Everyone seems to know when a video game convention comes to town by the way the attendees dress. People who like to dress up as their favorite video game or anime character stand out from so-called ordinary people and are quick to be labeled eccentric or weird based solely on their appearance and clothing choice. Conventions—dedicated to anime, video games, comic books and everything in between—are just about the only place where you are likely to see large numbers
If you were to dress up in full costume any other time of the year, you would not only get incredibly strange looks, but people would probably cross the street to avoid walking past you. There is a very harsh stigma about the way people dress and the things they are passionate about, particularly when it comes to things like video games or anime. Cosplayers are often seen as weird, creepy, sexual, socially awkward or out of touch with reality because they choose to dress up as a fictional character.
That totally sucks. Cosplayers spend a lot of time and energy in order to look like their favorite character. They are not weird, creepy, sexual or socially awkward, and no cosplayer thinks for a minute that they are actually the character they are trying to portray.
How is cosplaying as your favorite video game character that much different from wearing the jersey of your favorite athlete? The costumes look different, sure, but we all know that no one wearing a sports jersey is trying to convince anyone that they are a professional athlete. Yet wearing a jersey out in public is totally normal, while wearing a cosplay outfit is not.
There is always an expected level of professionalism in every situation of our lives, including many situations where wearing a sports jersey would not be acceptable. Wearing a giant Master Chief suit to your office would not be appropriate, but then neither would wearing sweatpants. There are many more places where wearing a sports jersey is socially acceptable, but only one (conventions) where wearing cosplay is, and even that is debatable. The attendees might find the outfits acceptable, but what about the people walking around outside of the convention center?
I am not trying to suggest that everyone should cosplay every day or that a video game inspired outfit should be as
socially acceptable as a sports jersey. That’s not practical, and if I was trying to make that point, no one would go for it.
I am, however, trying to encourage you to stop for a moment and think about what it actually means to be a cosplayer. It’s not exactly a common thing, and many people, even if they do attend these conventions, do not cosplay.
Why is that? It’s not as if, as adults, we suddenly have an aversion to wearing costumes. Hundreds of thousands of people, both children and adults, dress up for Halloween every year. Obviously, not many adults go trick-or-treating, but the idea of dressing up in a costume is not exclusively for children.
I have to assume that the largest reason for the stigma surrounding cosplayers is the fact that the idea is a very new one. The notion of dressing up in cosplay didn’t really start to gather steam until the 1990s, likely influenced by the increased popularity and technology of the video game industry.
For many students attending college, the cosplay movement has been around as long as we have. But for those people born significantly before 1990, cosplaying might just seem like a really weird trend. There hasn’t been anything like cosplaying before. Even if there were, the characters and the materials available to cosplay (as the video game industry created a lot of them), the stigma of liking those things was a lot stronger than it is today.
If you played Dungeons and Dragons or read fantasy novels, you were likely labeled a nerd. Cosplaying might only have further proved that your hobby wasn’t part of the mainstream.
But that is not the case anymore. Video games, anime and comic books are more successful now than they have ever been. More and more people are beginning to associate themselves with these industries, and being a nerd is no longer considered an inherently bad thing.
So what about cosplay?
There is still very obviously a stigma associated with cosplaying, but is it like the stigma that used to be associated with video games and nerdiness? As it gets more popular, will the stigma lessen or go away? Or is cosplaying its own subculture with its own rules and people who enjoy it (seeing as it branches across anime, comic books and other mediums)?
I don’t have an answer for those questions. I think it’s too early in the lifespan of the cosplay movement to really decide the intricate workings of it. But I would like to see the stigma for cosplayers go away or at least decrease. The people who want to cosplay are passionate and are capable of making really amazing costumes that are pieces of art in their own right.
Even if cosplaying is not a mainstream hobby, it seems incredibly unfair to outcast the people who do it or make assumptions about them that are not true. Everyone cosplays for different reasons, likes different characters, has different skills, and approaches making a costume differently. It’s a cultural movement that is gaining momentum, and the people involved in it shouldn’t be judged unfairly.