The Costume Counselor: Commissioning vs Making

Once you’ve decided on a costume, your first big decision is always whether you want to make it yourself or whether you intend to commission it from someone else. For a lot of people, this isn’t a conscious decision but rather a subconscious one. Those of us who have been doing this for a while tend to fall on the side of either commissioning or creating and stick to it. If you’re relatively new to costuming or even if you’re a veteran looking at a trickier costume, it’s a question that you’ll have to consider carefully.

Essentially, it boils down to “Do you think you have the ability and time to make it?” or “Would you rather spend the money to have someone else make it for you?”

Cap’s costume has changed a lot just in the films. Image from GeekyTyrant.com

For both options, it’s important to remember that costuming is not a cheap hobby. It’s definitely possible to do some costumes on the cheap but once you start going for stricter accuracy or more intricate and complicated costumes, the cost is going to start climbing fast. Be realistic about your budget. You’ll have to do your research for both paths. It may sound easy to say that you want a Captain America costume but which version of his uniform do you want? Are you going for one of his comic or film suits? And do you want to do it an all-spandex version, one with more texture to it, a more armored look, or your own spin on the design? Find your reference images and make sure you know what you want before you either reach out to someone for a commission quote or start your own build.

I’ll be honest with you: I don’t have any experience with commissioning costumes. The one “commission” I’ve done so far was when someone offered to make the base uniforms for our New Mutants group so we’d all match but he made them for cost-of-materials. What I do know from listening to friends is that the price of commissioning can add up real fast. If you’re not familiar with cosplay, the cost of a custom costume can seem shocking at first so remember that you’re not only paying someone for the materials but also for their time, work, and expertise.  Be polite and respectful when a creator gives you the quote as they have put a lot of thought into what’s a reasonable amount to charge their clients without essentially doing the work for free.

If you’re intending to commission, make sure you start doing your research into sellers with plenty of time to spare before a convention. Take a look at forums or groups specifically dedicated to certain characters or fandoms as they will often times have suggestions for vendors or independent costume and prop creators who posters have used before. The forums will likely also have reviews from past customers which can help you assess how legitimate someone’s work is. You’ll want to look for good customer service and reliability along with a well-made final product. Be aware that some of the more popular creators tend to get booked up months and months in advanced so if your heart is set on someone in particular, ask early! (By the way, if expediency is what you want, don’t buy from ANOVOS. They are not known for hitting deadlines that they set during pre-order even if their costumes are beautiful.) You can also poke around sites like Etsy that either may already have a listing for the costume you want or may be a good resource to find someone who takes custom requests.

My Barriss Offee costume progress: 2016 vs 2005
My Barriss Offee costume progression: 2016 vs 2005

On the flip side, being new to costuming or even sewing in general shouldn’t stop you from creating your first cosplay yourself. Start with something simpler and practice before diving right into the tough stuff. Remember: making your own costume can often be an exercise in trial and error and it’s a continuous learning experience. You’ll learn your strengths and weaknesses and most importantly, you’ll get better. Seeing your own personal progress is part of the fun of making costumes yourself. Don’t forget that you can always commission parts of a costume like armor or props if you feel up to creating the rest of it. This isn’t all-or-nothing. While building a costume yourself can often result in you putting your blood, sweat, and tears into it, it can give you a very strong feeling of pride because you made this all by yourself and that’s a pretty awesome feeling to have.

Ultimately, it comes down to preference. Not everyone wants to learn how to make a superhero costume and not everyone wants to just buy one to wear at a con. When making that decision for yourself, take your budget, your own skills, and your personal goals into consideration. More likely than not, it’ll only be a choice that you have to consciously make for the first costume or two and then it’ll be automatic except for the really tricky looking ones.

Up next week: sewing for beginners! Have a topic you’d like me to cover? Leave a comment or send me an email with your request and it’ll be added to the list. Until next week, happy costuming!

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