Where do cosplayers get their costumes?

When you step foot inside a geek convention and see all the beautiful cosplays everyone is wearing, you’re probably thinking, “I want to cosplay too! How do I get a cool cosplay like that?” How do these cosplayers have such nice costumes? Do I have to make it myself? Will it be expensive?

Well not to worry, we will solve all those dilemmas.

In this post, I will answer the question, “Where do cosplayers get their costumes?” I will show you 5 different ways you can obtain a cosplay, as well as highlighting the advantages/disadvantages of each method.

Let’s get started!

1. Buy it online

The most obvious and best choice for many cosplayers.

This is where you buy pre-made cosplays on big websites like AliExpress, eBay and MicCostumes. It’s almost exactly like going to a retail clothing store; browse around to find the cosplay you’re looking, pick the size you want and you’re done!

Pros:

  • Availability – Many Anime and video game character costumes are available on wholesale to buy. As long as your character is not obscure or unknown, you should be able to find the costume you’re looking for.
  • Minimal losses – Wholesale costumes are so cheap that you can recover most expenses if you resell them on secondhand groups. Save more by buying in bulk if shipping is flat rate.
  • Cheaper cost – Because the cosplay is mass-produced and pre-made, the final cost for the manufacturer/store will be cheaper. And in turn, they pass on the savings to the customer. That’s why you can get a Naruto cosplay for usually less than $100 – because the series is so popular, the costume is mass-produced and cheaper to make.
  • Generous refund/exchange policy – Many wholesale sites will have refund/exchange policies that are generous. For example, if you don’t like your costume, or the size doesn’t fit, you can easily return or exchange the costume within a couple of weeks of receiving it. Also, in the event of a dispute, some websites like AliExpress allow customers to dispute a charge. This gives you more protection of your money, in case you’re not satisfied with the cosplay.

Cons:

  • Moderate quality – The more complex the costume, the more likely the quality will drop vs. a handmade version (i.e. commission). We do not recommend armoured costumes on wholesale sites. You must also watch out for counterfeit costumes; some retailers online steal costume photos from other sites. However, you can check the quality by looking at reviews and doing reverse image searches on Google to see which retailers have authentic photos.
  • Blending in – You won’t really stand out at conventions because chances are someone else also has the same mass-produced costume. Planning to wear that cheap Naruto costume you bought online at the next convention? More than likely, you’ll see someone else wearing the exact same costume from the exact same wholesale store!
  • Feel left out –You may feel left out in certain situations. You won’t be able to compete in masquerades or costume contests. When someone loves your cosplay and asks how you made it, you’ll have to tell them that you bought it online. There’s no sense of accomplishment when you wear a costume you purchased, rather than one you made yourself. You might even feel guilty if someone complements your cosplay when you know that you didn’t build it – someone else did. It feels like you’re “cheating.” To clarify, it‘s totally okay to buy your costumes! Not everyone has the time or skills to make their own cosplay. However, it doesn’t make things easier if you feel bad about buying a costume.

Overall: Buying a cosplay wholesale is going to be the option for most people, especially for those who do not have the skills or time to sew or craft a cosplay. Wholesale costumes are good quality and cost-effective. Quality can definitely vary, so be sure to do your research before buying.

If you want a list of websites that have the best cosplays, check out my guide about it!

2. Buy secondhand

Buying used cosplays off Facebook is a great way to save money!

What does a cosplayer do they no longer have no use for a costume? They sell their costume on a local buy/sell/trade group! That’s how they make back some of the money they spent making/buying it initially (e.g. If a costume was $100, they’ll sell it for $80). This is where buying secondhand comes in; you attempt to buy it when a cosplayer no longer needs it.

Pros:

  • Convenient – Most secondhand sales take place in local groups and you have the cosplay ready immediately after meeting up to buy it. No need for shipping! Usually comes with the full set – shoes, wig already styled, and accessories.
  • Environmentally-friendly – No waste is created when you buy a costume already made.
  • Huge savings – Since the cosplayer is selling the costume at a reduced price, you’re always getting a better deal than buying it brand new.

Cons:

  • Limited options – There’s only so many characters available on the local market, usually also limited to popular and seasonal characters. You can’t be too picky when it comes to availability and size.
  • The condition may not be perfect – Colours may be faded, certain parts may have fallen off, and you may need to put in a bit of tender loving care (TLC) to restoring the cosplay to decent shape.
  • High buy rate – Cosplayers love to penny-pinch and save money, so you must act quickly if you’re looking to buy a costume. Secondhand cosplays sell really fast!
  • Overall: Buying a cosplay secondhand is by far the cheapest method to acquire a costume that doesn’t involve you building or making anything. The word “secondhand” is very important to emphasize, because you should only rely on this method as a SECOND method to get a new cosplay. It’s not a reliable method to get the costume you want; you don’t know who’s selling what, and if you’re looking for something specific, you might be looking for a long time! That being said, you can find great deals, so always be looking on Buy/Sell/Trade groups for sales.

On another note…

Buy/Sell commandments:

  • Thou shalt not be absent to a meet up without enough advance notice.
  • Thou shalt not be late on a meet up.
  • Thou shalt not break a deal once a meet up is arranged should another buyer offer more.
  • Thou shalt be honest when advertising a costume for sale.
  • Thou shalt not hold a costume if thou is not 100% sure to buy it (or if thou ist a poor peasant and cannot afford it in the first place).
  • If thou hast bought a cosplay secondhand, thou shalt not sell it for more than thou hast spent, unless thou hast made major improvements.

If you want tips on how to buy and sell used cosplays, check out my guide.

3. Commission it

Specially made costumes can look great but also expensive.

This is where you hire someone to personally create and tailor your cosplay. You tell the commissioner what character you want to cosplay, how much you’re willing to spend and when you need it by. Generally speaking, the bigger your budget and the more time allotted, the better your costume will be (And who says money can’t buy happiness?). You can find cosplay commissioners in various Facebook groups. Some expert cosplayers also take commissions as well.

Pros:

  • When it comes to a cosplay project, the sky’s the limit – Your budget is the only thing that decides what isn’t possible (and maybe the laws of physics if you’re really thinking big). For example, if you want to spend hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars commissioning a fancy costume, it’s completely up to you!
  • Completely yours – You can work with the commissioner to create a piece that’s unique to you, and reflects your personal style and tastes. Many commissioners are open to collaborating with you to create your dream cosplay!
  • Removes the disadvantages of wholesale cosplays and making a cosplay yourself –Commissioned costumes will be your own unique cosplay (instead of mass production), and you’ll save time and effort by getting someone else to make it for you.

Cons:

  • By far the most expensive option – Because not only are you paying for materials, but also for labour costs as well. It’s not like wholesale where the costumes are mass-produced; commissioned cosplays involve time and labour of the commissioner, which significantly drives up costs.
  • Some commissioners fail to deliver expected quality of work – There is no standard (or in Nintendo terms, Seal of Quality) that must be met to offer commission services, and someone who quotes you a ridiculously low price may just deliver a disappointing piece of garbage. Be sure to check their portfolio thoroughly so you can dispute something if it was clear they could’ve done better.
  • Communicating with commissioners may be difficult – While most are open to your suggestions and input, the commissioner’s piece is also a reflection of themselves and they may not agree with certain things you have in mind.
  • No refund/exchange policy – Unlike wholesale sites where they can just take your costume back, repackage it and sell it to someone else, commissioners don’t have that luxury. If they took the time to create a costume and you don’t like it, good luck trying to get a refund back (and rightfully so, due to the labour involved).
  • Higher risk of being scammed – Have common sense and pay via Goods & Services on PayPal when dealing with a commissioner. Although admins in commission groups work hard to weed out scammers, they do exist. So if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Overall: If you need something specific or intricate, getting your cosplay commissioned is the way to go. It will definitely standout. Like wholesale, commissioned cosplays will vary with quality. It all depends on the skill of the commissioner.

4.  Closet cosplay

Have you ever seen a great cosplay and wondered if they just pulled clothing out of their closet? Well, that’s exactly what happened! Hence the term “closet cosplay.” In many cases, cosplays are just… clothes. So if your character has a relatively simple outfit, then why pay the 3-4x markup for the cosplay when you can just put it together yourself?

(Looking for closet cosplay ideas? Click here!)

Pros:

  • Availability – There are clothing stores everywhere. When you’re buying the pieces yourself, you have control over colour, quality and even price. E.g. Character wears a white shirt, but you find that off-white looks better on you? Go for that!  Those black pants actually have subtle embellishments?  Gives your outfit visual interest!
  • Can be very cheap if you know where to shop -Thrift stores having a 50% off sale on clothing? This can be a great way to find basic pieces that you can make some modifications to, to better suit your character.
  • You may even have some of this stuff lying around already! – That white blouse that you wore once for grad photos? Now it can be useful again! (Note: This works great for seifuku or uniform cosplays.)

Cons:

  • Basics can be difficult to find – With so much emphasis on loud graphics and prints, finding basics like a solid coloured shirt can be pretty difficult in most retail settings (*cough* FOREVER 21 *cough*).
  • It might not be 100% accurate, especially if you don’t modify it – This may not be a big deal to some people, but it may be to others. If you’re looking to create a closet cosplay without any crafting or sewing on your part, having to modify a thrift item may be a hassle for you.
  • Closet cosplays are NOT an option for every costume – Intricate cosplays involve wearing things that most people in real life wouldn’t. So it will be harder to piece together using just regular clothes. In short, attempting to closet cosplay can look VERY bad if you’re doing it for the wrong character.
  • Can be a waste of time – Excessive thrift-shopping is very time-consuming and defeats the purpose of using your closet to build a cosplay. If you can’t find the clothing you’re looking for, you’re better off just buying it online or getting a commissioner to make it for you.

Overall: Whether you’re a beginner or you’re looking to save money, closet cosplays are a great option. Don’t rely on them too heavily though; some characters you’ll need to fork out extra money for materials.

5. Make it yourself

The final product of a beautiful Dorothea cosplay (timeskip version) after months of crafting the costume to full accuracy. Cosplayer: silent_pr1ncess.

For many, this is what the hobby is all about – making it a costume on your own! Although making a cosplay is time-consuming and usually stressful, it’s a fun-filled experience that many enjoy doing over and over.

Pros:

  • Sense of accomplishment – There’s nothing that compares to the feeling of wearing something made from your blood, sweat, and tears.
  • Ability to take part in Masquerades/costume contests – Almost all competitions require most (if not all) of the costume to be made by you.
  • Fun – Making the costume itself is part of the cosplay experience, and nothing beats making finishing touches to your cosplay with a bunch of friends in the same situation the week before a convention.
  • Valuable skills learned – Sewing and crafting are very invaluable skills that can be applied in other areas of life. Clothes need altering? No problem! Something broke and needs fixing? Easy peasy. A variety of talents go into crafting a cosplay, so the learning is endless!
  • Saves money – As you gain more experience creating cosplays on your own, you’ll know how to save money on fabric and other materials. In the long run, this will be cheaper than buying wholesale and definitely cheaper than a costume that was commissioned.

Cons:

  • Steep learning curve – For a first timer, making a costume can be daunting and disheartening when your 50 hour project looks lackluster. It takes months, if not years, to become proficient in the art of costume making. Fortunately, there are plenty of free resources to learn from. But don’t expect to be a very skilful costume-maker overnight.
  • Cost of investment – Buying the tools (e.g. sewing machine for fabric, power tools for props) often exceeds the cost of the costume itself. But for a cosplayer who intends to make many costumes down the line, these tools will pay for themselves after your 4th or 5th project.
  • Time consuming – If you’re a full-time student working a part-time job with additional volunteer, research, and extracurricular or if you’re a medical resident working 80 hours a week, this may not be a viable option for you.

Overall: In the beginning, making your own costume was the most popular option.  Before cosplay gained traction, there weren’t many places to buy a costume and commissioners were few and far between.  Even today, many established cosplayers who have reached professional status make most of their stuff from scratch. But once again, making a good costume will take (lots of) time, experience and patience. For some, it may not be worth the hassle.

BONUS: Borrowing your friends cosplay!

Joker Cosplay
I borrowed my friend’s awesome Joker cosplay. This is a great way to obtain a cosplay and save on money!

Here’s a bonus option that many don’t talk about; borrowing a cosplay off a friend! Not only is swapping cosplays with your friend costs nothing, you both will have more cosplay photos in your arsenal. The only downside is that you and your friend will have to be a similar size in order for this to work. Other than that, borrowing a cosplay is a great option to add more cosplays to your roster. Just be sure to take care of your friend’s cosplay when you do. 🙂

Summary

To summarize, here is your answer to where do cosplayers get their costumes:

  1. Buy it online
  2. Buy secondhand
  3. Commission it
  4. Closet cosplay
  5. Make it yourself

And there you have it; where do cosplayers get their costumes…5 ways to get them.

Which method do you prefer getting a new costume? Let me know in the comments below!

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