Looking to join the Masquerade but don’t have a lot of money to put into a costume? Don’t know how to make fancy armor pieces as intimidating as your favorite chivalrous character’s armor? Just want to throw a neat costume together and not put in a lot of time and effort? Here are some tips and tricks that might help you put together a winning costume!

For those of you with sewing skills, the sky is the limit! Costume patterns at various levels of skill to create are easily found at fabric stores and online. The largest investment will most likely be your time and effort in making your costume (unless you spend a lot of money on fancy fabric), but in the end, you have something custom made for you and by you! You get bragging rights that what you’re wearing was earned by the sweat of your brow.

For those of you with minimal sewing skills, Closet cosplay is for you! Closet cosplay is where you wear costumes made with minimal prep from items straight out of your closet. Some good examples can be found at http://closetcosplay.tumblr.com/. Thrift stores and resale shops are your friends! Sailor style school uniforms might be hard to come by, but in many recent school series (and today in real life), many schools have moved away from the sailor uniforms to a simple blazer and skirt or pants. Pick up a blazer, add a fancy looking school logo patch, and you’ve got a school uniform! In going with a blazer theme, many series had characters dressed in a suit. Roger Smith, and Spike Spiegel, and Lupin the Third always looked good doing what they do. Besides, who doesn’t look good in a suit and tie?

Even if you can’t replicate a character’s costume down to the last detail, there’s always room for reinterpretations and artistic license. Hanie Mohd’s series of “DC Girls in Sweaters” (http://haniemohd.tumblr.com/tagged/DC-girls-in-sweater) shows popular super-heroines with parts of their capes and cowls swapped out for comfy sweater and hoodie versions of their outfits. Your costume doesn’t have to be exact. It merely needs to convey a sense of the character you want to portray!

If you’ve ever taken a Japanese martial art, such as Judo, Karate, or Kendo, you may already have part of a samurai outfit! The traditional uniform consists of a keiko-gi (the white cotton jacket and pants set), and some martial arts use a set of hakama (traditional pleated outer pants). A set of keiko-gi and hakama can be on the pricey side for decent quality ($30 to $70 for either), but as these are clothes for a physical sport, they are usually are designed to be very durable and comfortable. Together with a hanten or haori kimono jacket, they make up something resembling traditional samurai garb. Even without the kimono jacket, many (high school aged) anime characters wore their kendo-gi. Go as Kuno-sempai from Ranma 1/2!

For body armor pieces, sporting goods stores have sports pads that may work as serviceable items. If there’s a particular piece that you’ve been eyeing, oftentimes items from that sport are drastically discounted after the season is over. With a little silver spray paint, many a Sephiroth costume had the shoulder armor made from football pads. Even much of the post-apocalyptic armor in Mad Max was made from football pads, motocross armor, and other sporting equipment.

For more exotic or custom props and armor pieces, papercraft is a good and economical way to go. Minimally, the skill requires you to be able to shape and glue together pieces cardboard or cardstock, and then paint or decorate your piece. The difficult part is finding a good structural design that will hold up to at least casual use and still look good. Additionally, just as sewing a costume, the biggest investment will be your time and effort, but again, you will have something unique that you created!

For making custom baubles, small jewelry, and military insignia, Shrinky Dinks plastic sheets work very well! In lieu of buying actual Shrinky Dinks brand sheets, look for any plastic containers with #6 plastic recycling symbol (such as doggie bag containers from a restaurant). It’s literally the exact same material. The plastic sheets can be colored with felt-tip pens, acrylic paint, colored pencils (or just about anything that can withstand the heat) and then cut into the desired shape. Heat the plastic at about 325 to 350 degrees for about one to three minutes. The plastic shrinks by about 2/3rds the original size when heated and becomes thicker and more rigid, while retaining the colored design.

Tactical gear and uniform items for military costumes can be found at military surplus stores. You can strive for accuracy in a military costume, but always remember to be respectful to actual people in the military. Avoid doing anything showing disrespect to any branch of the military of any nation. Be especially careful with symbols of known hate-groups, past and present (i.e. swastikas, SS and Nazi insignia, etc.). Even though it’s just a Hetalia costume, not everybody in the immediate area of a convention may know that and be offended. Many conventions ban these symbols outright (ACen included). No matter what costume you’re wearing, other people have a right not to play along. Many may appreciate your dedication to playing your character, but you don’t get a free pass to act rudely just because you’re cosplaying as a Klingon or Lobo.

Prop and Replica Weapons Advice (Included Free of Charge!)

Prop and replica weapons are a touchy subject for conventions and police. Many conventions have very strict policies, if not ban them outright. For the few conventions that do allow them, most have standard rules. Whether it’s Anime Central or any other event, always find out what their weapons policy is before you go. When in doubt with any prop or replica weapon, don’t bring it! For Anime Central’s official weapons policy, visit http://www.acen.org/content/acen-rules.

Most conventions don’t allow any actual metal blades such as knives or swords, even if they have dulled edges. Wooden swords, bokken, and rubber training knives are usually okay. Real firearms are banned outright unless you have a legal and legitimate reason for carrying one in public (if you’re not sure whether you do or not, you most likely don’t).

Crossbows and other archery implements must be rendered incapable of shooting projectiles, usually in the form of unstringing the bow. Some conventions might be okay with the bow being loosely strung with a flimsy material such as yarn.

Airsoft and replica guns must also be rendered incapable of shooting projectiles, usually in the form of leaving out any magazines and disconnecting batteries (for electric powered guns) or air tanks (for gas powered guns). They must also have a permanent blaze orange tip to indicate that they are replicas. Rubber training replica guns are usually okay. Squirt guns shouldn’t have any water in them. No one wants to clean up a wet mess.

Bonus Chicagoland Locations for Cosplay Shopping!

The Army-Navy Store is the quintessential Chicago military surplus shop! They have lots of uniforms and outerwear, and a decent selection of tactical and survival gear. They are located in the Lakeview area (near Belmont and Lincoln). For more info, visit their site at http://www.armynavysales.com/.

Belmont Army Surplus isn’t just military surplus. They also have large selection of vintage clothes from all the modern (and fashionable) eras, and they have a well stocked skate shop. Their military surplus ranges from a wide variety of uniforms (both work and dress), to lots of tactical and survival gear. They have 2 locations in Chicago: the Lakeview area (near Belmont and Clark), and the Wicker Park area (near Milwaukee Ave and Division). For more info, visit their site at http://www.belmontarmy.com/.

American Science and Surplus is a great place for all sorts of weird things. Their primary stock is scientific equipment, such as test tubes and beakers, but they also stock lots of electronics and parts along with neat toys and other educational stuff. It’s the perfect place to outfit a steampunk costume! Additionally, they have an interesting selection of military and police surplus equipment too. They have 2 locations in Chicagoland: the Jefferson Park area (Near Foster and Milwaukee Avenue), and the west suburb Geneva. For more info, visit their site at http://www.sciplus.com/.

Ragstock has many options for costuming. Most of what they sell are vintage, overstock, and secondhand clothes. They also stock lots of costumes for Halloween which become drastically discounted after. There’s a selection of military surplus uniforms and some equipment (at their Lakeview location), and oddly enough, a wide array of real kimonos imported from Japan at dirt cheap prices (at both their Lakeview and Wicker Park locations). They have 4 locations in Chicagoland: the Lakeview area (near Belmont and Clark), the Wicker Park area (near Milwaukee Ave and North Ave), the north west suburb Schaumburg (in Woodfield Mall), and the south west suburb Oakbrook. For more info, visit their site at http://ragstock.com/.

How did you put together your costume? Feel free to leave a comment!