Costuming for Everyone: Cosplay

RIT Cosplay Troupe WVGHOF Celebration Weekend 2019 at The Strong, National Museum of Play, Rochester, New York.

Imagine being able to dress up for more days than just Halloween. You could opt for a Renaissance faire, but if your character of choice is a superhero, Jedi, or video game villain, cosplay is a better option. With cosplay comes conventions, school clubs, events, library programming, and just the idea of having fun with those who share a similar hobby as you!

Nowadays you can visit your local fabric or craft store and see items advertised specifically for cosplayers, such as high-end costuming fabrics, EVA foam for armor, worbla, or clay foam. If you’re an avid video gaming fan, you may have noticed that when companies announce new games, they often post a cosplay guide of characters from the game. These guides are for those fans who are brave enough to tackle the characters’ designs and want all the inside details. As the hobby and activity of cosplaying spreads more widely into American pop culture, I thought it would be helpful to provide a few pointers on this particular version of play.

The word cosplay combines the words costume and play, referring to the hobby of wearing a costume of a character from media. The costume could be based on a book, video game, movie, cartoon, anime… really it could be anything! And it isn’t limited to characters. Actually, I have seen cosplays of everything from trending internet memes, to human versions of Pokémon (the term for this typically is gijinka), to someone who made a costume representing the concept of a session of playing Dungeons & Dragons. People create their own designs, adding more details or creating a design for a character as if they lived in an alternate universe outside of the plot the character is from. The creativity is endless when it comes to cosplay.

With this creativity comes the ability to drive your imagination while learning useful life skills. Some of these skills include sewing, critical thinking (as you tackle each piece of the costume), makeup, and hair styling. Cosplayers can also learn time management in the course of working diligently for days to finish a project before the big convention. A cosplayer, in a sense, can embody the actor, costume designer, makeup artist, director, and prop maker for the play that occurs when enjoying time in the costume among their fellow devotees.

While some cosplayers buy their costumes, some make theirs, some make parts and buy or commission others. The skill levels range a widely, but all are cosplay. While competitions exist, cosplay remains about having fun and wearing a masterpiece that you want to show to others. And even if you are cosplaying the same character as another person, no two cosplays are the same, which makes it fun to see how others tackled the challenges you faced in your own creation.

So when you see cosplayers, whether online or in person, remember that what people are wearing is more than just a costume—it’s a combination of creativity, imagination, and hard work funneled into the fun hobby that is cosplay!

Article by Lindsey Barnick, Cataloger, The Strong National Museum of Play

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