“It is thrifty to prepare today for the wants of tomorrow.” -Aesop
It’s cosplay season for me and for many of my friends. Well, truth be told cosplay season never really ends. It picks up and slows. We decide to work harder in the winter when working outside with spray paint is a little more bearable, we shelf bigger builds for the summer when staying inside is absolutely mandatory. It never ends. But as I have convention after convention lining up and my ambitions with my costumes grow I have found that I am not only getting rather impatient with my desires for costumes and accessories, I’m being downright terrible about it.
I decided on two costumes for sure. Castiel from Supernatural and The Riddler from days of old Batman fame. The majority of the pieces for these outfits I either had on hand or had picked up at a local thrift store.
Now, a little known cosplayer pro tip: WE LOVE THRIFT STORES. They are cheap and wonderfully organized wonderlands for fabric, accessories and clothing pieces that to the hands of someone making a costume are going to be cut into pieces, dyed, tied and transformed. It allows us as cosplayers to spend more on bigger items (more foam board, please.) and not have to worry about breaking the bank on something simple like a men’s button down shirt that can run excessively high at most mass retailers. Thrift stores for cosplayers and anyone who makes costumes (theater people, rejoice) are truly a godsend.
But as cosplayers and costumers descend upon local thrift stores to browse the aisles for hidden treasure (so far my favorite find is the hunter green jacket I’m using for my Riddler cosplay) we start to lose the meaning of why these institutions exist. They are there to help those in need get the clothes they need to survive the elements but also to impress at a job interview or at any other chance they have to improve their situation. They exist for those who cannot afford a department store. They are there for those in need. They are not created for cheap hipsters like me who just don’t want to pay full value for a dress or vest.
I didn’t really grasp this concept until recently. I decided hubristically to add a third costume to my already rather lofty line-up and with my back pressed against a wall, I had decided somehow how that I wanted this costume which to me in theory should be easy to pull together, done by Friday for a convention Saturday. This is a choice I made Monday afternoon.
I had 2 of the 4 pieces down but there was still half of the clothing pieces and not to mention accessories that I needed to add to finish this outfit successfully.
To the Goodwill Store.
It was a win-win situation. There is a Goodwill Store 10 minutes away from my job. I had clothes that I needed to donate anyways. What was stopping me from popping by during my lunch and picking up the remaining two pieces? Nothing! So I did.
I made the trek with bag of clothing donations in hand and stepped in to what has to be the nicest Goodwill Store I have ever seen. (Seriously. The Goodwill Store in downtown San Antonio is absolutely amazing.) I asked one of the retail associates where I could drop off my donation and was quickly whisked away to the back for processing. While I waited for my tote to return I noticed the magnitude of this place. A cafe’, antiques, and more importantly an opportunity for honest work for good people that more than deserve it. The entire time I was there I heard over and over again “Thank you for supporting our mission.” which didn’t stick the first 5 times I heard it as a frantically paced through the aisles looking for specific pieces and specific sizes. It wasn’t until I was about to be very short with the kindest woman in the store that I realized exactly what an ungrateful little troll I must have looked like.
It would be no trouble for me to go pick an item up off of the rack at another store. I just didn’t. And how very dare I take the opportunity away for someone else who could benefit so much more from the clothing at a store like this?
I took the piece I had my eye on and left feeling content in having part of my costume shopping list completed but also finally aware of what it meant. “Thank you for supporting our mission.” It was about empowerment. Helping others. It wasn’t about filling the needs of one costume-crazy girl. I stomached my ambitions, decided that just because the costume wouldn’t be done by week’s end doesn’t mean by any means that I failed it just means it isn’t going to be ready now. And that’s okay. I have time.
I’m by no means saying don’t shop at thrift stores. They’re great for numerous things. A lot of my craft projects begin with bargain bins and thrift store treasures. Just understand that it’s a give and take. I’ll be more mindful the next time I go to raid the local Salvation Army for ironic sweaters. Donate when you can, clothing or monetary if at all possible.
It has changed how I approach these types of situations. I had become very comfortable going to the thrift stores that seem to cater more to the hipster clientele, the ones with 10 dollar wedding dresses that they know are to be cut in half, dyed black and turned into a stunning Gothic Lolita outfit. It’s a good cosplayer practice to have 1 or 2 locations that are favorites. They are your go-to locations. The ones that will never let you down, will always have something in your size and that you can call at the drop of a hat. And those are lovely. Keep them and keep them close to your heart. And fold up the clothes when you are done. The retail associates at these places are the most fantastic people in the entire world.
Happy cosplay and costume work, friends.