Found Item Cosplay: Doing it Right (in Style!)


As I stepped into the vintage store in old town Torrance, I browsed through various evening gowns for the 1970s. Too shiny. Too low cut. Not enough cleavage support. A champagne pink dress caught my eye. It was a long dress, but it could be cut down to pass for one of Fujiko Mine’s signature outfits. Thrift store shopping is very common for the cosplayer on a budget. Recently, there has been a stigma to closet cosplay. As a seamstress and costumer, I can safely say there is nothing wrong with taking pieces from your closet or Forever 21 to complete a character’s look.

CBF 2005: The pink dress was from a vintage store in Torrance. It was originally an evening gown, but cut to be more femme fatale.

Many slice of life anime titles take place in the modern day. Series such as Death Note, Honey and Clover, Jellyfish Princess, etc have wardrobe that we can find in our own wardrobe. The stigma behind closet cosplay stems from the assumption that all cosplayers make their own costumes from scratch. While it is an admireable trait to create your own costume, there really is no real right way to create a character. In the early 2000’s one livejournal community only invited cosplayers based on if their sewing skills were good enough, not how well one shopped. Others feel that sewing is a prime essential in cosplay. As long as the nerd is putting effort into coordinating the character and having fun, there really should be no criticism. To criticize makes one look like a self entitled elitist.

We all have different reasons why we would want to do closet cosplay. My reason back when I was a student at San Francisco State was I was a full time student in Communications. I really did not have the time to teach myself to sew; let alone having roommates who would tolerate having a sewing machine in the dorms. Some people’s reasons may be they are either too busy and may not have the time right now to learn or we may already have that button up white shirt and black slacks in our closet already.

CBF 2006: Henrietta was made from a Goodwill raid, old uniform skirt, button up blouse, and ribbon.

A few tips to consider when you are on your next shopping trip the Goodwill; if you are new to cosplay, bring a reference photo with you. Be aware of what kind of button up shirt the character is wearing. Is it long sleeved? What kind of collar does it have? Do I have to hand stitch bias tape to the collar? Keep asking yourselves these questions so you know what to add on if you need to modify. Pieces of clothing can differ from one another. If you cannot find the piece you are looking for, move onto the next store.

Getting the accurate pieces is still important. For example, the green jacket variant of Lupin III is an easy closet cosplay project. However, one detail that is often overlooked is that the tie is not a triangle end, but rather a square end. Keep these important details in mind will create a better outcome in your project.

AX 2009: Baccano takes place in 1930s America. Suit pieces can be easily hauled at a Goodwill or Marshalls.

In recent years, Gijinka cosplay, or human forms of non-human characters (ie: My Little Pony, Pokemon, etc) have been quite popular in the past couple of years. The joy of this brings out creativity and the freedom to design. It is important to get to know the character and know what they would wear and not wear. I have seen some cute Fluttershy coordinates from pieces bought at Forever 21. Soft, airy, and girly yellow and pink coordinate really suit the character, as opposed to the bold and boyish Rainbow Dash.

It is important to also accessorize and get the character’s coiffure and make up right. Do not just do L by putting on a long t-shirt and jeans and assume your bedhead will pass. Look into wigs that you can mess around with and study the makeup around L’s eyes. Perhaps you may also want to stop by the Starbucks at the convention hotel to carry a coffee cake or two. If the character wears glasses, cheap glasses can be found at Claire’s or the local CVS pharmacy. The important thing is to keep an open mind where you shop, you never know what kind of accessories you can grab for your character.

Photo by EBK

AOD 2004: Putting myself on the spot here...I could have used a better wig back in 2004. Back in the day, we didn't have Epic Cosplay, Arda, or any nice online store. Hair can make or break a good costume.

Half the fun of closet cosplay is going around town looking for the pieces. It takes effort to look for the right clothing pieces and coordinating them with other found items to make an awesome cosplay. I can say as a professional seamstress in theatre that there have been many shows I have worked on where we had to go to Macy’s, Forever 21, Charlotte Russe, etc to grab wardrobe for the show. Whatever project you use to take on, make it a fun one. That’s when you know you are truly doing it right.

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