Buying vs. Making a CosplayThis is a quick guide to getting started with a cosplay, it is written to help first time costume makers to get started on their first project. I often see people asking for help on this subject, so I wrote it for them.
A question that pops up a lot on cosplay forums is "should I make or buy this costume?" and the answers are really divided. The truth is, there is no one answer for this question. It's not always cheaper to make your own costume, and it isn't always easier to buy it! Whether you should make or buy a costume really depends on a bunch of factors including time, budget and sewing ability. So I'm going to compare buying a costume to making one, hopefully I'll be able to dispel some myths and help people decide.
Buying A Costume
IntroBuying a costume has been the savior of those who can't sew. You go online and find a commissioner or a store and they do all the work. However there is always a risk when buying online, you never know what you are going to get or if you will even get it. There are a lot of positives and negatives of online buying, and I'm going to go through them.
PriceThe price of a bought costume is generally calculated with this formula:
Labor/Time costs + Fabric/Material Costs + Shipping Costs + Bonus*
(*Sometimes a small bonus is added, this could be to prevent against the seller loosing out on what they make from material prices going up, or they may add it in because of special situations like rush orders. This all depends on the seller)
People argue that buying a costume costs more than making because you are paying for their labor and time. I disagree. I believe shipping is what makes it cost more since it is something you would not experience when making the outfit yourself.
► Cosplay Stores
Cosplay stores generally mass produce costumes and sell them at a lower price. They usually have a set group of costumes they will make, but have a variety of sizes. These stores have a set price for their outfits, and it comes as is – they won't make any specific modifications (ex. changing the type of fabric.) Buying from a cosplay store is usually cheaper than buying from a commissioner because they buy fabric in bulk (therefore fabric/material costs are lower) and mass produce costumes (so labor/time costs are lower). Costumes tend to start around $80 but can go above $300 depending on the costume's details.
You should be careful about pricing when buying from a cosplay store, because sometimes the prices are much higher than something may be worth.It is always good to compare prices with other sites before committing.The price may also reflect the quality, so if it is a very detailed costume but is much lower than other websites, then it is most likely made with poor quality fabrics.
(Below) Namine has a very simple dress made of relatively cheap material, I really think $135.00 is a ridiculous price for it. The second is far more reasonable, but may be lacking in quality
Commissioners are usually cosplayers themselves, looking to make some extra money (or even support themselves) with their hobby. Costumes are custom-made for the person who orders and so you can request specific changes, such as a longer skirt or different colored ribbon. While they may be more accurate, the process takes longer and generally costs more because fabric is bought for the project – not in bulk.
Prices from commissioners tend to range depending on their skill, how many other projects they have, how fast they can work, how cheap they can get the material. To find out how much a costume costs you need to ask for a quote from the commissioner. Just like with cosplay stores, you should shop around and ask multiple commissioners to compare prices.
TimeWhen buying a costume you save yourself a lot of time since you don't have to sit there making it. Even if a costume is simple and might only take a day to do, that is still a lot of time that some people don't have! The only time you invest is searching around for a good place to buy from.
However if you need a costume quickly, then it may not arrive on time. Since costumes may take awhile to make if they are being custom-made, and they also take a while to ship (while some places it takes 5-10 business days it may take 10-20 days when shipping overseas!) unless you pay for faster shipping. So if you are planning to buy, make sure you do it early so that your costume can be made, shipped and arrive on time! Always check a seller's shipping times, and if you have a specific date when you need it – let your commissioner know.
AbilityCan't sew, cast, use tools? No problem! Buying a costume means you can cosplay without any ability to make a costume whatsoever, since you are essentially paying someone to make it for you. So no ability is required.
Please note, that many cons have costume contests based on craftmanship. So if you buy your costume, then you won't be able to enter these contests. If you make a certain percent of your costume (it varies, so check you con's website for details) and commission the rest (such as make the costume, commission a wig) then you may still be able to compete.
Accuracy / QualityThe accuracy and quality of a costume varies from store to store and commissioner to commissioner. Usually lower priced costumes are less accurate and lower quality, but this is not always the case.
► Cosplay Stores
Cosplay stores are a hit and miss, they may sell amazing, detailed, good quality costumes but at the same time have a low quality, inaccurate costume in the same store. Remember these are mass-produced for the most part, so they want to make as much as possible, quickly and cheaply.
Cosplay stores usually have these low quality costumes because people will buy them just because of the low price, and usually the buyer does not know much about good material or is quick to act and doesn't think about accuracy.
Satin (below) is a huge offender when it comes to poor quality costumes. It looks good in some lighting but generally looks cheap. It is also easy to fray and the seams tend to bunch up. Generally it's referred to as "satin = satan" because of how bad it is.
There are good costume sold by stores, you just need to do some searching for them. When looking for a good quality costume from a store you should always have a reference picture of the costume available to compare. You should also look at up close views of the outfit if possible, to see what the fabric and stitches look like. If it looks sloppy – such as hanging threads, inaccurate, or it just looks bad overall then do some searching for a different costume.
Commissioners are making the costume from scratch so you can tell them how accurate you want the costume to be. Since they are usually cosplayers themselves they usually know what fabric to avoid and how to do all the little details. This is not always the case! Always check through a commissioner's portfolio or photo gallery to see what other stuff they have made for themselves and others. I have seen commissioners who make stuff with satin and paint, with messy sewing and hanging threads.
Accuracy and quality is a gamble, unless you are able to see and feel it in person (such as buying a costume at a con) but since most commissions and stores are online, you usually have to risk it. If you are uncertain you can always ask for additional photos from a store, or information on the fabric used. You can ask a commissioner for progress pictures and information on the fabric they use. Remember, you are the one who ends up with the result, so if you have questions … ask them!
RisksBuying online always has its risks since you can't see the actual item until it arrives. Sometimes eBay sellers steal cosplayer photos and use them to advertise their costumes, so what you see is not always what you get. Commissioners may have a great gallery but may not put in the same effort on your costume. There is also the risk that it will get lost in the mail, arrive late, or never arrive at all.
Before buying from a seller you should do some research to determine if they are good. I suggest checking out these threads: The commissioner review thread and The merchant review thread. A quick google search of a seller's name might bring up reviews as well, specifically if they have been a bad seller.
Buying: Positives and NegativesPositives
- Can find good prices
- Great if you can't sew
- Great for if you have no time to work on a costume
- Usually good quality (Many costumes sewn with a serger!)
- Can be found online (eBay, commissioners) and offline (cons, anime stores, costume shops)
- Commissioners allow for you to request variations
- Less stress! (Making costume can be stressful)
- Less mess! (Making a costume can be messy)
- May not arrive on time for con
- High Risk (no control over result)
- Price may be higher than reasonable
- Possibly poor quality
- Possibly inaccurate
- May be hard to keep in contact with seller (ex. not responding to emails)
- May not always fit properly
Who should buy?People who can't sew (or make the costume/prop), don't have a lot of time, or don't want to make their own costume should commission or buy a costume. While you may not be able to enter craftsmanship contests, you can still look good and enjoy the convention!
And just a side tip, if you buy your costume then give it a quick iron before wearing it to the con. Costumes usually end up with folds because of how it is shipped, and that never looks good!
Making a Cosplay:
IntroMaking a costume can be stressful at times and it can become pretty difficult to make props, style wigs, and sew a costume (or build a costume) by yourself! It is also very rewarding, you can say you made it if people ask and you can enter the craftsmanship contests. If you have the ability and time to make your own costume I highly sugguest it, it's great to have complete control over your costume's outcome.
PricePrice varies depending on the costume you make, how cheap you can get the materials, and how many mistakes you make (if you make many mistakes you might have to get more fabric and re-do the whole thing!). It also depends on what the costume is too, a simple costume could easily be under $100 where a full-out mech suit is definitely over $100. I've seen people make costumes for as low as $10 and as high as over $2000 (in fact, Volpin's Big Daddy Bioshock Cosplay sold for $2,000 USD on eBay). My personal range has been between $50 CND and $500 CND.
So is it cheaper to make it yourself? Most of the time it is, just because you don't have to pay for additional costs like shipping, or pay for the labor since you provide it yourself. However, unlike when buying from a commissioner or a store, you don't get an up front price. You can estimate it at being a cost of $100 but the little things add up along the way, it might be $100 to start but you could easily spend more because you needed more of a certain thing, forgot about a piece, or something failed.
However, since these costs are over time it is less strain on your wallet. If you plan ahead you could put $10 a week toward a cosplay and within a couple months have enough for everything! This is one of the reasons it is good to plan ahead!
TimeMaking a costume is definately a time waster! You should plan ahead for every costume because you have to go out and buy the materials, take the time to cut, pin, sew, paint, style, build, etc. While it is possible to make a costume in a day depending on how simple it is, some costumes may take months to put together! For someone with a busy schedule and a want for a detailed costume, making the cosplay might not be an option because of the amount of time it takes.
AbilityMaking a costume requires you to have some ability sewing, building, or crafting. Most costumes can be made by altering sewing patterns, which give you instructions on how to make it, but some patterns are difficult and might be difficult for an inexperienced sewer with nobody to help them. Additionally, some things are much more difficult than just sewing and may require additional tools to do. For example, working with wood for a prop usually requires tools and the ability to use those tools. These skills all can be learned, you can take sewing or construction classes, or you can read tutorials on using fiberglass and wig styling.
If you have no costume making abilities and want to cosplay right away, it is probably better to commission it. But if you have the time and want to make your costume then the resources are out there and many cosplayers are willing to share tips!
RisksThere are risks in making a cosplay, even if you don't think it is dangerous. For one, some materials are hazardous to your health (resin, spray paint) but there are also dangers of burning yourself with an iron or stabbing yourself with a pin. Though, it isn't likely that any of these injuries will be severe! Just remember to read safety information when trying new things, and be cautious around tools and hot irons.
Making: Postives and NegativesPositives
- Can enter contests and say you made it
- Learn many new skills
- Possibly a lower price than buying
- It can fit you exactly
- Can be higher quality than bought costumes
- Can be altered however you wish (ex. different length of skirt)
- No added shipping costs, or waiting time
- Low/No risk of getting scammed
- If you can't sew, then it may turn out poor quality
- High stress
- May be disappointed with results
- Much more work involved then buying
- Can take a long time to make
- Possibly get injured (sewing pricks, small burns)