Cosplay Isn’t Just Dress-Up

Like all aspects of the geek universe, cosplay is gaining popularity. I first heard about it from Thing1 who absolutely wants to be a part of it. For that reason, I looked into it and, personally, find cosplay fascinating.

Female Klingon Warrior Cosplayer and I at 2012 ConCarolinas

Female Klingon Cosplayer and I at 2012 ConCarolinas

First, I apologize for the fact these aren’t the best cosplay photos. Due to image rights, I’m hesitant to post anything that isn’t mine or clearly Creative Commons or equivalent. To see some photos of incredible costumes, just do a Google image search of “cosplay.”

Ghostbuster at 2012 ConCarolinasWhat Is Cosplay?

Cosplay comes from combining the words “costume” and “play.” People dress as favorite characters from comics, manga, anime, video games, TV and film with an emphasis on detail and authenticity and go out in public, usually to conventions, to show off their creations.

This is different from dressing up for Halloween. There’s an element of staying in character and interacting with the public that strikes me as a form of acting. For periods of time, cosplayers become the character. Some have called it performance art.

There’s a definite Japanese influence. The term “cosplay” is believed to be coined by a gentleman working for a Japanese studio who attended Worldcon in Los Angeles in 1984, was very impressed by the costuming, etc., and reported on it in magazines back home. From what I could learn, cosplay started in the West, but the Japanese and others in the East really ran with it, and now, it’s huge in the West. Apparently, due to cultural differences, cosplay in Japan, etc. has different rules. This forum thread has some very good info on cosplay in Japan, if you’re interested.

Rico Shen [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.5-tw (], via Wikimedia Commons

Why Do People Cosplay?

Many reasons exist, but here are some of the main ones:

1. Expression of love – Dressing as a favorite character shows love for that character and the comic, movie, video game, etc. it comes from.

2. Community – Lets face it, geeks often grow up being ostracized and bullied for their love of scifi and fantasy and the media that showcase it. Mixing with like-minded people who “get” it and have the same interests is comforting and relaxing. Cosplaying provides a sense of belonging that many have found nowhere else.

3. Self-Confidence –  Normally shy and quiet individuals bloom when they don a costume and become a character. They gain more confidence in themselves that may eventually spill over into real life.


Original Hand-Crafted Leather Costumes ConCarolinas 2012

4. Technical Challenge/Creativity – Anyone can buy a costume off a rack, but many cosplayers build their own. The amount of creativity and variety of skills needed to choose, plan out, and fabricate a character costume are staggering. Depending on level of ability and type of costume, cosplaying requires a working knowledge of drawing, designing, organizing, sewing, mold-making, welding, and mechanical, electrical, and pneumatic equipment and more. I can definitely see this as an art form, with cosplayers perfecting their skills and techniques over time to create gorgeous costumes.

5. It’s A Hobby – Other people may see cosplay as strange or weird, but it’s a hobby like any other. Consider the amount of time and money sports enthusiasts spend going to games, dissecting them, and collecting memorabilia. What about collectors of everything from toys to antiques to cars? Or people who love to garden or woodwork or knit? How is cosplay any different? In fact, cosplaying at a convention is said to be like the prom or the Super Bowl to others.

6. Attention –  For those whose interests lie in the geek spectrum, this is the ultimate attention getter. It’s a way to show off all the hard work and love that goes into creating these awesome costumes.


I’ll say this right now and get it out of the way – yes, some of the costumes are skimpy and skin-tight. However, this isn’t an invitation to speak or act inappropriately to cosplayers. Sexual harrassment at conventions and in the SF/F culture in general is a sad fact and a matter for much discussion. This is a dark aspect to cosplay but I believe the community is working hard to change it.

Cosplay Becoming Mainstream?

A new reality show, Heroes of Cosplay, currently airs on SyFy. It features several cosplayers as they create their costumes and enter competitions at conventions. To give you a little taste, here’s a trailer:

In theory, the show spotlights an interesting and colorful subculture and explains it better to those unfamiliar with it. However, many in the cosplay community are upset and feel it doesn’t portray them in a good light or shows only one segment of a diverse group. I found this article from a cosplayer particularly insightful about this situation.

As someone who loves the geek culture and the fantasy that cosplay brings to reality, I like it. Yes, I understand that any reality show is heavily edited to show only the interesting stuff. What those in charge of the show consider interesting is different from what I find interesting. Not surprising. I don’t watch a lot of reality TV because I don’t have patience with the drama. I get enough of that in real life, thank you very much. For me, the show is cool eye candy interrupted by annoying moments.

I’d like to see more of how the cosplayers fabricate their costumes. I’d like to see more than one male participant. My hope is the show will favorably expose people to cosplay who wouldn’t otherwise know about it. If the #HeroesOfCosplay Twitter feed is to be believed, apparently it already has.

BTW, two of the featured cosplayers on the show are Holly Conrad and Jessica Merizan who have a Youtube show, Try This At Home! with Crabcat Industries on the Nerdist Channel. The two most recent videos show how to make a mold and then a cast of the mold. Good stuff – check it out!

What do you think of cosplay? Have you watched the show Heroes of Cosplay and if so, what was your opinion?

Image sources: Rico Shen, Piotrus


7 comments on “Cosplay Isn’t Just Dress-Up

  1. dbalekseev says:

    Cosplay is fascinating! Thanks for the link to the SyFy show. Dd and I are huge Doctor Who fans and love seeing interpretations of those characters.


  2. thepencilneck says:

    I love cosplay. It’s amazing what some of these people can do.


  3. I’m fascinated by the time, energy and planning that goes into these costumes. When I went to DragonCon in 2012 I was just floored and overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of cosplayers and their ingenuity. Cosplay is a lot of fun even if you’re just a spectator.

    However it was not so fun the later it got and the skimpier the costumes. I did see some during the day that were wildly inappropriate but it was worse at night. I had my granddaughter with me and I didn’t appreciate it.

    One of the crowd from Magical Words was there at the same time and said that wearing a set of cards (or something like that) to cover private areas is not cosplay. She’s right. I didn’t see the lady with cards but saw one, during the day, wearing nothing but vines. Kids were everywhere.

    There’s a lot of debate about what is appropriate and what’s not at these events. There should be a dress code and steps to complain if someone’s flashing improper body parts. I think I have the right to go to to these events and not worry if I or my grandchild are going to be flashed.

    The Cons have to do a balancing act, I get that, but I do think they need to decide if they’re family oriented or adults oriented and then make it clear to their attendees their status. If they want to do both then there should be clear rules for what is acceptable or not and have different areas,and times for the different groups.

    I was told afterward that everyone knows the later it gets the worse it is. Really? Where was that in all the material DragonCon sent me? Nowhere that’s where. It would have been nice to have a warning at least.

    Don’t get me wrong, I loved DragonCon. It was a wonderful experience and I wouldn’t mind going back at all but there is a darker aspect to going to cons and in my opinion this is one of them, especially if you have small children. It’s just too easy to go from daring and cutting edge to dear God, did I just see that?


    • E.K. Carmel says:

      My daughter has shown me plenty of photos and videos of cosplayers from a variety of cons and they do run the gamut. I wouldn’t expect anything different from the big cons like DragonCon, etc. That being said, that sounds like an uncomfortable experience to be confronted by all that with young family members. That’s kind of why I wanted my kids’ first experience with it to be ConCarolinas which is smaller and bills itself as a family con, or it did, the last time I looked.

      Thanks, Angela, for describing your experience. The way things are going, if enough people complain, the big cons may have to make some decisions on how much skin, etc., is allowed at particular times or in specific areas.


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