What is cosplay, and why do people love it?
You may be forgiven for thinking that someone doing cosplay is just getting dressed up for the day - but it’s so much more than that.
Cosplay, for those who aren’t familiar with it, involves dressing up as a character, often from video games or comics. But there’s a key difference to your standard dress-up in the word itself: you also actually play that character.
Lauren Orsini, an author and fan culture expert, explained that “cosplayers don't simply dress up as a character, they take efforts to become that character”. This can be through poses, catch phrases, and even interactions with other cosplayers. The end result is “an immersive experience, like the character is really there”.
It also inspires a huge sense of community for some people. We spoke to some cosplayers at the EGX convention in London to see what it meant to them.
The word cosplay is a Japanese creation, but the activity itself actually comes from America, Lauren explained.
“In 1939, Myrtle R. Jones made sci-fi costumes for herself and her boyfriend Forrest J. Ackerman to wear at the very first WorldCon in New York City. They wore clothes inspired by the 1936 sci-fi feature Things to Come, and appeared to be time-travelers to the event. Since then, more and more fans have been dressing up and acting the part at geeky gatherings.
“This became more and more established in America and then, in 1984, magazine writer Nobuyuki Takahashi observed the trend while at Los Angeles's World Science Fiction Convention. He was struggling for a word to describe it to his Japanese audience. He settled on cosplay, written in katakana as コスプレ, a portmanteau of the English words 'costume' and 'play' in order to describe the mix of dressing up and acting the part.”
Cosplay isn’t just something people do as a hobby - it can for some also be a very lucrative career path. Lauren says that pro cosplayers will spend “weeks or months” making costumes completely by hand.
To be a professional cosplayer, you can be hired for events, develop your own line of materials and outfits, or teach people how to make their own props. However, it’s not easy. Lauren says the key is that you “constantly have to hustle and get their cosplay in front of the right employers, because as you might expect, a LOT of people would like to do this for a living!”