An Introductory Guide to Cosplay Culture
Cosplaying as a hobby is an important part of popular culture. Outsiders may see cosplay as dressing up in costumes, but for the hobbyists called cosplayers, it is more than just that. This beginner’s guide is useful for beginners who want to dive into the colorful world of cosplay.
What Is Cosplay?
Cosplay is a portmanteau of the words costume and play, and it is a type of performance art. It is done by hobbyists called cosplayers, who wear costumes and bring prop weapons to portray a specific character that exists in media or print, mainstream or otherwise. Characters who may be cosplayed may come from comic books, manga, anime, cartoons, video games, and television shows.
Cosplayers invest time, money, and effort into making or commissioning costumes and props. The complexity of costumes varies according to the media they come from. Some characters may only involve everyday wear, others may have accessories, and the more complex types may have mechanical parts, face and body prosthetics, or even working electronics.
Origins of Cosplay
The term cosplay is coined by Japanese film director Nobuyuki Takahashi of Studio Hard. He saw costumed fans when he attended the 1984 World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) in Los Angeles, California. He wrote about the term cosplay, or kosupure in Japanese, in an article for My Anime magazine at that time.
Why Are People into Cosplay?
Cosplayers flock conventions in their costumes and ready poses for multiple reasons. Generally, people enjoy cosplay as a hobby and a creative form of entertainment. Most cosplayers are in it because they enjoy it.
For most, it is not merely just a game of dress-up. Cosplayers select specific characters because they connect with them or identify similar attributes that they possess in real life. Some choose costumes because they are inspired by characteristics they wish they can emulate in real life.
A case in point is the fact that comic superheroes and those who cosplay them regularly comment that they feel empowered when they wear the costume.
Misconceptions about Cosplay
Cosplay is a fun hobby in which both hobbyists, fans, and even the public get to enjoy seeing their favorite characters come to life. However, outsiders and first-timers often get some things wrong about the hobby. Here are some examples of misconceptions:
Cosplay Is the Same as Live Action Role Play (LARP)
While dressing up is present in both hobbies, LARP is heavier on role-playing, individual characterization, and interacting with other “players.” Cosplayers can be in character in photos and videos, but LARPers need to stay in character to not break the immersion play.
You Need to Spend a Lot of Money to Cosplay
Wigs, makeup, and costumes do add up, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend a lot of money to dress up as your favorite character. There are cheaper alternatives to help you with your budget.
For starters, instead of buying premade costumes or commissioning someone to do it, you can learn sewing instead. Look into ways to use materials you already have instead of buying new. There are plenty of tutorials, resources, and ideas you can find online.
Cosplay Is Only for Teens
There is no age restriction, and it is wrong to think that only a specific age-group can cosplay. No one is too old or too young to get into the hobby because it is for everyone. The crux of the hobby is having fun, and that is what everyone should be doing.
Cosplayers Are Paid to Cosplay
Most cosplayers don’t start cosplaying as a way to earn money, but there are ways to make a living out of it. Regular cosplayers who attend conventions shell out their own resources for costumes, wigs, and props for the love of the hobby. They may already have respective careers and professions outside the hobby but cosplay for the love of the art.
Professional cosplayers do exist, and some of them make a career out of it. These super popular cosplayers may have been around for a while and are so distinguished for their skills that they have amassed a huge online following.
They are usually paid for their time and expertise during convention appearances. They may also get their income from selling merchandise such as photo books or fan meets.
Beginner’s Guide to Cosplaying for the First Time
It is easy to get intimidated by seasoned cosplayers with good-looking costumes, but it is important to remember that they may have been doing the hobby for years. Cosplay requires many skills, and it can be overwhelming to learn tailoring, painting, crafting, wig styling, woodworking, fabric dyeing, and leatherwork to get the look of a specific character. No one expects beginners to be good on the first try, so start with the basics first.
Choose a Character
The first question any aspiring cosplayer must first ask themselves is why they want to cosplay. Use that motivation in character decisions. A well-liked character from a popular show that you know is always a good place to start.
There is no limit to choosing a character, so anyone is fair game. Male cosplayers who want to cosplay female characters and vice versa are called crossplayers. Crossplay is popular among those who see themselves as gender fluid or those who enjoy the challenge of behaving as someone of another gender.
Do Your Research
After the exciting and challenging process of narrowing down the exact character to cosplay, research is needed to determine the budget and level of skin involved. Those who have experience making or tailoring clothes find it easier to transition to making costumes on their own.
Buying costumes or commissioning costume makers may not be an option for those who are working with a budget. Time is also a factor and dependent on when the costume will be used. That said, it is not uncommon for cosplayers to change characters, especially considering the factors above.
Determine whether comfort or accuracy is the priority of the cosplay. Short skirts, high heels, or tight body suits may not be comfortable compared to onesies or school uniforms. It can be both, but the prospective character pool may narrow down even further.
Lists Are Helpful
It helps to list down all the things needed for the outfit, like wigs, shoes, gloves, belt, and accessories. It should also include other needed stuff like makeup, skin-tone undergarment, and other materials.
It is crucial to test the costume, wig, and makeup before the day of the convention to find things that need improvement. Beginners will need a lot of time for wig styling, so allot a full day or two for that. Use hairspray or styling wax to keep the hair in place.
Makeup is another crucial part of cosplay because it makes the skin look better on camera. A basic makeup routine of foundation, eyeshadow, eyeliner, and lip balm can help bring more life to the character.
As for costumes, make sure to reinforce loose parts so they don’t end up on the convention floor or falling apart before the event starts. Practice getting into character and doing poses for the camera to be ready for people who will want to take pictures with you.
Convention Dos and Don’ts
The cosplay scene, like any other hobbyist community, has its own share of problems. Some of the most common incidents are inappropriate touching, sexual harassment, and even assault. Convention goers, or congoers, need to understand that cosplayers are regular people and deserving of basic respect.
That is why there is a popular movement that showcases the slogan “Cosplay is not consent,” which means that anyone who wants to take a photo of a con attendee must ask for permission first. There may be times when cosplayers will decline a photo, and regardless of the reason, it should be respected. This extends to being touchy with cosplayers as well.
Other convention dos and don’ts for regular congoers are the following:
Cosplay whomever you want
Be mad at others who have the same costume as yours
Ask permission for pictures
Take pictures of people without their consent
Ask and compliment cosplayers about their costumes
Compare their costumes with others
Be social and make friends
Be a snob or inconsiderate
Practice basic hygiene
Attend a con without shower, grooming, or deodorant
Obey rules and regulations of the convention
Be unruly and disrespectful to the hardworking staff and other attendees
Cosplay Bullying, Drama, and Other Issues
The cosplay community is not perfect. There is a pervasive problem of bullying, drama, and issues even among the most like-minded geeks and nerds. Anyone who has ever been bullied, online or otherwise, knows how it can be demoralizing to be a part of it. No one should tolerate bullying or being bullied, and that is why it is important to find support.
Asking help from family members, relatives, and friends is encouraged. You can find resources, links, and more information here.
Chen, A., & Rizzo, M. (2016, July 23). Cosplayers Use Costume to Unleash Their Superpowers.
Cosplayer Survivor Support Network. (n.d.). Resources.
Hsu, J. (2010, October 21). How New York City Shaped Superheroes.
Live Science. https://www.livescience.com/10188-york-city-shaped-superheroes.html
Lamerichs, N. (2010). Stranger Than Fiction: Fan Identity in Cosplay.
Transformative Works and Cultures, 7. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2011.0246
Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library. (n.d.). Research Guides: Cosplay Resources at the Mansfield Library: What Is Cosplay and Where Did It Originate?