The Cost of Custom Cosplay: Where Does the Money Go?

So you’re interested in getting yourself a custom cosplay from a seamstress or costume maker, but the cost they quoted you had you mildly nauseous? Did you think it was ridiculous? Perhaps it just shocked you? Either way, this article should give a much better idea of WHY the costs for something custom made for you can be so seemingly exorbitant.

Listed below are three costumes I’ve deconstructed down to the thread that holds them together to show you the costs going into making these costumes.  I hope it’s eye-opening and enlightening. I also hope it doesn’t terrify you. It surprised me a little, actually writing it all down like this, to see how much really does into even the simplest of pieces.

 

Arkham Knight Harley Quinn

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Cost: Approx $1200 (varies slightly per customer)

Pieces:

  1. Hat – $50
    • Base police hat – $22
    • Worbla – $2 worth
    • Paint – $0.50
    • Sealer – $0.50
    • Labor – $25
      – First cut, mold, shape, and layer the Worbla to look like a GCPD police badge before doing all the painting, weathering, and detailing. Once that is complete, seal the paint with a waterproof sealer, let it dry and attach the finished badge to the hat.
  2. Harness – $220
    • Veg Tanned Leather – $50
    • Rivets – $5
    • O-rings (x6) – $3
    • 2 snaps for back of harness $0.50
    • Metal dome studs – $5
    • Grommets – $1
    • Lacing – $1
    • Thread – $1
    • Leather needle – $1
    • Paint – $2
    • Sealer – $0.50
    • Labor – $150
      – Start by patterning, drafting, and cutting a pattern that is made ON the customer. Then make a foam first draft of the harness and perfect the fitting. Once done cut, wet, and shape the leather then rivet the harness together; including all the O-rings (meticulous fitting time!). Let the harness dry, stain it black, and let it dry again.  Paint all the red trim, dry again, then do two layers of sealer…drying between the layers. Next add the snaps in the back, pop holes for and hammer in the grommets, and lace it up. For the bottom strap of the harness, use studs to attach it to the corset itself at the waist.
  3. Underbust corset – $155 – $200 (pending cost of leather. Remember…this is for REAL leather too. I don’t HAVE to make the corset in leather, I just usually do.)
    • Leather – $40-80 (usually have to buy at least a full yard/skin and you need red AND black. This isn’t even the price of the REALLY good stuff.)
    • Cotton for lining (1yd) – $3
    • Thread – $2
    • Quilt batting – $3
    • Lace trim (1yd at least. Keep in mind the final measurement of the bottom of your corset!) – $4
    • Grommets – $1
    • Lacing – $2
    • Labor – $100
      – First pattern and cut the corset pieces in both the leather and lining then draw out the criss-cross pattern on the front center piece in chalk. Layer leather center front piece over the quilt batting and sew together along ALL the lines. Sew the corset together, do the same with lining, and add boning. Next, sew the front and lining together, flip right side out, and sew it down along the edges. Lastly, add the grommets and lacing.
  4. Altered bra – $80-90
    • Victoria Secret Bombshell bra base – $50
    • Milliskin – $3 (IF I happen to have some on hand. If not, I have to buy a yard which costs $12)
    • Bias Tape (Red & Black) – $5
    • Thread – $2
    • Labor – $20
      – First, cut a piece of red Milliskin and use that to cover one cup. Then add black and red bias tape to contrasting sides.
  5. Shirt – $50 (yes…I charge $2 LESS than the below totaled up. And yes, I also alter already made shirts. It’s one of the ways I save the customer money.)
    • Shirt base – $20
    • Veg tanned leather – $5
    • 2 O-rings – $1
    • Paint – $0.50
    • Sealer – $0.50
    • Labor – $25
      – Alter the cut of the shirt to lay properly under the costume. Next cut, paint, and seal the leather strips then attach the O-rings. Lastly rivet it to the sleeves.
  6. Arm pieces – $30
    • Milliskin (red AND black) – $10
    • Lace trim (1yd) – $4
    • Thread – $1
    • Labor – $15
      – Pattern pieces and cut out the Milliskin. Lace trim gets sewed down on the wrist end then pin and sew them up.
  7. Skirt/petticoat – $150
    • Cotton (5yds Kona cotton) – $30
    • Lace trim (5yds) – $20
    • Petticoat – $18
    • Thread – $5
    • Elastic – $2
    • Labor – $75
      – Start off by doing the math! Find out how long to make each tier PRE ruffling, the two connector pieces, and waistband. Lots of cutting. Next, iron over the hem edges of every ruffle then sew them down, making sure to add the lace trim to the bottom ruffle. Sew long stitches along the whole top of each ruffle and pull tight to ruffle each up to the right lengths. Sew it all together. Add the elastic and close the waistband.
  8. Tights – $100
    • Milliskin (1yd/ea red and black) – $30
    • Wonder Under – $3 worth
    • Studs for the knees – $6
    • Thread – $1
    • Labor – $60
      – Start with patterning and cutting out the Millliskin. Cut another portion of Milliskin and iron it the to the Wonder Under then cut out the diamonds. Remove the backing on the WU and iron the diamonds to the still to be sewn tights at the thigh. Sew tights together then try on and make sure they fit. If so…add the waistband. Attach the studs in a diamond pattern at the knee.
  9. Boots – $125
    • Boot base – $40
    • Meltoninan Color Preparer – $6
    • Meltonian Nu Life Spray (red & black – if boots aren’t black to begin with, best results come from tan boot bases) – $20
    • Paint – $0.50
    • Sealer – $0.50
    • Sandpaper – $4
    • Pyramid studs – $6
    • Hot glue – $1
    • Shoelaces (red & black unless base boot comes with one of the colors) $2
    • Labor – $45
      – Wipe down the boots with Color Preparer to remove finish and spray with NuLife Spray. Allow to dry. Use sandpaper to begin the aesthetic look of weathering.  Careful use of paints will finish it up. Seal the shoes with several layers of waterproof sealer. Weather the shoelaces with paint and sandpaper as well to make them look used. Use hot glue (to secure the studs) and pliers (to close the hooks inside the boot) to attach the studs to the boots.
  10. Bat – $100
    • Base bat – Louisville Slugger – $30
    • Dremel grinding barrel attachment – negligible
    • Sandpaper – $1
    • White spray paint – $3
    • Red spray paint – $3
    • Painter’s Tape – $2
    • Worbla – $1
    • Hot glue – $1
    • Metal dome studs – $3
    • Paints – $0.50
    • Sealer – $0.50
    • Labor – $55
      – Sand off the wording and finish on the bat with Dremel and sandpaper. Apply several layers of white spray paint and let dry. Use the painter’s tape to tape off the ‘barber pole’ design and cover the handle as well so there’s no over spray. Spray the red and let dry. Cut 2 bands of Worbla for the top band and 2 for the mid one. Heat and stick together then attach to the bat. Attach the metal domes to the Worbla strips. Tape off around the bands and paint. Allow to dry and remove tape. WEATHERING – aka the blood and dirt step! Not really, but…paints can be convincing when used right! Seal with waterproof spray to finish things off.

Sub total : $1060-1115

Then you add in the factors of gas, my time buying/gathering the materials, shipping costs to–and possibly from–me, and other minor things and you get to the $1200 I generally charge for the costume.

 

Disney Designer Dress – Queen of Hearts

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Cost: $1000

Pieces:

  1. Scepter – $50
    • Worbla – $12
    • Jewels – $10
    • Wooden rod – $1
    • Paints – $1
    • Sealer – $1
    • Labor – $25
      – Draw out the pattern of the heart onto the Worbla. Cut it out twice, heat bond them together. Cover the wooden rod with Worbla and attach the heart. Then it’s time for the decorative Worbla accenting before painting and sealing. Add the jewels and it’s done.
  2. Crown – $35
    • Worbla – $8
    • Paints – $1
    • Sealer – $1
    • Labor – $25
      – Pattern out the crown with foam then cut it out of the Worbla twice, heat bond it all together. Then it’s time for the decorative Worbla accenting before painting and sealing.
  3. High collar halter corset w/attachedpeplum bustle – $250
    • Velveteen (4yds) – $60
    • Light interfacing (1yd for corset body) – $2
    • Thick interfacing (1 yd for collar) – $3
    • Cotton lining (4yds) – $20
    • Canvas (1yd to sandwich in the corset for stiffness) – $10
    • Boning – $5
    • Thread – $5
    • Labor – $145
      – Pattern the corset, collar, and peplum pieces and cut them all out. Layer the lining with canvas, sew together, and add boning. Iron interfacing to velveteen and sew together. Prep the halter strap and make the high collar then sew them down to velveteen. Sew facing and lining together, but leave the bottom open. Flip right side out. Prep the peplum pieces and sew them in open pocket then sew it closed.
  4. Giantbutt bow – $85
    • Velveteen (2yds) – $30
    • Interfacing (2yds) – $5
    • Thread $2
    • 2 large snaps (to attach to corset) $3
    • Labor – $45
      – Cut out long strips the length you wish, iron interfacing on. Sew them together, front facing front. Flip them right side out and sew them down. Tie into a bow and secure. Sew one half of the snaps to the top of each bow and the other halves to the back of the corset.
  5. Gloves – $30
    • Stretch velvet (1yd matching the velveteen) – $8
    • Thread – $2
    • Labor – $20
      – Pattern, cut, sew, flip right side out.
  6. 8-tier cupcake ruffle skirt – $460
    • Gold satin (24yds) – $75
    • Black lace trim (30yds) – $60
    • Lining (8yds) – $15
    • Elastic – $2.50
    • Thread – $7.50
    • Labor – $300 (this is extremely labor intensive…)
      – Cut the lining of the skirt which all the subsequent layers will be sewn to. Spend FOREVER cutting out two strips for each layer. Length of each layer strip before ruffling – 100”, 150”, 200”, 225”, 275”, 315”, 360”, and 400” unless they need to be altered for a different waist measurement. Sew together the two strips for each layer face to face, flip, and iron down. Next sew along the top, pull into the ruffle lengths, and attach to the skirt. Do the same with the lace trim between each layer. Make the waistband, attach, and add elastic.
  7. Heels – $20+ (This is a completely optional step if you wish to wear something more comfortable. No one will ever see your shoes under the huge skirt.)
    • Buy gold heels – $20+
    • Labor – $20
      – Any decorating the client may want; usually big red hearts over the toes.
  8. Necklace – $15
    • Charm – $2
    • Chain – $2
    • Findings – $1
    • Labor – $10
      – Simply construct the necklace.
  9. Hoop skirt – $20
    • Buy a hoop skirt. (It’s so much easier to simply buy one than make it.)

Subtotal – $965 + travel time/shipping costs/extraneous = $1000

There’s less of the extra costs on this one because I don’t have to order as many of the components online.

 

Princess dress for a little girl

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Cost: $250+ (Depending on a variety of variables)

Pieces:

  1. Dress – $175+ (Depending on materials chosen. Below is just what I generally go for with children because it’s cheaper and durable, but still pretty. Costs $175.)
    • Satin Shantung (5yds) – $35
    • Lining (5yds) – $25
    • Contrast fabric (2yds) – $10+
    • Interfacing (1yd for bodice section) – $2
    • Zipper – $2
    • Thread – $1
    • Labor – $90
      – Cut all the different materials out. Pin and sew everything together. Add the zipper. Detailing with ribbon before ironing.
  2. Wand – $15
    • Nice chopstick – $1
    • Hot glue – $1
    • Paint – $0.50
    • Sealer – $0.50
    • Small crystal – $2
    • Labor – $10
      – Use the hot glue to make patterns/swirls whatever over stick and hold it as it dries. Leave a spot on the end to add the crystal. Do all the paint and detail work. Then glue the crystal to the top and touch up paint to hide the glue. Seal the wand and done!
  3. Shoes – $20 (Generally don’t spend more than this. Sometimes I don’t do this at all and the customer buys some themselves. So I’m not counting this in the total cost.)
  4. Crown/headpiece – $50+ (Depending on the amount/quality of the faux flowers)
    • Faux flowers – $20+
    • Floral wire – $4
    • Hot Glue – $1
    • Labor – $25
      – Measure around the head and create a ring with the wire in the right size. Strategically fill the crown with flowers/leaves/moss/etc till it’s nice and full.

Subtotal: $240 + travel time/shipping costs/extraneous = $250+

 

I only charge $15/hr for my work. I could charge far more than that, but I’m lucky enough that my household is sustainable with me keeping my prices where I do. If something were to change, I could easily charge $20-25 for my work and feel completely justified by it. Because I know my work is worth it. Right now, I’d rather pass my good luck to the customer in the form of the lowest prices I can offer!

 

Now you know why commissioning something just for you might cost far more than you expect it to! We’re not doing it to be mean or greedy. This is just what the costs of handmade quality are. You see it everywhere, not just in costumes. Props by skilled artisans usually garner raised brows as well when people find out the costs, but they have to sculpt, make a mold, cast, finish, paint, etc. There’s always a level of craft and skill that goes into anything custom. That skill came at a price and we deserve to be paid for that skill.

 

I hope that this article has given you a better idea of what you’re looking to get into if you commission a custom cosplay! Happy costuming everyone!!

Gabrielle Donathan
Gabby is a seamstress, leather worker, & jewelry artist. She established Maise Designs in 2004, but four years later focused her efforts on compelling opportunities in the niche world of costume craft and design. After completing her first Cosplay commission, DC's Huntress, her reputation quickly grew in the AZ Cosplay community and has smoldered ever further outward with greater opportunities to collaborate with high profile personalities within the industry. Her repertoire includes pieces ranging from Renaissance fantasy to Disney princesses, masquerade leather-work and more, but her specialties are Comic Book and Video Game based Cosplay. She's been blessed to work with such prominent local talent as Itty Bitty Geek, Aaron Forrester, Katy Mor, and Amie Lynn--for whom she constructed Vivienne for the Dragon Age: Inquisition promotional marketing. She's worked on several costumes with world renowned Cosplayer Jessica Nigri, most notably her Arkham Knight Harley Quinn which was worn for Warner Bros at San Diego Comic Con 2014. Most recently she was the seamstress for the Steampunk X-Men Girls cosplay group at Phoenix Comic Con and is looking forward to next year's project!
  • and I don’t begrudge them ONE BIT. (Have only ever had one custom cosplay done, and it came out great.)

    • Gabrielle Donathan

      Thank you so much for understanding and supporting cosplay creators like me! We <3 you!

  • L. Lorelei Laine

    A lot of work goes into those costumes, it is understandable. Also, another huge cost considering you’re displaying Jess Nigri…a really bad boob job. Add 5k to that.

    • Charles House

      Come on, man, is that necessary?

      • Combaticron

        Evidently. Ask Yaya.

        • Charles House

          You misunderstood the question. Is it really necessary to shame someone for having breast augmentation, and be a pedant about the cost and what you feel of the quality? Lorelei needs to grow up and be a little kinder to her own gender.

          • Combaticron

            I understood the question as you asked it. I chose to read it a different way and go for the laugh. That said, Lorelei does have a point in that augmentation appears to be good for business, at least for a few of the high-profile players. And natural assets don’t hurt either.

    • lol

    • MensRightsCanada

      You jealous.
      What’s her boobs have anything to do with this article?

  • After learning (the hard way) to build cosplay for my kids, I can truly appreciate the time, skill, craftsmanship, and materials she is talking about here.

    • Gabrielle Donathan

      There’s nothing like learning first hand, huh!? It’s scary and exciting!

  • Tyler Thomas

    I don’t do it for a living, and while this is a good example it’s also not because it all depends on what you have made. Most stuff will run you a good sum though no doubt.

  • spriken

    That’s some awesome work!
    I wonder how much a Sesshoumaru costume would be!
    That would be a huge amount of work!

  • great article, great Cosplays are a big investment in every way. These are great pieces of art.

  • great article, great Cosplays are a big investment in every way. These are great pieces of art.

  • great article, great Cosplays are a big investment in every way. These are great pieces of art.

    • Gabrielle Donathan

      Thank you SO much! I put my heart into them, for sure!

  • great article, great Cosplays are a big investment in every way. These are great pieces of art.

  • great article, great Cosplays are a big investment in every way. These are great pieces of art.

  • Volante Design

    You could charge $35-50 per hour and I wouldn’t fault you. If you were sending your design to a manufacturer to have it made, they would charge at least that much for just the first sample. And that’s assuming you’ve already done any pattern work associated.

    • Gabrielle Donathan

      Yea I know, right!? It’s scary to think of charging that much, but I definitely know that I COULD.

      • Shimra Jaime Fine

        I agree that no one could fault you. That’s a skill, and one a lot of people don’t possess these days.

        • Bob Shuttleworth

          But far too many think that their neighbor, or their mother can do it for them. My wife has been a professional Costumer in San Diego for 20 years, and when she asked even $15/hr to build such things people almost laugh at her. It IS a skill, that requires specialized training, and is worth far more than most people are willing to pay.

  • Bina Pothi

    …except, of course, that you do not “commission a custom cosplay”.
    Cosplay is what you do if you wear a costume (“Cos”) and act (“play”) the character.
    Commissions are about costumes and props. Cosplay can be done wearing the costume or carrying the prop. “To commission a cosplay” would basically mean that you hire someone to e. g. cosplay as Elsa at your daughter’s garden party.

    Other than that, I TOTALLY agree with everything you said. I recently put 1000 hours of work and a four figure amount of material costs into a single costume – for myself, because no customer would ever want to pay what I would have to charge for that costume if I made it for someone else.
    Yet and still, people email me and basically demand that I make it for less than a four figure amount, lol.

    • Terralia

      That’s a bit of a pedantic argument. The lovely thing about language is that it grows and changes. Using cosplay as a noun essentially has evolved to mean “The stuff you need to cosplay” or “My body in the stuff you need to cosplay” depending on context. It’s correct in the common lexicon, and trying to hold language to its etymological roots is unnatural, and an exercise in futility.

  • Sheila Morris

    Nice breakdown! But IMHO, you need to charge more for labor. And even more, if you’re making your own patterns…that’s a skill in itself. You could up your hourly rate for the patterning and cutting out, and keep the time for stitching the same, if you don’t want to bump the whole thing up too much at once. And don’t forget to include the time you spend shopping, not just sitting at the machine…

    • Cynthia Settje

      Completely agree with you Sheila. Another thing to consider–keeping rates down when you know you could charge more can also artificially lower the market and make it more difficult for other costumers to charge their rates. I’d love to see all of us paid appropriately for our work. Gabrielle, this is a great article and breakdown of the hidden costs in costume commissions. Thanks for writing it.

    • Gabrielle Donathan

      Honestly, I know I need to charge more for my labor. I have begun to bump that up since my demand is so high. And I wrote in there that I do charge for my time spent getting the supplies and things as well. 🙂

  • SusiMatthews

    This is a fabulous article which I will happily give proper credit when I quote it. Thank you for your clarity. It’s so easy to not price out and charge for supplies used from stash! I have been a designer and seamstress of costumes, weddings and formalwear and I have made my sole living at it for more than 30 years. I hear an awful lot of, “Wow, Susi does such fabulous work but I can’t afford her. She’s too expensive” *sigh* My response is “well, you get what you pay for.” I just recently raised my prices to $20/hour after pressure from many friends, including a business analyst. However, I don’t lack for clients so those whining about my pricing are the ones losing out.

    You do GORGEOUS work, I’m very impressed! I found this through a friend who linked it on a Cosplay group on Facebook…many of whose members are prone to wanting things made cheaply or for free. I quote them my usual, “you get what you pay for.”

  • Shimra Jaime Fine

    Did you make the one for Nigri or have you just done similar ones on commission? Also the princess is DARLING.

    • Gabrielle Donathan

      I made the Arkham Knight Harley Quinn costume for both Jessica Nigri and Itty Bitty Geek. And thank you!!

      • Shimra Jaime Fine

        Oh wow. Then you do incredible work! I hope you get credited appropriately cause you are splendid

  • You think the cost might go down for props being designed in 3D printers ?

    Those numbers are huuuge~
    Also what happens to them costumes after the cosplay session ?

  • Claudia Pires

    Some people are willing to pay a large sum for a costume to be commissioned while others feel it is expensive. I just think that it’s strange when a commissioner gets angry when they lose out because another commissioner is willing to make it for less. Also the cost does seem a bit extreme for something that could potentially fall apart after a con since even after you pay it is not guaranteed that the costume will last. Now if the commissioner were to offer insurance and repairs for the costume that the person spent so much on then it would be worthwhile. I have gotten some grade A costumes commissioned for 200 and they are still intake today and I have seen the costumes that my friends have commissioned from people in the US and they appear to be of low quality and when they tell me how much they spent I almost gasp at the price they paid for faulty craftsmenship. I am not willing to pay so much for a costume that I could make myself (or have a friend) or get commissioned in japan/china for a better price and quality. I have seen what some commissioners have done to people by charging an exorbent amount and not giving the best quality. Your article does well in showing where the cost goes but if you are going to charge so much for a costume then it should look more intricate than one that someone can buy from ebay or a cosplay site. I personally make my own costumes and I tell people that if you are going to pay someone else to make it you might as well learn how to do it yourself because its a much kore satisfying experience

  • Charles House

    You misunderstood the question. Is it really necessary to shame someone
    for having breast augmentation, and be a pedant about the cost and what
    you feel of the quality? Lorelei needs to grow up and be a little kinder
    to her own gender.

    Who cares what she does with her body?

  • Erica Roney

    Do you have a website I could go to so that I could order from you? I love how you did Harley Quinn!!

  • So very true. People just don’t understand that costumes of such high quality and/or caliber cost four figures to complete. As a member of the 501st Legion, I hear people make comments along the lines of “there’s no way I’d pay that much for one of those costumes.” When they ask what it costs us to make our costumes. It is an expensive hobby if you want to do it well!

    Great write-up!

  • Facilalilaty

    This is referred to as “sweat/think equity”. You can choose to charge for it or not, depending on the difficulty of the product you will service or build. Your own transparency contradicts itself if you simply don’t charge these costs. I work on computers and build software. If I know my efforts will be challenging, I bill. If my charge is for sitting and waiting for something huge to compile for example, I don’t.

  • Katie Stebbins

    The look of materials and the dedication I wouldn’t fault you for your prices, and I’d gladly pay them. I dislike the look of costumes with cheap materials. I also don’t have these type of skills! I love your work!

  • Evandril

    Since I’ve seen ‘deluxe costumes’ in stores that were fairly impressive, but still rack bought, not custom made…and they cost *more* than yours do…Yeah, I’d say your prices are seriously low for the quality 🙂

  • MensRightsCanada

    You’re undercharging.

  • Erin Roh-Ciapponi

    I take custom commissions to off set the cost of my own elaborate cosplays. Reading this made me realize that I need to charge what I am worth and what my product is worth. If people want my work they should be willing to pay me at least $10/hour for it, otherwise I am really losing money in the long run. Thank you for this article!

  • satorotas

    Excellent Article! Thank you for posting this.

  • Tigress

    Let’s not forget the equipment we use, which can also be hella expensive. I bought a new sewing machine with an embroidery function, which cost me $1,000. And that’s a lower end model. Higher-end embroidery machines with better software can easily run you $5 – 10K.

    And any tailor worth their salt will have a serger or overlock machine, which makes those stitches on the edge of your seams and prevents them from fraying. A basic model will run you $200 and can run in the low thousands, depending on what you want it to do.

    Then there’s maintenance. Most of us learn to do basic maintenance early on. But if something gnarly happens, like a timing belt comes loose or a gear breaks, we have to pay for a repair guy to look at it. Which can cost just as much as getting your car fixed.

    Then there’s other assets, like dress forms ($100 – 300; depending if you find it on sale or not), sewing room furniture (I found an L-shaped desk at Office Depot for only $100 and a fold-away cutting table at Jo-Ann for $150, which I bought with my mom’s housewarming present last year), storage cabinets, etc. If you work out of a location instead of your home, there’s space rental, electricity, etc.

    All that also has to be factored into the price of a costume.

  • Bob Shuttleworth

    Far too many think that this is a task to be performed by a neighbor, or their mother can do it for them. My wife has been a professional Costumer in San Diego for 20 years, (Old Globe Theater, La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego Opera and others – and when she has asked even $15/hr to build such things people almost laugh at her. “Oh I know someone who will do it for $5/hr.” It IS a skill, that requires specialized training, and is worth far more than most people are willing or expect to pay.

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