I just finished this piece as part of the #TipTuesday feature on my Facebook page, and I thought I would add it over here as well.
If you're not handy with a sewing machine, can't style your own hair, much less a wig, or couldn't paint yourself out of a paper bag, but you want to cosplay, chances are you're going to look into getting a costume commissioned. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS. It doesn't make you any less of a cosplayer because you didn't make it yourself, and anyone who tells you this needs to be smacked with a wet spinach noodle. 'Nuff said.
Many people offer their services for commissions, but if it's your first time, I wanted to offer some guidelines and tips to help you have the best experience possible.
* Do your research. Before you think about sending money to someone, make sure you've seen their work, or are able to get some feedback from others who have worked with them. Many costuming forums have sections where people have posted reviews – good and bad – about their experiences. Do a Google search for the business and see what pops up, as someone may have just limited it to a blog post. If someone you know has used them, ask for details. Don't hand your money over to someone you haven't vetted.
* Be sure you give yourself enough time. Most people are booked 4-8 weeks out, so if you need a Mini-Mjolnir in your hands in 2 days, chances are good it's not going to happen.
* When you reach out to the person, start by asking if they are currently accepting commissions, and if so, when the next available slot is. Many people do commissions in addition to maintaining a real life – jobs, kids, pets, social commitments – so they may not be able to work with you on the timetable that you need. Be respectful of this.
If they are accepting commissions, follow up with all of the details so you can get an accurate quote:
* Character name and pictures - “I want a Wasp costume” is terrible. Janet Van Dyne changed her costume as often as she changed your shampoo, so be sure you provide some pictures that show what you want, the more the better. Ditto for prop and wig commissions.
* Date you need it by - “by AmazingBigCon” isn't really specific – you'll want it in advance of the event, so give a firm date.
* Exceptions – Are you allergic to any materials? Do you have a height limit when it comes to heels? Do you need to be able to take it on a plane? Will you be wearing it just for a shoot, or all day at a convention? Did you want it sleeveless, or do you need to take into account something that's specific to you (must have place for phone/keycard/insulin/etc)...all of these things are better to for the commissioner to know up front, so they can factor it into the design.
You may have some back and forth so you are both sure of all the details, which is totally cool. You also might be told that this is beyond their skill level, or that they just aren't interested in doing the costume. Don't get crankypants about it – the best costumes come when both of you are on the same page, so just keep looking. Did you really want a badly constructed costume, or something someone didn't want to make? You might also ask if they have someone they can refer you to.
Quotes are tricky things, from both sides of the fence. You want a costume that is cost-effective, so you have more money to spend at the Con, but the person making the costume has to account for the effort on their end. It's absolutely OK to have a budget in mind, but realize that you aren't getting a complete Elsa costume for $40. Here's how it will probably break down:
* Materials: Usually something will need to be ordered – a base wig, fabric in a specific color, paint, glue, etc. The commissioner will have to sit down and work all of this out.
* Labor: How long is going to take to make? There's usually an average hourly rate that has to be accounted for. Would you work for free, or take a paycheck that was half of what you expected because they cut your salary?
* Shipping: If you're not working with someone in your area, chances are it will need to be shipped to you. Be sure you know how that will happen, if tracking or expedited mail is provided, etc.
When you get the quote, be sure they outline what exactly what they're doing for you: "one black spandex catsuit with front zipper, yellow nylon belt with attached ammo pouches, latex eye mask; shipping included, to arrive on or before [date]" is a good example.
Does the quote you get look ridiculously expensive? Feel free to look around for someone else, but also take into consideration what you're getting – a custom piece designed specifically for you, your measurements or design. These people aren't big-biz, able to cut costs because they can buy in bulk because they are mass-producing items. They shop just like you, and usually buy only what they need to complete a costume, and they are at the mercy of shipping times as well.
You may have room to negotiate - maybe you really only want the catsuit, and you'll get a custom belt next time to match. Perhaps you don't need the costume to be make out of real leather - maybe it's more cost effective to use pleather or vinyl. Just respond quickly, as they may be holding a spot for you until you decide, or negotiating a schedule with several people, so your delay will impact others.
If you decide to look else where, politely thank the person and move on. If you've found the perfect person to do your commission, congrats! But remember, once you've agreed to the terms, BOTH of you are part of the process. Settle the terms up front, and then stick to them. This means communication is crucial from BOTH ends.
* What will the full commission consist of? If you agree to a spandex suit, then don't expect the belts, capes, wigs, masks and cowls to automatically come with it. Also, if they are sub-contracting any work out, get a sense of that as well. I personally have had commissions delayed because a third party couldn't get their act together. Don't make changes unless both sides agree. If someone's started making your cape out of satin, expecting them to switch to leather halfway through is unreasonable. Ditto for design changes: once the fabric has been cut, that's pretty much it. If the commissioner reaches out to you with an idea for a change, it's because they know they can do it, but in general, what's done is done.
* Will there be progress pictures? Find out how often you might get updates. If they have a Facebook page or blog, will the updates appear there? Is this a secret project? Then let them know you'd like to keep any progress pix limited to just the two of you. But not everyone offers progress pictures, for any number of reasons, so be clear on whether or not you'll get them.
* What are the most reliable ways to make contact? E-mail, Facebook, phone, IM, Skype, whatever. Use the same form of contact throughout the commission – ex: the same e-mail address. Not only is it super helpful when a commissioner is trying to track down a message, it also ensures that your message won't be overlooked or shuffled off to a spam folder because it wasn't recognized by the e-mail service. If you've taken on a commission, for the love of all that's spandex: REPLY to a person's inquiries! Nothing panics a person more than having turned over a large sum of money to someone and then they stop communicating. Social media is a volatile thing and I've seen reputations ruined because of lack of communication. If there's a delay, let them know: you lost power because of an ice storm, you broke your leg, there was a squirrel uprising in your state...just be honest and keep the person apprised of anything that may cause an issue. If you've commissioned a costume, there's probably no need to check in every day, and if you spend all day on IM with them, how are they supposed to sew? Again, communication is crucial. If they shoot you an e-mail for information, reply quickly. If you drop a message to them and don't get a reply within a few days, follow-up politely.
* What about measurements? If
measurements are requested, get them back within the designated
time frame. A delay at your end causes a delay at their end, and if
your delay causes them to rush their work, they result won't be the
Get ACCURATE measurements! We know that seeing that info can be stressful, but please don't lie about it to soothe your ego – the commissioner isn't judging you in any way; they just need the numbers to get the correct fit. There are any number of sites and tutorials that can help you get it right, and always try to get a second person to help you. You can also see if a local seamstress, alterations shop, or bridal shop offers this as a service. And if you anticipate any sort of change in your measurements – you're dieting or gaining weight, you're having a body-modification surgery of some kind, you're pregnant, etc – let the commissioner know in advance. If you know that you typically have certain problem areas – long torso, back brace, extra fingers - include that info as well. You want a costume that fits YOU.
* When/how can you expect delivery? Delivery is usually factored in to the total cost, but if you need it overnighted for some reason, sent to a different address, or specify a carrier, let them know in advance. Always request a tracking number of some kind....ALWAYS. And when you get the item, let the commissioner know it arrived safely, especially in the case of a delicate prop.
* Payment terms? Gods, this is a difficult topic, but it has to be faced. When you pay, try as hard as possible to use a method that offers you protection (ex: Paypal). If, heaven forbid, you get bilked, you want to have some sort of recourse. There may even be a written contract that needs to be signed by both parties, for mutual protection. Get a receipt, even an e-mailed one, or a copy of a bank statement showing a cashed check, and hold on to it until the end of the commission. If you are paying in installments, STICK TO THE SCHEDULE. Your delay may cause materials to be ordered later, and that will delay your costume. In fact, I believe a commissioner reserves the choice to stop work on a project if payment terms aren't met. Again, communication is key – if there's a reason for the delay, just reach out.
Be clear about refunds. Most people have a NO REFUNDS policy, or a non-refundable deposit – this is a costume designed for you, to your exact measurements. It's also a personal item and, like a bathing suit or underwear, once worn usually isn't eligible for returns. If there is a major issue with the garment that is clearly the fault of the commissioner – your Frank Miller Batman suit showed up made of rainbow print fabric – reach out and ask what can be done. Again, this is another reason to ask for a costume well in advance of the date you need it, in case there is a problem, and you aren't stuck costumeless for con.
A couple of final thoughts:
* Always be polite in your communications. Pissing either party off is just dumb, and self-defeating. Trust me: you want to look great, and the commissioner wants you to look great, because it reflects on them. Keep it calm.
* Send the commissioner pictures of you in your costume! They love seeing how the final project turned out!
* Credit the person who created the costume or prop when you can – if someone asks while you're wearing it, or if you post pictures online.
* Don't take credit for work that isn't yours (it's a small community, and word gets around...trust me, you'll find people a lot less willing to work with you if you're tagged like this)
Now go cosplay the crap outta that thing!