Written by Abigail Meck
A hot topic that you can find on any cosplay forum is the famous question, “Should I buy or make my cosplay?” The answer is not as black and white as you may think. There are a lot of different factors that need to be looked over before you decide, and each decision is unique for every cosplayer and cosplay. There are many positives and negatives to each option, so you need to weigh the risks and find what works for you and your situation. I found this out the hard way when I needed a certain cosplay for an anime convention I planned on attending.
The cosplay I needed was Rose Quartz from Steven Universe. It didn’t seem like such a difficult cosplay to make. Her outfit is a white, strapless dress with a heart neckline, has asymmetrical scalloped tiers, and is floor length with a little train.
With this being my sixth convention, I had been dying to make my own cosplay for a long time now. I wanted to feel the pride that goes with creating something. When you create a cosplay, it is one of a kind and yours. You get to show off your talent and the fact you have created something. Unlike store bought cosplays, you can also enter craftsmanship contests and show off your homemade cosplay to the entire convention. Not to mention, a homemade cosplay would put me at an advantage when it comes to accuracy and fit, something I needed with being high waisted and big hipped. I would have all the measurements I needed on hand to create a dress that would fit me perfectly. This is especially good for those who see accuracy and detail as an important part of cosplay.
I sadly, like most cosplayers, on a budget. Going out and getting fabric was the only expense at hand, my own “skills” and shipping costing nothing. I mean, I had taken sewing classes in high school after all, right? In it I had created a pillow case, pajama pants, and a pair of pajama shorts. While to me this seemed like enough to take the first steps into the journey of cosplaying creating, I was sadly mistaken. First off, I didn’t even know how to correctly create a pattern for such a dress, or any type of outfit for that matter. I tried using google to the best of my abilities, seeing if others had created a dress pattern I could use. Sadly, all I could find was those who had altered already existing dresses. I had contemplated doing just that, or even buying a pattern close to what I needed and making adjustments. However, the more I tried to find solutions to my lack of experience, time was ticking down. It got to the point where I had to throw in the towel and come to terms that there wouldn’t even be enough time for me to do everything needed, especially since mistakes were to be made by myself. After all, one of the biggest complaints with creating your own cosplay would be stress, either with your sewing machine not working, fabric getting ruined, or time. While all of this seemed inevitable, it is usually a learning experience and cosplayers learn to overcome these difficulties. I just didn’t want to start just to fail, and end up without a cosplay at all.
My experience with even thinking of making my own cosplay showed that when it comes to making your own cosplay, there is a significant lessening on risks, but it depends on your own skills. To make a quality cosplay yourself, you need to have experience with cutting fabric, sewing, creating props, and/or having other artistic abilities. You would also need to research or know about the types of fabric you will need for your specific cosplay, as some fabric can have a negative impact. Some fabric can have the wrong look, be too heavy or light, be the wrong texture, or look a different when sewn a certain way. While you shouldn’t rush into making a cosplay without any previous experiences, it can increase your skill and give you more knowledge on how to sew and create.
While this proves to show all the difficulties with those who lack experience, the counter is the good thing for those with skills and experience. When it comes to store bought cosplays, you never know the quality you’re getting with your money, but with homemade you at least know your own skill level and what is happening through the creation. Creating your own cosplay gives you control over what needs to be done and how it will be done. Time, however, even with good skills, is barely as convenient as buying something already premade.
After throwing in the towel with a homemade cosplay, buying was exactly my go to thought. Most websites and Ebay sellers mass produce their cosplays, making them available right away and cost efficient. This was a great option for me who was low on both time and money. I was reaching my con deadline, and with my experience of a cosplay arriving on day two of a con, wanted to get my cosplay ASAP. My budget was also tight as I still needed to make sure I had money to style Rose’s big hair on a wig. Let’s not forget, this was a better option for me who was not familiar enough with sewing or other crafting that is require to create a decent cosplay. However, these two positives did not outweigh the risks for me. The fact the cosplays are mass produced means that they have a few select sizes, meaning that more than not, your cosplay will not be an accurate fit. There are a few sites that will ask for a handful of measurements, but they are usually not enough to get a full fit, and it would cross out the time efficiency for being custom.
Another thing I had to be weary of when buying my cosplay online was scams. Some sites will steal pictures from cosplayers or other sites, posing said pictures as their own cosplays for sale. This means that what you see is not always what you get. I had to also keep an eye on price vs. quality when looking to buy online. For instance, I would see the dress I needed, but even though it standard quality, it was over $250. I found the same dress for $100, but while the price sounded better, it was obviously lower quality and not as accurate. It is also common for sellers to put the initial price low, but have very high shipping. This would put me on the edge of buying one, only stop at the very end of seeing the shipping price, and would start my search again. I had to think of what my cosplay entailed, look through the information provided about the cosplay, and find a balanced price. I did keep an eye on my time though. I knew first hand that it is not uncommon for the main outfit to have standard to good quality, but the accessories, like belts, to be very cheap. While my cosplay didn’t have any of these extra accessories, I made sure there was extra time in case I had to fix anything. Research on the cosplay and reading seller reviews was my best advantage when buying online.
Even knowing all this I just couldn’t seem to find the right cosplay. I would look between my character and the pictures I saw on the cosplay sites, but none of them seemed accurate enough for my liking. A lot of cosplayers or sites would put a flesh colored fabric where the cutout of the star would be on her dress, or the tiers of the dress would be nonexistent. One to want I accuracy, I decided I wanted an actual cutout and the tiers. With my body type, the fit was also something I feared
Seeing as I had enough time, money, but no skill, I went to my third option. I decided that commissioning, where you hire another cosplayer or seamstress to create a cosplay for you, would be my best bet for an accurate and well fit cosplay. I knew that when it comes to cost, it is usually higher in price. When paying for a commission you usually pay for cost of fabric, labor/time, and shipping. This will always change depending on the seamstress and specific cosplay, but is usually worth it as long as you have found a reputable person. The cost will also depend on the cosplay and their availability, but is usually decided before making a final decision to hire. The price can also go down or up depending on if you rush order, ask for more expensive fabric, if they make a mistake, or they have a problem with keeping their time.
With all this in mind I set up an add, making sure to be specific with what I want. After being contacted by a seamstress I made sure to do a name search, made sure they had a portfolio, and for extra measure, reverse image searched their previous work to make sure they hadn’t been stolen. Their name search and pictures came out clean, and they named a decent price, so I decided to work with them. I started out with high hopes, and they seemed very nice, but red flags rose. Ideally you will have constant communication with your seamstress who will ask for measurements, fabric type, colors, and other details. They should always come to you before deciding, and should give you pictures of their progress. However, this seamstress did not explain things well to me and I had to prompt her to get the needed information, like certain measurements. Another red flag was that I had to ask multiple time for updates and progress pictures. What should have given me a good position over my own cosplay while still not having to lift a finger, ended with me being stressed and having to constantly worry they didn’t know what they were doing. About a month went by and she suddenly told me she was too sick to finish the cosplay. Whether this was true or not, I was now down a month of time.
The second seamstress was a little more expensive, but obviously had a lot more experience and knew what they were doing. They wrote me every day, and always asked my input about what they were going to do. My luck seemed to be turning up with this seamstress. When I finally got the dress, it had very beautiful fabric and the tiers were perfect, but it was not without mistakes. The first problem I saw was that there were a lot of hanging and frayed thread. They were easily cut off, but honestly the least of my worries. One of the bigger problems was that, even with giving measurements, the star cutout was a little too high. It wasn’t too fun having to make sure the dress was always adjusted correctly during the convention or pictures, but it was easily manageable. The major problem was the zipper. It was EXTREMELY hard to move up and down and got stuck continuously. This is also without having the dress on, so I knew it was not because of a lack of room. It also would not move above a certain point, and was obviously either low quality or defective. I tried to get my boyfriend to help, but it just wouldn’t budge and it ended up breaking, resulting in me having to go out and replace it. There was a lot of trouble replacing it, so I decided to just sew the whole back shut, put my hands together, and pray to the cosplay gods that I would still be able to get it on. I at least had least had enough sewing skills to do that, and to my surprise, it actually felt like a better fit without the zipper!
While there were too many bumps on the road for comfort, I did end up with a very lovely and accurate dress. Now the wig… That’s a whole other story! I had a lot of fun in this cosplay, and received many compliments. Even with all the trouble I had to go through to get it, I was just happy to be able to represent a character I loved. I learned a lot with this particular experience, and honestly still hope to someday make my own cosplay.
Whether you choose to buy, make, or commission your cosplay, there is no wrong answer. Each option has cons and pros that can be weighed and attributed to different situations, like mine. In the end, where you cosplay comes from does not matter as long as you make the best of it and have fun in it. Just remember to do research regardless, pick the option you will be happy with, and have fun with your cosplay!