Cosplay on a Budget, According to the Phoenix Sisters

Crayle and Kelly from Phoenix Sisters Cosplay are here, ready to spill the tea on one of our favorite topics – how to ace your cosplay without burning a hole in your pocket.

We all like to joke that you should get your loved ones into cosplay so that they won’t have money for drugs, right? It can be a really expensive hobby if you let it. But in truth, a costume doesn’t have to break the bank to be good or for you to feel good in it… First things first: Give yourself plenty of time! The bigger rush you’re in, the less time you have to price compare, wait for sales, or look for coupons. The more time you give yourself to develop and plan your costume, the more likely you are to stick to your budget.

We’re all guilty of the con crunch – waiting until the last minute before a convention to finish a costume. And if that’s what motivates you to get the costume done, hey, at least you pulled it off! But you almost certainly will end up paying more for supplies or costume pieces if you don’t also budget your time. It’s hard, but we believe in you!

Thrift Store Finds

Ever tried a cosplay treasure hunt? Thrift stores are your secret weapon. Hunt for unique clothing and potential base pieces at affordable prices to kickstart your costume.

Secondhand shops like Goodwill often have prom dresses that can be the base for a Disney princess gown, for example. Kelly specifically thrifted her dress for Morticia and added inexpensive tulle to the sleeves for a more screen-accurate look.

Consignment shops even sometimes have vintage clothes you can use as bases for period costumes, like we did in our L.A. Noir-style Cinderella and Fairy Godmother.

Do It Yourself Whenever You Can

This might seem like a no-brainer, but DIY props and accessories not only save you money, but they also grow your skillset. This doesn’t mean you have to sew every stitch in your costume, though. Take Crayle’s Shorty’s top from the Phoenix Sisters Wynonna Earp shoot, for example.

Instead of ordering a special crop top baseball tee and getting it screen printed, Crayle ordered a looser men’s baseball tee in the right colors and did some low-skill alterations. She cut it into a midriff top and used iron-on letters to apply the Shorty’s name. Now her shirt is screen accurate, and it only cost about $14 for the shirt and the letters. Plus, she didn’t have to use all the letters, so now those are available for future costumes.

  • Quick tip: When looking for tutorials, try adding “with common household items” to your search terms. Kelly once made a pair of Maleficent horns out of disposable party cups. There are certainly ways to make prop horns out of air-dry clay, wire armatures, and other art supplies, but you may not want to buy large amounts of supplies like that for a single prop. So, try searching for tutorials that specify cheap, common items. Some other search terms that work are “no budget” and “low cost.”

Swap and Collaborate

Connect with your cosplay community. You can put out a call for full items or supplies in Facebook groups, Reddit subs, or local buy-nothing groups. Cosplayers are often willing to send leftover materials for just the cost of shipping, and cosplayers who no longer fit a costume are often willing to trade past-finished costumes for new supplies.

You can also team up on projects to share equipment. Say you have an extensive paint and foam collection, and your friend has a sewing machine. You can take your supplies over to your friend’s house and share those in exchange for using their machine if you don’t sew enough to justify buying one for yourself. Sharing resources not only cuts costs but also brings us together and reduces waste from people buying things that we would only use a few times.

Couponing is Cool!

Don’t buy things at full retail price if you can avoid it. Keep an eye on sales, snag coupon codes, and grab quality materials at a fraction of the cost. Kelly’s Dixon-era Black Canary fabrics were all couponed, but no one would guess it was made on the cheap by looking at it.

Some craft stores (like JoAnn Fabrics) will also honor other store’s coupons and sales for the same item, so you can save time and gas money by going to a Michael’s that’s having a sale on something else you planned on purchasing, and then use your JoAnn coupon for a second item that you need.

Closet Remix – Use What You Already Have, but Differently

Mix and match clothing items for closet cosplays or reimagine characters with your existing wardrobe.

Look at your closet with fresh eyes. That black dress that’s normally only for funerals? It might work for a gothic character. The sweater that’s too tight now, but you can’t bear to get rid of it? Cut slits in it until it fits, and now you’re a teen in a slasher film who barely escaped. Closet cosplay is all about thinking outside the box.

Crayle’s favorite closet cosplay is her Sarah Connor. The tank she wears for it came from a drawer that she normally considers “undershirts,” and the combat boots are actually from her husband’s side of the closet. All it takes is looking at your clothing collection with each item’s potential in mind, instead of thinking of what you usually wear those articles for.

Remember, cosplaying on a budget is an art form – an opportunity to showcase your ingenuity and resourcefulness. Don’t let anyone make you feel like a costume HAS to be expensive. It’s simply not true.

Looking for panelists at your comic con or other event? Crayle and Kelly have presented on this topic several times at conventions like CIL-Con and MidSouth Con. E-mail them at

Ever wanted to dress the Phoenix Sisters up, like they were your own personal dolls? Well, you can! Order our paper doll set here:

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