Just your average Saturday afternoon at a mall in California.

Just your average Saturday afternoon at a mall in California.

Cosplay is a lot more than just dressing up. Let’s start with a basic overview of what Cosplay is, where you’ll find it, some history, and some links for those of you who want more information.

Simply put, “cosplay” is dressing up as an identifiable character or object from fandom. It’s a way to promote a character or fandom you like, or even a character that would just be fun to dress up as. Cosplayers are most often found at ComicCons, Anime conventions, and  media specific conventions. You’ll even occasionally find cosplayers dressed up and wandering around town just for the heck of it,  or at cosplay events at comic shops.

Convention attendees have been dressing up, or “cosplaying” since the beginning of the idea of conventions, when it was simply called “dressed up”, or “masquerade”.  Rob Hansen’s extensive online science fiction history archive features articles that include photos (warning, some may be NSFW) of masquerade and cosplay at Conventions going back to 1939. The only thing that’s changed over the years is the type of camera used to take the pictures.


The term Cosplay gained popularity in the 1980s in Japan, where it was a shortening of the longer term “costume-play”.   For a long time the term was applied only to people dressing as characters from anime or Japanese video games, but  these days, if you’re dressed up as any identifiable character from any video game, tv show, movie, comic book, or novel, you’re cosplaying.

Personally, I give huge thanks to the recent popularity of ComicCons and Marvel and DC Comics character movies that have come out in the last 10 years for making cosplay more popular. Some characters are so popular that many conventions will do specific photo ops of all the Princess Leias, or all the Spidermans, or all the TARDISes, or all the Master Chiefs from Halo, bringing to mind that scene in Galaxy Quest where Sigourney Weaver’s character, Gwen DeMarco, does a photo op with everyone at the convention who is dressed up as her.

Wonder Woman at a comic shop in Grand Rapids, MI

Wonder Woman at a comic shop in Grand Rapids, MI

In my opinion, the best thing about Cosplay is that take it you can as far as you want to.  There are plenty of places online to purchase a costume, or you can make it from scratch.  You can dye and style your hair like the character, or buy a wig (or as one cosplayer once told me, cosplay a character where the costume completely covers your head so you don’t have to worry about your hair). You can carry around props or fake weapons that the character would use, you can even  add an element of live action role playing, by spouting lines the character would say and using their verbal mannerisms. Wanna mash it up? Go for it!  How about steampunk Boba Fett or a zombie Princess Peach?  You can even Cosplay non-human characters,  an inanimate object from fandom, or just imitate the cover art of a book. Different interpretations of Twilight Sparkle and other My Little Pony characters have become increasingly popular, as has unlimited interpretations of the TARDIS.

My first experience cosplaying was both terrifying and unbelievable liberating. I dressed as Holo from Spice and Wolf.  My shirt was 4 sizes too big and the wrong color. My wolf ears were the wrong shape.  No one had any idea who I was. I didn’t know how to pose for photos (an art-form unto itself).  I felt a little silly during those first few hours. What was I supposed to do? How was I supposed to act?

By the end of the day, I still didn’t know what I was supposed to do, but I had fallen in love with Cosplay.

TARDIS Cosplay at ConFusion 2012. Look closely for a tiny Doctor Who.

TARDIS Cosplay at ConFusion 2012. Look closely for a tiny Doctor Who.

The shirt was still way too big and the wrong color.  My wolf ears were still the wrong shape. And LARPing? Forgetaboutit.   But I’d had my first taste of Cosplay and knew I wanted more.   Will I be remaking that hideous bubblegum pink shirt so it’s the right shade of lavender and actually fits me? Eventually. Will I get the right set of ears? For sure. Will I be brave enough to enter into an Anime Con costume contest? ehh….. probably not.   Have I got another cosplay project in the works? You bet I do!

Interested in Cosplay but don’t know where to start?  For inspiration (and squee-worthy drooling), check out these amazing videos taken at Comic Cons and Anime Cons.  For discussion forums,  tips on making bizarre props, photography advice, wig suggestions, and other costuming questions and discussions, check out Cosplay.com, one of the largest and friendliest online cosplay communities.  Not headed to a huge ComicCon anytime soon? Not to worry, plenty of regional science fiction conventions play host to cosplayers and cosplay panels and discussions. Keep your eyes and ears open!

Let’s end this article with a few questions:

  • Have you ever Cosplayed?  If yes, what character?
  • If you haven’t, is this something you would ever do?

And as always, here’s a few upcoming Conventions!

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