AliExpress can be intimidating website but I have been using the site since 2012 and it has been an invaluable source for getting materials for my costumes, so I'm sharing my tips for navigating the site to ensure you get what you want and suggestions for what to shop for along with referral links to items and shops.
General Notes & Tips
A common mistake people make is they think Alibaba and Aliexpress are the same thing. Although they are both owned by the company, they serve different purposes. Alibaba is meant for businesses to make bulk orders, usually there is a minimum number of items required. While Aliexpress is consumer focused so you are not expected to order mass amounts of product.
Coupons: there are two types of coupons, site wide coupons and store specific coupons. The site wide coupons are great and can be used in any purchase and usually give you a dollar amount discount off a minimum purchase amount. They usually are paired up with site-wide sales (more on that later). These can also be earned through activities on the site: mini games, adding items to wish lists or cart, etc. Store coupons are available throughout the year but also become available during site wide sales and you may get emails with these promo codes. Similarly, they often require a minimum purchase amount, and comes in increasing discounts the more you spend. They are easy to find, many items have a coupon button/link right under the price.
Bulk Discounts: Many stores will offer you a percentage off discount the more items you buy. I mainly buy bulk notions on AliExpress so this is very handy. These are automatically applied to your purchase.
Site-wide sales: Amazon has prime day, AliExpress has 11.11. On Nov 11 there are site wide sales in basically every store. This year the sale is running Nov 2-12. I often wait for it to make most of my purchases for the year. They will even tell you what the price of items will be advance on the page. Note: pay close attention to the shipping price, I've seen free shipping items switch to paid shipping to make up the discount cost. They have other events throughout the year like Black Friday but the events are on a smaller scale.
Ratings and Reviews: Stores have overall rating based on their sales and so does each item page. Users are encouraged to leave reviews and can include images. I use these religiously before committing to a purchase. Please leave reviews to help other buyers especially on low review/no review items. Seeing reviews from multiple countries can help determine which reviews are valid vs manufactured.
Save your favourite items and stores: You can spend a lot of time searching through millions of items on the site. If you find an item or store you like, save it! It makes things easier when you need similar item later on and you will be sent coupons and promotion emails for those specific stores. Make use of the wish list because you will have a hard time finding the item again. Also the search function does not allow you to search store names.
Searching: Think like a thesaurus and come up with multiple terms for items if you can't find what you are looking for. It takes patience and persistence. Click on related items to get recommendations to similar items on the side menus and at the bottom of the page. Recommendations will also come up when you add items to your wish list/cart.
Shipping times: Most items have free or cheap shipping rates, however, it can sometimes take months for it to arrive. So plan far in advance. I wouldn't advise last minute orders unless you are willing to pay the steep express shipping rates. Pay attention to the delivery window times. They are mostly accurate. I've had things arrive super fast within 2-3 weeks but I've also had things lost in the shipping for months.
Money Back Guarantee: There is a 75 day money back guarantee on orders, which means if it gets lost on the mail, arrives broken, etc. you can file a claim. It has happened a few times to me and I was able to get a 100% refund on my purchase and funnily enough, it sometimes shows up at my door a week later. Keep track of your delivery windows and the timers for claims if your items do not arrive.
What to buy?
From completed costumes to base materials, you will find it on this site. I'm including some links directly to stores and the images also link to products as well. I tried to relate them back to my projects, so check those links as well to see the items in action.
Many cosplay stores with full costumes have shops on AliExpress and you can get great deals with store coupons or site wide sales. Pay close attention to the sizing and expect synthetic materials for most of the costumes.
Uwowo Cosplay Store - My friends and myself have bought a few costumes from this shop with good results. I got a Little Witch Academia costume from them. They have a lot of Genshin Impact costumes.
Miccostumes - Another staple for buying full costumes.
Fabric - It takes patience to search through all the items and narrowing down to what you need. Often terms are used interchangeably, so there isn't the certainty you have with traditional stores like Mood Fabrics. That said, I have been buying all my organza from one store for the last 6 years and used them for all my Sawsbuck costumes and more. It's BIT.FLY a wedding décor shop. I also tend to focus on easily searchable materials like stretch mesh and pvc/vinyl.
Wigs - There is no shortage of wig suppliers on this site, many of whom are using the same product photos. Checking the reviews and making sure the watermark on images match the store name will be key to getting a good wig. Also pay attention to band measurements since these wigs tend to fit smaller heads. Recent purcahses: I've bought my Morana and Sylveon wigs from Freedom Offical Store . I also got a great lacefront from Charisma Fashion wigs.
I tend to use the site to buy materials in bulk, mainly notions because they can easily add up. For a few dollars more, I can get a lifetime supply of an item vs. a handful of that item locally. Here are a few things I swear by.
Rhinestones - I almost exclusively buy rhinestones from AliExpress and add them to my hoard like a dragon. Saved shops I use: Rhinestone and Crystal Jewelry World | IDIYEA Brand Crystal | Mezao Offical Store |
Appliqués - The selection for appliques in my area is non-existent. The site has some in every colour imaginable and with rhinestones, beads, pearls, etc. Fancy Decor store is where I got both appliqués for my Sylveon and Umbreon costumes for under $6 total.
Feathers - I've been covered head to toe in feathers for costumes like Ravenna or used as accents for costumes like Ragyo. Finding the style and colour you need locally is difficult. If you have a lot of surface area to cover, buying feathered trim may be a better bargain, also it's easier to estimate how much surface area it will cover. I sourced feathers for my Sharla costume from Beautiful Crafts Store.
Horsehair braid - If you want your skirts to have the magical girl look, horsehair braid is a must. I now have a lifetime supply from the two shops linked below.
D-Rings & Fasteners - These are a must have for armour crafters and you can get them for cents. RoYishi is where I've bought mine so far.
Lace, trim, and ribbon - For projects that need an excessive amount of trim like Sakizo costumes or simply to stock up on basics like twill tape or grosgrain ribbon, it makes sense to bulk order them.
Accessories - The variety is unmatched, if you need to add an accent item to your costume you will be able to find it here. Halo crowns, like I've used Sylveon and Umbreon. Embellished tights for Cosmog. Bracelets for Lilith. Also medallions and filigrees to makes your own jewelry and accessories. If you have sensitivities to certain metals, proceed with caution.
Flowers & Flower wall - Michael's' flower section is a happy place for me but sometimes I need a lot of flowers, like the time I built my own flower wall, which was all bought from AliExpress. Pro tip: buy some panels filled with foliage in addition to blank ones so you have less empty space to fill. Man-made craftmanship store is where I bought a lot of my flowers.
I hope this helped demystify AliExpress and opened up some shopping options for you, especially since many of these shops have Amazon storefronts with a markup. Please note that I am not sponsored by these stores, do your due diligence before purchasing, and if you have any issues you will need to take it up with AliExpress and the store.
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