Hello! I'm new to this blog, but your works are amazing! I've anyways wanted to cosplay, but I'm also super dirt poor. How can I get the best effects for cosplay while also staying super cheap? I'd love a response, thank you!
First of all, thank you! I always get really warm and fuzzy inside when someone says they appreciate my work! <3
Now, onto the main question.
Let me be really clear here: The way I cosplay is not cheap. It requires a large initial investment (sewing machine, heat gun, dremel, etc.) as well as continually buying materials for new cosplays.
But you don’t have to cosplay like I cosplay!
You can make cosplay a cheap(er) hobby by sticking to closet cosplays, or thrifted cosplays, or borrowing cosplays from helpful friends, or buying secondhand cosplays through Facebook groups and whatnot. I personally just bought some really wonderful pieces from @dangerous-ladies at a good price because they’re trying to clean out their multitude of wonderful costumes! Always keep an eye out for good deals from other costumers.
Also, Don’t forget that in addition to cosplay construction/purchasing costs, you’ll probably want to wear your cosplay to a convention. You have to learn to balance the cost of your style of cosplay with your convention costs.
For a small local convention, you might only be looking at a $40 ticket, but don’t forget to factor in travel costs ($5-$10), food costs (another $20 for lunch and dinner, conservatively), and any additional merchandise you might buy, which can easily round out to $100 for a weekend. Larger cons that include more travel, hotel stays, and higher-priced tickets, can easily run you $300+.
That being said, there are ways to keep costs down and quality up. Here are a couple of my favorites:
- Budget your money. Figure out how much money it will take for you to create a costume. How much are you willing to spend for the cosplay between now and the convention? $100 might be a bit much to drop all at once for cosplay materials, but $20 over the course of 5 months isn’t so bad. Make it part of your monthly budget. I, for example, try to keep my cosplay materials spending below $100/month based on my income and (lack of) hobbies. Sometimes I fail, but I recognize when I’ve gone over budget and immediately stop spending money after that.
- Budget your time. “Fast, Cheap, Good. Pick two.” This is one hundred percent true. If you want your cosplay to look good but still be as cheap as possible, you need to start planning far in advance. Find the materials you want, then stalk them until they go on sale. Coupon like crazy (see below). Visit thrift shops multiple times in search of that perfect item. Haggle at thrift shops! This also applies to working with cheaper materials. Yes, you can make cardboard and paper mache armor look good, but it requires a LOT of time and patience. Make lists of the parts of the costume, your method for making them, the cost of making them, and how long you think each task will take. The Cosplanner app is REALLY good for this (although I personally prefer pen and paper).
- Keep an open material mind. Always keep an eye out for things that could become cosplay materials. I’ve used food containers in my wigs, traveled to a butcher shop for free vinyl, taken home stiff paper from my workplace, butchered old clothes for patterns and fabric, covered old oatmeal containers in craft foam,
- Coupon, coupon, coupon. Whatever your favorite chain fabric & craft store is, sign the heck up for all those coupons. I only go to JoAnn (Hancock is closing and I don’t go to Hobby Lobby for personal reasons), but I’m signed up for their mail coupons, text message coupons, in-app coupons, and have promos sent to two of my email addresses. As long as the coupons all have different codes, they will work. Just last weekend, I used two 40% and two 50% off coupons from different sources and saved over $60 on fabric!
One thing to note, though, is that coupons do not stack. So if you have a 50% off a single item coupon and a 20% off your total order coupon, the 20% off does not apply to the 50% item. It takes 20% off only the things that are not on sale (and have not been couponed).
- Thrifting. Thrift shops are amazing. You never know what you’ll find! Be sure to keep an open mind when browsing – that old ugly embroidered muumuu? Cut out the embroidery and make it appliqué! That dress that is the perfect cut but wrong color for the character? Dye it, or use it as a pattern! Many thrift shops also have places for notions and fabric which you can get at incredible prices. Look at the bedding area as well – sometimes you can pick up bedsheets for cheap to make mockups out of!
- Wholesale Fabrics (and everything). Finding wholesale fabric stores in your area and online is a lifesaver. It’s like thrift shopping but with fabric! I swear by Jomar, which basically a fabric + garage sale store, but these are only located near Philadelphia. I also am very fond of Fabric Wholesale Direct, which has a large selection of formal polyester fabrics for very cheap ($2/yd organza and charmeuse?! You betcha!)
I also buy many things from eBay and AliExpress, especially when I need bulk amounts. Buying 50,000 rhinestones through Amazon or Michael’s will run you $100 or so, but buying through other online stores will be $20. Always do your research, buy bulk when you know you’ll use it, and have enough time to wait for 15+ days of shipping.
- Wigs? Wigs are often the most expensive part of the costume. If you can’t afford Arda quality thickness, you can always get wigs from eBay, Amazon or AliExpress and learn to splice them together and style and cut them yourself. It takes longer, and the fiber quality isn’t usually as good, but you can make even cheap wigs look fantastic with enough skill and patience!
- Cosplay without the con. Go to local one-day events! Volunteer with cosplay charities! Join a princess party business (that way you can make money *and* cosplay, albeit subject to the terms of your company). Gather your local friends for a cosplay picnic! Ask your parent/sibling/friend/etc if they wouldn’t mind taking pictures of you in cosplay while you’re running around town! Film silly videos in costume! While the convention scene is fun, it’s also overwhelming and expensive if you do it too often. Nowadays, I find myself cosplaying outside of conventions more and more, even though I began my cosplay journey by attending them.
A lot of cosplaying cheaply and well comes down to how much time and effort you’re willing to put in, and remembering to keep an open mind when it comes to materials. I would also recommend checking out @cosplaying-on-a-budget for some money-saving tips, as well as browsing Pinterest for out-of-the-box ideas.
Hopefully this helps, and I wish you the best of luck on your cosplay journey!!