Cosplay is an expensive hobby because of the amount of skill and material that goes into the creation of costumes. There are so many pieces you need to consider, including the costume, wig, shoes, props, and even specialized makeup supplies. If you purchase or commission a costume, you are paying for the sewing and construction skills of the person you hire. All of this can easily add up, making it difficult to stick to your budget.
The cost of cosplay will vary from around $100 for a simple costume to $1000+ for more complex commissioned designs. You will also need to factor in the cost of travel and conventions if you plan to wear your cosplay to an event.
When I did an informal survey of regular cosplayers, I found the average cost of creating a costume was about $200-$400, with no one spending below $150 on a costume. Despite these high prices, there are many steps you can take to reduce the cost of cosplay. By choosing cheaper materials or opting for a simpler costume (or even a closet cosplay), you can meet the needs of a strict budget.
Why is cosplay expensive?
At its core, cosplay is so expensive because it requires many different parts and layers along with the skills to put everything together. If you commission a costume for yourself, you are paying for the expertise of someone who has spent a long time perfecting their craft. If you make something yourself, you need to purchase all the tools and supplies yourself. That can add up much faster than expected.
- The cost of materials: There are a lot of parts that go into making a cosplay. You’ll need a wig, the cloth for the costume, the materials for props and accessories, not to mention all the paint, glue, pins, and makeup products needed to perfect the cosplay.
- Costumes with many layers: Any complex costume will also have many layers to think about. It may have two skirts, a shirt, corset, cape, custom boots, horns, and a custom hair piece for just one costume.
- Purchasing a costume pays for skilled workers. Creating high quality cosplay takes a lot of time and practice. It’s a skill that you will need to develop over time, so it’s no wonder that most commissioners will charge a good rate for their work.
- You typically only wear them a few times: Most clothes you buy are intended to be worn for multiple occasions over and over again. The price-per-wear will usually be a reasonable amount even when buying more expensive and durable clothing. Cosplay costumes, on the other hand, are typically made to be worn only a handful of times at conventions.
- Cosplay is popular. Lately, cosplay has become a much more popular activity than it has been in the past. This means merchants can increase prices knowing that there is an increased demand for their costumes. By the simple principles of supply and demand, cosplay has become more expensive to purchase over the past 1-2 decades.
- Conventions are expensive. Most people only wear cosplay to conventions, so it’s important to also factor in the cost of traveling, staying at a hotel, and the event itself. While these can be reduced by carpooling and staying with friends, they also add to the expense of the hobby.
Handmade cosplays are not necessarily cheaper
Most of the time, an easy way to reduce the cost of any creative project is to make it yourself. Sometimes, this can be the case with cosplay, especially when comparing a handmade costume to a high-end commissioned cosplay. However, it’s not uncommon to spend more than you intended on a costume you’re making from scratch.
- You may have to redo parts: If you have never made armor or sewed a costume from a pattern before, you should expect to mess up a few times in the process. It’s completely normal and nothing to be ashamed about, but it will require you to purchase extra materials to try again. These mistakes, of course, increase the cost of the finished costume.
- You might not have all the tools on hand. Making a costume by hand will require a lot of basic tools that can be pretty expensive. Sewing machines, heat guns, cutting mats, dress forms, and all the small tools (like scissors, pins, glue, paint, etc.) add up. A professional would have these tools on hand, but the initial cost can be a lot for someone just starting to cosplay.
- Perfection is expensive: When you make your own costume, you are highly invested in the finished product. You’ll spend extra time and money on details to make the cosplay absolutely perfect.
- Cosplay shops already have the costumes designed. Many cosplay shops are able to provide cheaper prices because they have a costume designed and ready to make again.
- They take a lot of time to create. You also need to consider the amount of time that goes into making a cosplay. While it may be cheaper in the long run, sometimes time is more valuable than money. If you don’t actually enjoy the process of making cosplay, your time may be better spent elsewhere.
How to cosplay for less money
Even though there are many factors that add to the price of cosplaying, you can adjust your approach to make a costume on a budget. Back when I was a college student and only worked part-time at a bookstore, I used all of these tips to afford my costumes. While they are not necessarily going to give you the highest quality cosplays, you’d be surprised at how good you can look even when spending very little money.
- Closet cosplays: This is when you use everyday clothing (that you might find in your closet or cheaply in stores) to put together a costume rather than making it specifically for the character. This works best with characters that have simple costumes or if the character has a plain-clothes outfit in a few episodes.
- Use your real hair: High-quality wigs can be pretty expensive. I’ve cut down on the price of wigs by growing my hair out and dyeing it to work with characters’ hairstyles. You can also take some creative liberty and change the design of the character to work with your hair. For example, I’ve seen a sailor moon cosplayer use her natural hair to make Afro-puffs instead of the pigtail-buns from the anime.
- Don’t worry too much about accuracy: Most people don’t notice when the details are a little off. If your shoes are just generic boots, or you couldn’t find the correct skirt color for a cheap enough price, don’t worry about it.
- Reuse cosplay pieces: You can reuse simple wigs from cosplay to cosplay or the white undershirts of many different school uniforms. These basic costume pieces can be reused repeatedly, making future cosplays a little bit cheaper.
- Choose a cosplay that works with your budget: As much as you want to tackle the more complex or armored character designs, these are going to be a lot more expensive. If you’re on a budget, stick to simpler characters.
- Learn to alter clothing: Many articles of clothing can easily be made into a costume piece with just a few alterations. You can find shirts or dresses similar to what you need at a thrift store and add a different collar, cuffs, or cinch the waist to make it work for your costume.
- Buy used cosplay: You can also search Etsy, Storenvy, eBay, and the Facebook marketplace for people selling their used cosplays. You can often get entire costumes for $20 or less. Just be sure to double-check the measurements so you are buying an outfit that will actually fit.
- Buy cheap costumes: There is nothing wrong with finding a cheap bulk-made costume online and wearing that. It may not be the highest quality costume, but that is no reason you can’t have fun cosplaying your favorite character.