written by LK (@thriftcosplayer)
A large sheet of thermoplastics- $60. Enough EVA foam to make an armor chest plate- $50. Imported fabric - $40. Custom foam and wood prop weapon - $70. Official color cosplay wig - $60. Foam latex prosthetics - $20… Cosplay can be expensive! Not to mention time consuming—building an authentic costume and creating pieces can take months and months, and a finished costume can cost hundreds of dollars. Because of this, getting into cosplaying can be not only intimidating, but also prohibitively expensive for many. What do you do if you want to get into cosplay but don’t have the time, money, or know-how to create costumes completely from scratch?
Well, I’m LK, also known as “The Thrift-Shop Cosplayer.” As long as I can remember, I've loved going to thrift stores and getting good deals. It's something my mother instilled in me early; she has an amazing eye and could always find the best items at garage sales and thrift shops. I learned from her that finding a great thrift deal can feel like a special treasure hunt. As long as I can remember, I've also loved dressing up in costumes. Halloween is by far my favorite holiday, and my love for sci-fi, anime, and comic books meant that it didn't take me too long to fall in love with the ComicCon scene as an adult.
So, perhaps it's no wonder that my two loves of thrifting and cosplaying have often combined, and that I love finding creative and dirt-cheap answers to some of the hardest cosplay questions. I can't sew a stitch to save my life, but a bit of luck, a glue-gun, lots of duct tape, paint felt, and imagination can take you a long way.
In this column, I’ll be sharing some of my thrifted cosplay and some ideas for how to get into cosplay without losing sleep or breaking the bank.
My very first cosplay was Jubilee from the X-Men. In 2011, someone I knew who wrote and drew for an independent comic lost his ride to San Diego for SDCC. He said he needed someone with a car willing to drive him across two states to San Diego. In return: the ability to get into the largest Comic Con ever. Of course I wanted to go; however, I wanted my first San Diego International Comic Con to be in costume, and I didn't have much time or spare money! Also, the con was barely over a week away. And so, my first Thrift-Shop Cosplay experience began…
A Goodwill run nabbed me a Jubilee-ish black belt, a pink tee shirt and jean shorts, some UV Safety Glasses that looked pretty close to the 90's style from old X-Men comics, and some $0.50 plastic jewelry. All told, I think I spent about $12. Thriftshops are a great place to start; even if a piece isn’t perfect the moment you buy it, pinning, gluing, and sewing can go a long way, and plastic items can often be painted.
Sadly, Jubilee’s jacket wasn’t something easily found at a thrift shop; I did check a few stores just in case, but I knew I would likely have to go online. Many online retailers have the ability to compare prices across companies: make sure not to buy the first piece you find. Also, I suggest using sites that are made for the general public and not cosplayers specifically; that will keep your prices lower.
On eBay I ended up finding a perfect $10 yellow plastic "jacket"(that's a little generous to call it that given how thin the material was) which I only had to pin slightly, and from a grocery outlet I picked up some $0.70 blue kitchen latex gloves. The latter wasn’t the best material, but the look was perfect for 90’s Jubilee. I also picked up a piece of $1.00 felt to make X-Men logo patches for my jacket and a drawstring bag I was planning on carrying around the convention hall. I just carefully traced around a glass with a sharpie to get the circle-outline, used a straight edge for the X, and cut it out. I struck Velcro on the patch for the bag, but just glue-gunned the patch to the jacket since I wasn’t planning on using the bright yellow monstrosity for anything but Jubilee cosplay.
Finally, I picked up an $11 black wig that I have since dubbed “old faithful.” A wig which can be versatile for cosplay and be used for a number of characters always a great staple to have and can make or break a cosplay.
And that’s it! The whole outfit cost me about $25, and it took me a few days of shopping, about an hour to craft some pieces together, and just a bit of creativity. As an entry cosplay, it worked out perfectly.
So don’t be afraid to jump in to the costumeplay world. There are lots of strategies to putting together a costume for a character you love that are cheap, easy, and fun… and I look forward to sharing more with you here at Lifted Geek!