I’ve been getting into cosplay more and more recently. I love dressing up, whether it be costumes or formal wear. For me, this is a large portion of going to conventions. It is also why I’m so partial to Halloween and weddings. Having interesting costumes is a lot of fun, and brings a sense of accomplishment when you can create something that looks how you want it to—whether it being creating garments and props from scratch or simply piecing together an ensemble that feels just right. But frequently, people will ask: “why do you like cosplaying?” I’d like to discuss that for a bit.
Most of this will be anecdotal and personal, but I want to get the conversation started for anyone looking for answers. Let’s start with clothing and fashion as a whole. The way we dress is a primary form of expression in many cases. If we have any control over what we’re wearing, our choices can be an immediate indicator of our traits to those around us. Did we want to be fancy or relaxed, be bold or muted, to blend in or stand out? These characteristics can intersect as well. Even if you’re dressing to be comfortable, there is still a range of colors that you could have chosen from. I’m no fashion expert, but it quite often feels like an expression of self; it’s performative.
For me, cosplay feels like an extension of this. Not necessarily literally—we can never be some of the characters we cosplay as, but they may represent some facet of us. For instance, people who choose Deadpool are doing so because they relate to his sense of humor and wacky antics. In some cases, costumes may be worn simply for the aesthetic. Nothing beats a sweet outfit; there is a reason costume designers get paid to do their jobs. But frequently, cosplayers pick their costumes to act like the character, to be the character for a time. At conventions, people often refer to each other by the character’s name. Sometimes it is for convenience, other times it is more to keep in character. You can roleplay in a way that might not typically be acceptable out of character. For example, I like to run around and be a smartass, so I like to cosplay as Sonic.
In different situations, playing a character gives you a chance to be someone you aren’t. Maybe a character is brave in a way you could never be, or more charming, or more comfortable. And while dressing up as Link from The Legend of Zelda won’t actually give you his great courage, it may let you feel that way for a while.
Furthermore, cosplay gives a lot of people the chance to express themselves in a way that they don’t always have the ability to in their day-to-day lives. This is especially prevalent on the gender spectrum. Crossplay is an excellent example. This always appeared to me as a chance to experiment with your own gender expression. For instance, our society has attached a gendered meaning to beards and skirts, and frowns on women and men respectively sporting them. Since conventions tend to be (relatively) less judgmental than most situations, people can try them out to see how they like them. I’ve seen two very opposite versions of this as well. There is the version where a cosplayer will choose a character of a different gender and will take the necessary steps to appear as close to that character as possible. The other, which interests me, is the phenomenon of people dressing as characters of another gender, without changing their own presented gender markers. I’m talking about your women dressed as Tony Stark who add marker-drawn goatees and your men dressed as the characters from Madoka who keep their hairy legs and beards. As I said, this is a chance to play around with one’s own appearance to see what combinations they like. In this way, crossplay (and cosplay as a whole) can be a gateway to trying new forms of personal styles.
Overall, reasons for cosplaying vary from person to person, even character to character for the same person. But overall, it comes down to some form of expression, whether it be stylistically, emotionally, gender expression, or some other way. This it why I find it so important to encourage others to continue this hobby, and for others to try it. With all the pressures put on us by society, it is useful to have another venue to be yourself. I recommend everyone try it if you can! If you have any great examples of expression through cosplay, leave links in the comments.