Is it REALLY Cheaper to Make Your Own Cosplay?

making your own cosplay is more expensive?

In most hobbies, DIY-ing a project is sure to make it cheaper in the long run. It makes sense that people assume cosplay is the same. If you can learn how to sew and construct a basic costume, maybe you can save a lot of money on cosplay. Unfortunately, you’ll find out that this logic does not always follow through.

Making your own cosplay is only cheaper when compared to a high-end commissioned costume. Closet cosplays and simple costumes are less expensive overall and can still look excellent. However, if you want to wear a complex costume, it is often worth it financially to create the cosplay from scratch.

In my opinion, the real advantage of making your own costume is the amount of control you have over the final product. It’s also very satisfying to learn all the new skills associated with cosplay construction. In the end, you’ll be able to create high-quality costumes cheaper than it would be to get it commissioned. But until you get to that point, it’s going to be expensive.

Why buying a costume is sometimes the cheapest method

If you are on a strict budget and want to start cosplaying, buying a costume or putting together a closet cosplay (using clothes from your closet or thrifted clothing) will probably be the cheapest option. There are many online shops where you can purchase a simple costume for the same price it would cost just to purchase the fabric when making your own cosplay.

For example, I’m just starting to plan a Scarlet Witch costume from Wandavision. I did a quick search online and was able to find that you can purchase a decent, well-made costume for about $200. So far, I’ve already spent almost that amount on the materials for the costume, and I haven’t even purchased the fabric for the cloak yet.

How are these online merchants able to get away with cheap prices?

  • They often use lower quality fabric. Most cosplay shops will use polyester fabric for their costumes. This is basically just plastic fabric. It can still look perfectly fine as a costume, but it has a somewhat synthetic appearance and it’s not great for the environment.
  • They use labor overseas. Most of these cosplay companies are located in China. This means it’s comparatively a lot cheaper to make the costumes because the dollar is much more powerful overseas.
  • They already have the patterns on hand. When a cosplay shop sells a costume from their catalogue, they’ve already done the work of creating the design. All they have to do is adjust the size and reuse the pattern pieces, while you would have to figure out how to make the pattern for the cosplay from scratch.

Buying a costume also has the advantage of being a set price. It’s easier to budget if you know exactly how much your costume is going to cost. You won’t need to worry about how expensive the materials are, and you won’t need to buy extra material if you mess up. If you don’t know how to sew and don’t care to learn, then buying a costume will save you a lot of time and money.

ranka from Macross Frontier
Ranka from Macross Frontier was a store-bought costume. It’s a decent quality and was constructed well, but the low quality fabric tended to look stiff and unnatural.

Purchase at your own risk

You do need to be careful about where you purchase your costume, of course. There are many sellers that will use photos stolen from other sources and end up sending you a low quality costume that might fall apart if you try to wear it. Some merchants will also charge high prices for very simple costumes, knowing that it will sell because the character is popular. 

Don’t be afraid to look for reviews or compare photos on different sites to make sure you’re shopping from a reputable store.

anna from Shaman Kin cosplay
Simple costumes can easily be put together using basic thrifted clothing. For my Anna cosplay, I only needed a black dress, red headband, and cheap costume jewelry.

Closet cosplays

Closet cosplays are the cheapest way to go, but it won’t work for every costume. You would need to choose a character with relatively simple clothing and then put together the costume with regular clothes from your wardrobe or a thrift store.

I did this with the character Anna from Shaman King. Her outfit is a simple black dress and red bandana. I was easily able to find the pieces for less than $30. It helped that I also had the same color hair as the character, but you can find passable wigs for relatively cheap as long as you don’t need to do any heavy styling.

the cost of a cosplay
Even a simple costume like my Red XIII from Final Fantasy VII can end up being pretty expensive I commissioned the costume pieces, but still had to buy the wig, ears, shoes, etc. for a total of $205 for the cosplay.

When is buying a cosplay more expensive

Buying a costume isn’t always going to be cheaper than making one though. If you want a high quality, detail-oriented costume, then you’ll need to turn to someone who can take commissions. Because commissioned costumes take the time and skill of someone who knows how to make costumes from scratch, they can be much more expensive than creating your own. However, you are also going to come out with something that is unique and higher-quality than anything you can find online.

Buying props also tend to be much more expensive than making them yourself. Since most costume props can be created using fairly cheap materials (like EVA foam, paperclay, or even cardboard), they can often be created without using too much money. However, props do require some amount of artistic ability and skill in construction. It will take a lot of time and practice before you’ll be able to create your own high quality props.

What makes a homemade cosplay so expensive

Now that we’ve discussed that factors that cause purchasing a costume to be cheap (or not), let’s also look into what makes homemade cosplay so expensive. If you can minimize the cost of these aspects, then you might be able to create a costume for a lot less.

  • Buying high quality materials. Buying higher quality material will make the price of the costume go up. When you go fabric shopping, you might look around and find the perfect material, only to find that it’s three or four times the price of a simple cotton fabric that would get the job done. 
  • Making mistakes. If you’re new to costume and prop construction, you are bound to make mistakes. However, mistakes can cost a lot of money by making you purchase more material, paint, or other aspects of the costume. The more skilled you are with sewing and construction, the cheaper your costume will be.
  • When you care about being perfect. All the little details you add to your costume are going to add up. Sometimes when making your own costumes, you will find that you need to have everything perfect. But by cutting corners on some of the insignificant details, you can end up saving quite a bit of money.
  • When you don’t have the tools for sewing and construction. Every time you try a new skill or technique, there are going to be tools you have to get to go with it. Things like a sewing machine, a dress form, a heat gun, pins and needles, hot glue, scissors, and so much more. These tools will have a high initial cost, but they are one-time purchases that you can continue to use for future costumes.
sewing machine and supplies
After you’ve been creating costumes for a while, you will accumulate many of the different tools and supplies that are necessary, cutting down on costs of future costumes.

Taking time and skill into account when making a cosplay

As you become more skilled at costume making, from sewing to prop construction, you will also be capable of creating costumes for less. You’ll have a better idea of which materials will work for the costume. You’ll make fewer mistakes, and you won’t have to invest in more expensive tools (since you have them already).

When considering the cost of a cosplay, don’t forget to take time into account also. Time is very valuable, so if you don’t actually enjoy the process of creating a costume, it might be better to buy or commission it. 

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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