How to Make an Awesome [Steampunk] Costume on a Budget

I only recently started attending comic conventions, of course with the help of my wonderful editor/publisher Hong Le and GNN!  The first one I went to was last May, the Phoenix Comicon, and I went without dressing up.  Before I even entered the Phoenix Convention Center, while I was simply trying to get into the parking garage, I saw an excess of people dressed in their favorite super hero, villain, film/TV show character, and video game character attire.  I immediately regretted not getting a costume together and dressing up myself.  I made a promise to myself that the next convention I attended, I was going to dress up, and it was going to be something home-made.  (There’s just something about a store-bought costume that rubs me the wrong way – and I know I’m not alone here.)

AACCSo, I decided to make a Steampunk costume for this year’s Amazing Arizona Comic Con.  I won’t lie – I had a tremendous amount of help since there are some things I don’t exactly know how to do (such as sewing, cutting copper tubing without sawing off my own limbs, and properly placing safety pins).  However, the purpose of this article is to let you all know that if you’re planning on not dressing up for a con just because you feel you can’t afford it, you’re grossly mistaken!  With that said, here are a few simple tips to helping you create an awesome, convention-worthy costume, while on a tight budget.


  1. GOODWILL IS YOUR BEST FRIEND! I can tell you that 97% of my Steampunk costume was found at Goodwill.  And not just one specific store.  I went to more than three different locations in the East Valley to find all sorts of cheap items.  In fact, the best parts of my costume were picked up at Goodwill, such as the locket necklace that I tied around my waist, the boots, and the super soaker to make the gizmo-gadget gun (69 cents).  Not only is Goodwill excellent for finding cheap, useful items for your costume, but it’s even better when you go on dollar day.  For those who may not know, Thursdays at Goodwill are dollar days.  A specific colored tag is chosen for each week, so any item tagged with said color is a dollar.  If you’re lucky, or patient enough, you could literally find all the major items for your costume for under $10.
  2. The hardware section has a lot of cool and useful things.  Being that I’ve never been into carpentry or doing yard work, hardware stores and the tool sections at places like Wal-Mart were never usually areas I would visit unless I absolutely needed to.  However lately, I’ve found myself spending a lot of time in those kinds of places.  I went to Wal-Mart on Thursday evening before the con to find some things that might have worked with my Steampunk outfit.  I found lots of fun and useful things like chains, hooks, and wiring.  The beauty of Steampunk specifically is that you can stick any cool looking piece of metal on any part of your actual outfit or the accessories, and it will probably add something special.
  3. Cruise the toy aisle… as if you didn’t already.  The end of my gizmo-gun has a children’s rattle on the end of it.  I spoke to Alvi Chelini, creator of Thieves Den, a Steampunk enthusiast and leatherworker, who gave me a bunch of compliments, but really liked the toy on the end of my gun in particular.  Specifically, he said it was “fun and creative” and that he loved it.  I walked away feeling very proud of that.  Anyway, getting back to what I was saying – children’s toys today always have really interesting gadgets included, and it’s even better if they light up or make noise.
  4. Look around your house for things you don’t want/need.  Especially the garage!  We found copper tubing, pieces of scrap leather, old watches that no longer work or were smashed, and a ton of other handy materials.  We even found a clock that we took apart, to use the gears and other inside pieces.  One of these pieces was used for the scope on my gun.  Another great place to look around your house is the back of your closet where you hide all the old clothes you wore in your mall-goth phase.  And maybe even your mom or dad’s closets for over-sized jackets, leotards, and toupees.
  5. Ask your friends to borrow things.  Of course don’t ask to borrow something like their grandfather’s war medals, or something that has great value to them, but if they have something that they’re willing to let you use temporarily for the outfit, then that’s just another great way to add to your costume and save money.  An example of something I borrowed for my costume was the corset – because I simply do not own a corset, and I’m not sure if I ever want to.  I… can’t… breathe…

So there you have it – a few of my own personal tips for creating a fun, elaborate, convention-worthy costume, without spending all the cash you saved for purchasing things at the con itself.  Of course, I can’t close out this article without giving a huge thanks to the woman who helped me enormously in putting this costume together, so thank you Bunny Loftus!!  Photo credit goes to her as well.  Have any other ideas for making your own outfit?  Feel free to post in the comments!





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Heyo! Ashley here! I am writing a couple music columns for the site, mainly in the areas of metal. I love to attend concerts, promote local bands, and I tend to hang around the recording studio with my friends and their band-mates. Aside from music, there are a few TV shows that I follow: Breaking Bad, Dexter, Game of Thrones, and more recently Orange is the New Black. I also watch South Park and Metalocalypse religiously. When I'm not catching up on my shows, taking care of GNN, or at a concert, I'm at Mesa Community College where I major in Journalism. I also hold interest in film and some video-games, and I am always open to discovering new and exciting things within the Geek community! Email me at [email protected] or follow my Twitter @iamaninsect.

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