Playing Dress-Up for Adults: The History of Cosplay

Playing Dress-Up for Adults: The History of Cosplay



When you first hear the term "cosplay," it sounds like either a math term or some sort of disease. Fortunately, it is neither. This fan-inspired term describes the practice of video game, anime, fantasy, and sci-fi fans dressing up as their favorite characters. Sure, there are varying degrees of cosplay, and live-action roleplaying (commonly known as LARP) is optional, but if you've ever donned a brightly-colored wig, or shredded a perfectly good piece of clothing in the name of a beloved character, you've participated in this fan tradition.

Though the exact origins of cosplaying aren't known specifically, the phenomenon began in earnest during the 1970s and 80s in Japan. During this period, the anime media form started gaining serious traction in Japan, and series like Gundam, Future Boy Conan, and Space Battle Yamato captured public imagination like never before. Small fan gatherings began springing up, and participants would show their appreciation for their favorite shows by dressing in clothes that resembled their favorite characters. Places like Akihabara became hubs of fan culture, and industrious young people would create home-made costumes to emulate their favorite characters in "ordinary" life.

Playing Dress-Up for Adults: The History of Cosplay

Meanwhile, in Japan, cosplaying started to take on a serious role in pop-culture. Special "cosplay districts" started popping up in cities like Akihabara and Tokyo and cafes that catered to fans of all persuasions started to become big business. Walking down the street in costume became widely accepted (and even expected) in these special areas, and some "elite" cosplayers even make a living out of dressing up in high-quality costumes and charging money for pictures with fans and tourists.

Though cosplaying in the western world hasn't taken on a mainstream following like it has in Japan, it has taken on some interesting forms over the years, and fans find ways to dress up for occasions even outside the convention circuit. One of the biggest events of mass cosplay in the Western world occurred on July 21, 2007-- the release date for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. For the first time, major bookstores encouraged fans to show up in costume to pick up the book at midnight. And fans came out in droves, not only in the US, but in Europe as well to celebrate the release of the ultimate novel in the fantasy series. A combination of massive fan interest in the event, and simple costuming ideas made this an event that will surely be remembered in cosplay history.

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Though another mass event like this one hasn't occurred since 2007, cosplay has become increasingly integrated in fan and convention culture. Walking through the halls of Wonder-Con, Anime Expo, Otakon, or Comic-Con, you can't help but see how far the world of cosplay has come from its early days. It's not unusual to see Spock chatting with Cloud and Solid Snake, or Naruto grabbing some coffee with a Dalek and Princess Leia. Cosplaying has become a part of modern "fan" culture, and no matter what kind of fan you are, chances are good that your next fan convention will have a larger infusion of cosplayers than it did last year.

Playing Dress-Up for Adults: The History of Cosplay

And as much as cosplaying is about the fan experience, it is also about community. Strangers often get together for "sew parties" where frequent cosplayers can work on their outfits together and share construction tips and strategies. And in a world where nearly everyone is on Facebook, finding a cosplay community near you isn't exactly difficult.

Playing Dress-Up for Adults: The History of Cosplay

So what exactly is it about cosplay that inspires this type of teamwork and widespread community? There's no real answer to that, but I would wager that it is the shared experience of loved fiction. No matter whether you are a video game, anime, fantasy, or science fiction fan, celebrating fiction with friends and expressing yourself with outrageous outfits is something that can't be duplicated. Sure, cosplayers seem obsessed to the outside world, but who says that's a bad thing? After all, we've been doing it for nearly fifty years, and cosplay culture seems unlikely to slow down any time soon!

By Amanda L. Kondolojy
CCC Senior Contributing Writer

*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*

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