7 Tips to Cosplay Without Buying Anything

how to cosplay while spending no money

It’s no secret, cosplay is expensive. If you’re on a tight budget, it can seem impossible to put together a costume that looks good and doesn’t cost a fortune. It will take a lot of creative thinking on your end, but there are ways to use what you already own to create a costume even if you have no money to spend.

You can cosplay without buying anything by using your own clothing and skills. You can also borrow what you need from friends and create a wide variety of props using only cardboard. It’s difficult to create a cosplay that’s 100% accurate, but you can still put together a recognizable costume.

Of course, there are limitations on which characters you can cosplay. Anything that is highly complex or needs to be precise will not be easy to put together without at least buying some of the pieces. However, if you plan to make something relatively simple, you can quickly put a costume together without spending any money at all.

1. What materials do you have in your closet?

The best place to start is in your own closet or wardrobe. Many of us have clothes we purchased years ago that we don’t even remember getting. Search through your clothing to see what you can use for the characters you have in mind. Remember, you can alter clothing if it’s not quite right to begin with, so keep an open mind when looking through your clothes.

Don’t forget about your miscellaneous items that aren’t clothing too. Belts, gloves, buckles, shoelaces, even excess fabric, towels, sheets, and drapes can be used to create your costume. Sometimes you’ll need to take things apart and combine them to create the look you’re going for, but don’t underestimate what you can do with what you already have and a little bit of resourcefulness.

2. What skills do you have that you can use?

You don’t have to use all of the items you find as they are. Use your skills with a needle and thread to alter clothing that you find. If you have old material, shirts, or sheets that you never use you can cut and sew them together to make your costume. 

Don’t forget about your crafting skills either. Do you know how to make jewelry? Design beautiful special effects makeup? Or style your hair to perfection? These are all skills and tools you can use to put a cosplay together without relying on your wallet.

If you don’t feel confident in your own skills, who can you ask for help? A friend or family member might have experience in altering their clothing and be happy to teach you. Creating a no-cost cosplay is just another excuse to learn new skills.

3. What can you borrow from a friend or family member?

Speaking of friends and family, maybe they have items in the back of their closet that you can use. If you can’t find anything you need from your own supplies, the best thing to do is borrow from someone else. 

Of course, if you’re going to be making alterations, be sure to ask your friend if it’s okay. You don’t want to cut up a shirt that they actually wear, but if it’s an old piece of clothing that doesn’t see any use, your friend might be willing to give it to you to use and alter to your heart’s content.

cardboard arm brace
You can use cardboard to make a lot of different types of props. It’s a versatile material for any costume.

4. Save a stack of cardboard boxes and duct tape

If you want to make props for your costumes, cardboard and duct tape are extremely useful tools. You can make swords, masks, and many types of props with only these tools. You can even make hats and basic armor if you’re willing to put some time into it. If you save the cardboard boxes from online orders, you will have a whole stack of this useful material ready to go for your costume.

If you don’t currently have cardboard, you can still get some for free. Your neighbors and friends might have some available. Alternatively, you can ask at your local supermarket for their old cardboard boxes. Most of the time these will just be thrown out or recycled, so they’ll have no problem giving them to you.

5. Decide what makes your character recognizable

When creating a no-cost costume, you will probably need to cut corners in the accuracy department. If you want to make sure your character is still recognizable, focus on the parts of the costume that are iconic to the character. The rest of the details will fade into the background. 

No one will care if the color of your shirt is slightly off, or if your eye color doesn’t match the characters. The shoes are often an afterthought, since no one is looking down at your feet, and most people won’t recognize missing or different jewelry.

However, if your character has a recognizable symbol (like the superman logo), or a unique prop (like the millennium puzzle), these are objects that people will identify with the character and notice if they’re missing. Put more effort into these parts of the costume.

6. Try casual cosplay instead

Casual cosplay is a little different than traditional cosplay. Instead of trying to make an exact replica of your character’s costume, you design an outfit inspired by them. You might color coordinate your outfit and style your hair in a similar fashion to your character. Or you might wear a casual outfit you believe your character would wear if they live in modern times. You can be as creative as you want with this type of cosplay and there is no need to worry about how accurate the outfit looks.

Tohru from Fruits Basket uniform vs. casual clothes
You may not be able to put together a school uniform or typical outfit without buying anything, but you can look for a casual outfit of the character and find similar clothing in your closet.

7. Choose an alternate outfit for your character

In many anime and comics, characters will have more than one outfit. They’ll have a school uniform that they wear most of the time, but occasionally the character will be seen in street clothes. This kind of clothing is usually a lot easier to replicate using items from your wardrobe than the specific design of a uniform.

Superhero characters have the same trend. They’ll have their iconic suits that they wear, but they also have casual clothing that is just as easily recognizable. You can scan through your favorite MCU movie to find a casual outfit that matches the items you found in your closet.

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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