Uncovering the Magic of Cosplay: An Exploration of the Unique Subculture

To some, cosplaying is just a hobby. For others, it’s an everyday activity. If you’ve participated in cosplay or not, cosplay is now a regular part of society. Costumes take lots of time and labor to construct to allow people to take part in activities that let them embody their favorite characters. For those who aren’t aware, cosplay is the same as dressing up as a witch on Halloween. For those who have mastered the art, cosplay is much more than dressing up – it is immersed in a character and performing before hundreds of admirers.

How did this phenomenon begin? What was the point at which cosplay grew from being just ‘dress-up for adults’ into something that has been accepted as a subculture and a representation of the fandom of one’s choice?

The History of Cosplay

Cosplay was first known as “costuming” however it first became popular in the 1930s in North America. Cosplay didn’t require that participants emulate a particular character’s look in the past. It was just a matter of wearing the appropriate costume for the particular genre. Forrest J. Ackerman donned his futuristic costume to a sci-fi event. He was the first attendee to show up in costume, so in the years that followed, conventions began to appear like masquerade balls, and prizes were given to those who had the most ‘cool’ costume.’

In Japan manga, the manga series, Urusei Yatsura and the television show, Mobile Suit Gundam were instrumental in the genesis of the trend in the early days, as Japanese college students eagerly wore costumes of their favorite characters at conventions. By stealing the custom of dressing as characters in North America, fans would recreate their favorite scenes, which added to the excitement as they could show their admiration for the series.

The term “cosplay” was first coined in 1984, when it was a combination of the words “costume” as well as “play”. Nobuyuki Takahashi (Japanese reporter) invented the term after attending Worldcon Los Angeles. When he translated the word masquerade to the Japanese crowd, he felt that the term sounded old-fashioned’ and used “cosplay” as a way to define the concept. Fast forward to the present day, a time when cosplay has become a subculture of its own. In North America, it is no longer odd to see people dressed in costumes for events. Cosplay has extended beyond sci-fi and animation to encompass other genres such as cartoon characters, superheroes, and video game characters. Cosplay is part of Japanese popular culture, specifically in areas like Shibuya and Harajuku. Cosplayers from these areas are dressed up on a daily routine, so it’s not odd to see people stand out from the civilians.

Maid cafes are becoming extremely popular in which waitresses dress up as a servant and serves their ‘master’ (aka the customer). This kind of cosplay could be considered odd to others, which draws us back to the question of the reason people play cosplay in the first place.

What motivates people to participate

Cosplay is a great way to gain a variety of benefits. Cosplayers enjoy dressing up as characters, much as they do for Halloween. BuzzFeedYellow’s clip “Why I cosplay”, shows two cosplayers who say the fact that cosplay builds confidence and boosts their confidence. One cosplayer states, “Cosplay allows me to be the characters I want to be.” It is possible to live vicariously through their coolness. Cosplay is all about the character’s image. This means that high-quality costumes are utilized and the roleplaying is real. In a way cosplaying is acting in that the participant must get into character and behave exactly like the character once they put on their costumes.

Within this particular subculture, there is an underlying sense of community. Fans can connect with fellow fans regardless of whether they are into sewing, modeling, photography, or any other hobby. It’s exciting to see other individuals who cosplay similar characters or from the same series. There is a feeling of solidarity. To make everyone happy pictures of the group are taken and fan services are provided. There are occasions when cosplayers gather for different occasions other than conventions. For example, those who enjoy making costumes attend sewing parties to work on their costumes along with other cosplayers. They will also discuss construction tips. Club events and beach parties for cosplayers are also possible. These allow them to showcase their costumes in different locations.

Every cosplayer has one thing in common They all engage in this pastime for fun. While it requires time and dedication, however, the rewards are fantastic. It’s not like someone spends many hours creating costumes just to put them on once it’s done. It’s an opportunity to represent the fandom and is attainable by anyone willing to learn.


Although many cosplayers are in it to have fun, some use it to earn a living. Jessica Nigri, a cosplayer, and celebrity, was popularized when her ‘Sexy Pikachu costume was made available online. Since then, she’s been a part of conventions as the official model for many cosplay characters, such as Connor Kenway (Assassin’s Creed III), Vivienne Squall (KILLER is DEAD), and the female version of Captain Edward Kenway (Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag). She has Facebook fan pages, Tumblrs, and a subreddit for her. The number of fans she has gained exponentially. Jessica sells posters signed by her and is paid to create costumes for new video game releases.

Other than Jessica Nigri, some cosplayers charge a fee for photos to be taken. Although monetization is a method to support creators, it could also cause problems. Angelia Bermudez from Costa Rica was left without a home due to fraud. She was promised that her hotel and flight ticket would be paid for but realized too late that she had been scammed, as the person who was in charge of her accommodations was arrested. In the end, she was able to get back home due to the generosity of her generous fans.

These are the risks professional cosplayers take. Sadly, people who invested so much time and effort into their craft are not taken seriously. But what is it that makes an experienced cosplayer professional in their field? What are the costume choices or how they’re modeled? What’s the most important thing to making cosplay “good”?

What is the best way to create great cosplay?

Buzzfeed’s Try Guys started an entire series exploring the worlds of cosplay back in August. The series let the Try Guys see how the work involved in making costumes for a convention. They were astonished at the fact that a costume can take 700 hours to make, which leads others to think about the various factors that go into making the perfect cosplay.

1. Pay attention to the details

If you are preparing for a cosplay event, it is essential to think ahead and be patient with the costume. While people might not be able to distinguish between two wigs or fabrics, they will notice the costume doesn’t appear attractive. The most avid fans will also be aware of any missing details (such as wristbands) and therefore multiple photographs must be examined before making the costume. The most important factor is the fit of the costume. So, cosplayers must make sure they can fit it into their body shape, no matter whether they have a similar body type as the person they portray.

Cosplay is also about the appearance of the character. Makeup can help accentuate the appearance, particularly if a character has special features like whiskers, elf ears, and so on. For instance, Naruto in sage mode has orange/red pigmentation around his eyes, so this is a detail that cosplayers must not overlook if they decide to cosplay in Naruto’s Sage mode.

2. Creativity

If the character is identified, fans can enjoy creative freedom with their costumes. One of the most well-known ways to alter the appearance of a character is to perform gender swaps. Gender swaps alter the gender of a character and modify the costume accordingly. The Try Guys, for instance, chose to gender swap with the male version of the Sailor Scouts.

Another popular choice is to alter the outfit to fit a different theme, like steampunk, Victorian, lolita, and so on. It’s a great way to express your creativity. However, it may be difficult to locate a reference photo. Too many modifications can result in confusion among viewers, making it difficult to identify the persona.

3. Confidence

Confidence helps a person stand out amongst those with the same costume. Although it isn’t easy initially for cosplayers, the way they pose and interact with other people influences the experience. However, confidence can be developed, as long as the person is willing to expose themselves in the public. Kristen Lanae, a cosplayer is an example of an introverted woman who appreciates cosplay for helping to build her confidence. She explained that she’s always been quiet and shy however when she’s dressed up in costumes she feels alive. I’d say that it is due to all the good reactions that I receive in costume.”

Support is abundant in the community for those wanting to participate in cosplay. You can share photos of your progress or get advice about how to create a piece of clothing or item. Some people support other cosplayers and comment on their social networks to admire their work. But, as with every art form, there is always a risk, as people may not appreciate the beauty in it or find it difficult to comprehend. Since cosplay is a form of physical art, there are more risks than people who are simply unaware of the costume of the cosplayer.

Cosplay: The Risques

1. Sexual Harassment

Some characters are designed to be provocative and have spandex body suits or high school uniforms that have shorter skirts. Fans can forget there are people inside these costumes and become engulfed in fantasies about their favorite character. Cosplayers are often subject to sexual harassment, which is why there have been numerous instances of it. Some women have been groped and others have been made to leave due to not fitting into a particular costume. That’s why organizers have adopted anti-harassment guidelines to raise awareness about the issue. At New York Comic Con, you’ll find a sign that reads ‘Cosplay Is Not Consent’ and that everyone should be treated equally.

Cosplaying a character does not invite sexual harassment or lewd comments. You should have fun with cosplaying and not be scared of being harassed.

2. Judgment

As stated previously some fans are obsessed with the way a character should look in reality. This means that judgment is passed on to cosplayers that don’t appear as they would in real life, which is not the correct practice of this form of art. People come in different shapes and sizes, and shouldn’t be body-shamed if they do not match the body type of the character. Yaya Han, a popular cosplayer and a supporter of all types of cosplaying bodies, has spoken about the issue. She states:

Cosplay is a fun experience for all. While there are negative elements within the group, there are many positives. It is not a bad idea to encourage people from playing their favorite character. Cosplaying provides the opportunity to connect with people with similar interests as well as a chance for you to play another person for the day. It is an opportunity to showcase one’s favorite character and meet people who share the same interests. It’s rare to have Naruto and Superman have lunch with each other.

Cosplay has evolved from masquerading into an art form. Although it can be considered mimicry, some individuals put their creative twist into their costumes and overall appearance. What once was a hobby has allowed participants to make careers out of cosplaying, which demonstrates the prevalence of cosplay in society. It has become part of the subculture, and can no longer be considered ‘dress up for adults’.

Cosplay is considered an art form because it’s an expression of art that empowers individuals as they transform into different characters. And just like every art form, cosplay starts with an interest, but it transforms into something tangible the moment the person decides to make it a reality.

Works that are cited

Ashcraft, Brian, & Luke Plunkett. Kotaku 22 October 2014. “Where is the word “Cosplay?” Comes from. Web.

BuzzFeedVideo. Video clip online. Youtube, 2 August 2015. Web.

BuzzFeedYellow. “Why I play cosplay.” Video clip. YouTube, 9 September 2014. Web.

Don. “Jessica Nigri.” Know Your Meme News. Cheezburger Inc., n.d. Web.

Gallagher, Luke. “Why Manufactured Drama on Syfy’s ‘Heroes of Cosplay’ Is Ruining Cosplay.” Nerdbastards.com, 21 August. 2013. Web.

Kondolojy Amanda L. “Playing Dress Up for Adults The Story of Cosplay” Cheat Code Central, n.d. Web.

Morgan, Maybelle. Daily Mail. Associated Newspapers, 27 Jul 2015. Web.

Mexican, Darth. “Cosplay Crisis: Scammed And Left In Another Country.” The Geek Lyfe. GhostPool.com 14 July 2015. Web.

Raymond, Adam K. “75 years of Capes and Face Paints A History of Cosplay.” Yahoo!, 24 July 2015. Web.

Romano, Andrea. Mashable. “Cosplay isn’t consent: The folks fighting sexual assault at Comic-Con.” N.p., 15 Oct. 2014. Web.

White, Kaila. “Two Metro Phoenix Women Make Cosplay a Career.” Azcentral. N.p., 4 June 2014. Web.

The image featured in the feature was created and taken by Florea Flavia.

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