Cosplay, or “costume play,” is an odd concept to many people. Thousands of people, walking around in costume, possibly even acting as a particular character on a day that isn’t Halloween just seems strange to many. So why do people dress up and take on the persona of a character and go to conventions?

Photo by Tom Johnson
Photo by Tom Johnson

“It’s fun,” was the resounding response when this question was posed to cosplayers at Comic Con, which took place Oct. 10-13.

That weekend, Comic Con attendees flooded the streets of midtown Manhattan, the costumed people confusing many unaware of the event.

“What is going on today,” is the question many cosplayers are asked in their travels to and from the Javits Center, where the convention took place. The simple answer is to explain Comic Con, and that people often wear costumes while attending the convention, but what really is going on with the people who dress up as various characters? Why do they put on costumes to go to a comic book convention?

The answer is not particularly simple and would be difficult to describe to a passerby. I too am a cosplayer, and honestly, at first I did not know why. I know I love Halloween and dressing up for Halloween, but what drives someone to go a step further and create intricate costumes that take weeks to months to complete? Is “it’s fun” reason enough? For those who only have that reason, it can be enough, but it is also a chance to step out of your own skin for a time, similar to reading a book or comic, watching a movie, or playing a video game. Adorning the costume and demeanor of the character allows the cosplayer to step into that world in a sense, creating an extension of the fictional worlds that the cosplayer loves.

At the root of the act, stepping into a costume is not much different than adorning formal wear to go to a party and assuming the related cultural customs and manners related to that setting. In the world of fashion, costume is integrally related to clothes, especially formal wear.

These costumes are meant to allow a person to assume a role among society on the social hierarchy. Cosplayers do the same, wearing their costume not just to occasionally act as their character for amusement of themselves and others, but as a badge showing their passion for a particular character and work. They maintain their own place within the social group that attends conventions like Comic Con.

The cosplay phenomenon is rich with creativity. Many cosplayers make their costumes themselves, and this earns them a certain amount of respect in the community. Recently, a show on the SyFy channel created a show, Celebrity Cosplay, which documented some of these cosplayers that have risen to a kind of fame within the cosplay culture.

Photo by Tom Johnson
Photo by Tom Johnson

It should be noted that cosplay culture is separate though related to geek culture. The lines are blurred, but cosplay culture focuses more on the costuming and the ability to create costumes, and the stars of  Celebrity Cosplay are considered to be a kind of upper class among the culture. There are many issues with the show raised by cosplayers, but those issues aside, it does provide a powerful example of how quality costuming is as valued within this society as the fashions and designers in vouge are valued.

It can easily be forgotten by the competitive that these costumes are just play, but at the end of the convention, the true fun of cosplaying is spending time with friends, both old and new, and having fun in your costumes. Aside from all the competitions, it isn’t uncommon to see groups of cosplayers traveling together en route to karaoke or after-con bar crawls. Random spurts of acting as these characters spice up the experience as Inuyasha and Kagome sing a love song in front of a room full of people, with other cosplayers and con-goers cheering them on and waiting for their songs to start playing.

I was able to, in addition to my yearly tradition of after-con Karaoke, also attend a Super Smash Bros. themed rave that Friday at a venue temporarily dubbed “Bowser’s Keep”. The rave was filled with the typical rave fare–flashing lights, loud electronic music, laser lights, glow sticks, and LED tipped gloves, but this time many of the ravers were dressed in costume. Deadpool, Link, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn were popular costumes. Keeping with the spirit of raves there was even a man dressed as Dante from the video game Devil May Cry with “free hugs and kisses” written on his chest. Not all of these people were attending Comic Con, but were ravers taking the opportunity to cosplay. Costumes created another platform to draw and approach other people to make new friends.

This is the core of cosplay. Having fun, making friends, and sharing a passion for similar interests among people who might never otherwise meet.

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