The Cosplay Experience: A Closer Look at the Vibrant Subculture

To some, cosplaying is just a hobby. Cosplaying can be a hobby for some, but for others, it is also a way of living. No matter if you’ve been involved in cosplay or not, cosplay is a common thing in our society. Costumes take lots of time and labor to construct and allow people to participate in events that let them embody their favorite characters. For the uninitiated cosplay can be described as dressing up as a witch for Halloween. For those who are skilled in the art of cosplay, it transcends dressing up. It’s about completely being the character you are portraying and performing for thousands of spectators.

What was the origin of this phenomenon? When did cosplay grow from being dress-up for adults into something that is now accepted as a subculture and an expression of one’s fandom?

The History of Cosplay

The term “costuming” was first coined to describe it., cosplay began in the 1930s, in North America. It wasn’t required that people mimic a person’s appearance in the past. They just needed to wear the appropriate costume for the genre. Forrest J. Ackerman was the first person to wear his futuristic outfit to a sci-fi event. His costume was distinctive and he was the first to be a part of a convention in it. In the following years conventions evolved into masquerade balls, and prizes were given to those who wore the costume with the most appealing.

In Japan, the manga series, Urusei Yatsura as well as the TV series, Mobile Suit Gundam was instrumental in launching the movement, and a wave of Japanese college students eagerly dressed as their favorite characters for conventions. Fans would imitate their most loved scenes from North America and reenact them, adding to the fun.

It wasn’t until 1984 that the word “cosplay was coined, which combines the words ‘costume’ and “play”. This was coined by the Japanese reporter, Nobuyuki Takahashi after he went to Worldcon in Los Angeles. When he translated the word masquerade to the Japanese public, he believed that the word sounded ‘too outdated’ and suggested “cosplay” to describe the concept. Fast forward to the present and cosplay has become a subculture of its own. It’s not uncommon to see costumed people at conventions in North America. Cosplay has been able to expand beyond sci-fi and anime to include other genres such as superheroes, cartoon characters, and video game characters. Cosplay is part of Japanese pop culture, particularly in places like Shibuya and Harajuku. Cosplayers dress in costumes every day, making it common to see people who stand out from the crowd.

Maid cafes have become extremely popular in which waitresses dress up as a maid and serves their ‘master’ (aka the customer). This type of roleplaying might be unorthodox to some, which leads us to ask why cosplayers choose to do it.

The reasons people take part

Cosplay comes with many advantages. Similar to how fun it is to dress up as a different person during Halloween, cosplayers love changing themselves into characters. In the BuzzFeedYellow video, “Why I cosplay” two cosplayers discuss how acting as someone else helps them gain strength because it helps with their confidence. One cosplayer tells us, “Cosplay allows me to take on the roles of these characters.” I could live vicariously with the coolness of these characters.” Because cosplay is focused on the resemblance to the character, consideration is put into high-quality costumes and authentic role-playing. In a way, cosplaying can be described as acting, as the participants have to get into character and behave like them once they wear their costumes.

In this subculture, there is also a strong sense of community. If one is into sewing models, photography, or sewing Fans can communicate with other people part of the same group of fans. It’s fun to see people cosplay the same characters or even from the same series. It’s a sense of solidarity. Photos of the group are taken and ‘fan service’ is conducted to get spectators thrilled. There are occasions when cosplayers gather for other events other apart from conventions. Cosplayers who like to make costumes can attend sewing parties and share tips with other cosplayers. There are also cosplay party events and beach parties that are hosted by enthusiasts who allow cosplayers the chance to wear costumes in different locations.

In the end, what cosplayers have in common is that they all go into the hobby because they enjoy it. While it requires patience and effort, the rewards are great. In the end, no one has the time to make a costume just to begrudgingly put it on when it’s done. It’s a chance to show off an individual fandom, and it can be mastered by anyone willing to learn.


Although many cosplayers are in it for fun, some people are in it to earn money. Jessica Nigri, a cosplayer, and a celebrity, became famous after her ‘Sexy Pikachu’ costume went online. She has been a model for cosplay since then for many characters, including Connor Kenway in Assassin’s creed III, Vivienne Squall in KILLER IS DEAD, and the female Captain Edward Kenway in Assassin’s creed IV: Black Flag. There are Facebook fan pages for her Tumblrs, a subreddit, and Tumblrs for her. Her fandom has grown exponentially. Jessica also sells signed posters of herself and gets paid to create costumes for video games that come out.

In addition to Jessica Nigri, there are cosplayers too who charge money for the photos that are taken. While monetization is beneficial to those involved in the craft, it also creates complications. Angelia Bermudez, a Costa Rican cosplayer, ended up in a foreign nation because of fraud. Although she was told that the cost of her hotel and flights would be covered, she realized that she was scammed when the person in charge of her hotel was detained. The woman was unable to travel back home due to the generosity of her kind-hearted friends.

This is the risk professional cosplayers take on and it’s unfortunate that those who put hard efforts into their craft are ignored or disregarded. But what is it that makes a professional cosplayer professional in their field? What are the costume choices or how they’re modeled? What’s the most important thing in making cosplay “good”?

What is the best way to create great cosplay?

On August 2015, Buzzfeed’s Try Guys launched a four-part series looking at the subject of cosplay. The series allowed viewers of the Try Guys to see how many hours are required to create costumes for a convention. It was a puzzle to them how a single costume could take 700 hours. This leads to others contemplating the various factors involved in good cosplay.

1. Attention to the Details

When preparing for a cosplay event, it is essential to think ahead and take one’s time in putting together the costume. While they might not be able to tell the distinction between wigs and fabric but they will know when the costume isn’t properly made. Affectionate fans will also spot any missing parts (such as wristbands) and therefore, multiple pictures are essential before you create the costume. The most important factor is how the costume fits. Customers should ensure that the costume fits properly regardless of whether they’re the same size as the person they are portraying.

Cosplay is about how you look. Makeup can be used to enhance the appearance, particularly if a character has special features like whiskers, elf ears, and so on. For example, Naruto in sage mode has red and orange pigmentation around his eyes. So this is an aspect that cosplayers should pay attention to should they decide to play in Naruto’s Sage mode.

2. Creativity

So long as the character is identified, fans can enjoy creative choices in their costumes. One of the most popular ways to alter a character’s design is to do gender swaps. Gender swaps alter the gender of the character and alter the outfit accordingly. The Try Guys, for example, decided to gender swap with a male version of the Sailor Scouts.

Another option is to alter the costume to fit a different theme, such as steampunk, Victorian, lolita, and so on. This is a creative way to express your creativity. However, it may be difficult to locate an image of the reference. A lot of modifications could result in confusion among viewers, making it difficult to recognize the character.

3. Confidence

The confidence of a person helps them make a mark among others wearing the same costume. Although it can feel awkward initially for cosplayers, the way they pose and interact with others can affect the overall experience. Confidence can grow when the person is willing to be seen in public. Kristen Lanae is a cosplayer and an example of a shy woman who credits cosplay with giving her confidence. In an interview with Daily Mail, she says, “I have always been extremely shy and quiet However, when I’m dressed in costumes, I am a riot. I’d say it’s due to the good reactions that I receive while wearing costumes.”

For those who are looking to cosplay, there is a lot of support available. People can take photos of their progress and request advice on how to construct the perfect piece of clothing. Some fans encourage other cosplayers and comment on their social media accounts to applaud their efforts. Like any art form, there are always dangers. Others may not be able to appreciate your work or might find it confusing. Since cosplay is a form of physical art, there are more risks than the possibility of people not knowing the cosplayer’s costume.

Cosplay The Risques

1. Sexual Harassment

Certain characters are designed to be provocative, and they may be dressed in high school uniforms or spandex bodysuits. Fans can forget there are people inside these costumes and get caught up in fantasies of their favorite character. Costumed characters are often the subject of sexual assault, and that’s why there have been many instances of it. Some women have been sexually harassed and men have been put down for not wearing a particular costume. Thus, organizers are bringing attention to the issue by implementing anti-harassment policies. At New York Comic Con, you will see a sign that reads ‘Cosplay Is Not Consent and that all deserve to be treated with respect.

Be aware that cosplaying as a character is not an invitation for lewd comments or sexual harassment. It is best to practice it freely without the participants worried about the possibility of sexual harassment.

2. Judgment

As previously stated some people are enthralled about what a character ought to appear in real-life. Cosplayers who do not look like the character are often judged. This is a wrong method to practice in this art form. Different sizes and shapes can be created. The people who play the role should not be judged for not fitting the role’s body. Yaya Han is a well-known cosplayer that accepts all kinds of cosplaying bodies.

Everyone can have a good time playing cosplay. There are many benefits to cosplay, even though there are negative aspects. The public should not be dissuaded from cosplaying their favorite character. Cosplaying is an excellent way to make friends as well as play a new part. It’s an opportunity to represent one’s fandom and to meet others with the same hobbies. It’s rare to get to see Naruto and Superman eating 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 can be considered an art form since it allows individuals to express their creativity by transforming into different characters. And just like all art forms, cosplay starts with the desire to create, and then transforms into something tangible once the person decides to make it a reality.

Works Cited

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

BuzzFeedVideo. Video clip from online. Youtube, 2 Aug 2015. Web.

BuzzFeedYellow. “Why I Cosplay.” Video clip online. Youtube, 9 September 2014. Web.

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

Gallagher, Luke. Gallagher Luke. Web.

Kondolojy, Amanda L. “Playing Dress-Up for Adults The History of Cosplay – Cheat Code Central.” 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. 14 July 2015. Web.

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

Romano, Andrea. “Cosplay Isn’t Consent The People Fight Sexual Harassment at Comic-Con.” Mashable. N.p., 15 Oct. 2014. Web.

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

Featured image was taken by Florea Flavia.

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