Cosplay: a term you may have stumbled upon if you are part of any pop cultural community. Merriam-Webster dictionary says cosplay is a compound word of costume and play that refers to an activity or practice of dressing up as a character from a work of fiction (such as a comic book, video game, or television). It was apparently first used by Japanese journalist Noboyuki Takahaski as 'kosupure' in 1983. Just to put it into perspective, that is one year before the first Ghostbusters film was released in theaters. Cosplay was first coined in English in 1993. That’s the year The Nightmare Before Christmas was released. There is basically no limit to what one can do for cosplay. I personally have been cosplaying for five years by 2018 and I can say that this practice has somehow helped me grow as an individual. I wanted to share my experience with you. I do not claim to be a scholar or an expert of any kind. Take this text as what it is. If I find more sources, I might rewrite a more accurate paper.
Morals and Philosophy
Cosplay is not just putting on a fancy costume and going out in public. No matter if you make your cosplay or buy it, there is a whole philosophy I discovered. Cosplay is sort of like being Vegan. It is not only an activity, it is a lifestyle. If you ever went to a pop-culture convention, like an anime convention, video game convention, or anything in between, disrespect is forbidden. It is very rude to disrespect cosplayers. Be it about their experience, their gender, their body type, judging cosplayers is not advised. Cosplay is an activity of open-mindedness, creativity, but mostly fun. Cosplay is all about having fun. When insulting a cosplayer, it is not a learning experience. If a princess Zelda cosplayer wears a Hijab, that is perfectly fine. If a Black male cosplays Aragorn from Lord of The Rings, that is fine, too. If a more strongly built woman wants to cosplay Wonder Woman, that is fine. More to them! Whatever you are wearing though, that does not give the right for anyone to take advantage of you. Cosplay is not consent. Even if you are in a more revealing costume, that does not give the right for people to touch you, harass you, or take pictures of you without your consent. Even though you are dressed as a princess, you are not an object to be dwindled. You deserve better than that. If you are not comfortable with being touched, let the person know. Do what you want to do, wear what you want to wear.
I am constantly surprised at the creativity and skill people have. Although I am not into furries, I am fascinated by the amount of skill they have in designing and making a full fursuit. I can admire the passion put into Star Wars cosplays. Sharing our experiences can also be a learning experience. I, one year, cosplayed San from Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke and I have met two more San cosplayers at that event. We all were the same character, yet we made our cosplays in different ways. I realized that I might have made my mask lighter by using different materials. The other San appreciated the exchange, as well. This is a more direct exchange of online tutorials.
When you make your own costumes, you gain many skills that would be used in your life. When you deal with costumes that consist of fabrics and clothing, you can gain skills to care for your everyday clothes. Sowing, bleaching, dying fabrics, ironing; these are skills that we are not really taught anymore. You can even save money by being able to fix your own clothes. You won’t have to pay someone else to adjust your pants length, because you can do it yourself. You can learn to repair items if you make cosplay weapons and props. Some weapons in video games and anime are ridiculous. It asks the cosplayer to experiment and research the possible materials and techniques. It encourages resourcefulness and risk-taking. Since I started doing cosplay, I realized how costumes in stores are extremely cheap looking and are never in my size. Let’s say we want to make Neko cat ears. If you were to buy some in stores, of course, we might find some for about a dollar, yet they most likely are too small for an adult’s head. There might also be some tiny feathers and glitter that do not fit with what look you wish to accomplish. Neko ears are incredibly easy to make with materials you most likely can find around your house. You can change size and appearance to your liking and it would last a lot longer than the simple season.
Great, you have your cosplay done. It’s okay if you are shy about it.
When I wear a cosplay, I feel more confident. I am more willing to speak with people when in the skin of a character I love. This is weird, I do admit. When I wear a cosplay, I inherit the traits of the character. When I wear the Medic from the classic first-person shooter Team Fortress 2, I feel like I can proudly walk the halls. When I wear Sans from Undertale, I feel a little melancholic, but I make more jokes (to the dismay of my friends).
As to quote something from ex-Mythbusters Adam Savage, your cosplay only gains life when being worn. You live your cosplay. The costume is made for you. Wear it proudly. When starting to wear cosplay, it might be terrifying to first-comers. The cosplay is also a disguise: You can hide in your cosplay and, depending on the costume, people might not even recognize you. Another thing I noticed is how cosplay can be an extension of yourself. Let’s think about this: What drew you to this character? Was it their story? Their personality? Or, just because their aesthetic pleased you? This resonance can help you gain confidence in your cosplay, because not only is the costume hiding you, it also represents you. The best disguise is a self-portrait.
Making Dreams Come True
It is not just your dreams, it is the others’ dreams too.
When you were a child, did you ever want to meet that one character you loved? I know I did. I wanted to meet Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars. There are other characters that I wished to meet, until I identified the difference between the actor and the character. One of my first experiences when meeting people I admire was at my first comic con. Billy Boyd, the actor who played Pippin Took in the Lord of the Rings, was a guest. I wore my first cosplay, Pippin. I was very inexperienced. My hair was not curled nor short, most of the pieces of the costume were bought at thrift stores, and my hobbit feet were just my feet in flip-flops with mascara on the top to simulate hairy feet. It was not very good, looking back. When I went to meet him, he looked impressed, genuinely impressed at that. I felt like I was on a cloud.
Now, imagine you dress as Batman for a convention, you walk the floor for a little while until you see a little girl jumping around and pointing at you.
“Look Mommy! It’s Batman! He’s real!”
You have the possibility to make the day of this kid. Play with this. Go talk to them, make their day magical. Even with teenagers and adults, this interaction can still be magical. To refer to Adam Savage’s TED Talk, cosplay is another form of theater. It is not simply an actor/audience performance. It is an improvisation exercise. People interact with the character.
By knowing the character, you can better embody them. It also helps in making pictures and memories of you and the character. Photography needs good lighting and poses to bring out the magic out of a costume. Posing for pictures can be another form of theater. The cosplayer needs to strike a pose that would make sense for the character. With the help of the photographer, it can be possible to completely transport your image into fantasy.
Cosplay is a learning experience. It asks for craftsmanship, planning, creativity, and performance. It is all about respect and camaraderie between the cosplayer and the cosplayer in civil-wear. My experience granted me independence and confidence. I gained a better understanding by sharing with people about my passions. I have quoted Adam Savage a few times since I believe he is one of the more well-known speakers on the subject. He embraces the concept of cosplay and shares his geekiness and craft with the world, so all can see and understand.