“$250?! That’s not cheap, Angela! I’m not made of money!”
I know, I know. But the truth is, if you’re not ready to shell out a couple hundo as an initial investment, you might not be in the right financial place to dive head first into cosplay. Cosplay can absolutely be done on a budget (Kelsey Ellison does a hilariously awesome job) –I started when I was a broke high schooler and slowly accumulated my equipment over the next decade. If you’re looking to have the equipment to build pretty much whatever you want as you start out, follow these cosplay tips.
A sewing machine: $70-100
Between Amazon and Walmart, it’s not hard to find a basic, reliable machine for under $100. Most machines come with needle replacements, bobbins, and a variety of presser feet. Avoid $20 sewing machines that are made for kids; those fall apart pretty easily. Some of my friends swear on computerized sewing machines, but it’s not for me–and if you’re wondering how often you’ll really be sewing outside of cosplay, then I’d say it’s not for you either.
With all the funky colors that anime characters wear, I’d recommend getting a large assortment of thread colors right off the bat. If you’re willing to wait for overseas shipping, these assortments can run as low as $4 on Amazon. Buy extra spools of white and black thread, I guarantee you’ll be using them a lot.
Wig head: $5
This is a creepy necessity of cosplay. It’s near impossible to style wigs when they’re on your own head, especially if you do any fancy styling that involves wefts or glue. Luckily, wig heads are available at your local Joann’s for about $5 with a coupon. For those with larger heads or more demanding styling needs, I recommend the male wig head. Mine is named Topher.
Good scissors are sharp scissors. Scissors get dulled by cutting foam, plastic, and paper. Once you decide on a pair of scissor to use as your fabric scissors–doesn’t matter if it’s a $1 pair from Dollar Tree or $45 Ginghers–it doesn’t cut anything but fabric from then on. Keep other pairs in reserve to cut your foams and papers. Pick up a multi-pack on Amazon or buy multiples from the dollar store.
It’s important to get a feel for pattern theory when starting out as a cosplayer. Nowadays, major pattern companies like Simplicity or McCall’s are producing patterns specifically for cosplayers, but it’s also useful to learn how to alter basic commercial patterns. Joann’s has multiple major pattern sales each year where patterns go from $22 each to $2 each, OR 10 for $10.
Pro tip: Sign up for the Joann’s mailing list and keep an eye out for patterns to practice with.
Basic tools: $70
For those interested in armor and prop-making, having a good assortment of tools is a must. These include a heat gun, dremel, hacksaw, measuring tape, and ruler. Free or cheap resources on how to actually use these tools are plentiful around the Internet, my favorite being Punished Props. If you can’t find what you need right away, don’t freak out–spend a few hours researching on Tumblr, Pinterest, Instructables, or YouTube, and chances are, you’ll find a good lead.
Foam assortment: $10-30
Foam is the savior of cosplay. After properly prepped, primed, and painted, foam can make a convincing piece of armor. EVA foam (floor mats, yoga mats) is affordable, accessible, lightweight, and no doubt a favorite material in most armor workshops. Craft foam, a thinner and even cheaper version of EVA foam, is another good alternative available in many retail stores. Pink insulation foam is another staple, shaped through carving and sanding to make larger, dimensional props. Each of these types of foam also require special glues; hot glue, for example, can hold together craft foam, but melts insulation foam. Consult an adhesive chart such as this one to find which adhesive best suits your project.
As tempting as it might be, I would advise against investing in expensive tools or supplies–for example, a serger, Worbla, or leather–before you get some experience under your belt. I know way too many people who think that throwing more money at their projects will automatically yield better results. Almost all artists will confirm this wisdom: Practice first, tools second.
Hope these cosplay tips keep you guys on budget!