In the last Cosplay 101 article, I laid out a simple explanation of what cosplay is and how you to choose a character to cosplay. Here I will talk about how to start bringing your different costume elements together.
Now it’s time to start bringing things together. Here again there are several methods, and it all depends on how accurate to the actual thing you want to be. If you’re not concerned about being 100% accurate, and are looking to save a little money, you can pull items from your closet that look close, or search thrift/resale shops. You can also search eBay, Amazon and other online auction and resale websites for screen-accurate or similar items at a bargain. These methods are good ideas if the character you’re dressing as wears what would be considered normal clothing.
If you’re looking to buy a pre-made costume, you can look at costume stores and sites like CosplaySky, EZCosplay, BuyCostumes and plenty of others. These costumes are usually the same kind of quality as Halloween stores or slightly better. Lots of cosplayers have ordered from these places and been perfectly happy with what they received, though sometimes they can be a little hit-or-miss or require some adjustment after getting it. It can usually be worth it to pay the slight extra charge for it to be custom-made to your measurements, since it’s then more likely to fit correctly. The only warning for this is that these costumes are usually made in China and their inches are different from ours, so I would give your measurements in centimeters.
If you want to get as close to screen-accurate as possible, this will likely require making the elements yourself or commissioning them to be made by others. To make it yourself, you obviously need some ability to sew or work with things such as craft foam, worbla (or other thermoplastics), cardboard, etc. This will depend on the degree of difficulty, but you can always make what you can, and then commission or buy the other items. If you are going to make costume pieces yourself, pattern sales and coupons from craft and fabric stores can save you a lot of money. Depending on if you plan your costumes far in advance, you can buy these things when they are on sale, as opposed to when you need them immediately and might have to spend a little more.
If you don’t know how to sew, cosplay can be an excellent way to learn. Some may choose to take college classes if they wish to use sewing for more than just their own cosplay, and might wish to make a living creating items for others.
Other ways to learn to sew could include learning from a friend or family member, in-person classes, or online classes. Sewing machine dealer shops may offer classes, which may or may not be included if you purchase a machine from them, as well as fabric or craft stores. You can always call these types of store near you, or visit their websites, to find out if they offer these. YouTube is replete with sewing how-to videos, and all you need to do is search what you’re looking for. One website I highly recommend is Professor Pincushion. They have a huge YouTube channel with videos covering many elements of sewing, and many of them are free. Other websites may offer downloadable lessons for a small fee, but then these videos are yours to revisit if you need a refresher or don’t have time to watch each video in one sitting. The easiest way to start sewing is to begin with a simple project and progress through the levels of difficulty, or course you might also wish to make a certain item with a higher degree of difficulty and just muddle your way through it, learning as you go.
There are lots of places to get recommendations on sewing machines based on what you plan to use it for. You don’t have to buy the most high-tech and most expensive one either – there are many who use older machines and they work perfectly fine. I use my mom’s old sewing machine from the 60’s and it is still in perfect working order; I just make sure to take care of it and take it in for the occasional routine tune-up. It’s all based on how much you want to do, how much you want your machine to do, and how much you want to spend.
If you are going to sew your costume yourself, there are many commercial patterns available nowadays both online (free and paid) and in sewing/fabric/craft stores that give close approximations to very popular costumes, or give different spins (i.e. steampunk) on a popular character so that you can make your costume unique. You can always make changes to the pattern to suit you or your vision best. The easiest things to change are necklines and hemlines, and anything else might require a higher knowledge level in how clothing patterns work or else the garment might not turn out correctly. If you can’t find a pattern that you like, you can always create your own, or commission someone to create one for you. in creating your own pattern, though, you would obviously need to know how to do that.
If you want to commission something, there are many Facebook groups and websites for that, as well as you might be able to get recommendations from other friends who cosplay. Just like when buying anything online, you need to be careful and wary of scammers. Commissioning costumes and props can get very expensive, but it is almost always worth it. You are receiving a quality product made by someone with a high skill level, and you are paying for that expertise. You can also find many handmade costumes on places like Etsy. Sometimes they’re a little less expensive than some commissioners, and sometimes they’re about the same. The best thing you can do here is to read reviews. Obviously, there will be outliers in both directions, but it helps to read them and get a general sense for what quality of product they usually provide.
A great resource that I would highly recommend is Cosplay Tutorial. Their tutorial section has a TON of how-to’s in case you want to try and make something yourself. There are also a ton of Facebook groups dedicated to cosplay, whether it’s specific to a certain movie, tv show, group of properties (Marvel/Disney/DC, etc.), region, specific convention, and so on. As a whole, cosplayers are more than willing to share tips, tricks, and general advice if you have a question about something.
Cosplay is an excellent way to increase your skills. Many people learn how to sew or how to work with different materials through trying to make their own cosplays. Once you get good enough at something, it may be possible that you will be able to make some extra money by making these things for others!