I READ RECENT A RANT in a cosplay group by some random person saying “Cosplay is too expensive!” and “Why are all the costumes so expensive can anyone there just let me borrow a costume please? Because I need to cosplay because I am so handsome and hot I look like Cloud Strife”. Needless to say, that got on my nerves. Because this person actually didn’t mean it as a joke.
I easily feel attacked when I read posts like that, because I’m a cosplayer that operates on a real tight budget. When people say “it’s not possible”, I want to tell people that it IS possible. You just need time, effort, and a lot of creativity.
With that being said, let me tell the story of our first cosplay and how we conquered the “Cosplay is Expensive” problem.
LO AND BEHOLD, welcome everyone to my (our) first cosplay evveerrr. Our Final Fantasy VII Group cosplay in the year 2010. You can obviously see a point just from this one photo of how we did what we did. (I’m the Yuffie Kisaragi, by the way) And our group actually won “Best Group Cosplay” in two major cons, Toycon 2010 and AME1UP 2010–which I say not to brag, but to make a point that even with “non-expensive” cosplay, people recognize it and judge it as good enough.
As a backgrounder on our group, we live in an area which is mostly a slum area and we’re surrounded by junk shops and scrapyards, so it’s a surprise to many that cosplayers even come from our area. Also, in our group, we are all related. We are cousins. So it was a family effort to pull this entire group together, costumes and all.
Now I’m going to share strategies and solutions on how to conquer our cosplay problems, all under a tight budget. But before that I want to share a general truth in this world.
“Those with money often have no time, so they make up for it by paying people to do things for them instead. But if you have no money, you have to make up for it with time and creativity.”
(My friend and exboss, from a well-off family, was actually the one who told me this.)
So with that said, the methods here need you to sacrifice a lot of your time and efforts. Sure, you probably won’t spend anywhere near or past 500PHP (that’s around 15USD!) but you’ll be spending a whole lot of time. It’s always way easier to pay someone to make costumes for you, but if you can’t, there’s always a way, which is the point of this article.
PROBLEM: Costumes / Fabrics are expensive
Scour the goodwill stores, secondhand clothes stores, or your own closet. All fabric parts in our costumes are either things we already had lying in our closets, or things we picked up from the secondhand clothes stores, which is dirt cheap in our area. (It’s one of the benefits of living in a poor community LOL everything is cheap, because if people sell them for too high no one will buy.) My Yuffie shorts were actually pants and I just trimmed and hemmed it myself. Even Vincent’s long red cloak is a secondhand find–it’s from an oversized skirt he got at 2oPHP. (It’s super oversized… it’s bigger than him, and it was a skirt. How that happened is weird.)
So if you can buy secondhand “ukay” clothing that’s a close match to your character and just alter it, go for it! If you can’t find anything like it but can find a really big shirt or skirt that has exactly the fabric you need, go for it! Even if you don’t know how to sew and sew it on your own, you’re already saving a lot that way. “Ukay-ukays” have a lot of clothing that are made of quality fabrics that would otherwise cost you hundreds if you buy the fabrics by the yard.
If you need LEATHER / LEATHERETTE clothes… as an inside secret, Sephiroth’s black trench is made out of the vinyl covering of an old couch that was stuck in my cousin’s house. They peeled off the cover, painted it black, and then (gasp) hand-sewn it to be Sephiroth’s signature jacket. Go to upholstery shops or buy linoleum/vinyl flooring. Creativity is key!
This entire costume was made by the cosplayer himself. From the costume, the wig, to the clothes, and everything was made from recycled materials. Plastic for the wig, tire rubber for the pauldrons, vinyl upholstery for the coat, metal guards from doors and chairs for the sword, and a lot more.
PROBLEM: My costume needs a specific pattern on the fabric
A jar of fabric paint won’t cost you more than 100PHP. In my Yuffie costume, there are specific flower patterns on her shirt. What I did was buy a jar of textile paint, and make a stencil for the flowers out of clear acetate sheets, and then paint on. They are lovely and accurate, and don’t cost a lot! No need to hire someone to do it.
This entire costume was sewn from “ukay” finds, and the patterns on the shirt were painted by me too.
PROBLEM: Having costumes sewn is expensive
Sew yourself! Don’t have a sewing machine? Hand-stitch! Hear this out: Everyone except for me (and Reno) was wearing hand-stitched costumes. Even the Sephiroth coat made of vinyl was hand-stitched! Can you comprehend how difficult that is?
You don’t need to do fancy stitches. If you can’t get them even, just make sure as little of the thread is seen, there is a stitch like that. It’ll be messy in the underside of the clothes but the stitches are little to not seen outside. And using thread the same color as your costume is key, so it doesn’t look unpolished.
If all else fails and you have no patience for sewing, go to a seamstress. But I highly suggest going to one near you, instead of going to a cosplay-specific online shop. Most of those online stores don’t sew the costumes themselves–they contract a seamstress instead. Which means you’re paying the seamstress AND the manager of the shop. If you go direct to the seamstress, you’re not paying extra.
We got this entire Teashop Zuko outfit sewn by our local seamstress for only P450(12USD), and the Azula one for P350 (7USD). Online, no one was going to do it for less than 1k EACH.
PROBLEM: Wigs are expensive, I can’t afford them
It’s a group signature that none of us wear actual wigs back in those days. If you see anyone sporting “different” hair, it’s probs us. If you don’t want to buy wigs and think it’s too expensive, you can, first and foremost, dye your own hair instead.
My brother did red for his Reno back in those days. The long tail is actually from a kind donor who cut up her hair and donated the locks to us.
Or (gasp) you can make your own wig, as is the group signature. The key item that you really need is this:
Plastic twine. You may recognize it as the stuff that baggers use to tie boxes if you purchased too much in the grocery. (Photo is grabbed from futuregirl.com)
The method is really simple–the plastic twine can be separated into fibers, manually by hand, and then with a fine comb. You then sew this onto a hairnet or base and then wear it like a wig. The more finely you separate the fibers, the better it looks. It actually registers decently in photos, in my opinion. Heck, you can also style it. The Shiva wig is made out of plastic twine covering foam bases.
(For me, it somehow makes sense that Jenova is wearing recycled materials. It gives her that whole industrial-tech vibe.)
I said it so simply like that but be warned, it be a long and tedious process! But you only spend around 100PHP to make a Sephiroth wig, instead of the usual 1kPHP+++ if you buy a real wig.
The Cloud wig is made out of broom fibers instead, since plastic wouldn’t do the job for it. It’s not the finest piece of work, but it’s economical.
PROBLEM 4: Weapons and armor are so expensive!
SOLUTION: Go to a scrap yard. Or your garage. Get the materials there–whatever you need. Thin plywood, fiberglass, plastic acrylic tiles, metal…
And then you go to a carpenter. No, you do not go to a “props maker” if you want to save up–you go to a local carpenter or any person who has the tools to cut up wood and such. So, a carpenter, a handyman, or even someone who repairs cars, like my uncle. My uncle (also the dad of our Vincent, Sephiroth, Shiva, and Tifa) has a car repair shop, meaning he has all the tools to cut and bend. It also means that in his garage is a lot of scrap.
Recycled materials galore for the entire Vincent costume, from the wig, the cape, the satchel/bag made from torn up plastic pouches of badminton rackets, tubes and pipes for the Cerberus gun, and metal film for the golden part of the shoes. The metal arm is a cardboard, foam, and paper mache mixture.
Buying new kilos of rubber sheet and fiberglass is expensive. If you want to save up, you buy them when they’re used and already have been turned into something else in their past lives.
PROBLEM: I’m not the same color as the character but face paint/body paint is expensive.
You’ll be in for the shock of your lives when I tell you that Shiva and Jenova are actually not covered in body paint, but in ACTUAL paint. Yeah, the sort you use to paint a wall in your house. I hear it’s P100-ish for a small bucket. Real body paint is P300-ish, or more.
That “wig” weighs 2 Kilos, so you gotta give her props for wearing it for an entire day in a convention. Again, everything used is handstitched and recycled. She’s also covered in house paint. However the most surprising fact is that two months prior to cosplaying, she just underwent surgery for appendicitis and was supposed to be “in bedrest for six months”. She’s doing smashing now.
The paint was thinned down though by some water, so they got it off them with a bath. It stays on in a convention, but you can get it off with a simple bath and some loofah.
As for minor cover-ups… will you be surprise if I told you Vincent and Sephiroth are real tan (like caramel/mocha tan) in real life? How do they get that white color in photos? This is not ‘shopped:
I’m naturally fair-skinned and the light is hitting me so I look white, but Vinnie’s face is hidden in shadow, but he still looks white. It’s really surprising because he’s brown in real life.
The answer is Mena. You can buy it for P20 or so. Slather it on thickly on your face and voila. Temporary whiteness. However it’s such a China prod that you can’t even find pics of it in Google. But you can buy ones in Watson.
Shiva also used candy to color her lips blue instead of lipstick. Know those candies that turn your tongue a different color when you eat them? Yup, that’s what she used.
I THINK CREATIVITY goes a long way. It’s important to look at something and not limit your mind in thinking of how you can create it. Creativity is key, and so is time. You have to set aside time for whatever you want to pursue. We had about a month of doing nothing but creating and completing these costumes, and helping each other out.
With these techniques, we were able to spend a minimum on how much we spend on a costume, able to save as much as 70-80% of the cost if we had someone else make them for us instead. Individually, we didn’t spend any more than P500 each. It also creates a beautiful story–each costume has a history of how it was made and what the materials were previously.
This post aims to challenge everyone who thinks cosplay is not possible unless you can pay up for the expensive costumes, armors and props, and thinks it’s for the “elite”. There’s a place for everyone in cosplay, as long as they set their hearts to it and give it their best. If you think it needs a ton of money to accomplish, then you haven’t thought enough and tried enough and simply don’t want it enough.
When there’s a will, there’s a way. It can be like how we did–letting creativity take center stage instead of money–or it can be in other ways. Students and professionals save up for this hobby–even if they don’t make their own costumes, they devote days or months into saving and skipping on indulgences just so they can cosplay one character, because they are passionate.
So it’s not a matter of cosplay being “too expensive”, it’s simply a matter of how passionate you are about it.
All the photos here are taken by manilacoke/Ice Lacsina (pictured above) by the way, except for the first, which was taken by Ken Acosta. Check out manilacoke’s deviantArt here.