Gone are the days when comic book enthusiasts, superhero geeks, and computer nerds were a marginalized and shunned minority. The tables have turned, and geek-chic is in full bloom. Superhero blockbusters are making a killing in box offices, anime is increasingly becoming mainstream, computer games are cool and comic conventions around the world are seeing record attendances. Nowhere is the rise of nerd culture more evident than in the world of cosplay. To many outsiders, cosplay is little more than adult dress-up, while thousands view it as an art form and even a way of life. So what is cosplay and why do people do it?
Dressing up and taking on another persona while in costume is as old as human society. The earliest use of costumes was for religious and ceremonial purposes, and the oldest surviving mask dates back to 7000 BC. Fast forward a few millennia to the late 1930s, and we have an early predecessor of modern cosplay in the form of ‘costuming’ in North America. Back then, cosplay did not require one to mimic a specific character’s appearance, just to dress up according to a genre. Costume parties and masquerades were all the rage in the roaring thirties, and people even started coming to conventions in costume. The term ‘cosplay’ was coined in 1984 by Japanese reporter Nobuyuki Takahashi after attending the 42nd World Science Fiction Convention in LA. As “masquerade” sounded too old fashioned, he used the word cosplay in his article instead and it has been in use ever since.
Why People Cosplay?
There are a myriad of reasons people partake in cosplay. A uniting factor for all cosplay aficionados is that they enjoy transforming themselves into another character, and being whoever you want to be for an afternoon can be both fun and liberating. Another factor that makes cosplay so appealing is the strong sense of community within the subculture. A lot of time, energy and dedication go into making the perfect costume and in many ways becoming your favorite fictional character is the ultimate display of fandom. Cosplay events are unique opportunities to socialize with others that share your specific interests, and a great cosplay can be considered an art form in its own right.
Although the majority of cosplayers are in it for fun, there are some that earn a living from it. Youtube is full of cosplay celebrities that have a vast fan base eagerly expecting their newest creations. Gaming companies even employ official cosplay models for their in-game characters to star in promotions and game release events. Professional cosplayers also sell autographed photos and charge adoring fans to have their pictures taken with them. Comic cons around the word see thousands of visitors and millions of dollars in profit every year. The current record for most attendees at a comic con is held by Comiket in Tokyo with a mind-boggling 590,000 visitors in 2013
The Dark Side Of Cosplay
While cosplay brings joy and happiness to thousands, it is no stranger to controversy. Sexual harassment in cosplay is on the top of the list. Some characters are undeniably designed to be overly sexual and provocative, with tight spandex suits or otherwise revealing and suggestive clothing. It is within a cosplayer’s rights and freedoms to choose to dress up in such a way, but as a result, they can be open to unwanted attention. It is all too common for fans to forget that there is a human being inside the costume, and many cosplay events are ripe with inappropriate and unsolicited behavior. So many sexual harassment cases have been reported by cosplayers trying to enjoy conventions that organizers are implementing anti- harassment policies at events. Many comic and pop culture conventions even have large signs saying ‘Cosplay is not Consent’.
Cosplay is many things to many people: a hobby, a passion, a subculture, a release or even a career. But at the very heart of the matter, it is an artistic expression that allows people to feel empowered by transforming into characters that they admire or even identify with. The cosplay community shows us that creativity and imagination can bloom and be celebrated and that fiction and fantasy can be brought to life and enjoyed in the real world.
Costume Collection is an Australian online retailer of Oktoberfest Costumes and Halloween Costumes!