Home CultureCosplay A Guide To Making Cosplay on a Budget

A Guide To Making Cosplay on a Budget

by Jonathan Le

Want to cosplay as your favorite characters but don’t have the cash to buy the exact clothing for your costume? Well, this is where the DIY (or do-it-yourself) method comes in handy. It’s no secret that we at Dorkaholics have tackled cosplay as one of our subjects in pop culture. These include Cosplay Spotlights with Amanda Lynne, Cinecosu, JS_Cosplay, and a few Meet a Dorks with Earl Gibson, MonsterPoh, and Jen Takeda. But for this case, we’re tackling cosplay that costs less than $20 and yet looks authentic at the same time. If you want to make a costume based on your favorite characters on a shoestring budget, this guide can help you with what to do when making a costume with what little you have.

Looking at Photos or Videos for Reference

If you want to start looking for materials, look at some pictures or clips seen from movies or TV shows. Then, break down what the character is wearing. To illustrate, here’s a screenshot of Marty McFly from Back to the Future wearing 1955 clothes. In this image, Marty wears a maroon jacket with tan frontings, a blue short-sleeved buttoned-up shirt with a swirly pattern and a white t-shirt underneath, medium blue jeans with rolled-up cuffs, and black Converse sneakers with white socks in them. This can help you list the clothing and materials needed for your costume.

You can also use cosplay videos on YouTube of clothing choices or materials for characters such as Captain America or Spider-Man that look like they’re wearing a one-piece suit but are made with several clothes instead or even just characters wearing simple clothes. Cosplay videos for characters wearing simple clothing are also an option for a list of clothes needed. An example of this includes Marty McFly and Doc Brown from the first two Back to the Future films.

Finding Similar Clothing

Going to places like thrift stores or vintage stores is perfect when looking for clothing or materials for your costume as the clothes and materials sold there have prices of $20 or less. However, not all clothing is going to look the same as the outfit the character wore. In cases like this, find something similar to that clothing and work from there. Case in point, finding the same shirt Marty wore in the movie is hard to obtain due to finding the same pattern seen on screen or can cost a lot of money in the age of cosplay and online shopping. Instead of searching for the exact shirt, it’s best to find a shirt of a similar pattern seen below. You can also cut off the sleeves if the shirt is too long but has a similar design.

It is also not mandatory to get clothes from stores as there are some clothes and materials already found at home, such as a pair of jeans, white socks, or a white t-shirt.

You can also ask a friend to borrow certain clothes such as a pair of black Converse sneakers.


As said earlier, not all clothing will look the same as what the character wore, and it’s best to find something similar. If you want to add more detail and look faithful to the source material, modifications can be a cost-efficient way to finalize your look. Spray paint, glue guns, and other tools are all simple items found at home or dollar stores. For example, I found a maroon jacket similar to what Marty wore in the movie, but the fronts aren’t tan, and the color scheme is a little too dark. To make it screen-accurate, I will spray paint it red for a brighter color scheme and later paint the fronts tan.

Making Props

Like with the outfits, a character is as recognizable as the objects they carry around. These materials are available at dollar stores, thrift stores, toy stores, and more. You can even use materials found at home, such as cardboard boxes or old toys. Similarly, you can break down what the prop is made of by listing the materials needed, whether from a video or a picture, and compromise with alterations in materials and the tools in making the prop. Using Marty McFly once again, I will be using his makeshift skateboard as seen in the skateboard chase scene from Back to the Future as a prime example. Seeing the photos and breaking them down, the skateboard consists of three wooden boards (one longboard for the deck and two small square boards to connect the wheels), four sets of wheels, and a total of eleven screws to connect both the boards and wheels together.

One big tip when making your props is getting a supervisor to watch over (whether a friend or family member) and asking them for help if needed. This tip is important because the last thing you need when making props involving machinery, modeling, or just being a simple build is messing up, or worse, hurting yourself. Another tip is to look at your references while creating your prop, as you don’t want to add in the wrong details or accidentally break off a piece when making your prop.


Even if on a small budget, proper cosplay can still be achievable using clothing and material choices found in your house or stores, creating props or wearable accessories with certain materials lying around, and working off what you have. Cosplay doesn’t have to be high-quality suits or exact clothing as seen in media. Small cosplay budgets are feasible and offer quite the hands-on experience for us fans.

Any other tips for making cosplay budget ideas? Have an idea for a cosplay that you want to make on a shoestring budget? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading.

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