Broke College Student
I feel you on this. I started cosplay as a broke highschool student and now I’m a broke college student — it can be done! Cosplay can be pretty affordable if you want it to be, but that might affect the quality of your costumes or how long it takes to make them.
This chart is such a good representation of what to expect with cosplay:
Though I would argue that the magical middle ground comes from a combination of a lot of skill and a lot of supplies around your house.
Decide Your Budget
The first step you need to do is set how much you’re willing and able to spend on a costume. Time is also important here. You might be able to put down $10 right now (which isn’t much) but perhaps you can put in $200 over several months — that’s a better number to work with.
Think of a costume like a new outfit, you’re probably spending about $100 minimum. The more layers, more fabric, more detail the higher the price.
Choosing a Costume Based on Budget
Once you know how much you have to work with, then choose a costume. That way you can keep your budget in mind and find a design that fits it.
Going back to $10 … well you need something that is going to work with what is in your closet. That could be doing your own version of a character (Bikini version, plainclothes version etc) or making a gijinka (human form) of a mascot character.
That $200 budget is a lot better and you can still work with what is in your closet, but rather than doing your own spin you can choose a character with a simple outfit. Some examples of simple outfits:
from left to right: Panty from PS+G, Dipper from Gravity Falls, Phi from Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, Toyn Stark from Marvel’s Avengers
Planning Ahead / Time Budgeting
Giving yourself a lot of time allows you to spread out spending money, rather than spending it all up front. It also allows you more time to work on your costume, take advantage of sales and deals and come up with solutions to issues you come across.
Even if it’s a simple outfit, having a few months to get it together will be less of a strain overall.
Reuse / Recycle
What do you have at home? I already mentioned checking your closet for clothes that can be used, but you can use a lot of crazy things for cosplay. Some people have used bed sheets and curtains as fabic, popcans can be used for metal embellishments and cardboard boxes can be used in props
Cards, Sales, Discounts
This ties into time budgeting because you can take advantages of sales if you’re not making the costume at the last minute. Check sale racks, look over clearance fabrics, take advantage of seasonal sales (especially post-halloween). Look into rewards programs and coupons, such as fabric store memberships or e-mail newsletter coupons.
There are lots of free resources online for learning how to sew and how to make things, you can also check your local library for books on how to sew. Kijiji and similar sites might have people giving away useful things and fabric swaps are a great way to grab some free stuff.
Time and Place
Lots of cosplayers will organize meetups as an excuse to cosplay outside of conventions. Where I am, Toronto (Canadaland) is great for this because we have picnics almost once a week in the summer and winter skating. These are usually free, depending on the location, and can be a great way to meet other costumers in your area.
During large conventions there may be events that are happening outside the convention area that are lower cost, or free. Some people also meet up for photo shoots or going for food. So even if you’re not at the main event you can still meet people and dress up.
There may also be small conventions in your area which can be far more affordable —the small cons around me are about $10 for a day. What is nice about the smaller conventions is that they are more for hanging out than seeing big guests, so it is easy to make friends.
Lastly, some conventions will give volunteers a free badge. Volunteering helps support the convention and lets you meet and work with a bunch of people with similar interests.
What People Will Think
If you don’t want to tell people about cosplay you don’t have to. Many people keep their cosplay stuff separate from their everyday life and usernames are one way to keep that separation. For example, many cosplayers keep their cosplay stuff to a facebook page rather than their main feed.