Financial accessibility in costuming communities

Wearing my red and gold damask sideless surcoat

Wearing my red and gold damask sideless surcoat

I wanted to talk a little about attempts to make costuming, cosplay, sewing (etc) more financially accessible to people who think that it’s too expensive to do well, to compete, to join in all.the.things that are out there.

In the last while it’s really jumped out at me – well-meaning folks who truly want to share the thing they love with as many people who want to be there as possible. There’s this big push “join us, it doesn’t have to be expensive!”

Much 🖤🖤🖤 for all those good intentions.

However… saying this kinda thing while posting photos from 3 different conventions in three different cities it becomes clear that a lot of the ideas on “how to save money” are steeped in a lot of economic privilege.
Well-meaning or otherwise – travel is expensive, conventions are expensive, costume college is expensive… While I do not fault anyone for prioritizing these things if they are passionate about them – they are often talking to people who couldn’t prioritize those things even if they wanted to. 

Black Dockenbaret worn with a Goldhaube & Gollar

Black Dockenbaret worn with a Goldhaube & Gollar

Folks say “get fabrics at thrift stores!” Which works great if you have a car to hit ten different thrift stores in a day. Or have the TIME to visit two thrift stores a week for the next four months if they aren’t within walking distance of home/work/school.
Thrift stores don’t just have endless supplies of exactly the thing you want at a predictable schedule. If you want sheer pale blue polyester – you’re going to have to go to many stores before finding it.
When I was looking for a dye pot I visited four different stores before I found one – and all I was looking for was a big pot. Try finding six meters of black suit weight wool at a thrift store…

While not technically “thrifted” – the blue teal for the gollar came from a second hand fabric sale. The surcoat above – the fabric came from that same sale. 

Wearing the green block-printed truncated hennin with mundane clothing

Wearing the green block-printed truncated hennin with mundane clothing

They say “buy remnants!” Assuming that you have the time & transportation to scour multiple fabric stores for remnant bins that match what they have in mind.
(Also, remnant bins are often not good deals… they price it at 50% off regular price, and you have to buy all that is there… if you only need a small amount it’s better to buy only what you need during a 50% off sale)
Or, if you don’t have the time and transportation to scour multiple stores (or even live in a town that HAS multiple stores) you’ll need to have the expendable cash & storage space to build a ‘stash’.

Not quite a remnant, but the green silk-like fabric for this hat was leftover from another project. I tend to keep all of my large-ish scraps, for projects like this that use smaller pieces, and where the grain is less important. 

Plaid apron dress (hangerock) with a fake fur stole and white linen underdress. Adding new items to my Viking Age wardrobe.

Plaid apron dress (hangerock) Full length, unbelted

“Swap with other cosplayers” assumes you have something WORTH swapping for the six meters of wool you need. That you live in an area that even has a big enough cosplay community to find people up for swaps, and of course that there aren’t physical health, mental health & other social issues that might forging those relationships harder.

The grey wool plaid here for this apron dress was JUST enough to squeeze out the garment. I got the fabric in a swap at an event, trading away some buckles and other notions for the wool. (The under dress I made, and the fur stole I bought retail.) 

Teal hat for my Byzantine costume wardrobe

Teal hat for my Byzantine costume wardrobe

“Use hand me downs!” is built on the basis that folks are in contact with family still (or again have the means to forge those friendships). Now recycling something from your own wardrobe – totally doable if you’re cosplaying a character who wears jeans and a t-shirt. This is less applicable if you’re doing historical costuming, or want to cosplay something a little more spandex-y.

The photo here – the teal fabric is an upside-down shirt that I was given from a former teacher. The linen veil is from purchased yardage. 

V-neck Burgundian gown worn with my red horned hennin

V-neck Burgundian gown worn with my red horned hennin

Make it yourself” assumes you have the money for a sewing machine that isn’t so cheap it breaks down as you’re learning, the education , time & money to spend on things that don’t work to LEARN to sew/draft/craft, and the space to do it in.  Money for the books to learn to draft, the classes to learn to sew, or the pizza you’ll buy to ‘chip in’ when a friend offers to come over and help you finish your costume.  Even just the transportation, storage, and money for all of the other stuff that comes with sewing and crafting.

The Burgundian dress shown here – was after two different attempts to get the shape correct – it’s deceivingly difficult.  Likewise, I think this hat is the fourth iteration of this shape before I was satisfied.  All of those attempts “cost” materials, time, and expertise. While certainly I make those attempts out of inexpensive materials, there’s still a cost involved getting from “I don’t know” to “I’m happy with my work. 
Self-portrait done with a timer of my new green and gold 11th Century Byzantine costume

Self-portrait done with a timer of my new green and gold 11th Century Byzantine costume

Now, yes, there are ways to participate in costuming or cosplay events without buying an expensive (and/or poorly-made) costume, but a lot of those things hinge on other supports already being in place, and none of that even begins to address the costs associated with attending and participating in those things to begin with.

While I DO want to see people continue to try to share ideas about how to make the hobby they love more financially accessible… I also would hope folks recognize that often there are barriers in the way that they can’t understand.  It’s not as simple as “well just thrift!” or “just swap!” for everyone as it might be for them.

…. even though my finances are tight right now… I have a very, very, very large stash to draw from – a privilege not everyone has.

In contrast to the other photos I’ve shared, this green hand-printed silk gown with accompanying gold silk accessories is exactly the opposite of “thrifty”. The gold silk I did get on sale, but was still over $20/meter I think.  The green silk was something like $15/meter, but I bought it at a shop while on holiday in Helsinki.  The linen veil is handkerchief weight – I bought enough for a few veils. The multiple filigree elements, bought in bulk online. The rhinestones, the trim… all adds up to a very, very expensive outfit. 

2 comments on “Financial accessibility in costuming communities

  1. Preach it!

    To be honest, I think this is an issue that spreads into a lot of areas of crafting, not just costuming/cosplay. I have a combined clothing/craft budget of about 25 USD/month. That’s not just for me-made, that’s for all my clothing except shoes, as well as craft materials (unless they’re for gifts). And I consider myself reasonably well-off.

    Thanks for mentioning health (mental and physical) as well. People tend to forget that finance isn’t the only limit people have to work around.

    • Dawn says:

      Oh yeah.. there are so many aspects that people often overlook. A friend got into photography – but only because she was given a camera, and found some other equipment used online. (It’s an expensive hobby too!)
      Another wanted to get back into painting again, but working with craft-grade paints is often frustrating when you’re used to working with at least student, if not artist-grade materials.
      A friend thought she’d save money by doing a lot of her own baking – but then during the pandemic we were having so many shortages (still are…) and the answer to “where do I find yeast” was “drive around to 16 different grocery stores with your fingers crossed” – but she doesn’t drive…
      Money might not be the direct route to happiness, but it sure would make the path there easier!

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