Despite my fondness for cosplay, I am not much of a crafty / sewing type. I mean, I can mend a button or a small hole quite adequately, but the idea of creating a costume from scratch Mad Art Lab style intimidates me. I personally don’t like the idea of buying a ready-made costume from either a budget or philosophical perspective (for people my size or above, even pricey ready-made costumes often fail us). Without the budget to commission from-scratch pieces from more talented and skilled people, this leaves me with the assembly option.
Usually, I keep my eye out for characters whose signature looks can be assembled out of streetwear with minimal fuss. The required elements of those characters’ looks goes into my mental list of things to look out for when I’m doing my usual bargain-hunting-style clothes shopping. I also save searches across Amazon, Etsy, and eBay in my hunt for specific costume elements at a decent price.
That’s not what happened yesterday, when I found out that official Korrasami fan art was going to be sold for charity at a gallery about 30 miles away from me. Obviously, I was not only going to get my ass there, I was going to not pay the $5 admission fee and cosplay instead.
Many nerdy and geek-type events and spaces have flash fiction competitions. I was going to flash cosplay this thing or die trying.
Step 1: Finding a No-Sew(ish) Look
I have loved Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra for a while now. Whenever I considered cosplaying someone from that universe, however, I felt incredibly intimidated by the idea of coming up with the costume. I am somewhat comfortable with altering clothing and assembling accessories, but the idea of sewing a garment makes me run screaming for the hills.
I couldn’t seem to find any outfit from the Avatar universe whose base garment could be relatively easily purchased. Still, I wanted to try, and a few Google Image searches led me to one I could break down easily into readily-available components.
If I were to sew something for Avatar universe cosplay, Fire Nation Katara would be it. For ease’s sake, I decided to go with another character’s Fire Nation iteration: Our favorite Earthbender in her outfit from Season 3 Episode 9, or, as I’ve started calling the look, Fire Nation Battle Toph.
Step 2: Breaking It Down to Parts
Starting at the head and down to her feet, here is what she is wearing and where those elements can be found.
- High hair style: BumpIts or similar knock-off hair accessory from drug or beauty store
- Crown / headdress main piece: headband or solid tiara from accessories or general fashion store
- Crown / headdress sides: tassels from fabric or craft store
- Pale, milky blue eyes: circle lenses from beauty, Asian, or general fashion store
- Armlet: actual armlet from accessories or general fashion store; or sculpting material from craft store
- Main outfit: Red jumper, romper, jumpsuit, or bodysuit* with tube top and capri bottoms from thrift, general fashion, clothing, or mass market store (department store if desperate, since they are more expensive)
- Waist wrap: Scarf or pashmina from thrift, general fashion, clothing, or mass market store; or fabric from fabric store
- Wrist accessories: sweatbands or wristbands from thrift, general fashion, clothing, or mass market store; and/or fabric from fabric store
- Feet: unobtrusive flip flops from shoe, general fashion, or mass market store**
Step 3: Questing for Supplies & Finding Compromise
As I was on limited time, between my day job and my evening commitment to dinner with some friends who were in from out of town (hi, Monette!), I used my lunch period to hunt for whatever elements I could find of my costume from close-by strip malls.
At the second store I visited during my lunch hour, I found a thing that was labeled a necklace but that looked like a tiara and acted like one when I tried it on my head. It was cheap (~$3) and I planned to use it as a base and cover it with felt to give it the right look. This meant a deviation from my original plan, but seemed a superior option to hunting overmuch for a perfect-in-every-way-headband. Alas, the felt did not do what I had hoped it would in terms of the tiara and the wrist accessories; it looked stiff and terrible and cheap. I realized then that I was forgetting that cosplay can be about embodying the spirit of a character and decided to go with stuff I already owned: red gloves decorated with strips of yellow felt instead of felt wristlets and a necklace that I was able to repurpose as a hair accessory.
Aside from the strips around my gloved hands, the only other use I had for all the felt I’d bought was to wrap around some bouquet wire in order to create the armlet.
I had to play by ear for other accessories as well. I had to compromise on the tassels, which I wasn’t able to find and wouldn’t have looked right with the necklace-tiara anyway. I booby-pinned some earrings I own into my hair instead. I also had to think inventively with the waist wrap, since I couldn’t find a brown scarf. I tied a red-and-brown dupatta that I had somewhere in my closet around my waist and called it a day.
The seventh(!) store I went to during my lunch break was where I found a red romper that both fit me and was on clearance. It was single-sleeved rather than a tube top and the pant length was a little much, but I was able to tuck and tie the single sleeve to make it look like a tube top and trim the hems to achieve the right pant length.
The lenses I was able to find most readily weren’t circle, but they at least are gray. As I’d never worn contacts before, I was unable to actually get them into my eyes.
Step 4: Putting It All Together
I stayed up late cutting, pinning, sewing, gluing, cursing, and otherwise fussing over my last-minute look. It ended up being a lot less work than I had anticipated, mostly because I decided that I wanted to embody the character and not necessarily copy every detail exactly.
I also figured out the makeup for the look: pale but not ghostly-looking base, defined dark brows, graphic black top lid liner, slightly-softer black bottom liner.
Step 5: Letting It All Come Together
Like the Avatar, I had to master all four elements of cosplay: concept, design, supply, and assembly. When the Avatar masters all four elements, balance is brought to world. In the case of a flash cosplay, it’s less that you bring about harmony with mastery and more that you have you make your peace with your level of mastery. Given my skill set and skill level, it was unlikely that I’d come up with a perfect Fire Nation Battle Toph.
Here is what I did come up with. These are selfies and mirror pics because I ended up missing the event (people had been lining up the night before so there was no hope of me getting into any of the special benefits of attending the opening night event). With a little more polish, I think this cosplay will be worth wearing to a con.
And if you need some red, yellow, or gold felt, I have some for you, since I used so little of what I opened and cut into.
Items Bought & Used
- Outfit: $13.99
- Armband wire: $2.29
- Armband felt: $1.29
- 2 hair bumpers: $3
- Pair of flip-flops: $2.99
- Contact lens solution: $3
Total for Used Items + 8% tax: $28.68
Unreturnable Items Bought But Not Used for Final Look
Headdress base: $3 (will be used later for fashion reasons)
Large sheet of red felt: $3.99
2 sheets yellow felt: $0.66
1 sheet gold felt: $0.33
Colored lenses: $18.35 (tax included)
Total for Unused Items + 8% tax: $26.97
Grand Total Spent: $55.65
Items Used (Already Owned)
- Contact lens case (they’re great for storing jewelry or single-use quantities of toiletries for travel)
- Dupatta as waist wrap
- Necklace as tiara
- Triangle earrings as “tassels”
- Gloves for wristlets
- Bobby pins
- Hair texturizing spray