I thought I'd share my thrifty tips for creating costumes of all kinds. Being thrifty is really a developed lifestyle. I'm always on the lookout for a piece here and a piece there that I can incorporate into something I'm working on. These tips are geared toward Steampunk costuming, but are easily applied to any type of cosplay. Learning to see the potential in things is the key.
1. You need to locate sources for good stuff.
*Haunt garage sales and church bazaars! My husband and I leave our teenagers in bed on Saturday mornings and head out shopping. We find great bargains and have time to chat while driving around. We also shop for our kid's Christmas gifts at garage sales. Why pay $20 for something they really want when I can get it like new at a garage sale for $1? Don't be afraid to haggle if the price is more than you want to pay but be fair to the seller too. If I have several small items I might make a bundled offer for all at once, but I never ask for a discount if an individual item is less than a dollar and worth more than $5.
*Thrift stores are gold mines!!!! The best way to shop thrift stores is to become a regular. You'll get to know their discount system (most have some kind of system in place to help move inventory), the kind of stuff you can expect to find there, where things are located in the store, and the employees. I often have an employee point out some hidden treasure that might have just come in because I've chatted with them in the past and talked about the kind of stuff I look for. My 13yo son and I go on a "date" every other Friday and always hit our favorite thrift store. The ladies in there love to chat with him. Many times they'll give us a discount just because he's so charming.
*Ask people you know if they have anything they might want to get rid of. Ask them to look in their closets, basements, garages, and attics for old clothes, curtains, bedding, fabric yardage, zippers, misc. sewing notions, jewelry, hats, boots, military uniforms, old brass light fixtures, misc. small hardware, cabinet knobs, etc. Ask your friends, family, & neighbors to ask other people they know too. I take pretty much everything people offer me, use what I can, and donate the rest. Now people seek me out when they have stuff to give away.
*Consider bartering for nice pieces of jewelry, etc. Maybe someone has a good quality pocket watch or brooch that they would be willing to sell or trade for. I often trade work for furniture or goods. I'm a decorative painter and have furnished my house with antiques by trading a painted border, small mural, or nook. You could trade cleaning, organizing, gardening, accounting, or babysitting services too.
*Place an ad in the local newspaper.
*Talk to the housekeeping manager at hotels. I very often get free used bed sheets from hotels who will end up throwing them away. You may need to work around the occasional stain or tear but for the most part hotel sheets are great sources of white cotton yardage that can be dyed and remade into all kinds of clothing pieces. Some hotels will charge you for the sheets, but the cost is still much less than buying that much fabric at the store.
2. You need to develop an "eye". This means you need to look around the internet and find outfits you like. Then really study them and figure out what each piece is that makes up the whole. Many times you can get a great looking outfit by using a plain shirt & pants or skirt as the base. Then add a vest, cincher style belt, or corset in a heavily patterned fabric like a brocade, floral, or stripe. Add a hat or fascinator, leather boots or shoes, goggles, and jewelry to complete the look.
3. Learn to repurpose things. 1970's heavy gold brocade drapes languishing in your grandmother's attic can be dyed with a dark brown fabric dye, to soften the color a little, and made into a skirt & bodice or a vest. How about a vest or overskirt made from an old quilt that might be falling apart. With a few tucks and darts, a man's striped dress shirt can be great for a petite lady. You can even change the collar on most shirts...with a little practice. Maybe you found an ugly satin piece of clothing that's the right shape and fit for your needs. Take it apart and use the pieces as a pattern with a different fabric.
4. Putting together weapons or gadgets requires a little patience, a lot of parts to choose from, & great glue or sautering skills. I like E6000 glue, but any glue made for metal should work. Look for brass parts. Light fixtures or candle holders are great for this. Make sure the piece has been screwed together and not sautered or welded as this will make working with it more difficult. Don't be afraid to mix brass, base metals, plastic, or wood together. You can always paint the piece in the end to get it to look uniform. If you're modifying a Nerf gun or other plastic toy, make sure to get a spray paint formulated for plastics and sand the pieces first. Read labels and use good ventilation when using paint, glue, or other chemicals.
You get the idea....just jump in and experiment. That's half the fun!