Cosplay has been around for a lot longer than you might think.
Whether you dabble in cosplay for special events, or you live and breathe the cosplay lifestyle, one thing is for sure: the cosplay scene is big and it’s here to stay. Embodying favorite characters is a pastime that many of us just can’t get enough of. Hours are spent meticulously crafting costumes and perfecting impressions to prepare for performances. It’s easy to see why cosplay is more than just a hobby. It’s a way of fully immersing yourself in a character, taking on their strengths and learning more about your own self in the process.
With cosplay now fully accepted as a subculture in its own right and fans around the globe regularly converging for comic cons, it seems as though cosplay is has morphed from “dressing up” into a representation of our inner selves. Anyone who is drawn to cosplay, from beginners to seasoned pros, relishes the challenge of recreating themselves as their favourite character, but how did this incredible phenomenon start?
Futuristicostume is born
Although cosplay looks like a modern trend, it actually has its origins in “costuming”. This trend started in North America in the 1930s. A man named Forrest J. Ackerman attended a sci-fi convention in his “futuristicostume”, much to the delight of fellow attendees. They had not thought to put a costume on for the event. His actions sparked a trend for wearing costumes to conventions. Before long, the events started to resemble the comic cons that we see today. Prizes were awarded for the best “masquerade” and a long-standing tradition was born.
The trend continued throughout the 1960s. Fans were dressing up as (and role-playing) their favorite science fiction and fantasy characters, such as characters from Star Trek and Batman. This movement is thought to have influenced Japanese anime and manga fans to dress as their own characters, though there is some debate about who first influenced who.
Takahashi coins costume play
There is also some speculation that cosplay officially originated in 1984. The founder and writer of anime publishing company Studio Hard, Takahashi Nobuyuki (known in the United States as Nov Takahashi), attended the World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles. The sci-fi convention had a kaleidoscope of costumed science fiction and fantasy fans in attendance. Some of them competed in the event’s masquerade with elaborate outfits.
Takahashi was most impressed with their efforts and wrote a piece on the convention when he returned to Japan. However, when it came to the write-up, he was unable to use the word masquerade. The word masquerade, translated into Japanese, means “an aristocratic costume party”, which was not quite the essence of convention costumes. In its place, he created the phrase “costume play”. Takahashi shortened this to “cosplay”, or “kospure”. While Japanese manga and anime fans had been dressing up as their favorite characters since the 1970s, they did not have a word to describe it. Thus, Takahashi labelled the subculture and gave it its pop culture lexicon.
Manga takes it skyward
After 1984, it is fair to say that the Japanese and American cosplay cultures directly influenced each other. Before then, comics and sci-fi had served as the main source material for western cosplay. However, manga brought a whole new angle and launched cosplay into the stratosphere. Whereas comics and sci-fi were aimed at a niche audience, manga targets all demographics. Emulating a character was not just limited to a young, sci-fi audience. Anyone could do it.
Fame and fortune
The dawn of the internet age brought video tutorials, online communities, and social media. This also gave cosplayers an opportunity to create a career out of cosplay by becoming a cosplay celebrity. Fans of the world’s most popular cosplayers are known to wait for hours to catch a glimpse of their favourite icons such as Spiral Cats and Yaya Han. These cosplayers have carved a lifestyle out of creating groundbreaking costumes. If you are hoping to follow the same path as these megastars, it’s worth remembering that cosplay is all about the passion rather than the paycheck. Whilst this unusual career choice might not increase the odds of you becoming rich, it could certainly propel you into cosplay stardom. This can lead to all kinds of opportunities.
For example, Linda Le, Alodia, and Sarrosa have been cosplaying since their teens. They have become well-respected members of the cosplaying elite. Alodia now has many endorsement deals, including health and beauty products, toy and video game companies, and even a clothing line. Her Facebook page boasts over 4.5 million followers, and she has appeared on the cover of magazines and in documentaries about comic cons.
Over the years, cosplay has evolved from masquerading into an art form in its own right. What was once the pastime of sci-fi and manga fans, is now the career option for cosplayers around the world. As artistic expression continues to evolve, we wonder where cosplay will be in another hundred years.