As I mentioned in my post of Friday cosplay photos from FAN EXPO Chicago, I attended a panel called ‘Cosplay on a Budget’ hosted by James Wulfgar of Wulfgar Weapons and Props and LadyDragon Cosplay Creations. Cosplay certainly be an expensive hobby, and whether your budget is large or small, why not pick up tips from some experts to make your cosplay dollars go a little farther? The two long-time cosplayers covered a vast array of tips and tricks to help you put together your next cosplay without breaking the bank!
Where to Find Items
The most common sources for finding budget cosplay items would be your local thrift store! Whether it’s a chain store like Goodwill, Savers, etc. or simply a local place, these stores can be a goldmine of discarded costume pieces, under-layers, toy weapons, and more. You may need to do a little hunting and revisit a store more than once, but eventually you may find just the thing you’re looking for – or even something that strikes inspiration!
FAN EXPO CHICAGO – Saturday Cosplay Pt. 1
Fan EXPO CHICAGO – Saturday Cosplay Pt. 2
FAN EXPO CHICAGO – Saturday Cosplay Pt. 3
FAN EXPO CHICAGO – Saturday Cosplay Pt. 4
FAN EXPO CHICAGO – Saturday Cosplay Pt. 5
Military surplus stores can also be a good source for items like holsters, knee and elbow pads, and other items for armor builds.
Additionally, it helps if you can plan out your cosplays, and buy items as they go on sale or stack coupons. If you’re part of a group doing the same costume, buying some items in bulk might allow you to get them at a discount.
Talk to people about your hobby! This might be a little challenging if you tend to be more introverted but talk to strangers you meet throughout your day or when you’re traveling. Learn a little about them and tell them all about your fun hobby – they might have something they’ve been looking to get rid of such as bolts of fabric, props, or entire costumes that might have otherwise been thrown out or stay sitting on a shelf for ages without being used, and they want to give it to you!
Re-use and Transform
See the transformative power of everyday objects! Just because something is typically used for one purpose doesn’t mean that’s the only thing it can be used for!
If you’re looking to build a big costume, camping backpacks are a good way to give you bulk right off the bat that you can build on top of. These can sometimes be found in thrift stores.
Belts from the thrift store are a good source for leather straps on the cheap.
Save your containers and lids once you’ve used up the contents! Lids made great templates when you need a perfect circle, and the containers can be used to hold tools, shape items that need to be curved, and much more.
Re-use items for multiple costumes! One of the best ways to guarantee you’ll get plenty of use out of something is to make it multi-purpose. A plain shirt can be used as a base layer if its just going to be covered by armor, boots or shoes that aren’t specific to one character can be used again and again, and so on. Additionally, you may have a cosplay you’re no longer interested in wearing, but has valuable pieces that can be harvested for another one.
Both zip ties and safety pins have a multitude of uses, are widely available, are comfortable, and aren’t very expensive. They are fantastic for connecting two pieces either for a quick fix, or for an adjustable fit.
Skills and Knowledge
Know the material you’re working with! Doing your research ahead of time will save you time, money, and a lot of grief. You’re less likely to make costly mistakes and have to buy more material. This can be accomplished by watching YouTube videos, reading books, taking classes.
Read the back of your spray cans. Know how long to wait between layers, and how long before an item can be safely handled. Additionally, don’t mix paint brands, as there may be adverse reactions that will cause you to have to start from scratch.
Local makerspaces have a variety of machines and resources available for use like laser cutters, 3D printers, sewing machines, and more. Even if you don’t have a membership, they will often host workshops where you can learn skills and try out the machines. Such events can often be found on Eventbrite.
Consider trading services with friends who have skills or equipment that you don’t. Can you sew or style wigs and you have a friend who has a 3D printer or knows how to work with foam? Talk to them and ask if they’d be willing to work something out – more likely than not they’ll say yes!
If you have a question about something, ask! Whether in person or online, many cosplayers love sharing how they made their costumes, and any tips they might have for working with certain materials.
Know When to Spend
Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to go the cheapest route, and the best option is to spend a little more to guarantee that something will last.
One of the best things you can invest in is good pairs of shoes/boots, or at the very least good insoles. There is nothing worse than walking around a con all day in footwear that pinch or don’t have proper support. As I mentioned above, investing in a good pair of boots that can be used for multiple costumes will guarantee that you will get plenty of use out of them.
Similar to that, don’t buy or wear something that causes you pain. If you know that your skin reacts badly to a certain material, don’t use it and try to find an alternative. If you don’t, you may harm yourself in a way that could result in costly medical bills.
Spending money to take classes or workshops will have infinite returns. Not only are you investing in yourself, but will than have skills to make similar items again and again, you won’t need to pay someone else to make those items for you, you could potentially make those items for others, or you could trade with friends who have different skills.
Buy good-quality containers for your props or delicate costume pieces. Cases that can be repurposed for props such as lightsabers and staffs can easily be found online at big box retailers. Heavy-duty totes are perfect for traveling with your cosplays in a way that will keep them from arriving damaged at their destination and can easily be stacked. Equally important is packing materials that will keep the contents from shifting around during transport.
Finally, make sure you use quality materials to secure your cosplay pieces together. Even though it’s widely used, craft store super glue might not be the best choice – recent years have seen innovations into adhesives that are better suited to the unique materials cosplayers use and the stresses those items are subjected to. Wulfgar suggested products such as Bob Smith Industries Maxi Grip super glue (and a bottle of its Un-Cure for situations where you might accidentally glue your fingers together) and Surebonder hot glue. Additionally, placing a wooden dowel inside PVC pipes will keep those pipes from bending or snapping in half.
One Last Thing
Above all, have fun with it! The whole point of cosplay is to have fun, so making your cosplay should be enjoyable as well! One of the most fun things you can do with your cosplay is to make it suit YOU and feel free to build your personality into your cosplays! If you want to make a costume more feminine by turning it into a dress, do it! If you want to incorporate elements from your real life into a costume, then do it! Not every cosplay has to be 100% screen accurate – as long as you have enough elements of the character so that it is recognizable who you are, people will love it. And I don’t doubt that it will bring you even more joy to wear it!