Cosplay on a Budget

Recently, a fellow Geek Syndicate blogger talked here about making a cosplay budget for the year and planning your convention schedule for such cosplays. I really liked her blog. So much so that I’m inspired to write a follow-up – with her permission, of course.

So, you should already know about planning your year and your budget from her article, so I’m not going to go into that. Instead, I’m going to try to help you with said budget.

I won’t lie to you. Cosplay is an expensive hobby. But it doesn’t have to break the bank. There are things you can do to reduce the cost of costumes by a lot.

First off, learn to sew, if you don’t already know how. Making things is generally much less expensive than buying things – especially simple things like Harry Potter robes. And don’t give me any of that “you can’t” crap. I couldn’t, either, five years ago, and I’m long past thirty, so if I can learn as an adult, so can you. YouTube is your friend, and someone somewhere has made an instructable for what you want. I promise. Get cracking! If you can’t sew, though, and can’t learn/don’t have access to a sewing machine (which really is needed for most things), that’s okay, too. Learn about fabric glue and duct tape and safety pins and repurposing things. You can make a ton of things without a single stitch.

Next, let’s talk about costume choices. Vix made a good point about armor. It’s the perfect example of where you do not want to go if you’re looking to cosplay on the cheap. Likewise, stay away from Captain Jack Sparrow, Star Wars Rebel pilots, and other characters who look magnificent but have a million bits and bobs to them. Those little pieces add up, and they’ll cost you a fortune in the long run. But many other characters, such as Vix’s example of Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye, are stunningly simple in design and thus easily made for not much money. Look around. See who else interests you but doesn’t wear a lot of specialized gear.

Third, I want to talk about leather – that nasty beast that can add huge amounts of cost to any project, but very much doesn’t have to. Second-hand shops often have luggage in the back. Suitcases (especially garment bags) are a great source of inexpensive swaths of leather. Purses often come with pre-made pockets and straps that work great for making holsters, too, and you can get nearly any color for cheap.

Fourth, thrift shops are your friends in general. In addition to having many things that will work or can be modified to work for whatever you’re making on the cheap on normal days, many of them have sale days, where the entire store is half off or whatever. Keep an eye out for these days and use them to your advantage. Oh, and don’t forget to hit the regular stores the day after Halloween or Christmas. Everything holiday-related is on sale then, sometimes for ridiculously cheap prices, and while Halloween leftovers are obviously useful (my first Jedi robe was a monk’s costume slit up the middle in the front), Christmas is, too. Sparkly garland is a great addition to fairy wings (which can be made of coat hangers and cheap thule, by the way), and ornaments and tree-toppers can make wonderful tiaras and magic wands with just a little help.

Fifth, never* throw out a damaged garment. Many times, the fabric can be used for something else. My Yavin Luke Skywalker jacket has strips of an old scrub top on it for the trim and insignia, and obviously zombie costumes need distressed garments by definition. (*Never is a big word. Obviously, toss it if it’s way destroyed or if it’s been laying around for a year without a use, but if you’ve got room, keep it, at least for a while. You never know when it might come in handy!)

Sixth, reduce, reuse, recycle! I travel to conventions, and I don’t like paying to check my bags, so I get everything in one suitcase, no matter what. This helps me trim my cosplay choices down for the con, but it also means that if I really want to take just one more, I need to save space. So, if I can, I use things for more than one cosplay. My Stargate Atlantis pants double for Snakebite from Dr. Horrible and for my Jedi costume, for example. But nowhere do I try to save more space than with boots and shoes. They just don’t travel well! They take up tons of room! So, if you can, use them for more than one thing. Combat boots work well for Stargate, Hit-Girl, and Snakebite for me, and my Jedi boots double for Scarlett from G.I. Joe. Yavin Luke, Galaxy Quest, and Captain Janeway wear the same boots, too. This helps save on expense (get good shoes – you’ll need them – but only buy them once!) and space, and I find it helps me more than just about anything else in packing as well as cost. Also, see what you already own that can work for your costume. A white, collared shirt screams Harry Potter (as does a grey skirt, ladies) or Men in Black. A red one says Malcolm Reynolds. Use your own closet! You may not need to buy as much as you think!

Lastly, get creative with weapons. Foam, PVC, and wood are your friends here. Kid’s toys, too – the cheap ones. It doesn’t matter if the foam sword isn’t the right shape for what you need. Cut it that way! You can do it! Most weapons can be reasonably made for not much. And like I said above, someone else has done the same thing once before you – get online and talk to that person and get help! We’re all in this together, and not all of us are out to make screen-accurate props (if you are, by the way, the Replica Prop Forum is your best friend). Most of us are just in it for the fun, and we’ll help you if you ask. All that said, do the math before making your own props and weapons. Sometimes, it is less expensive to just buy a commercial model, and if you’re going to use the cosplay a lot, suck it up and get something nicer than you can make if need be. If there’s one special prop that you just have to have, don’t be afraid to blow most of your budget on that. You can save elsewhere. My Baby Bowler cosplay cost me about $20 head to toe for everything except the actual bowling ball. I got that on eBay for $60 (which was way less than it would have cost me to make it – the resin alone would have been killer!). So, check around before committing to anything. That’s the best advice I can give in general for cosplay, in fact.

So, that’s what I’ve got. I hope it helps, and drop me a comment if you want to know more. I’ll talk cosplay all day long, and cosplaying on a budget is a hobby of mine. My Ravenclaw cost me less than $15 as a dare, but I’ve never changed it because it works so well, and my Irisa, while pricey in boots and wig, cost me next to nothing for holsters and weapons. I find it fun to bend those costumes to our whims (and our budgets), and I’d love to help you do the same.

GS Blogger: wabbit

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