Sure! Basically it’s five colors and/or five textures. Difference in color or texture makes costumes more interesting and appealing to look at. And it’s not just the garments themselves- hair, makeup, jewelry, and detailing like embroidery and trim count as colors/textures. When you’ve got a combination of both, people spend more time studying your cosplay/costume, studying you, and appreciating the work that went into it.
One of my biggest pet peeves as a costumer is when cosplayers use the same fabric/texture for an entire outfit, including accessories. While animators and designers are bound to color palettes (particularly in animation) to make the work feasible (this is why a lot of characters have solid or unadorned clothing) you are not. I’m sorry friend, but you’re not a cartoon. You’re a person. And while you can make yourself LOOK like a character AND mimic the style of media (like some brilliant Borderlands cosplayers) most people don’t- which leads to flat looking costumes on three-dimensional people.
Guzzardi cosplay did this awesome Handsome Jack, which included cell-style shading on the outfit and makeup.
Of course, there are variations on the rule. If you’ve got a LOT of colors going on, then the texture variation doesn’t have to be as great. Ditto for a lot of texture and little color variation. There can be too much of a good thing and a lot of times, that’s how to look like a hot mess…. so 5’s a handy middle of the road.
Then there are exceptions, like minimalist designs. For example, there aren’t a lot of color or texture variations for gajinka designs of GLaDOS because the contrast and shape are enough visual interest and conveys ‘robot’ rather than ‘person’. Similarly if a costume has a very complex cut or tricky fitting, that can be the visual motif or interest- for example, Stacker Pentecost.
(And there was a great homina throughout the land….) See, even without five different textures and colors, there’s enough going on with the detailing and the cut to create interest. SO. MUCH. INTEREST.
Anyhue, how to use this practically.
For example- take Katara from Avatar the Last Airbender:
You could do her costume all from cotton broadcloth which is perfectly fine- particularly if you’re a beginner cosplayer or sewer. But we’re trying to create some more visual interest and organic quality. A good thing to do is break down the costume: So tunic, necklace, armwraps, pants,shoes.
Then break it down into colors: tunic body, tunic trimming and belt, pants, shoes, armwraps, necklace.
At this point, the trick is not to use the same texture twice, or at least not noticeably. How about we make the tunic body out of cotton flannel, then trim it in a faux suede? Or maybe the armwraps out of a cotton gauze, the pants out of unwaled (non-grooved) corduroy, and the tunic out of linen? Use your inner character developer and ask- what kind of materials would this character have access to? Are they rich or poor? From a hot or a cold climate?
I wouldn’t make Katara’s whole tunic out of satin. but her necklace band could be. Just like (to use another Avatar example) I wouldn’t make Zuko’s clothes out of plainer woven fabrics.
Remember that texture doesn’t necessarily mean expensive! With a little planning, you could use cheaper cottons and basic materials for the large pieces with smaller amounts of more expensive materials for the trimmings. (Like making Katara’s tunic from cotton, but trimming it in slubbed dupioni silk or some nice linen or a suiting).
Also don’t be afraid to add trimming! Instead of plain bias tape binding, how about velvet ribbon? Piping is a great way to add visual interest and it’s pretty cheap! Or if you have accessories, try a bit of weathering for texture.
There are a ton of ways to use the 5/5 rule and not look like a circus or stick to a pre-developed character design. I hope this helped a bit!