People about Cosplay...
I have already emphasized elsewhere that I count cosplayers into the pretty small circle of subcultures that I consider “my tribe”. And that I will never hesitate to defend them from detractors and ridicule, be it online or offline, wherever the need arises.
That said, my personal stance regarding the enjoyment of cosplaying is a bit more complicated than that. Because… well… personally, cosplaying doesn’t really “work” for me. At least not in a certain sense.
See, right from the beginning of my anime career, I have always had this habit that I keep anime and real life strictly separate in my mind. In all sorts of ways, and for all sorts of good reasons.
As a result of this, I can admire the people and their awesome costumes, but I have a really, really hard time seeing the actual character “in it”.
Mind you, it’s not the fault of the people. Originally my authenticity demands when it came to character reproductions were insanely high, anyway. Never mind cosplaying. For the longest time, I couldn’t even accept 99% of the released anime figurines because deep down, I felt that “they didn’t look right”.
These days? Well, as far as authenticity is concerned: you only need to look at my shelf with several figures on it to realize that this demand has dropped at least somewhat… but yea, I still keep the worlds apart so strictly that it prevents me from emotionally accepting the “cosplay illusion”.
Needless to say, I never discuss this with cosplayers. Because I fear they could misunderstand it as me disregarding their efforts. Or worse, as criticism of their designs or even their hobby. Which couldn’t be further from the truth. On the contrary.
Because I find it awesome what they do. I always have and always will deeply respect cosplaying for the amount of underlying fandom that it expresses, as well as for the effort people put into it.
Whenever I see someone with an elaborate/authentic/cleverly made costume, I cannot help but doff my hat at the driving passion behind it. Perhaps I’m even a bit envious about it. Either way, if I see that someone is willing to invest that many hours into designing and creating something like that… then that gives him/her my respect and a boatload fan cred. In short, it basically earns you the status of “card-carrying elite fan” in my book.
So no, when I look at cosplayers, I don’t see the character. But it still makes me happy – because I see a fan whose passion and efforts I wholeheartedly support and admire.
Ancient peoples dressed up as animals and gods. They dressed up as powerful characters of myth and reenacted stories that were important to them.
Modern people do the same. On Halloween, people dress as archetypes of many kinds, At Christmas, you see people dressed as Santa Claus in the US, reminding us to be kind to others, even if we don’t put change in this particular pot.
Once, I was in an Indian restaurant and as I waited to be seated, I looked at pictures of a party at the restaurant. They had two people cosplaying Krishna and Radha.
I attend anime/manga gatherings and I know from talking to many, many people about this, that the drive to dress up as characters you love comes from wanting to participate more deeply in the narrative.
At Renaissance Faires, I was quite often told by people “this is my real self,” as opposed to the normal worker bee they were during the week.
And then there is cosplay as a sales technique. Booth babes are hired at tech and industry shows because getting a dorky guy over to the table takes work. Geeky folks are cynical folks, but a pretty girl will draw many men without working at it. Once they are there, they must of course be engaged and thrilled by the tech, but the hook is the girl. Or in a maid cafe in Tokyo, having someone be kind to you, call you “Master” and do your bidding feels good, even if you’re paying by the hour.
So, why cosplay? To engage with our mythical/narrative roots; to take on skills and powers that we don’t normally have, in the context of ritual – or fun; as a visual hook to drive commerce; to enjoy, for a moment, the thrill of being something else than we are or who we feel that we really are.
We may not all cosplay, but we all play dress up from time to time. Next time you slip into tux or a really nice dress, think about the cosplay you’re engaging in – what are you projecting? What makes this you different than the everyday you? What powers, skills, qualities are you pretending to have?
At risk of sounding like a Nike ad, just do it! Find a character you want to dress up as and get started. If you need help there’s plenty of tutorials (both blogs and videos), books, and forum you can turn to for advice, especially if you’re doing something popular. Or you can do what I did and just muddle through it yourself. My first costume I bought what items I could, mostly at secondhand stores, dyed and altered a shirt and made some simple arm wraps out of cheap cotton. I had no idea what I was doing (and no sewing machine – do your hands a favor and use one if possible) but it came out pretty well and I’m still happy with it.
These days I usually make mine from scratch, finding a sewing pattern that is somewhat close and adapting it as needed. When I can pick up patterns cheap I look for anything that might be useful and stock up. I’ve gotten unused patterns for as little as a dime before, so even if I never use them I’m not out much. I like to let other people do work for me when possible. Secondhand stores can be good for base items and even for fabric, either by cutting something apart (one of my costumes is 95% bed sheets) or if you’re lucky even plain fabric (I once found a piece juuuust big enough and in the right color for an outfit I wanted to do).
Remember you can decide how true to the source you want to be. If something is outside of your skill level or too expensive to do “properly”, you can find a way to do something. I once stumbled upon a pattern to knit Rinoa’s duster, but painting or sewing the wings on a plain blue one works too. Or you can stylize it to your own tastes. My costumes never look great, my skills aren’t at that level, but I can do “good enough”. And you’ll never be sure what you’re capable of until you try.