So you want to cosplay and you want to do it on the cheap. What can you do? Well, there’s actually lots you can do. You can wait for sales, become a coupon hoarder, and buy in bulk. You could buy a readymade cosplay on one of the many cosplay stores online (infinitely cheaper than making something from scratch). One other way? You could put your cosplay together yourself using the wonderful world of Thrift Stores. *angelic choir*
I am a huge advocate for thrifting for cosplays. I’ve done it ever since my college cosplay days and I love how it allows you to not only save money, but also exercise that creative muscle known as your brain. I love the colorful aisles of clothes, the insanely low prices, and knowing I’m not going to have to spend a ton of time at my sewing machine. There’s something very satisfying about trying on a bunch of different pieces, finding something that meets your artistic vision, and taking it home immediately instead of waiting for online shopping orders to be shipped, all the while worried that it’s not going to look as advertised.
The beauty of thrifted cosplays is that no two thrift stores are exactly the same; two cosplayers can go to two different thrift stores with the same character in mind to cosplay and come out with completely different takes on them. The possibilities are endless so long as you keep an open mind and your eyes peeled.
First time thrifty cosplayer looking for tips before your inaugural trip to the thrift store? Grab some reference pics of the character you want to cosplay, google the nearest thrift store, and check out these tips.
Get pieces that fit or larger.
The ideal scenario would be to find clothes that fit, but with the chaos that is thrift store selections, that may not happen. In the case of finding something you like that’s the wrong size, a larger fit is much easier to salvage than a small one. If something’s too small for you, chances are it’ll be difficult to tailer it to fit because you may need to add more material/fabric. However, if it’s too large, it can be taken in or shortened to your size. If you yourself can’t alter clothing, you can take it to a tailor!
For my Warden cosplay, I got purple slacks from a thrift store that were super big on me and brought them to a tailor to have taken in and hemmed.
Focus on fabrics.
Don’t just focus on what the garments themselves are (tops, skirts, pants, etc.) but what fabric they have. Look at the colors, patterns, and types of fabrics. Bed sheets and curtains can make great base fabrics if you know your way around a sewing machine. With some clever cutting and stitching, a skirt can become a top. (Or vice versa!)
This isn’t cosplay related, but I bought some of my wedding dress fabric from a thrift store for $25! The dress itself didn’t fit me and I didn’t like the style of it, but I loved the fabric. Dedicated a couple hours to seam-ripping and voilà: affordable wedding dress fabric.
You don’t have to get everything in one trip or store.
Don’t feel pressured to get everything you need in one visit. Chances are you’ll need to visit a store a couple times or, even better, visit a few stores a few times. Because thrift stores carry second hand clothes, the selection is always changing. You might find a perfect piece in one store that you wouldn’t have seen a week or two prior. After visiting three different thrift stores in my area, I have a favorite that has good, cheap clothes and (most importantly) fitting rooms. You’ll be surprised to find some thrift stores don’t have them!
If you’re going on multiple trips, make sure to bring the cosplay pieces you already have so you can match color/style and check that they look good together.
Thrifting is less about accuracy and more about creativity.
If you want 100% accuracy (which–let’s face it–is a myth), you’re most likely better off making your cosplay from scratch. Thrifting isn’t about accuracy. At its core, it’s about saving money, but it doesn’t have to be just about that. Thrifting is about setting limitations so that you can come up with creative solutions. It’s about finding your own style in a sea of hand-me-down clothing. It’s about giving new life to otherwise discarded goods. Deep down, it’s about having a damn good time. I highly encourage taking a trip together with friends, setting a price limit, and seeing what you each can come up with!
Want some examples of thrifted cosplays? Here’s a small collection of my cosplays that incorporated thrifted pieces!
Pikachu: shirt, shorts | Professor Oak: shirt, pants
Photos by TC Schiller
Jessica Jones: jacket, top, boots
Mae Borowski: shirt fabric, jeans, and boots (the same used for Jessica Jones!)
Second photo by Pancake Remix
Some currently in progress thrifted cosplays!
Catra: blouse, pants
I swear the pants are burgundy, the lighting was just awful. I’m hoping to thrift her blazer and add bias tape to the lapels.
Detective Pikachu: coat, blouse, skirt
The blouse and skirt haven’t been altered yet in these photos but you can already tell that the whole ensemble is really coming together!
Hope some of these tips help you own your frugal cosplay journey.