What is Cosplay and Some Basic Types

The question most often asked of anyone who really loves the hobby, or even has some interest in it is this– What is Cosplay?

You could answer in the driest terms possible, that according to Wikipedia  (Oooh, how dare I?) Cosplay is defined as “a performance art in which participants called cosplayers wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character.”  This is the bares bones of cosplay.  This is striping something down to its dregs, and then expecting those dregs to represent such a wide, varied, and multi-hued community and past time.  Granted, in definitive terms, that is exactly what cosplay is.  But take it from someone who has entered the world of cosplay–it is so much more than that.

I can admit that cosplay means different things to different people.  So does every single word in language.  But what it means to me is this: Community.  In my experience, Cosplay has brought together people who would otherwise never have met, whether through conventions, or by wearing the same costume, or by stumbling across a blog or DIY site in search of the perfect ideas and how-to’s.  There are even profile sites, such as Cosplay.com, where you can build your own cosplay profile, complete with photos, and search the work and creativity of others.  Cosplay can be a solo project, but often when you first begin, you do better to have someone to run to about any sort of snag you hit, such as (I’ve said all of these) :

  • “How do I even fit these pieces together?”
  • “Where am I going to find red-mottled pleather or vinyl?”
  • “How even did pattern makers conceive that this line goes here?”
  •  “Feathers or no feathers?”

……And many more.

Having someone to ask about how a seam goes together, or whether you should buy a lookalike skirt from this store, or whether you should wear a wig or just dye and style your own hair can help a lot.  Cosplay is community.  Several of my outfits that I’ve put together have been the result of side from people who have been doing this longer than I have.

Also, when you do finally cosplay, the feeling of accomplishment and creativity, as well as the sense of belonging you get from everyone around you, is really what cosplay means.  You’re told how great you look, people want your picture, and every time you look in the mirror, you are again proud of what you managed to put together.

So when people ask you, as you get deeper into this hobby, “What is Cosplay?”, say this:

Cosplay is an adventure, a way of life, a craft, and a community.

Next, there are several types of cosplay, which I’ll go more into depth later, but let us stick to general basics for now.  You have:

  • Traditional: where you portray a character exactly as they are shown (or as close as is physically possible, as the Titans from Attack on Titan are huge, and while we’d love to be able to, that size isn’t something we can replicate).  An example can be found here, courtesy of Tatterhood’s profile.  Now, something I want to point out is that this costume is very good.  The kind of good that comes from years of practice and experience.  Your first few forays will not look like this, but this is the pinnacle.  This is what we shoot for.  Tatterhood’s character is spot on when compared to a character shot found here.  This is traditional cosplay.
  • Genderbending:  Often, when people think genderbending, they think the middle-aged men in Sailor Scout uniforms.  This is partially true, as Genderbending is taking a character, and then turning them into the opposite gender, what ever that entails. Examples are Manicoffee’s Hatake Kakashi, PerlaBluLele’s Iron Man, and my own Captain Jill.
    My cosplay of the well-loved Doctor Who companion is female, because that sounded like so much fun to me.

    The original character is male
    The original character is male

Or, you genderbend, becoming a different gender as the character than one you identify with personally (The Sailor Moon cosplayers that are so notorious, for example).  Another good example, also using Captain Jack Harkness, Leda N.’s cosplay.

Leda is playing a male character.
Leda is playing a male character.
  • Fusion: Fusion is taking two different characters or styles, and melding them into one beautiful new creation.  Seen here with IronWolverine, thanks to Berry-O-Pokemon, where someone melded Wolverine and Iron Man into a stellar cosplay that comes across as completely different than anything you’ve ever seen before.  Often, Steampunk is a popular style of fusion, as turning any character steampunk means fun new accessories and looks.  Such as this Steampunk Sailor Mercury, courtesy of the EpicCosplay blog.
  • Historical: This can either be purely historical, or another form a fusion. The Cosplayer either wears purely historical costume because they love it or the character is historical (Lucky Doctor Who cosplayers, they have plenty of these character to choose from) or they adapt a modern day character into historical dress still suited to their style.  For examples, Lady Margaret Radcliffe by KatieAriel for basic historical, and the Victorian style Captain America, Black Widow, and Winter Soldier, courtesy of Bookoisseur.  (Yes, they are also gender bending, in the cases of Winter Soldier and Captain America).
  • Steam Punk: According to Wikipedia (This is a blog, not a scholarly paper, I’m going to use Wikipedia here folks) Steampunk is defined as : “refers to a subgenre of science fiction and sometimes fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery.”  So Steampunk is a cross between science fiction and the Victorian Era.  Lots of gears and cogs paired Victorian ruffles, corsets, and top hats.  Example: Here, thanks to Spider-Trooper.  It’s actually highly popular, both on its own, and as a fusion element.  Don’t believe me?  The LA County Fair has a Steampunk themed nightclub every year for the county fair. Yeah, told you it was popular.

That’s all for now.  I’ll be back next week with some Do’s and Dont’s of cosplay!



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