Do you drool over beautiful costumes and lament the fact that you can’t sew? I’ve been there, but you know what? An inability to sew or a schedule that’s too busy for making intricate ensembles doesn’t mean you can’t cosplay. You can simply commission someone else to make a costume for you. I’ve had a few costumes made, and though each experience is different, the basic steps are the same: choose your dream costume, find a seamstress/seamster, send in measurements, pay, and receive a ready to wear costume. It’s kind of like magic.
If you’ve been thinking about commissioning a costume of your own – maybe an Elsa ensemble? – we’ve broken the process down step by step. Read more about it after the break.
Choosing a Costume
Playing dress up is a blast, but the even more fun part to me is choosing and planning a costume. The options are endless. Chances are you have a good idea of who you want to dress like, but I recommend coming up with three choices. For example, say you really want a Merida costume but the person who you want to make it is out of the proper fabric for her dress. It could happen, and if you don’t want to wait, have a second choice in mind.
This is also the time to decide whether your costume needs to be a screen/comic book accurate replica or just “close enough”. Keep in mind that handcrafting a costume is an art. The more detailed the costume, the more time it takes, and the more expensive it’s going to be. Remember the Elsa costume I mentioned? Her icy blue dress is elaborate and covered in all kinds of bling. If you want a costume exactly matching what you see in Frozen, it’s going to cost serious dollars… which takes me to my next point.
Custom Wonder Woman costume by MiaLa
Dollars and Cents
Set a budget for the costume. Custom made costumes are not cheap. Period. You’re hiring an artist to make something only for you, and you cannot expect to pay Halloween pop-up shop prices for the costume. You are paying for materials, time, and shipping. Related: the process takes time, often 4+ weeks so plan ahead.
Depending on the specifics, you’re probably going to pay a minimum of $250. If you see a price for a costume that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Etsy and eBay both have plenty of sellers who seem to have workshops grinding out more affordable costumes of mediocre quality. Those are perfectly fine options, just be aware of why the price is low.
Look at photos and materials before committing to a purchase, carefully read about what’s included, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Some sellers offer a payment plan, usually half of the payment up front and the other half upon delivery. It’s okay to ask about that, too.
Finding a Seamstress/Seamster
This is the hardest part of having a costume commissioned, but you only have to go through it once or twice. Once you find a costume-maker you love working with, never let them go. But how to search for someone who will do a great job?
The best way to begin is by asking for recommendations from friends. Know a cool cosplayer? Even if the cosplayer makes his or her own costumes, they might know someone who takes commissions. Know someone in the 501st or Rebel Legions or other costuming groups? They probably have some names for you, too. Heck, ask your social media networks. Getting references is preferred over cold searching on Etsy or eBay. I can personally recommend MiaLa and Castle Corsetry (she made the Crusader costume in the photo at the top of this post).
If you don’t have any luck getting names, head to Etsy. Make a cup of coffee and prepare to spend a lot of time searching and reading reviews. Since you’re investing a fair amount of money in something you’d like to be able to wear in public, it’s important to do your research. Begin by searching for the costume you want, and you’ll probably get a few results. Alternatively, you can search for “custom costumes”. When you look at a shop, make sure they have photos of their costumes on mannequins or people, not just screen shots of the outfit or renderings. Read all available reviews. Obviously, if there are negative comments about poor quality or lack of communication, move along.
Rinse and repeat until you have one to three options. If your ideal costume isn’t listed in your top choices’ shops, send them messages and see if they can make what you’re looking for in the time frame you need it. Compare prices, materials, turnaround time, and make a decision. And yes, even if you don’t need a costume for a specific date, creation time still matters. You don’t want to be waiting for a costume for months and months.
Custom Kitty Pryde-inspired dress by Suckers Apparel
Communication and Expectations
Now that you’ve chosen a costume and a seamstress/seamster, be clear about expectations before you hand over any money. If you want to wear the cosplay at a certain convention, you’ll need it a couple of weeks ahead of the convention to ensure it fits, etc. Give that date to the costume-maker, make sure he or she can have the costume to your doorstep by then, and get their agreement in writing. I’ve had a bad experience with this, and it was important to have a trail of emails and messages with the seller.
Don’t forget to ask about the seller’s policy for alterations. Many will give you one free alteration if you ship it back to them. It’s better to be clear about changes and not need them than to have to scramble if the costume doesn’t fit.
If the costume-maker says they will send you in-progress pictures, hold them to it. You can make sure they’re on track, and hey, they get busy and might need a little reminder from you. It’s simple to check in and nudge without being a jerk. That said, if the costume-maker goes way beyond your agreed deadline and stops communicating with you, you may have to be more forceful. Hopefully you won’t have to deal with such a situation, but remember, you’re paying them for a product and it’s their responsibility to deliver it or to at least keep you updated about delays.
Custom Padmé skirt and gloves by MiaLa
For a costume to fit, it has to have precise measurements. This is not an area to guess or to fudge numbers to make them more appealing. If you provide your seamstress/seamster with incorrect measurements, you’re going to end up with a costume that doesn’t fit and no one is going to be happy.
So, how do you get correct measurements? In an ideal situation, the person making the costume lives within driving distance and you can have him or her take the measurements in person. If that’s not possible, get a specific list of measurements needed from the person making the costume and buy tailor’s tape if you don’t already own it. Do not use measuring tape for this; you can get cloth tailor’s tape at any craft store.
Often, costume-makers have illustrations showing where to put the tape and/or detailed instructions on how to take measurements (you can also look up tutorials and videos). Though you can take them yourself, get a friend to help if you can.
Because I’m paranoid, I think you should measure all the necessary places three times. Before you send your numbers off to the costume-maker, proofread it three times as well.
After all the steps are done, you only have to sit back and wait for a lovely costume to arrive on your doorstep. Remember to work on props, get a wig, and wrap up the little touches in the meantime.
Have any questions or more notes? Let us know in the comments.