People about Cosplay...
Interesting question. If the word “cosplay” is referring to what is usually meant, then no, because the costumes in question are those of fictitious characters. There is no “culture” being appropriated. Not even if you wear a Japanese school uniform – because Ayanami Rei, or whoever, is not a Japanese girl, she’s a fictitious character and you are dressing like her.
There’s some interesting weirdnesses to explore though, even in this space. Some thoughtless racist fans were in the habit of making black cosplayers feel uncomfortable. The absurdity of this is almost galactic in proportion because if a black woman can’t dress like Sailor Moon because she’s not Japanese, then why would a white women be able to? She isn’t Japanese, either. And Sailor Moon is not Japanese, she’s fictitious. Obviously, critical thinking is not high on the list of people who are unpleasant to other people.
But the rising tide right now is that cosplay is for everyone and while I don’t myself cosplay, I support this. Dressing up as your favorite character is not cultural appropriation – it is a culture in and of itself. There are folks who cosplay Jane Austen characters and pirates and princesses. Cosplay has its own subculture aesthetic. Merely dressing up is for anyone, anytime, anywhere.
The world has adopted the word cosplay. It’s Wasei-eigo, which means the word was originally created by the Japanese using English as the roots. “Costume play” becomes “cosplay.” There is a world cosplay summit. So I don’t think you can argue that merely using the word is appropriation. Words for things spread. That’s how language works.
Calling offensive stereotype costumes “cosplay” is stretching the word uncomfortably outside what cosplay means, IMHO. Those costumes are meant to represent offensive stereotypes. It’s outside the culture of cosplay itself and is merely wearing a costume in bad taste.
So, I would say no, cosplay is not cultural appropriation, it is its own culture that is open to anyone, anywhere.
Pick your favorite character, or one you would have the most interest in creating, and start looking for items that can be turned into props. Go to the thrift stores and find clothing that can be altered, or may even work as it. Figure out how to do an ‘adaptation’ of a character – for instance, I have a Rarity (My Little Pony) costume that is a purple skirt, purple and white blouse, large white hat and purple wig. I have either white or purple heels to go with it, but I forget which. Everything except the wig was repurposed out of my own closet.
If you haven’t done any costuming at all before, pick a character that usually wears ‘street clothes’. There are also a ton of eBay sellers out there that offer custom made cosplays, but you have to be careful and read reviews about their sizing – a lot of them tend to run small. I’ve also bought stand alone pieces like corsets, boots, purses, etc., from eBay and Etsy. This one store on eBay sold cheap corsets for ten bucks each – they didn’t stand up to long term use, but they did work for about a year of conventions, each, and held up pretty good for the per-wear price. Anything you buy from a China eBay seller, plan to give it a month lead time. I usually get wigs and whatnot within 2-3 weeks, but the sellers usually say to allow for 30 days. And there are a lot of good inexpensive wigs on eBay too!
If you don’t sew, there are a lot of ways to get started, even if you aren’t crafty at all! those are skills you can pick up later on if you have a desire to.
For me, cosplay is the art of bringing a fictional character to life using yourself as a medium. As people have already mentioned, cosplayers put a lot of money, time, and energy into their craft. Some will go to extremes to lose weight or learn a technique outside their skill level just to try and cosplay that character.
I really love cosplay and I find it is a mirror of how you will treat a lot of things in life, whether that is your job, your relationships, etc. The typical time and project management questions always appear (“Can I finish this in time for this convention?”, “Do I have the resources?”, etc.) but also some that you may not expect (“Should I just stitch this poorly to save time?”, “Will cutting a corner here affect the project later on?”, “Should I invest the time in learning this new technique and apply it to the costume?”). The way you answer these questions are exactly the same way you will answer these questions in real life.
That’s why cosplay is such a great way to make friends than other activities. Not only do you have a great excuse to geek out to like-minded people about your passions, you also can see whether or not they do as they say. You really get to know the people and can truly bond with them.