If growing up around a tiny home-run costume shop taught me anything, is that an amazing costume doesn’t always need to be made from scratch. Some of the best cosplayers I know buy materials and modify them. Purchasing parts of your cosplay doesn’t make it any less valuable, or amazing.
One of the best tools a cosplayer has is the thrift store. I can’t count how many times I’ve had friends come running up saying “I found the perfect (insert item here) for my (insert cosplay name here), just stopping by!” I know I’ve said it myself at least a dozen times. Thrift stores and garage sales are sometimes the perfect place to find those strangely shaped objects and oddly colored clothing that add the details to make your cosplay go the extra mile.
Because hand-me down stores and sales offer such a variety of odds and ends that people don’t want, they are the perfect place to scout for accessories. I’ve found belts with the perfect sized circles (which basically look hideous in every day use), I’ve found gems to re-paint the color I needed, and I’ve found clothes that are close enough to what I needed that a small amount of dye, or tiny modification turned it into the character I wanted.
But make sure as you go on your adventures through these magical wonderlands of miscellaneous goods, to keep your cosplay in mind. Sometimes it’s hard not to get distracted by “Oh I could use this for something I’m sure…” And then eventually you’ve left with things you may use and nothing for your current project. If you need to, take along a picture or two of what you’re working on. I happen to tackle multiple cosplays at once, so I keep pictures on my phone to use as reference for colors and sizes for objects and clothes.
Many times people get discouraged after a round at thrift stores when they don’t find anything useful at first. This can often be avoided by over planning. What I mean by that, is you should plan to stop by more than once, for sure. Thrift stores hold a wealth of great stuff, just…not every time you go. I’m fortunate enough to have a thrift shop I can stop at on my way home from work. Every other week or so I drop in for a quick scavenge, and promise myself to leave if I can’t find the particular objects I’ve put in my mind that I need. Depending on the store you can almost guarantee they’ll have at least some new items, even if they’re not what you need. My point is, their stock will constantly be changing, and you don’t want to miss the opportunity that the perfect item you need (even if it’s not perfect until you fix it up a bit).
My last bit of advice for now, is to keep an open mind. Sometimes we have so set in our mind what something looks like, that if we don’t find an exact replica we’re disappointed. Break down what the item is made of (not material, just shapes), and look for those things. Even start with just shapes or colors of the clothing or item you need. Start simple, and work your way up. Focus is key to finding the basics of your cosplay.
Now get out there and dig in!