People about cosplay...
It’s a way of expressing your love for a particular anime/manga/video game series. You enjoy the world the author created so much that you feel like dressing up as one of the characters. It’s a tribute of sorts.
It’s fun to take a break from your real life and escape into an anime/manga/video game world, even if just for a day at an anime convention. You get to be someone else for a bit.
Great cosplayers draw crowds of convention-goers, get their picture taken by lots of photographers and receive lots of compliments. It’s flattering.
When you walk through a convention and see other cosplayers, there’s a sense of belonging to a community of people with shared interests. People make eye contact, smile when they recognize your character, ask to take pictures and are generally pretty friendly.
Some people really enjoy the process of planning and creating the costume. Making armor, sewing, and building weapons can be a fun and rewarding hobby.
Costuming has been around a long time: we find artifacts from tens of thousands of years ago where they were used to portray a being or spirit. Often those who played the parts in costume were held in high regard.
A little time with kids or a parade group reminds us all how much fun people have – let alone when there is a formal play being staged. Costuming is fun; it’s fun for people to pretend, but it should be understood by all that it’s to be pretend. Problems come when the “role” gets mixed up with one’s being; the role defines the person instead of the person defining the role.
As Jack Nicholson famously said to Michael Keaton as they were suiting up for their roles in Batman (1989): “Time to let the costumes do the acting.”
When the role is more than the person, that causes psych problems.
It depends on what you mean by popular. It’s more or less exclusive to conventions, which have the benefit of only happening once each year per con. Attendees like myself have time to craft and sew awesome things. I know why I like it-it pushes my creative boundaries and has become my full time hobby and side-job. It’s very fun to be someone else, but it’s also fun to show off your work. I made my husband a great Groot costume for DragonCon last year and it was one of the best weekends ever. We had a blast as ‘Rockette’ and Groot. There’s something about participating in a huge fandom that is just pure fun.
I don’t think it’s really all that popular with the general public, when people don’t know who you are it can be disappointing. They don’t really know what to make of you when you come into a restaurant painted blue with a handful of storm troopers after an event or convention. Kids seem to go nuts over it though, I’m also a member of Rebel Legion and dress as Princess Leia for events. Adults are amused but kids go crazy for Darth Vader. Popularity really only seems to stretch as far as known characters.