Cosplay 101: Cosplaying on a Budget

[This got a bit long, so…er…yes. -Cris]

Aw, thank you! ^^; You’re quite kind.

Now that I realize it, I’ve been cosplaying and attending cons for pretty much three years now. During that time, I finished up my university work and I’m currently at a community college working on a certification in medical transcription along with paying back college loans. Most of my friends who cosplay are also balancing the desire to have good cosplays while going to school as well, so the good news is that it is very possible to cosplay well.

Unfortunately, cosplaying does cost money and if you’re after quality (especially when it comes to wigs) then it’s going to cost you. However, it doesn’t necessarily have to cost you an arm and a leg. If anyone else wants to jump in with info, go ahead, guys.

1. Before You Buy Anything, PLAN YOUR COSPLAY OUT.

Know who you want to be. Research. Get as many good quality pictures from as many different angles as possible. If it’s a character from a book, read it and mark down any detailed descriptions of that character so you have a good picture in your mind of what it should look like. This will give you an idea of what you need to buy, what you can make yourself, and how much everything will likely cost.

Keep in mind that you should never feel like you can’t cosplay a person of a different gender, ethnicity, height, color, hair-length, and so on just because you aren’t exactly a perfect carbon replica of the character to start with. I don’t let my wheelchair keep me from cosplaying Miku just because she can walk and I can’t! Some of the best cosplayers are such because of the attention they pay to detail and the fact that they work with what they’ve got. Cosplay, first and foremost, is a labor and display of love for the characters. The love and determination you put into the work will show in the finished product.

2. Time Management and Budgeting

Give yourself time in order to complete it—especially if it’s a cosplay you’re trying to complete for a specific convention. The more complex it is, the more time you should give yourself to work on it. A rushed cosplay isn’t always a bad cosplay, but you don’t really want to take that risk. Having time management will also make spending money a bit easier. Having an idea of how much you’re willing to spend total is great, and if you’ve given yourself enough time to build your cosplay, you can avoid having to risk being broke paying a huge lump sum by buying things a piece at a time. Before you know it, you’ll have a great cosplay without breaking your bank!

3. Goodwill and Thrift Stores are Your Friends

If I had a dollar for every time I shopped for costume pieces at Goodwill or the Texas Thrift Store, my college loans would have been paid off by now. My Dr. Death Defying and Bobby Singer cosplays are 50% thrift store pieces. The rest is stuff I borrowed from my parents, like my Mom’s dark jeans and my dad’s work boots. As long as it looks like something you can work with or alter into what you need for cosplay, there ain’t no shame in getting stuff at Goodwill. If you’re not comfortable with the idea of wearing pre-owned clothes, that’s understandable, but don’t let anyone knock you for going there in the name of sticking to your cosplay budget!

4. Don’t be Afraid to DIY

If you can sew, cut, glue, and paint, you’re already well on your way to putting things together. If not, don’t be afraid to learn some new skills. You might be craftier than you realize! And the Internet is full of tutorials on how to make pretty much anything you’re looking for.

In my case, the vest I wear for Dr. D used to be a denim jacket that I cut the sleeves off of and added iron-ons to; the green shirt I wear underneath also used to have long sleeves until I altered those. I actually still need to remake the back of the vest because I want to sew on a leather or vinyl back to make it look even more like the original and maybe hand-paint the back design via stencils. As for Miku’s hair clips? I can’t afford the actual clips that Hello Cosplay sells, so I just made my own out of cardboard and duct tape. Worked like a charm.

5. Hair

Ah, wigs. Wigs and beards are probably the only place where I am willing to actually drop a fat chunk of money for quality.

Personally, I get my wigs from Hello Cosplay. They have good quality wigs for reasonable prices, they ship fairly quickly, and they’re very good about answering your questions. (I haven’t purchased any of their costume pieces, so I don’t know what they’re quality is like there.) I’ve also purchased wigs (and my facial hair for crossplay) from a local store here called Starline, but I don’t think they ship anywhere. When it comes to beards and mustaches, I jump for the theatre grade stuff made of real human hair. I tried doing just the regular makeup, which is also fine, but as a personal preference it’s not my thing.

You don’t have to get wigs made of human hair. Synthetic wigs made of Kanekalon fiber are very nice in terms of color and texture, but be advised that some of them are not heat-resistant. You have to look carefully at the item description or even ask if they are (and don’t ever be afraid to ask questions). Longer-hair wigs are also going to be susceptible to getting tangled, so be prepared to be willing to spend time combing it out after use. (I’ve actually got to comb out my Miku falls because they are quite tangled after usage this weekend.) They make products specifically for helping with that, but I generally just use leave-in conditioner or detangler and the widest-toothed comb in existence.

That’s all I’ve got for now, but if you have any more questions, I’m around to offer the best advice I can! And like I said, if there are others who might be up to adding info, please chime in.

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