Costume & Props Tips & Tricks
Last updated: 8/12/2017For helpful links, check out the links page.
1. Where do I find supplies to make Rocky costumes and props?
1. Where do I find supplies to make Rocky costumes and props?
Public (especially university) libraries. Well, actually, you'll just find books on how to make costumes and props. Haunt the section on theater, and you'll learn all sorts of useful things. Remember that if your library doesn't carry a specific title, they can probably get it through interlibrary loan. University libraries (especially when the university has a theater department) tend to have better selection. While you're at it, that theater department or the local theater would be a good next stop, especially if you have specific questions.
Lingerie shops, notably Frederick's of Hollywood (for on-line URL, check the links page). Frederick's carries cheap garter belts and stockings, gold briefs, and even a pretty good floor show corset from time to time. (Note: most men wear a 38 or a 40 corset.) Friendly to larger sizes (mostly). Also sold platform heels before anyone else. Not a bad source for Floor Show shoes if you absolutely must have 3 1/2" or 4" spikes (about $30). Sign up for the catalog; it's free and has lots of goodies in it. Usually your first catalog will include some coupons. There is also occasionally an on-line coupon for Internet orders.
Victoria's Secret is more expensive and doesn't look trashy enough--every couple of years I find something there but it's very hit and miss (mostly miss). Local lingerie stores may also be a resource; many are more flexible about special ordering things for you than Frederick's, or they may carry things they don't (like backseamed plain or fishnet stockings, which Frederick's didn't carry for years). Leg Avenue, which makes novelty stockings/socks, is available at funkier lingerie shops and sells black knee-high socks shot through with silver lurex that make nice Frank gloves with a little alteration. (I have seen the same fabric as stockings or tights at funky clothing outlets like Urban Outfitters...but stick with the socks, or you'll have to add your own elastic.)
Thrift Stores and Garage Sales. Good source for 70s items (purses, shoes, etc.), and for slips, pearls, tap shoes, tube tops, and boots. Sometimes you'll luck into things like gold band uniforms, black nylon robes, or a dress you can modify. (It won't be quite right, but it's a lot less work than making one from scratch.) Sometimes it is easier to find a garment made of a fabric you want and chop it up than to find the fabric at a fabric store.
Vintage Shops. More and more 70s items are turning up here instead of at the thrift store. Can be surprisingly affordable, depending on the shops in your neighborhood. This may be just the place to find a cheap tux jacket or a vintage 1970's rainjacket.
Payless Shoe Stores. Stocks women's high heels into at least a size 11, and they're cheap (about $10). Also occasionally a source for Brad/Janet shoes and cheap Magenta boots. Stock changes quickly, so when you see something you want, buy it, don't wait. May stock useful stuff like cushioned insoles (Dr. Scholl's cheapie ones are useless--get thicker ones) and no-stick pads for the soles of your shoes.
Department Stores. I've had really good luck at JC Penney's. Over the years I have bought fishnet pantyhose, giant pearls, platform sandals, and gold boxers here, and this is where a friend got her "Janet" necklace. They also have garter belts and used to sell 4711 cologne. Many items (like the platform sandals) are in the catalog only. They also have a scrubs catalog from which you can order lab coats and the green medicalscrubs, though they tend to carry mostly nontraditional patterns and colors. I got my Magenta granny boots at Sears ($40).To my surprise, I found that larger department stores can also be a resource for makeup. Some folks swear by the MAC line of eyeshadows, for example (also very popular with the punk set). Lots of color and they don't change shades often. Living in the South, the only place I could find 'em was at the makeup counter of major department stores.
Beauty Supply Stores. They have wigheads, purple eyeshadow, makeup sponges, and always have false eyelashes whether they are in fashion or not. Eyelash glue bought here is less likely to dry out right away than that bought at a drugstore. Make sure if you wear strip lashes that you buy the right kind of eyelash glue: the glue sold for individual lashes doesn't come with an applicator! I've mostly frequented Sally's Beauty Supply over the years, but Ulta has a lot more stock. I didn't check to see if Ulta has the wig-related items.
Discount Stores and Drug Stores
(Target, Wal-Mart, to a lesser extent Walgreens/Osco), especially around Halloween or after-Halloween clearance. This is a good time to buy cheap fake eyelashes, costumes with capes, costumes with pitchforks and axes (for your space gun and for Frank) and cheap wigs. They don't usually look that good, but with a little styling can be quite acceptable, and you can't beat the price. Most of the Halloween makeup is poor quality and not recommended. (No staying power.) Hunt the regular makeup section (Gene Chiovari recommends Cover Girl) and try that instead. NOTE: If you find the "perfect color," buy a little extra; makeup colors go in and out of style and this will buy you time if it is discontinued. My favorite Magenta bra was from K-Mart. Roller pins (big bobbypins) can be bought here, as can (if you are lucky) oval barrettes that are about right for Janet. Walgreen's has carried fake eyelashes and glue for years, whether they are in fashion or not, and while I hate to say it, Wal-Mart's crafts department can be handy.
Playtex used to sell pink dishwashing gloves in October for Breast Cancer awareness at outlets like these, but apparently that's no longer a thing.
Get on the mailing list and then make all your major purchases when everything is on sale (with big chains like House of Fabrics, this is every couple of months). Get on the mailing list (sign up in the store) so you get coupons and know when sales are. Most of them now have coupons you can get on your phone. Sequined fabric, lamé and chiffon cost a LOT.
Fabric stores also stock Velcro, ribbon, beads, boning, sequins by the yard or in strips, Aleene's Stop Fraying (like Fray-Check, only better!), rat-tail (shiny cord useful for lacing homemade corsets), lingerie findings, bouquet forms, rhinestones, metal studs, lace, fake flowers, and fabric paint. Other useful purchases include eyelets and a special tool to set them into corsets. You can find some fabrics at places like Wal-Mart, but the selection is poor, they don't know their stock, and you won't accidentally find a lot of the other useful stuff you didn't even know you needed that you will at a fabric store. Visit around Christmas (or at the after-Christmas sales) if you need metallic ribbon, useful for floorshow garters or Columbia shorts.
Craft Stores. There's some overlap with fabric stores, and with the crafts department of places like Wal-Mart, but since craft stores (like national chain Michael's) stock less fabric, they stock more of everything else. (Hobby Lobby is kind of evil but I have to admit they have a great trim department.) Check here for feathers of various types, rhinestones, fake celery, fake flowers, Testors enamel paints, paintbrushes, etc. Michael's carries a wide range of Sharpie markers and you can buy them individually instead of buying multipacks like they sell at Walgreen's. "Craft aprons" make great lab aprons and are super cheap. Keep your mind open; for example, those tiny paintbrushes could be just the thing to apply your eyeliner. Places like Ben Franklin also carry makeup in addition to crafts and notions; my current Magenta eyeshadow, for example, is a no-name brand from Ben Franklin (total cost: less than $2). Again, check for coupons on their website/your smartphone.
Hardware Shops. Can't find chain for your Janet purse? They sell it by the foot. They also have other stuff you may find helpful that you never knew you needed (jumprings, steel wool, etc.).
Home Repair Superstores (Home Depot, Lowe's, etc.). Hardware shops on steroids. Also carry things like dowels/molding that may be handy for hand props (the cylinders on my space belt are half-dowel molding cut to size and sanded to make the bevel).
Hobby Shops. They'll know exactly what kind of paint is best for whatever you have to paint, and be happy to tell you how to prep the surface, too.
Costume/Theatrical/Magic/Novelty Shops. These are great if you have one nearby. This is a good place to buy boas, clown white, stage makeup, fishnets, glitter tophats, etc. Look around--you may be able to find spats, rhinestones, feathers, or sequined hats, tailcoats, or stretch sequin "gauntlets" (worn by majorettes in marching bands; they make easy floor show gloves). False eyelash selection is liable to be better than at a drugstore. Many carry cheap wigs, too, though they will probably be low-quality. Avoid cheap "Bride of Frankenstein" wigs. They will make you look like you scalped a poodle. Franks should avoid Afro wigs; they're usually too big and look silly. Remember, wigs will always look shorter on you than on the wighead--try them on!They'll stock up around Halloween and may offer very slim pickings right after the big after-Halloween sale. Quality is likely to be higher than you get at a "pop-up" Halloween shop (though the stock may overlap so they can compete) and the staff will be better informed.
Goth Shops. Hot Topic has gotten into the lingerie business, and if you need a pair of seamed fishnets fast, they can set you up. You may be able to find Ben Nye makeup here even if there is no local theatrical shop, and a couple of people have recommended some of the makeup lines they carry. The "Rebel" line of eyeshadows looks interesting, though I haven't tried them.Bridal, Formalwear Accessories Shops. Bridal and accessories stores may sell formal gloves in various colors. Avoid bridal shops if you can; the markup is huge. Accessories shops (like "Claire's") are common in malls. These are cheaper and tend to stock long gloves especially around prom time. Formalwear shops sometimes have sales to ditch old styles; try to get on the mailing list. Also an excellent source for vests, cummerbunds, and spats.
These are great if they are used to dealing with theatrical wigs. Otherwise, they may not understand what you want, even with patient explanations. (Wig shops that cater to black clientele can be awesome if you're looking for brunet or sometimes auburn wigs, and they often have awesome accessories too.) Take color pictures with you or have some on your phone. If you can find a stylist who really understands what you want, cherish him or her.
If you are serious about your part, and it's difficult to style your hair look like your character's, get a wig. It can make a huge difference in your appearance, and it saves wear and tear on your hair. Cheaper wigs start at $30-$40. If you can buy one in person instead of on-line, you avoid surprises - often they don't look the same in person, or on you, and your stylist can help you with the style. It is surprisingly affordable to get wigs washed or restyled. (You can wash a wig yourself by gently swishing it with shampoo in the sink, then letting it drip dry. Yes, that's intimidating the first time. Ask Google and you'll be fine.) Shop by color and style - if you need curly parted in the center, buy curly instead of buying a wavy wig with a center side part and fighting it. You can do a lot to a wig by teasing or cutting it--remember this if you can't find exactly what you want. Buy longer than you need; wigs always look longer on a wighead. Remember--the hair won't grow back, so always cut less than you think you should when styling! I prefer synthetic to real hair. It doesn't last as long, and you can't color it unless you use spray-on color, but it is much cheaper and easier to care for. You can't crimp it, but it will take hot rollers, and it will hold high artificial styles better.
Store your wig on a wighead so it will hold its shape, and cover it with a cloth so it doesn't get dusty, and do brush it occasionally, particularly at the back nape (gentle!) so it doesn't turn into a nasty mess.
Shoe Repair Shops. Get your boots reheeled before the sole of the heel is completely worn away. It's only $5 or $6 and it's an investment in your safety. You can also buy cushioned insoles, nonslip shoe soles, granny boot shoelaces, and leather conditioner here. If you need to cut up a pair of shoes (space boots, Frank boots), ask if they will do it for you. I get the tops of my space boots cut into points which saves me hours of work by stitching them up afterwards, and I didn't have to risk life and limb with an Exacto knife.
Party Stores. Useful for banners, gold glitter hats, party hats, noisemakers and horns, and plastic party goblets. Some stock large quantities of costumes/makeup around Halloween (mostly the cheaper type, but more selection than at the local discount store).
Halloween Shops. These pop up in malls or abandoned storefronts around August, then disappear November 2. Hit them on November 1 for big discounts (usually 50% off). Look at the accessories ('50s housewife pearls for Frank; sheriff stars; capes; over-the-elbow silver lamé gloves you can chop down). Quality tends to be lousy but the selection can be impressive.
The Internet...and yes, eBay and etsy.
Search engines are your friend. Comparison shopping is easy, and it's handy for people who live in the boonies.
Many people do a lot of their costume shopping on eBay. Doing so has always annoyed me, but it's the only way to find some items. It's like a really big thrift store with search capabilities that charges shipping. A lot of the thrift stores sell on eBay now too, and people do sell old Rocky costumes there.
2. How can I make my costumes as close to the ones in the film as possible?
Search every photo you can find to get pictures of the costume you want to make from all angles. Freeze frame the DVD or Blu-Ray. Photos are still nice as they include outtakes that didn't make the film. In addition to Google and Tumblr, look at photo calendars, trading cards, the poster magazines, the RHPS Book, and stills (more on those later). See the links page. The newsgroup archives alt.cult-movies.rocky-horror and rhpscostumes on LiveJournal are getting a little dusty, but there is years of material there, though much of it's pre-DVD. I haven't found a Rocky costumes group on Facebook that's lasted; if you know of one, please tell me!
You can buy stills from Sal, on eBay (hardly worth it; you can usually buy the same stills in a batch elsewhere for cheaper) or from a merchant who specializes in movie collectibles. Often they are sold at cons; both Bruce Cutter and Larry Viezel usually have a few. Take the photos with you (in a plastic photo protector--or make a color xerox) or at least have them on your phone when you buy fabrics, costume pieces, makeup or wigs or you will get home and realize things aren't quite the color/shape/size/texture/cut you remembered.
There are several movie memorabilia merchants out there, but there I have found only a few with an appreciably large collection of Rocky Horror photos. Shops I recommend include Jerry Ohlinger's (New York), Cinema Collectors (Los Angeles), and Still Things (Las Vegas). I have bought from all three, and been pretty happy. For contact information, please check the links page.I strongly recommend looking at their photos in person if possible. Most of the text descriptions in Jerry's catalog are pretty vague (Still Things' are a little better but they're still dreadful), and the person who takes your order over the phone may never have seen the film. My experience has been that Jerry's has more photos, but some are lower-quality from slides or posters, and some of the photos in the store are somewhat shopworn from being in 3-ring binders too long. Jerry's now has limited hours; call ahead. Cinema Collectors takes better care of their photos.
Still Things have some of the same photos as the other two. Some are better than the ones from Jerry's; some are not. Many are directly from the film. Still Things offers a better choice of sizes: you can buy black and whites as 8x10's or 11x14s, and color photos are available in wallet size (! handy for ordering photos you think you might have, but are not sure), 3x5, 5x7, 8x10, 11x14, or even 16x20.
Beware of out-takes and mirror images, especially in stills or the RHPS Book. The color spacesuit picture and the picture of Riff on the throne in the RHPS Book, for example, are mirror images. Watch for costume details or people standing on the wrong side to tip you off. To use reversed images without confusion, get them un-reversed on a color copier or scan and flip them yourself.
Scan or make color copies of any costume pictures you want to use for reference from cheaply-bound books like the RHPS Book. They're easier to refer to and will save wear on your book. You can store pictures on your phone and they'll be handy while you're shopping - but kind of small. Haven't tried using a tablet.
3. What are some handy tricks I should know when I buy/make costume items?
If you are making costumes, preshrink the fabric first. This is particularly important with cottons. If the fabric is going to bleed or shrink, you want it to do so before you make a costume out of it. (I'd make an exception for sequined fabrics, which I would wash as little as possible.)
Buy individual sequins only when you are scattering them (like on a floorshow corset or on Magenta's bra). Otherwise, if possible, use strings of sequins from the trim department (cheap) or sequined material (expensive, and getting harder to find). Foil dot material is cheaper, but doesn't look as nice, and over time the stickers come off. In addition, the sticky stuff holding the stickers on will gum up your needle. If you can't find sequin fabric (look on-line!) you can buy inch-wide strips in the trim department.
Gold lamé can be bought pre-quilted in a pattern of repeating squares (hard to find). It's a lot faster to unstitch a little of it to get the right pattern of lines for a spacesuit than to start from scratch. Somewhat hard to find, but pops up periodically.
Sewing chiffon and stuff that frays
You can make costumes out of mesh instead of chiffon - it doesn't flow as nicely but it won't ravel, so it's good for things like Frank's dinner top. Not what Sue used, but sooo much easier. When you are sewing chiffon(Frank's dinner outfit; Magenta's negligees) or lamé, even if you French seam it, it will fray. I coat all edges with either nail polish (clear or black) or Aleene's Stop Fraying (usually stocked in fabric stores by the glue). It sticks to everything until it dries, and you shouldn't put it on items you will wash a lot, but it really works. The stuff in aerosol cans doesn't work as well. Stop Fraying is also nice for treating the ends of strings of marabou or feathers you cut off a boa for trim. (Marabou is a kind of very fine feathers that looks sort of like fake fur. It's sold by the yard or in 2-3' long skinny boas.) Another alternative is FrayBlock. It's a clear runny liquid. Unlike Aleene's, you can't see it when it dries, but it doesn't seem to work as well. Since it's runny, you have to be very careful when applying it so it doesn't get everywhere. If the tube gets sealed shut, unblock with a pin; if that doesn't work, throw it away. I learned the hard way that if you try rolling the tube to force it out, the tube develops pinprick holes and leaks all over your hands.
By the way, you should French seam chiffons. Otherwise all the rough edges are visible, and it looks awful. Look this up in a sewing book or online for pictures. Here's a rough explanation: instead of placing fabric right side to right side (like you normally would), place wrong side to wrong side. (It may help to label the sides, as chiffon doesn't have an obvious "wrong side.") Stitch a very narrow seam. Now, place the fabric so the seam is facing you and the two-layer sandwich of chiffon is away from you. Holding the seam, fold the top layer of the sandwich over the seam and your hand and the bottom layer of the sandwich under the seam and your hand, towards you, making a three-layer sandwich (bottom, seam, top). Pin, and now sew the seam again, completely encasing the first seam. If you've done it right, the encased seam is now inconspicuously located on the inside of the garment. (Confused? I told you you'd need pictures. But it looks wonderful--no exposed scraggly edges, and it won't ravel.)
If that sounds like entirely too much work, you can do what the burlesque dancers and dance houses do and serge the edges. Less pretty, but it works.
Velcro is helpful. Be careful;it can catch on some items (like feathers, polyester and some gloves). It's available in squares, strips, or by the yard, and in sew-on, self-adhesive, or iron-on versions. I am a huge fan of the industrial velcro which has tiny, tiny hooks that still adhere but don't catch on everything else or ruin stockings/chiffon when they touch. I prefer sew-on. Many fabrics will melt if ironed, and the self-adhesive velcro doesn't stay on well and can pull loose (it gums up the needle and thread if you try to stitch it on). Velcro is cheapest bought by the yard. It doesn't work well for things that have to flex (like floor show gloves). If you must use velcro in these areas, back it up with a snap or two.
Buy sew-through boning or boning with extra-wide casing. This allows you to use a sewing machine when boning a costume, instead of having to do it by hand. If you use plastic boning, buy it by the yard. It's a lot cheaper than buying pre-cut pieces. Some people prefer to use steel boning; you'll probably have to order that online. As far as I can tell Sue didn't, but your stuff may have to last longer than hers. Steel boning is less flexible but this does mean it holds its shape better. Serious corsetiers use steel.
Elastic and thread are available in clear. It's nice for securing fishnet gloves, where regular elastic would show. Fishing line can be used as clear thread for things like the center of a boa, and can be bought in different weights.
You have lots of options if you need to stiffen something or make it stand up. For immobile things that don't have to flex (spacesuit wings, belt buckles, etc.) you can insert heavy cardboard. (Cardboard will NOT work in applications where fabric must be saturated with glue, then applied over the stiffener; it will get soggy and start to flex.) For more flexible pieces, you can use bridal wire, boning, latex foam padding, or a kind of heavy paper called "bridal stiffener" (no one calls it that outside of Iowa - I think it's just heavey interfacing). More traditional sewing people use buckram, a stiff cloth used for bookbinding and uncomfortable clothes (which may be just the thing for your space glove cuffs), or interfacing, which looks like sheets of paper. My mother, who makes fabric boxes, recommends Peltex or Timtex. Hatmakers traditionally use buckram, a seriously stiff fabric, to give hats their shape; you can find at serious fabric store or on-line. For a while, people were recommending plastic embroidery screen to stiffen spacesuit wings, but eventually the little squares become visible as the vinyl is pressed against the screen.
Binding tape can be very handy. In addition to binding edges (Janet hats; spacesuit gloves--not recommended as gold binding tape is hideously expensive!), you can use it to make small items such as Magenta dress button loops. No hemming; no raw edges to mess with. (Thanks to Mina Smith for the hint.)
Fabric-covered buttons are usually made, not bought. There is a very limited selection of fabric-covered buttons commercially available. Go to the notions department and buy a kit--you provide the fabric and a hammer, the kit provides the button findings (and sometimes a tool to help align the findings correctly over the fabric). The tool is a small cheap plastic ring that distributes the force when you whack the pieces together (it's like using a Badg-a-Minit, or playing Whack-a-Mole). The last time I used such an assembly aid I broke it, but it is easier to assemble the buttons with one than without. Buy extra button forms; you'll screw up at least one of 'em.
Yes, Magentas could try to dye white satin shank buttons...but the satin is synthetic and won't take dye very well.
When ironing something fragile, use a pressing cloth. Vinyl and lamé will melt if you iron them, even on a low setting. And some fabrics may scorch if ironed. In cases like this, put a piece of old sheet or a lab apron or some other flat, sturdy, not-flimsy white cotton fabric over the fragile material and iron a small test patch. (Use the correct setting on your iron, of course.) I've never tried wetting the pressing cloth, but apparently that can be done, since anything fragile enough to require a pressing cloth probably needs to be ironed on a low enough setting you can't use the "steam" setting on your iron. Don't wet the pressing cloth if you're working with lamé - lamé can rust.
4. What are some useful tricks for making the costumes?
Find a friend or relative with a sewing machine. You can learn how to do basic stitches on one fairly quickly, and they make sewing a lot faster. Sergers, which stitch two pieces of fabric together and also stitch over the edges, are great for fabrics that fray (like lamé) and are very fast, but are expensive and take a while to learn to adjust. A friend of mine swears by her serger, which allows very fast costume construction, and my husband loves his. Once something's serged, though, you can't undo and then redo it; I prefer a sewing machine for this reason.
Use math. As noted in 2) above, you want as many reference photos as possible before starting the project. Ratio the costume to your size (height/girth/etc.). People often write in and ask me how long something is, what size buttons to use, etc. The answer depends on what looks right on you. If Barry Bostwick's boa is 10 feet long, but you're 4'9", you don't want a 10 foot boa. I spend probably as much time ratioing costume pieces to my height/weight as I do tracing the pattern.
For things like apron straps or belts, sew wrong side to wrong side to make a tube, then turn it inside out. This way all the little loose threads that stick out at the edges will be inside the strap, where you can't see them. If you don't want to do this, for heaven's sake learn to hem or at least glue under the edges, and trim any hanging threads. Don't just cut out a piece of fabric and hope it won't fray. It will, and those little straggly threads look awful.
Old sheets and newspapers are nice for making patterns. Old sheets are especially nice because they don't tear (much) when you try them on. Newspaper is cheap and can be made as large as needed by taping pieces together. If you don't know how to read a pattern, you can cut up lots of newsprint and try different ideas to get the right shape for a costume. This will drive friends who sew from patterns crazy. If you need to be able to see through a pattern, buy tracing paper. I get it from an art supply store. If you can sew, hunt through old patterns (for help, see the links page). Patterns are especially helpful for things like dresses (try Butterick's or McCall's; they aim for the novice, and Butterick's is so Janet Weiss). Patterns go on sale often; get on your local fabric store's mailing list and watch for specials.
Buy a white fabric or art pencil to draw lines on dark fabrics. Regular pencil works fine on light fabrics -- it can usually be erased or wears off in time. Use pencil on the wrong side of the fabric (the side that won't show) just in case. Soap slivers can be used to draw on dark fabrics, but I've had problems with it rubbing off before I'm done cutting.
Contrast stitching is best done by machine. You can do a lot with hand-stitching, but if you are doing stitching to make something stand out (quilted squares on your spacesuit; stitching in the boning in Frank's corset), the machine stitching stands out a lot better. (The irregular hand stitches let the fabric relax into any gaps.)
Don't count on being able to dye things. Synthetic fabrics do not dye well; if you're going to try, but the right kind of dye - the Rit DyeMore synthetic dye works pretty well. I don't know if they have finally figured out how to make a true black. For regular RIT, unless things have changed, everything will probably come out two or three shades lighter than the color on the box - let the fabric soak til it's 2-3 shades darker than you want, and then pray.
If only small areas of something must be dyed black, try laundry marker and be prepare to reapply.
5. What are some other helpful supplies?
White glue is useful for sticking lamé on a solid backing. Completely saturate the fabric with the glue, then smooth it on, being sure to avoid wrinkles. My spacesuit buckle is made of wooden molding (very long lengths of dowel split lengthwise) cut in lengths, the ends beveled with a file, and covered with lamé saturated with wood glue. Lamé can also be glued onto leather to make a space anklet, and it's handy for spreading on the tips of feathers which are then added to create extra volume in a Magenta feather duster (use a toothpick or bamboo skewer to apply). Don't, of course, get anything glued with white glue wet.
E6000 is an industrial adhesive sold at craft stores (and in the Crafts section of Wal-Mart). It's clear, flexible, non-water soluble, and will glue just about anything to anything. The company even claims you can paint it. E6000 FabriFuse is a less toxic version used on fabric that people rave about. I've also had some luck with Shoe Goo, a product designed to plug holes in your shoes. It can be found in the Adhesives section of K-Mart (and probably other places too).
Nail polish (especially clear and black) is very handy for painting small items. It can also be used to keep fabric from ravelling. Clear nail polish can be used to stop runs in your stockings (use base coat, whichisn't shiny). Hairspray helps stop runs, too.
Scotchgard It's getting harder to find, and they had to reformulate in 2003 since a key ingredient was a precursor to a persistent organic pollutant. If you've got a costume that you can't clean, apply this after making it, testing first, of course, in an inconspicuous area.
Acetone , sometimes sold as nail polish remover, will remove small amounts of paint (use a Q-tip to apply). You could buy paint thinner...but acetone is probably marginally less toxic and you wouldn't want to use pain thinner on your nails. Caution: it will dissolve many plastics.
Model paint (available at hobby stores) is good for painting small items and doesn't tend to come off on things. It will chip off plastic; try to rough up the plastic to get it to stick. Spray paint looks good, but tends to flake off on things if the surface isn't prepared properly. I bought mine at a hobby shop that catered to people who paint models; for painting plastic, they recommended 000 grade steel wool and recommended against sandpaper ("It leaves grooves."). They recommended coating metal objects with primer first, but I'm still not sure I'd trust it. (Maybe if coated with a couple of clear topcoats.) Another tip: they suggested warming the item you're painting first with a hairdryer and soaking the spraypaint is warm water (careful; the label will loosen!). This did seem to help. They've come out with a spraypaint that's supposed to adhere to plastic, but I haven't had very good luck with it; it seems to take longer to dry than standard spraypaint.
I think hot glue guns are over-rated. The glue often comes unstuck once it cools. They work OK for gluing fabric to cardboard, but the glue line is visible. White glue is more even and shows less. Still, glue guns are fast, and if you cannot sew, they are an option. (Much to my amazement, someone showed me an entire Magenta dress that had been hot-glued together. The seams looked *very* nasty, though they would have looked better if the edges had been turned under first. I wouldn't recommend it.)
A set of long-nose pliers is very handy for readjusting boot-hooks and taking things apart. Cover the jaws with fabric or rubber bands first to avoid scratching whatever you're working on.
Thin cardboard is very handy for making patterns. If I'm doing a lot of costume work, I save old cereal boxes (or frozen pizza boxes if I need something bigger). My mother saves the stiff flexible plastic that used to be packed with frozen meat; I'm a vegetarian so I don't know if that's still available...
Tacky craft glue is one of my essentials. This, white glue, E-6000, and Aleene's Stop Fraying are probably the items I use the most. I'm learning to work with FrayBlock, but prefer Stop Fraying (see "Sewing chiffon" above).
Bamboo skewers or toothpicks are great for applying a tiny drop of glue, paint, whatever. Buy at the grocery store.
Transparent quilter's ruler, straight edge, and yardstick. I presume you have these. I couldn't make costumes without them.
Sharpie markers, fabric markers I use the Sharpie markers more than the fabric markers, but they're handy too. A silver metallic Sharpie can be just the thing to mark a dark object you need to cut up that won't take a white chalk pencil, and a gold one can touch up gold sequins.
Thimble, needle threaders If you sew, you probably already have these. The thimble is particularly handy for jamming a needle through thick material, such as the multiple layers of a space belt. Needle threaders, basically a small flexible loop attached to a coin-shaped piece are flimsy(pull too hard and they break) but they're handy and cheap. If you hate flimsy, you can buy Dritz's looped needle threaders which are all flexible metal and less likely to break; I like the Colonial 2-in-1 needle threader, which won't break even if you yank on it(the flexible loop is embedded in strong plastic) and is available at quilting shops or online. Bless the Baby Boomers and their failing eyes.
Seam ripper This is a nice extra (they're cheap) and I use mine regularly. It's much easier to rip out a bunch of stitches with this than pick them out with a needle. You can also use the pointy end, very carefully, to push the corners of fabric all the way out when you're turning a fabric tube inside out. My husband has one that looks like a scalpel and it scares me.
Fabric scissors and a good pair of craft scissors I keep two pairs of scissors; one only cuts fabric, the other is used for cutting odd stuff like paper, cardboard, whatever. Reserving the scissors for fabric only keeps them sharp. I like Fiskar's; Gingher's might be even better. Buy them when you get one of those "40% off any item" coupons. I also keep a pair of Ginger's embroidery scissors to snip threads; thread snips are a cheaper option.
Cheap hairspray is your friend.
Especially if you are playing Magenta, the last thing you want is something that promises to go on light and look natural. Usually, the cheaper it is, the more hairspray acts like lacquer, which is what you want.
But don't go overboard on your wigs with it--eventually it will weigh the wig down, which defeats your purpose. My wig stylist said to avoid alcohol in hairspray, but the hairspray she recommends ("Super Stiff Spritz," which is great stuff) has alcohol in it too. I have noticed that when I used Aquanet, the T-pins I used to pin my wig to its stand would rust. Cosplayers swear by göt2b; I'm going to try it.
Always keep safety pins in your costume bag. Eventually someone will need them. Bobby pins are good emergency supplies, too.
6. Do I have to make stuff myself?
No--you can pay someone else. Some are listed on the links page. You can also try finding a local seamstress/tailor, which will eliminate shipping costs, let you see what you're getting, and make fittings easier. (Theater and Ren Faire people are a real resource.) It's worth trolling etsy, though last time I looked, other than "My Favorite Obsession," it was mostly odd tchotchkes. Making things yourself is cheaper and unless you are working with someone who knows Rocky Horror, it's often easier to get what you want. Learn to look at stuff and ask yourself how you can make a prop out of it. Props needn't be perfect; I had a gong for years that was a spray-painted frying pan cover, and I saw a woman get applause once with a "spacesuit" that was a gold mini-dress with a black sunvisor on each shoulder.
7. How do I take care of this stuff?
Costuming and Care Tips, assembled by a group of belly dancers, has some good discussion on things like the colorfastness of sequins, etc.