Let’s be honest here — cosplay can be EXPENSIVE. It can rack up hundreds of dollars in costs for tools, materials, wigs and makeup, and more. And that’s not even taking into account travel and photography expenses. These seemingly high costs tend to turn people off; people wanting to get into cosplay for the first time might see those huge, amazing costumes that cost a thousand dollars or more to make, and think “Wow, I could never afford something like that, so therefore I can’t cosplay.”
But while cosplay CAN be expensive, it doesn’t have to be! I have completed multiple full cosplays for under 30 USD, and I’ve done cosplay photoshoots and attended fandom-related events for free — I know from experience that it’s absolutely possible to cosplay on a budget! Whether you have 300 USD, or just 30 USD, you can still cosplay! As a matter of fact, you can even cosplay for free, with just things out of your closet!
But how do you do it? It can sometimes be tricky to pull off, but there are several different strategies I’ve learned while cosplaying on a budget, to make the whole process much easier.
First off is planning ahead, and having a budget. While having some sort of plan is always, in my opinion, important for cosplay, it’s especially important when you’re working with a low budget. You need to know how much money you have available to spend on the cosplay, what materials and supplies you’ll need, and how long you’ll have to complete the project. For instance, if you look at your budget ahead of time, you may realize that you can’t quite afford the best fabric, and still be able to make the prop, so you’ll know right then to buy a slightly cheaper fabric instead. Or, if you know you have a long time to complete the cosplay, you can take time to shop more carefully for supplies, knowing that you have plenty of time to look for the best deals.
In short, planning ahead is important. Even if you only have a vague budget, and a loose timeframe, it’s better than nothing. In addition, for almost all of my cosplays, I like to make a shopping list, so I know what I’m going to be looking for, as well as my estimations for how much it all might cost. That way, I know what I’m looking for, as well as having some idea of how much it will all cost. Now, can these plans change? Of course! Things come up, things change, and you’ll almost certainly have to adjust your plan in one way or another while you go along with your cosplay. That’s just how it goes! It’s totally fine, and totally normal. You do what works best for you, and your cosplay.
Speaking of which, the next thing to discuss is the actual making of the cosplay. Of course, you don’t have to actually make your cosplay if you don’t want to. Store bought cosplays, closet cosplayers, and thrifted cosplays are all totally valid. As a matter of fact, if you’re on a budget, you might not be able to afford getting six yards of premium fabric brand-new, and the best option might be using something from your closet, or to thrift a nice curtain to use instead.
For my Jacquelyn cosplay, shown above, I thrifted most of the cosplay, while making some things like the scarf, and the spyglass, from scratch. In addition, I used my natural hair instead of a wig. All of these things added up to make the cosplay end up costing less than 20 USD to create (for those of you outside the United States, that’s not very much!), which was great for my low budget.
It’s up to you whether you decide to make your entire cosplay from scratch, thrift it, buy it brand-new, or do a combination of all three. How you decide to go about it depends on the cosplay, the character, your skill level, your budget, your timeframe — so many different things! I personally like to make at least some aspect of all of my cosplays, but that’s just a personal preference.
For this final segment, I wanted to talk about what to do once you’ve finished your cosplay. You might want to want to take it to a comic convention, or take some nice photos of it. But con tickets can be expensive, and professional photographers can be a lot of money as well — not without a good reason. But these things can be a bit tricky if you’re on a budget — how do you get around it?
Well, for comic cons, take some time to look around in your area! There may be free local events happening. In current times, they may not all be in-person, but they don’t have to be. There are a ton of online comic cons, and many of them are free to attend as well, which can be great for someone on a budget.
In addition, many in-person comic cons will sell tickets to their events for cheaper further in advance, which is where planning ahead comes in handy.
And what about nice photos? Getting good photos of your cosplay can really help you feel like it’s completed, at least in my experience. Well, with the quality of smartphone cameras these days, anyone can be a photographer. You don’t need to buy a fancy DSLR, or hire a photographer to get nice photos. Most of my cosplay photos were either taken by a family member, or were self-shot, using a self-timer and remote trigger. It’s a great way to get some nice photos without having to pay a ton of money for it, which is ideal when you’re on a budget. As a matter of fact, both of the photos above were self-shot in my room, using a smartphone.
All in all, I hope this helped you see that you don’t need a ton of money in order to cosplay! You can absolutely cosplay on any budget. If you want to cosplay, you should do it! Don’t let fear of high costs hold you back. Cosplay, as I’ve now proven, doesn’t have to be expensive. Go forth, and cosplay!