear idea of who you were, pre-zombie, and who you are now, as a member of the walking dead. Are you a mechanic? A waitress? Which direction were you attacked from?  Where were you injured? Are you a fresh zombie, or have you been zombified for some time now?  Do you still have any residual memories of being human?  Do you still carry with you any sadness or angst from your zombification?[1]

Choose rips, tears, props and haunted facial expressions appropriately.

-Tear your clothes thinking of the direction from which you were attacked.

-Remember that zombies also catch their clothes on nails, corners and other obstructions.

-Plan to use make-up in a logical way to match the damage to your clothes e.g.: if you were attacked from the left, your injuries should be on the left.

-Props can add a great deal to your story: if you were a mother, consider a maimed baby doll, a mechanic could carry weaponized wrench.

  1. What color blood?

You’re going to have to think about blood more than you might have in the past.

-Now, if you are a super-fresh zombie, the blood will be a brighter red as the oxidation process begins with the iron in your hemoglobin being exposed to the oxygen in the air. Pro-tip: fresh blood is also sometimes pinkish in color!  We recommend craft acrylic paint in “deep red” for fresh blood. Diluting with water will give you a pinker tone. Adding corn syrup will also keep the blood sticky and give you a nice, “fresh” effect.[2]

-If, in your story, you are a very recent convert to the zombie life, go brighter red.  If, however, you have been walking dead for some time, you will want the blood on your costume to be darker in color.  The oxidation process turns dried blood a rusty-brown that can be achieved with three parts deep red acrylic paint to one part burnt umber and one part black.  Pro tip: acrylics will dry completely and be less messy-just like real blood!

-Finally, consult with the rest of the dance corps. In the original Thriller film, the zombies actually “bled” black- perhaps the effect of having been underground, the aging of embalming fluids or an alien infection that reanimated the corpses. Will you all go for red human blood or black?  It’s important to maintain consistency![3]

  1.  How much dirt?

This is a related question of freshness.

-If, for example, you are a relatively recent zombie, you probably don’t need to add much dirt.  Dinginess that suggests bodily fluids, however, is a good way to add texture and depth to the effect. Brew some very strong black tea and put it in a spray bottle. Spray around your rips and injured areas, as well as in likely places where you might be seeping.[4]

-If you are going for an old corpse: either one who has been a zombie for some time or as in the Thriller video, is coming from the grave, it can be best to bury your costume in your backyard for a week. You’ll want to either water it while it’s underground or let the rain (if you’re lucky) seep in.  Dig it up and don’t’ wash it. You’ll look like you climbed out of a cemetery.  This tip is also perfect for people who don’t actually want to make friends or hook up while in costume.[5]

  1. Can you dance and/or move? 

In your frenzy to create the perfect look, don’t forget that you need to wear this costume.  Try it on. Squat. Wave your arms.

-If you will be rocking your best Thriller Dance, do a rehearsal of the dance in your backyard (your neighbors will love this). While zombies are not notoriously agile, remember that Michael Jackson is looking down on you and would love to see you get your zombie boogie on!

-If you are just going to pub crawl, worry less about binding or lack of motion. In fact, if you can’t move your left arm, this will add to the effect!

  1.  Make-up for blood, decomposition, and injuries

This can be tough if you aren’t a pro.  If you don’t want to spend the cash to have a local make-up artist give you extensive facial prosthetics, consider going “fresh zombie.”  You’ll need less makeup (no decomposition). As a bonus, you’ll still look hot if you are hoping to meet that special zombie someone, or just get lucky after the event.

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With my dear, undead, friend Val.

Good luck and have fun being undead!!!!

[1] How does it FEEL to be undead?

[2] Fresh, sticky blood will also get all over EVERYTHING. Your house. Your car. Anyone you touch. Be ready to explain to officers who might pull you over.

[3] Don’t listen to haters who say you are overthinking.  You’re there to SELL the performance!

[4] Bodies seep even when alive. Dead bodies seep more.

[5] You’re going to smell like a dead body. Great for accuracy of effect. Not great for attracting a date.