Cosplay costumes are far more than a simple game of dress up or make-believe: since the mid-1980s, they have been an intricate and elaborate hobby that thousands of adults enjoy.
What Is Cosplay?
Cosplay is a contraction of the words "costume" and "play," but it is actually much more than just those two words. Cosplay is an intricate hobby involving highly detailed costumes modeled after specific characters. Unlike basic costumes, however, cosplay attire is specialized with deep details that can't be found from most mainstream retailers.
Cosplay costumes are only the first part of the cosplay hobby, however. Cosplayers are often involved in conventions, role-playing games, skits, and costume contests related to their costumes. During those events, they may adopt the speech mannerisms, gaits, and other personality traits of their characters to add even more realism to their personas, but the key to great cosplay is first and foremost a great costume.
Types of Cosplay Costumes
Cosplay outfits are made for many different characters and are constructed far differently than most standard costumes. Furthermore, the elaborate details of cosplay designs distinguish them from less realistic costumes.
Cosplay originated in Japan as fans began to imitate anime, manga, and video game characters, but today there are a wide range of highly detailed cosplay costumes. Certain styles are more popular in Europe or North America, while some are almost exclusively found in Asia-it simply depends on regional cultures and what types of characters cosplayers can relate to. The vast majority, however, are science fiction and fantasy characters from well-known television shows, graphic novels, or comic books. Popular cosplay characters include:
- Manga and anime costumes such as Sailor Moon costumes or Pokemon costumes.
- Star Trek and Star Wars costumes
- Lord of the Rings characters
- Harry Potter costumes
- Science fiction movie characters such as individuals from The Matrix trilogy
- Civil War reenactment characters
- Authentic renaissance costumes
Depending on the individuals involved in cosplay, the costumes may be highly authentic, or they may be slightly modified to suit different purposes, such as creating sexy costumes that mimic favorite characters or creating a costume that is easier to wear and move in than one that is purely visually authentic.
Cosplay costumes are constructed far differently than most homemade costumes. Standard costumes are usually designed to be easily worn for trick-or-treating or casual masquerade parties, but cosplay attire is much more elaborate and is typically made for authenticity rather than comfort or convenience. A true cosplayer will get much more enjoyment from his or her costume if it amazes fellow fans because of its detail, regardless of how difficult it may be to wear.
To create an authentic costume, hand-stitching and personal attention to hundreds of details is usually required. Only the finest materials are used: silks, satins, and other realistic fabrics rather than wash-and-wear synthetic blends, along with crystals, sequins, and whatever other embellishments may be required for a particular character. Some cosplay outfits may even have moving parts- fairy wings that actually flap, for example-to add even more life to the costume.
The success of a cosplay design depends on its details. Experienced costume designers pay careful attention to every aspect of a single costume, from its dimensions and colors to how the fabrics may change tints in different lights or when they move. This may involve hours of study for a single character, often reviewing videos, artwork, and drawings from a variety of different angles and action shots. Once a designer has thoroughly studied a character, they will choose the best materials for the design, including even the smallest accents such as:
- Seam alignments
- Proper thread colors
- Crystal embellishments
- Feathers if applicable
- Related accessories (wands, detachable costume pieces, magical objects, etc.)
- Associated makeup
- Hair styles or wigs if necessary
This attention to detail makes these costumes wearable works of art that embody the essence and fun of individual characters.
Where to Buy Costumes
Many eager cosplayers, however, are unable create their own costumes-a single, elaborate outfit may take weeks of patient effort to perfect. It is possible to buy cosplay costumes from experienced designers. While they may lack as many intricate details, cosplayers do have the option of using the purchased costume as a starting point to add their own personal embellishments. Online cosplay retailers include:
Cosplayers who want a fully detailed costume can also seek out individual cosplay artists who can design and construct costumes on commission.
Cosplay costumes are significantly different than traditional Halloween costumes-their elaborate detail is indicative of the detail-oriented lifestyle of cosplayers who enjoy truly becoming their individual characters. With stunning clarity, these costumes truly are fictional characters come to life.