In the past, the only option for cosplay was to make everything from scratch. That is no longer the case: costumes, accessories, props, supplies, and tutorials can all be found on the internet, at cons, or even in regular retail stores.
Some people feel that it’s not “real cosplay” unless every piece of the costume is home-made. Don’t let these people dissuade you from buying pieces of a costume or even the entire thing. Cosplay is cosplay. We are adults playing dress-up. This is not a competition.
Here are some things to keep in mind when deciding to make or buy.
TLDR; Making “everything” can mean modifying existing items such as shoes. Make your costume if you have lots of time or are entering a craftsmanship competition.
“Making everything” doesn’t necessarily mean making everything from scratch.
Making a cosplay does not need to include dying fabric, building shoes from raw materials, or stitching a wig from nothing but wefts. Some cosplayers choose to go the extra mile, but it’s not required.
Most cosplayers who “make everything” will make most of the costume and then buy or modify certain items, such as making boot covers for a pair of shoes or styling a wig.
Making a costume is time consuming. Figuring out how to make pieces of the costume is time consuming. Researching and preparing the materials for the costume is time consuming. Making a costume is good for when you have lots of time.
Additionally, many Masquerade/Craftsmanship contests require most of the costume to be made. Most competitions will post how much of the costume needs to be home-made or made by you.
Found items / closet cosplay
TLDR; It is acceptable to use items found in your local stores or your closet. Very good for a small amount of time or money.
A “found item” is a piece of a costume that you would find in a (non-costume/non-cosplay) store. These items are usually modified slightly to match the cosplay, but are generally ready to wear.
For example: a pair of jeans, generic sneakers, a puffy down vest, a studded belt, a basic black skirt etc.
A “closet cosplay” is a costume made primarily of found items (i.e. your closet), usually with some specific costume items like a wig or an accessory or prop.
For example: a version of the character that wears a basic hoodie in the color of the regular costume, with full wig/make-up.
This approach is a very good way to save time and money, since the items are already made and readily available.
Purchase a costume, prop, or accessory
TLDR; Purchasing is great if you don’t want to make your costume, but be careful of poor quality and leave time for shipping.
Purchasing a pre-made item can work if you don’t have the time, don’t want to spend the effort in making something, or are just getting started in cosplay.
For example: buying a school uniform, buying ninja throwing stars, buying character-specific buttons.
When purchasing online, it is important to do your research first! Many pre-made costumes come from overseas factories where quality is sacrificed in order to mass produce costumes at a low cost.
One example I saw of this was a character costume that was supposed to be a top, with a wide belt on top. The costume being sold was just a single piece, where the belt was being treated like a different color on the top, rather than a separate belt piece.
This is especially important because some stores will steal images of cosplayers who have made their costumes from scratch and then advertise the store’s outfits using those images. Look for reviews before purchasing from a vendor for the first time.
Finally, if you buy something online, make sure to factor in delivery. Many of the stores are based in Asia and may take weeks or months to ship.
Commission a costume, prop, or accessory
TLDR; Commissioning items is a great (but expensive) way to get the items you want, but remember that a commission is a contract with another person – take it seriously.
Commissioning another cosplayer or costume maker to make your costume, prop, or accessory is the most expensive option, but is generally superior quality than purchasing pre-made items.
The is the most expensive option because the person making the costume is also charging for the time it takes to make the items.
Commissioning a costume means you are entering into a contract with the person making the costume. Before anything else, have thorough discussions with the person taking the commission to clarify: what items are being included, what materials will be used, how much will the project cost, how frequently updates will be communicated, how long the project will take, when payment is expected etc.
Never, ever, pass off another’s work as your own. If you are asked at a convention, in an online forum, or in front of a panel of judges, answer honestly.
Got time, but no money? – Make your costume, using found or closet items wherever possible.
Got money, but no time? – Short deadline: consider found or closet items. Far-out deadline: consider purchasing or commissioning items.
Don’t want to make the costume? – Purchase or commission. Never take credit for making something you didn’t make.