Cosplay 101: Planning And Budgeting Your Costume

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It can seem a little daunting to begin cosplaying, but with the proper planning, it’s easier to see how the costume will come together. We added budgeting your costume to this, since they do go hand in hand.


If you’re not an organizing junkie, this might be a bit difficult, but do try! Planning is helpful for so many reasons.
First of all, it can help you determine how the costume will come together. It would be awful to spend weeks on the costume then realize at the end that you can’t finish a major piece in time for the con! Instead, planning helps you determine not only WHAT you need to do, but WHEN you need to do it. Planning is also useful for figuring out HOW you are going to make specific pieces.


Since no one is made of an infinite supplies of money, we have to space out our cosplay so we’re not spending huge chunks of money at once. That may mean that one month you can buy a wig and supplies to style it, the next, fabric and materials for a garment, and the next, work on a prop. With a basic idea of how much each component will cost, we can buy strategically to ensure that we don’t strain our wallet. Planning the expenses, along with determining how long something will take to arrive or make, helps plan WHEN to work on which piece of the costume.
Of course, not everyone is a fan of budgeting, but we find that it works well to keep cosplay balanced with the other parts of your life, like your job or school.

Working out your costume

  1. Gather reference images and determine what pieces you will need. Even a simpler costume can have lots of pieces! Write down everything you will need.
  2. On your list, indicate: make, buy, or modify. You might be able to use things you already have at home, or you may need to buy or make things yourself.
  3. Research, research, research! This is where you will decide specifics. What material is best for your budget? Can you commission a tricky piece? How long will this method take versus that method? This is where you’ll scout for items you’ll need to purchase online, like wigs, contact lenses, and specific clothing pieces. You don’t need to buy anything yet! This will just help you figure out exactly how much work you have ahead of you.
  4. Based on this information, decide what takes priority. Items that take longer to make or that ship from overseas usually take priority  – that ensures that you get these pieces before the deadline, if you have one. You might knock out all the easier stuff first, or go by how expensive things will be. It’s all up to you!
  5. Take action! You’re done with planning – now it’s time to get to work!

When you’re going to make parts of your costume yourself

Make A Map

Since you’ll most likely be gathering information from multiple reference images, you may want to create your own sketches to keep track of everything you’ve learned. Use these drawings to take notes as you render the key details of each garment—the placement of seams and darts, whether a skirt is gathered or pleated, the shape of the collar or sleeve, and the length of the coat or dress. If the costume has multiple layers, draw each piece individually. Even if part of a piece will be hidden when you wear it, you need to know how the unseen areas will be constructed.

Achieving the correct proportions can be one of the trickiest parts of replicating a costume, so refer back to your reference images and look for landmarks that will help you get the relationships right. How wide is the skirt compared to the waist? Does the jacket end halfway down the thigh, or more like a third? Where does the sleeve end relative to the hem?

Multilayered costumes also require a little thought to make sure the pieces will fit together nicely. Remember that garments worn over other garments will need to be a little looser, and that the proportions between the pieces need to be correct in addition to fitting the proportions of your body. Later, you’ll be able to compare all these observations to the measurements of your patterns to determine if you need to make alterations.

If you’re not comfortable with drawing, or if you’re in a hurry, you may want to use a croquis to give you a starting point and create a consistent look between sketches. A croquis is a plain line drawing of your body, shown in a simple standing pose from the front, back, and sometimes the side. Fashion designers use them to save time when sketching, because they allow you to focus on drawing the clothes and not worry about drawing out the whole body every time. (You can just find these online, Google is your friend when it comes to planning out your costume)

These sketches will be your map for your whole project, so make them on sturdy paper and put them up where you can see them as you work. Take them with you when shopping for materials and accessories, and as you decide on fabrics and trims, you can draw them in or attach swatches. Once you have clear references and a good plan, you’re ready to start creating a convincing costume.

Identify Design Elements

After you’ve done a bit of research and have made a map, you may be tempted to rush right out and buy fabric. But don’t! If you were just sewing clothes for yourself, you might pick out a pattern you like and then choose fabric, or start with a gorgeous fabric and come up with a project to suit it. But the process for creating a costume is different: you’re picking a character to cosplay, then identifying the pattern (or patterns) to help you make that character’s costume, based on the design elements in the outfit. Once you’re confident that you can find patterns for the pieces you need—or create your own patterns if your skills allow—then you can shop for fabric, materials, and embellishments that will work with the underlying shape of the costume. So understanding a bit about design and construction is the key to choosing the patterns that help you build a successful costume.

To learn more about different elements go to the Sewing Guide Page.

Pick A Pattern

Now that you’ve identified the features you want in your costume, it’s time to pick the pattern (or patterns) that you’ll make it from. Ideally, you want to find a pattern that has the same general shape, fit, and design elements as your reference costume.

You can find different patterns on the Sewing Guide Page.

If you don’t see the exact details you want, some fixes are very simple: skirt and sleeve lengths are easy to adapt, and you can add more seams or change the shape of a neckline without too much difficulty.

Choosing Your Size

Sewing pattern sizes are different from store-bought clothing, so always use your actual body measurements to choose your size. Stand naturally and have a friend measure you for the most accurate results. When measuring, wear your normal undergarments (the style you plan to wear with your costume) and a leotard or close-fitting top and leggings, if you want them for modesty. Measure your bust/chest and hips around the fullest part of each, and your waist at the narrowest point. If you have larger breasts, measure your upper chest (over the breasts and under your arms) as well. For all measurements, the tape should be parallel to the ground, flat against your body, without squishing or flattening anything. Take each measurement a few times and average them for the most accurate results.

You’re ready to start working on your costume now!

Do you have more tips to plan out your cosplay costume? Let us know in the comments below!

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