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A Prospective On Cosplaying

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According to Merriam-Webster, cosplay is “the activity or practice of dressing up as a character from a work of fiction (such as a comic book, video game, or television show).” The definition of “cosplaying” varies by the individual. Maybe it’s dressing up as your favorite character for Halloween or building an elaborate costume to be judged in front of thousands. As a newcomer whose talents may not reside in drawing or writing, this could be a new medium for you to contribute to your fandom.

Starting Out

For those who are interested, there are a variety of approaches to cosplay and web sources for each. Before diving into the costume itself, you first need to decide which character to cosplay as. Create a list of characters you admire and relate to. As you start planning out who and what to do, consider the following:

While having the exact same body shape is not mandatory, identifying the shared and distinguishing features can help sell your portrayal. The most common and easiest physical alterations are hairstyle, eye color, and height. Creating a collage of reference pictures may help in deciding which parts of your character to focus on.

Like appearance, having the same character traits as your character is not essential but will make the character immersion easier, if being in-character is your goal. Consider researching your character on fandom wikis or revisiting the source material and taking notes on their tendencies.

Cosplay is most certainly not limited by sex (as demonstrated by the number of males dressed as Harley Quinn, females as Castiel, and Deadpools in general), and crossplay, cosplaying as a character of the opposite gender, has more recently become a norm in the community. If you’re hesitant about dressing as another gender, consider genderbending. Differing from the lgbtq+ definition, a genderbent character refers to a character with the same defining characteristics but made more masculine or feminine. For example, a genderbent Sherlock may wear a petticoat and have shoulder-length hair, but she still retains her piercing blue eyes and detached personality.

Time and money
Like in all activities, budgeting your time and money is essential to maintaining a cosplay. Be realistic. How much money are you willing to spend? When do you need this costume by and how often can you work on it? While creating a cosplay from scratch can be extremely rewarding, it obviously warrants more dedication and room for error. If sewing and hotglue aren’t your jam and the cosplay occasion is fast approaching, you could buy a costume from a store or commission an experienced seamstress or prop designer. Note that the quality of the costume can be questionable depending on the provider. If money is your main constraint, check out your local thrift store for clothing to modify or online for people selling their old cosplays. Also, consider building a reduced or simple version of the character and adding more details once more resources are available.

Two terms to note when navigating Youtube tutorials and blogs are “casual cosplay” and “closet cosplay.” The two are often used interchangeably since closet cosplays are often considered casual and casual cosplays can be built from the closet, but some cosplayers may take offense to being wrongly categorized. To clarify, a closet cosplay utilizes clothes already in your closet. Casual can refer to the level of effort put into the cosplay or a character in street clothes.

Sometimes mixed in with those two subtypes are character-inspired outfits. Simply lookup “[insert character name] inspired outfits” and scroll through the dozens of clothing collages. It’s very similar to a closet cosplay but less obvious and warrants little to no character portrayal. Most people, including myself, don’t consider these outfits as cosplays but still appreciate the effort in coordination.

When and Where?

At some point after your cosplay is assembled, you may decide that walking around your bedroom as Dave Strider isn’t enough and it’s time to wear him out in the real world. It should go without saying that society is judging. To minimize discomfort for everyone, pick your location and occasion carefully. Research the events going on in your area. Outdoor events such as fairs, art festivals, and prides often attract subgroups that are accepting of the cosplay community. Certain retail and local stores selling books, graphic novels, and videogames hold gatherings for holidays like National Comic Book Day and Halloween. Larger cities may also have cosplay meetup groups on Facebook, Tumblr, or Cosplay Amino. Without a doubt, the best place to cosplay is at a convention. Nothing is more thrilling than being immersed in your obsessions and fellow nerds. For your first con, I recommend Anime Day Knoxville, Marble City Comic Con, and Fanboy Expo.

Remember that cosplay does not make you invulnerable. While the mall and Target can be a fun places to hangout, these businesses exist to make money, not to entertain. Harassing customers and causing a disturbance can result in being banned from the establishment or detained by security. School lies in the gray area as well. During the past two homecoming spirit weeks, Principal Siebie has been mostly fair and straightforward about the dress code. As long as you adhered to the rules, administrators didn’t stop you. However, the risk of being considered a disturbance or distraction may be higher when cosplaying without an occasion. In all cases, check with the rules and use common sense.

My Experience

Since my start at age 14, I’ve had my share of casual closet cosplays and months-long projects. You may have seen but not recognized me as godtier Jade Harley from Homestuck or some variation of Cecil Gershwin Palmer from Welcome to Night Vale at school during Halloween, homecoming spirit week, and April 14th.

My most recent cosplay was Sen from Spirited Away, which I wore this past Easter to MTAC (Middle Tennessee Anime Contention) and entered into the cosplay competition with my friend Sunni who cosplayed as her interpretation of No Face. While we had no intention on winning the duo caption, the category we originally signed up for, we were awarded “Best Chibi”, the category specifically for minors. Standing on the same stage with the winners of the journeyman and masterclass captions was a huge honor for us both. Afterwards, we spoke with some of the other contestants who were happy to explain to us how they carved a weapon out of insulation foam or hand-embroidered the flourishes on their sleeves.

For me, cosplaying is a hobby I find every excuse to practice. I thank it and its niche culture for inspiring me to take on sewing, embroidery, wig styling, makeup, painting, couponing, and thrifting. Besides accumulating more money to spend at Joann’s and finding a roommate for college, my goal for the summer of 2018 is to become proficient in foam carving and paper mache through my next project, San from Princess Mononoke. Without a doubt, I’ll get lost on this leg of my cosplaying journey, but with my pre-planning map, directions from other cosplayers, and Google, I know I’ll find a way.

Final Thoughts

Like all art forms, cosplay is subject to criticism. People outside of the community will shoot quizzical looks your way. Cosplay haters and elitists will try to bring you down. However, most experienced members in the community are just as passionate as you are, and their advice is usually worth taking. Eventually, you’ll meet new friends to collaborate and cosplay with. Know that there will always be support if you look. Being recognized as your character and for your efforts is an empowering feeling, so go out and enjoy the experience.

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Samantha Huang, Writer

An Asian with an Educated Southern accent.

Likes her coffee and tea black.

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A Prospective On Cosplaying