So. You're standing around your room. You feel like cosplaying but don't have the time, money, patience or skill to make some huge elaborate costume. Or maybe you're going to a con last minute and everyone else is dressing up and you don't wanna feel left out. And you're a girl...
This is your life line, my friends.
There are a few things every good amateur female cosplayer, such as myself, should keep around. Some are easier to find than others, but it's all about improv!
Some good things to have that you should be able to find in a consignment shop, thrift store, or in the back of your mom or grandmother's closet is (1) a crinoline and (2) a pleated skirt with suspenders.
A crinoline is often mistaken for petticoats. A crinoline is basically a skirt made of layers and layers of stiff, lacey material that women wore under skirts to make them poofy back in the olden days. I inherited one of these amazing things from my step-great-grandmother for a play I was in. I was required to be a french-style maid and wanted to have as poofy a skirt as possible. Needless to say, I had the best and poofiest costume. A crinoline is priceless for any last minute amateur cosplay costume. It's worn under a loose, long (maybe tea length. If you can find one, buy a loose ankle length and pin up the hems) skirt. You can add an apron and a matching colored shirt, and a maid's hat made out of a paper doily folded in half and hot glued to a ribbon for a non-slutty maid costume in about 10 minutes. Add kitty ears or even a tail for an instant anime classic. Experiment with other things. It also might make a good poofy lolita skirt with some ribbons and bows added to the skirt.
A pleated skirt with suspenders is also great for instant school girl costumes. I got mine from my step-mom from in the 90's when she was younger. Paired with a classy white button down, long sleeved shirt, one of my daddy's ties (any style, or you can make and ascot with a colored scarf and a brooch*), and either a pair of flats, chunky loafer-style platforms, or loafers, it makes a great costume. Just pair it with the anime hairstyle of choice and voila! Of course, you can always add some animal ears for that weird furry touch.
Some other things that are great to have: animal ears, wings, and cheap wigs.
Most of that crap can be bought at a party shop. Animal ears show up around holidays. Bunny ears show up around Easter, so grab a few pair in different colors during those handy after-holiday sales. Kitty ears are abundant during Halloween. Party shops probably carry them all year round, so give those party shops a try. Because they also carry wigs year round as well. Wigs are great. During Halloween, they are abundant in all major retailers. Wal-Mart and Target, etc. They come in all sorts of weird styles and colors. Party shops usually carry better quality, quantity and have a better selection. Party shops are an amateur cosplayer's best friend. It's best to stock up on animal ears and wigs during those after-holiday sales if you are shopping at a Wal-Mart or Target. It's impossible to find costume pieces like that not during a holiday. But major-retailers are great for find bows, hairpieces and jewelry. Not to mention parts for last minutes weapons, staffs, and other accessories.
Wings are a little harder to come by. Try one of those nifty party shops. During Halloween, you're able to find angel wings, fairy wings, bat wings... all very good to have. So stock up!
Now, lets say it's not a holiday and you aren't able to get to a party shop. Or, you don't have any money! It always good to check your house, especially if you have younger siblings or children. People like to buy little kids' stuff like animal ears during holidays, and little girls always have costume pieces like tiaras, fairy wings and jewelry. Or, you could always raid your mom's closet!
So, my best advice to you is this: Check party shops, stock up during holidays like Halloween and Easter, and check with the old people.
* You can make an easy brooch to accompany your scarf to make it a school girl's ascot. All you need is a hot glue gun, a safety pin, and some sort of pretty stone or other small object. Just glue the object to the pin and attach it to the scarf. Or you could use one of those things... napkin holders. Not sure how well that would work though....
** Maid's Cap Instructions: Get a paper doily, the kind they put under cookies and such at fancy parties. Fold it in half and hot glue it to a ribbon that matches your outfit. Tie it under your hair and secure with pins and voila!