Is Buying Cosplay Worth it? How to Find High-Quality Costumes

the benefits of store-bought cosplay

If you’re just getting started with cosplay, you may have heard the myth that cosplayers always make their own costumes. If you don’t know how to sew or create props, this may seem like an intimidatingly high level of entry to the hobby. The good news is that there is no requirement in cosplay that you make your own costume. In fact, it’s quite common for people to have fun wearing store-bought cosplays.

Purchasing a cosplay costume is a great choice for people who are just getting started with the hobby. It doesn’t require any specialized skills, and you can usually find good quality costumes for the same cost it would be to make the costume yourself.

There are some limitations, however. You’ll need to be careful about where you purchase costumes online so that you don’t end up with a low-quality cosplay that keeps falling apart. You will also have less control over the final product, including the fabric choices and costume details.

Is it okay to purchase a cosplay costume instead of making it?

While many people do create their own cosplay costumes, most people wear outfits that were purchased from an online shop or commissioned. It’s a very common occurrence and doesn’t make your costume any less of a cosplay than people who made it themselves.

Personally, I enjoy the process of creating my own costumes. It gives me a chance to learn new skills and have a sense of accomplishment when I wear the final outfit. However, I will also purchase costumes when I don’t have the time or expertise to make them. 

When I first started cosplaying, most of my costumes were bought from online cosplay shops, and I was very happy with the quality I received. I’ve also commissioned several costumes and found some used cosplays for cheap. Purchasing a costume never took away from the experience of cosplaying.

Do people look down on store-bought cosplays?

In every community, there are elitists who will judge other people. There will always be people who look down their noses at others who don’t meet the perfect standards of a well-crafted handmade cosplay, especially in online communities. However, these people are not representative of the cosplay community and they’re not even that common.

No one is going to come up to you at a convention and try to embarrass you for wearing a store-bought costume. It wouldn’t even make sense because the reality is that store-bought costumes are very common at conventions. It would be ridiculous to go up to everyone at a convention and just to tell them they’re somehow doing cosplay wrong. To be honest, most people won’t even know who is wearing a handmade costume and who isn’t. 

ranka from Macross Frontier
I bought this Ranka cosplay a number of years ago when I was studying abroad in Japan. Fun fact: it’s a lot less common for people to construct their own costumes in Japan vs. the US

The limitations of bought cosplay

Before you buy a costume, there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind. If you’re the kind of person who really cares about an accurate costume that will stand out at conventions, it may be better to start learning the craft of costume making.

The limitations on purchasing a cosplay include:

  • You can’t enter contests. Most conventions have costume contests where they judge the construction of your cosplay. Purchasing a costume excludes you from participating in these events.
  • You can’t control the fabric/material choices that are made. Most of the time costumes that are purchased from online shops are made with cheap polyester fabric. The costumes still generally look okay, but they don’t always hold up well to multiple washes, don’t iron easily, and don’t always fit the aesthetic of the character.
  • Sizes can be confusing. Most online cosplay shops use Asian-standard sizes rather than western sizes. They will typically run two sizes smaller than what you would expect. For example, if you are normally a medium you might have to purchase an extra-large. Always measure yourself and double-check the sizing chart from the online shop before choosing which size to purchase.
  • You don’t always get what’s in the photos. At the very least, the color in photos is usually not 100% accurate to real life. In some cases, less honest retailers will use stolen photos to sell their products, so you will end up receiving a costume that looks completely different than you expected.
  • You have to pay for it up-front. While the overall cost of creating your own cosplay is usually not much cheaper than buying one, you can spread that money out over a series of months. For store-bought costumes, you usually have to pay the full price right away, which can be difficult if you are on a tight budget.
Ouran high school host club Honey cosplayer
It makes a lot of sense to purchase school uniform costumes, since these can take a lot of skill to make by hand.

The advantages of bought cosplay

On the flip side, there are some advantages to purchasing a costume. These are most applicable if you have limited ability in sewing and costume construction. However, even if you do have some skills, it might be cheaper or quicker to purchase a costume from a retailer or commissioner instead.

  • It might be more durable.  If you are new to making cosplay, you may find that the first few costumes don’t hold together very well. This is, of course, something you will get better at over time, however, when you’re first starting out the store-bought cosplay will likely be made better than a handmade costume.
  • It’s often cheaper in the long run. When you make your own costumes, you end up getting nicer materials and pay more attention to details. In addition, you may have to purchase extra material if you mess up and need to start again. So, sometimes purchasing a costume is actually cheaper than making it yourself.
  • You don’t need any special skills. If you don’t know how to sew or add detailed embellishments to a costume and don’t really care to learn, then you may as well buy the costume. If you want something specially made, you can always commission it from someone who does cosplay work.
  • You can alter them to fit perfectly. If you do know a little bit about sewing, you can speed up the process of making the costume by purchasing it from a store and altering the pieces to fit exactly as you want them to. 
  • You can buy it faster than you can make it. The other advantage to buying a costume is the amount of time you save. You do still need to purchase the cosplay in advance since they are usually made-to-order. However, once you purchase the costume, all you need to do is wait for it to arrive in the mail.

How to find a good cosplay costume online

Unfortunately, there are a lot of shops that will try to scam you into purchasing an extremely low-quality cosplay. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up with a costume that falls apart with broken zippers, ripped seams, and a completely different appearance than the costume you thought you were buying.

To help you vet places before you buy, consider these points:

  • Look for unique photos. One of the biggest giveaways of a shop trying to cheat you is when they use photos from another source. A legit store will usually have a system for photographing their costumes, so they’ll have a similar background, mannequin, and lighting throughout their website. 
  • Find reviews of the store. Many of the stores that have been around for a while will have reviews posted in online communities that you can check out. You can also ask if anyone has experience purchasing from a store you have an eye on if you can’t find any specific reviews.
  • Does the shop offer video previews? Recently, I’ve noticed that some shops release video previews of some of their costumes. This is a way they can prove they are legit and actually made the costumes they are advertising.
  • Are the prices too good to be true? Most basic cosplay costumes (such as a school uniform) are going to be somewhere around $100. More extensive cosplays will cost even more. If you find a costume that is significantly less than this, I would question the quality of the cosplay I’d receive.
  • Look for someone who takes commissions. Instead of buying from an online cosplay shop, you could commission someone to make a costume for you specifically. You can find people in cosplay groups (such as on Facebook or Reddit) who are looking to take commissions. Usually, these will be higher quality costumes, but also more expensive.

Emily Joice

My name is Emily, and I have been cosplaying since my very first convention in 2008. Over the years, I've experimented with all different kinds of cosplay costumes, especially loving the process of creating props and styling wigs. I also delved into cosplay photography, and love exploring how to optimize costumes so they look excellent in photos. Most of the photos you find on this site were taken by me over my years at anime conventions.

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