The Rise of Cosplay


By Ellie Greer
Very few people can say they’ve never worn a costume. Whether it was using a towel to be Superman or rolling up in a blanket to be a mermaid, most people have worn a costume and pretended to be someone else at least once in their lives. Forty years ago, most of this happened as small children or on Halloween. With the rise of cosplay, however, it has become culturally acceptable to wear costumes to conventions, events, and even as a living.
The word “cosplay” was not coined until 1984, when Nobuyuki Takahashi, a reporter for a Japanese magazine, used “kosupure” to describe the sight of a convention hall filled with people in costumes. Kosupure is a Japanese abbreviation that combines the words “costume” and “play” into one word, which has now translated into “cosplay”. Costuming, as it was originally called, has been around too long to have any definite beginning. Once confined to cultural celebrations and masquerades, costuming and cosplay have expanded to become a commonplace practice.
The first documented ‘costumer’ to attend a convention in costume was Forest J Ackerman, who attended the first World Science Fiction Convention in 1939. This new convention began shortly after Batman’s first appearance in comics and Superman receiving his own comic publication series. It was a good year to be a nerd. Even with comics and sci-fi on the rise, however, it was a bold move to walk the streets of New York City in “futuristicostume”. He made such waves both in the convention itself and in the community, every sci-fi convention since has been packed with costumed fans.
Cosplay 2
The primary difference between wearing a costume for Halloween or other cultural celebrations is that those participating in costuming or cosplay tend to adopt a character’s mannerisms and personality and interact with others in accordance. This means that those in costume at conventions or fan events tend to role play as their characters, almost like LARPing without the rules. An easy example is Deadpool cosplayers. At any convention, it’s common to see handfuls of Deadpools running around, almost always acting goofy and outlandish and interacting with everyone they come across in a playfully harassing manner. It’s the unwritten rule of conventions – don’t question what Deadpool is doing, it’s just Deadpool. This does not apply to sexual harassment, of course. Cosplay is not consent and is not an excuse for inappropriate behavior. Rules to protect convention-goers were established in the 1970s to moderate prop weapons and ban nude to semi-nude ‘costumes’.
With role play being such a large part of the cosplay community, it was a large change of pace when photographers began attending these conventions in the 1980s. For the first time a heavier emphasis was placed on still shot cosplay, occasionally being sold as prints by ‘famous’ cosplayers. Now this has evolved to still shots and video created to mimic the original piece of work, such as a cosplay of Katniss Everdeen in a forest or The Little Mermaid on a beach. Most professional cosplayers do this by selling signed prints at conventions or, most recently, via Patreon.
Kosupure, which many people consider the origin of cosplay, was and is very large in Japan. With a vast array of anime and manga characters to emulate, Japanese conventions grew quickly and cosplay became a large part of the culture. It was in this time that the focus of cosplay was to be as accurate to the original character as possible. Through the use of wigs, colored contacts, makeup, layered clothing, and props, many of these cosplays are truly breathtaking and extremely accurate.
It doesn’t require all of these to create a cosplay, of course, and over time cosplay has evolved into a much wider definition with unlimited potential for creativity. Now cosplayers feel more free to alter characters and have found brilliant ways of doing so. Genderbent cosplays, such as a female Jack Frost or male Maleficent, allow for a brand new take on a familiar character. Blending characters, such as combining Slave Leia and Elsa or Storm Troopers and Disney princesses, has become a popular trend that always leads to interesting and occasionally adorable cosplays. Another popular trend is creating a steampunk version of popular characters, or imagining them from another era. Then there’s always the option to Disneybound, or create a casual version of a character as well. This last one is popular among cosplayers who frequent Disney parks or events, and is the most simple and comfortable version of cosplay.
The rise of cosplay greatly mirrors the rise of the Nerd. With the release and popularity of Marvel movies came a rising increase in dressing like those characters. Being called a nerd used to be an insult, where now it’s become a badge of honor. Now there are professional cosplayers, grown adults who get to play dress up for a living. There can’t be many jobs better than that. Now is the era of the Nerd and the era of cosplay. With so much evolution in the field over the past 40 years, it’s exciting to think where nerd culture will go next.
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    One Comment

  1. SharlzGFebruary 21st, 2017 at 2:06 am

    I didn’t realise that the term Disneybound was the term for casual version cosplay. That’s the way I like to do it – take the character and adapt the outfit to make it more subtle and wearable but so that people can still work out without too much trouble which character you are.

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