Almost everyone enjoys dressing up. Whether it’s a guy in a tuxedo having a James Bond moment in front of a mirror or a woman trying on a gorgeous outfit that brings out her inner Jessica Rabbit, most of us have used clothes to transform into something that we normally aren’t. For cosplayers however, the clothing they choose to wrap themselves in is sometimes out of this world.
People have been dressing up in costumes throughout recorded history and the concept of cosplay has been around for decades. Some of the earliest examples of it can be traced back to the Star Trek and Star Wars conventions where fans would dress up as their favorite characters from each franchise. Today, the costumes cosplayers wear reflect characters or objects from all aspects of pop culture. Video games, film, television, comic books and Anime are well represented at conventions and other cosplay events. Several of the costumes are homemade but there is a growing sophistication to a large number of the outfits. Several companies have sprung up to provide cosplayers with the necessary materials to achieve the right look for their costumes.
Abby Shot is a company that sells Dr Who inspired coats and scarves for some of the different incarnations of the famous Time Lord. Their slogan, “Transforming geeks into heroes one coat at a time” says it all. Queen of Hearts Costumes provides customers with a wide array of wigs in all styles and colours, ideal for the Anime fan trying to get his/her character’s hair just right. There are also options for cosplayers when the costume elements for a particular character are a little challenging to put together. At Fan Expo I ran into Judge Brown inspired by the 2012 Judge Dredd movie. His costume was a perfect representation of the one Karl Urban wore in the film. Judge Brown, real name Davin Brown, informed me that he had help getting a cast made for the helmet from a company online and searched for the visor himself. The leather for his outfit was acquired online through a company called Leather Next.
Not all costumes are off the rack however. For anyone wanting to get into a Storm Trooper or Boba Fett outfit, buying the materials is just the tip of the ice berg. Once you acquire the plastic molds, it’s up to the individual to paint and customize it. A lot of research needs to be done to create a worn look on the Storm Trooper or Madalorian armor, but there are also online forums available with helpful tips.
Kay Pike from KayPike.com has been, in her words “cosplaying forever”. She used to dress up on her own for the social aspect of it before she decided to do it and attend conventions “on the other side of the table”. She creates and designs her own costumes including the outfits and wigs. She is part of the group canadacosplay.com and confesses that she doesn’t have a favorite character. She loves them all. Kay recently won passes to an advanced screening of Guardians of the Galaxy and dressed as Gamora for the screening. Her costume was a hit and garnered lots of attention online. Kay was ecstatic that her outfit was so well received and stated that even though it took her 30 hours to complete it, she does it for the love of cosplay.
Cosplay even has its superstars who command appearance fees for conventions and have long lines of people waiting to get their autograph or a signed picture. Celebrity cosplayers like LeeAnna Vamp, Yaya Han, and Meg Turney are invited to come to conventions and can be quite busy during the con season travelling across the continent to meet their fans.
One of the most important aspects of cosplay is its social element. While most cosplayers operate in small, unofficial groups, this isn’t always the case. There are large communities of cosplayers in clubs and organizations like the Dr. Who Society and the 501st Legion, that serve as outlets for enthusiasts to celebrate their love of pop culture together. Members meet at conventions and in some cases help raise money for special causes. The 501st Legion is a worldwide organization of Star Wars cosplayers who do volunteer charity work for organizations like the American Cancer Society and the Make A Wish Foundation. In addition to their charity work, the 501st Legion is really a social club. As its website states, “the Legion is an all-volunteer organization formed for the express purpose of bringing together costume enthusiasts under a collective identity within which to operate”.
As the years go by, cosplay moves further and further away from the fringes and more towards the mainstream. It allows individuals to celebrate their passion for pop culture and to form meaningful, social bonds. With families now attending conventions in full cosplay attire, the day will soon arise when three generations of cosplayers are in attendance at an event.
This article appears in this month’s issue of Comix Asylum Magazine.