Introduction to Cosplay

What is Cosplay?

Cosplayers as Terra, Ventus, and Aqua from Kingdom Hearts

Cosplay, short for "costume play," is the practice of dressing up and acting out the part of a particular character. The characters represented through cosplay may be drawn from books, movies, comics, video games, animation, or from the cosplayer's own imagination. Cosplay is strongly associated with Japanese comics, video games, and animation, although it is not limited to these genres.

The word "cosplay" can be used as either a noun or a verb: the noun "cosplay" refers to either the practice or the costume, while the verb refers to the act of being in costume and in character. For example, "I have a Mario cosplay" (noun, referring to the costume) versus "I'm cosplaying as Mario" (verb, referring to the act).


History of Cosplay

Hetalia cosplayers at Anime Iowa 2011

Cosplay is considered to have originated in Japan, but it has its roots in Western science-fiction and fantasy conventions. The term was coined by a Japanese man named Nobuyuki Takahashi in 1984 after attending a science-fiction convention in Los Angeles, at which a costume masquerade took place. Cosplay can also be thought of as being related to costuming for events such as Renaissance faires or historical reenactments.


Cosplay in the West

Iowa State University Cosplay x Conflagration at VEISHEA 2011

As Japanese cartoons and video games rose in popularity in the West, so did the popularity of cosplay. Cosplay, in Western settings, is typically practiced at conventions based around comics, animation, and video games, particularly those of Japanese origin. Cosplay of Western characters, such as those from Western movies, comics, television shows, and video games, is also very popular.

Although cosplay as a whole descended mainly from sci-fi and fantasy costuming practices, Western cosplay in particular also draws influence from Western theater and costuming, as well as the practice of being in costume for events such as Halloween. That said, the costumes created for the purpose of cosplaying tend to be more durable and elaborate than those created for stage theater or Halloween purposes.