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Thrift Store Cosplay



I repeatedly read forum posts by individuals who are distraught by the fact that they can't seem to find a certain costume for under $100. After the person posts, just about everyone attacks with comments like "If you want a good cosplay you must spend a lot of money!" "It's impossible to do a cosplay for that cheap!" "I spent (x amount) of dollars on MY (insert over-done character here) cosplay!" "Get a job, ya bum!"


I personally find this sad. Cosplay does not ALWAYS have to be expensive! If anyone tells you that you MUST spend a ton of money, they are DEAD WRONG. If you want to spend a ton of money on a professionally commissioned outfit, go ahead! If you can't shell out that kind of cash, then give making your own costume a try.


With my thrifty little guide, you can be on your way to a beautifully designed cosplay for under $50.


I decided to write this post about how to cosplay on a budget, so that when the situation arises, I can argue with the nay-sayers adequately.This guide is written under the assumption that you aren't an expert on sewing or making your own clothing. If you were, you wouldn't be concerned with a guide like this, because chances are you'd already be crafting your costume as I'm typing this.

# 1: Keep It Simple, Stupid.If you want to cosplay on a strict budget, say, under $50, stick with simple characters. By simple, I mean characters with costumes that are easily duplicated by hand, with as few pieces as possible. The more complicated your character, the more money you'll have to spend. Unless you are an expert on sewing, I wouldn't lean toward complex character designs. It's really going to up your price!

#2. Break it down.Pick apart the character you've chosen, piece by piece. This will help you determine what to look for, what you'll be making yourself, whether or not you'll need tights, a wig, a belt, anything of this nature.


**Quick Tip : Stick to cosplaying characters that have hair that you can duplicate on your own head. If you're willing to dye and cut your hair to match a cosplay, this will save a ton of money on wigs. Wigs are a huge money sucker in the cosplay world. **

Pick Apart of Tifa:

1. White Tank Top

2. Black Suspenders

3. Small Dangled Earrings

4. Black Arm Warmers

5. Elbow Pad

6. Black Belt

7. Short Black Skirt

8. Reddish Brown Hiking Boots

9. Dark Colored Socks

10. Red Fight Gloves


Now that you've picked your character apart, you'll see that just about anything she has on can be found at a thrift store, or cheap department store. Bring your list with you, and maybe a reference picture, and go shopping!

3. Thrift Stores are your friend.You shouldn't let anyone give you crap for thrift store shopping for cosplay pieces. If your character has an easy shirt that can be found at any thrift shop, go find it. White tennis shoes? No problem! Simple fabric, with solid colors or simple patterns? Grab a curtain, bed sheet, or tablecloth.


One of the fun things about thrift store clothing is, if you can find something similar enough to what your character is wearing, you can modify it to match your character more perfectly. Let's get back to Tifa - if you can only find black gloves, use leather paint to paint them red. If all the tank tops are too long and don't show your stomach, cut it up and hem it. Hemming requires very little previous sewing experience! Need for the elbow pad to be silver on the outside? Get a regular elbow pad and some spray paint and go to town. This brings me to rule number 4...


4. Be prepared to invest your time!If you want to make a successful thrift store cosplay, please, for the love of God, take your time and make it look right. Do your best to duplicate the character with ACCURACY. Don't throw together things and say "Well this sort of looks the same, so I'll go with it!"

You may shop for an entire year before you find the perfect shirt or pair of boots. You may have to learn a few techniques to make the perfect weapon for your character. Maybe you found a shirt, but it needs some tender loving care, and a little altering.


That's the price you pay. If you want a cheap cosplay that's also a good cosplay, be prepared to spend the time on it.



5. Learn a few basics.If you're going to make your own costume, it doesn't hurt to learn a few basic sewing tecniques. Learn to hand stitch, hem clothing, take in things that don't quite fit, etc. All of these techniques are extremely basic, and if you can master them, you'll rarely need to get into anything really complicated. As long as you can find the clothing, you'll be able to alter it to fit your needs. Learn some amateur sculpting. Sometimes you'll need a wierd item that can't be horns, ears or odd shaped jewelry. Take a look at Chii for example. This brings us to number 6...

6. Get Creative!You'll sometimes find yourself in a situation that needs something more than a thrift store trip. For this I say, get creative. Visit your local arts and crafts store! Let's get back to Chii...


Those little ears of hers don't have to be your worst nightmare. And no, you don't have to go out and buy an expensive pair on ebay. I have two words for you: Model Magic. Model Magic kid's sculpting clay is super lightweight, very easy to build and mold, and can do just about any shape you want. You can paint it with anything, and glue it to anything. For this example, just grab a clear headband, mold yourself some ears, paint them white and pink, glue them on, and put them on your head. Problem solved! Another solution is craft foam. It is light, easy to cut and shape, and can be painted to whatever color your heart desires.


It's little problem solving ideas like this that will ensure your thrift store cosplay does not end up LOOKING like a thrift store cosplay. If you're having trouble being creative, go back to the forums and ask..."How would you make this crazy necklace that so-and-so is wearing" and you're bound to get helpful advice. Also, tutorials are everywhere, and you can find a tutorial for just about anything on google or deviantart.


This is all the advice I can offer you, my budget-savvy cosplay friends. Never let the lack of money stop you from achieving excellent cosplay status! Once you've made a marvelous cosplay, don't be afraid to rub it in the faces of those who thought it was impossible to cosplay for under $100. :)





Not so simple

Close but not quite.

Craft Foam Example

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