How to Cosplay on a Budget

Tips from Polar Cosplay about how to save money on costumes and supplies.

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So you want to cosplay but don’t have the budget for high-end Stormtrooper armour? Time to find a way to strut your stuff on a budget. At this year’s Hal-Con, I attended a panel presented by Canadian fan Polar Cosplay (aka Rebecca Graves) about how to make, care for, and improve upon costumes while staying within your budget.

Get Organized
Sketch out your costume design before you start shopping. It doesn’t have to look good. Making a diagram of your costume can help you visualize which items (particularly smaller details) you need to purchase. Then, make a list. Seriously. If you heed any advice from this article, it’s this. Write down everything you need to buy, make, and do. This will help save you money and, most importantly, time. After you finish shopping, keep your purchases organized. Buy a plastic storage container at your local hardware store and keep all of your cosplay supplies in there. This will help you avoid accidentally purchasing items you already have.

Make Cosplayer Friends
Not only is cosplaying a great way to make new (and nerdy) friends, but it can also be very cost effective. Every cosplayer has a “tickle trunk” (or tickle closet… room… attic) filled with fabrics, props, wigs, and crafting materials. Trading and borrowing cosplay supplies from friends can save you a ton of money. The next time you’re at a con, approach people dressed in your niche and make a connection. Soon you might find yourself going for coffee and trading supplies. (In that same vein, don’t throw away materials you don’t like. One cosplayer’s trash is another cosplayer’s treasure.) Finally, ask family members to donate unused fabrics, sewing materials, and craft supplies from their attics.

Look For Coupons
Keeping on top of craft supply stores’ weekly deals is a great way to take advantage of regular discounts and promotions. But make sure you read the fine print: many coupons have conditions, such as limiting one per transaction, or only applying to certain items. Another tip from Polar Cosplay is to buy fabric when the seasons change. This is when the biggest discounts come out to play. Also, buy buttons in bulk. You can paint them yourself when you need particular colours.

Barter
Many second-hand or fabric stores are obscenely overpriced. Before you go shopping, have a look online for items you intend to buy. Scoping out the average price (and quality reviews) can pay big dividends for a minimal amount of effort. While shopping at stores like Value Village, if an item you like has a flaw, politely ask to speak with a manager and see if you can secure a discount. Oftentimes, they would rather have the item sold at a discounted price (particularly a flawed item) than have you walk away and leave it on the shelf.

Know When To Splurge
Everyone wants to save money, but buying the cheapest items may actually end up hurting your bank account in the long run. It’s good to know when to spend a bit of extra cash on certain items that will stand the test of time. For instance, the quality of wigs vastly improves with price. Cheaper wigs tangle easily and are extremely shiny (although there are online tutorials about how to “de-shine” wigs with fabric softener). Another example: do not buy thread from the Dollar Store – it is extremely cheap and will break easily. Instead, invest in some higher quality thread and sewing needles, items you will use over and over again. On the other side of the coin, if you’re just starting to cosplay, don’t buy an expensive Singer sewing machine. Get the cheapest one available (or borrow one from a relative) in case you decide making costumes isn’t your cup of tea.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that cosplay, like other fan activities, is a creative endeavour: everything is up to the artist’s interpretation. Don’t worry if your costume doesn’t look exactly like the character you’re playing. Get creative and have fun with it!

About Malory Beazley (34 Articles)
Malory has taken her interest in fandom to the academy, penning a Master's thesis entitled "Out of the Cupboards and Into the Streets!: Harry Potter Genderfuck Fan Fiction and Fan Activism." You can find her in Nova Scotia, sipping coffee, writing fiction, and reading slash.

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