A Brief History of Cosplay

Cosplay… often identified as media recreation costuming or as a costuming hobby in a broad spectrum, but the origins of cosplay are still ambiguous with a lot of myths floating about it.

This page is here to nullify the myths and misnomers regarding cosplay and will convey the important points to inform the wider fandom audience of the facts regarding cosplay and its origin.

The first myth I have heard is that Cosplay started in Japan. NO! It did not. The extent of Japanese involvement to cosplay is restricted to the word “cosplay” only. Nov Takahashi, a Japanese reporter, was sent to report on the affairs of 1984 WorldCon held in Los Angeles, California, where he coined the word to elaborate the hustle and bustle at WorldCon i.e. people wearing costumes in the halls.

In Japanese Linguistics, words are often fused together (“portmanteau”) out of loanwords from other languages, such as English. In this case, the reporter took the words ‘costume’ and ‘play’ and composed the word ‘cosplay’ to label and define what he saw at the WorldCon i.e. A stage masquerade featuring the prime and upbeat of the costumes of the weekend. The significant thing to note is the usage of the word ‘play’, which means that he didn’t refer what he saw as ‘acting’ because the only stage performing at WorldCon is the masquerade that doesn’t usually involve spoken dialogues and in fact, most of the performance that year didn’t.


Notably, the variety of costumes and costume wearing habits and traditions observed at the WorldCon in the early 80’s were the result of decades of convention traditions. Costumes and genres along with time and places for being guided in those costumes are crucial aesthetics that has been established in all countries by sci-fi conventions. Yet the states of costuming and costume wearing habits evolve very little amongst the sci-fi conventions, hence, even after 25 years of the notorious WorldCon, we can grasp the fan and customer behavior at any mid-size regional sci-fi con still on the trot today and detect what Takahashi saw. This includes the masquerade, which is often a convention's crowning point of Saturday evening entertainment; media recreations regardless of the media source, and daily hall costuming.

Forry Ackerman- the pioneer of hall costumes

It won’t be an overstatement to say that hall costuming has been going on for decades, which is much longer than most of the anime-convention fans alive today. Mostly, young men primarily attended early WorldCon and other small Sci-fi conventions and these events orbited around discussions and distributions of science fiction anthologies and periodicals, which included short stories of comic books and magazines.

Forry Ackerman was the first person to be documented for wearing a hall costume at WorldCon held in New York, which was uniquely designed as a ‘space military’ style uniform. Ackerman is attributed with being a trendsetter in more than one fandom tradition that persists to the present day. His decision to wear a costume instead of street clothing while inside convention space progressively procreated imitators and emulators.

Those early costumes were expected to be informal and original or generic in design because of pintsized media above and beyond literature. Before 1940’s, women were not often seen at sci-fi exhibitions and amongst these WorldCon was the most influential for the longest period of time. For the meeting of sci-fi buffs, WorldCon changes location annually.

In the modern era, there are many conventions that haul-in annual attendance rates three times to that of any given WorldCon, yet it is so firmly embedded as the longest-running convention in the world and the mother of all sci-fi conventions. To-date, WorldCon is the mother of all anime, gaming, literature, and other genre media cons. WorldCon established trends at and the host conventions that carried it through the 1940's, 50's, and 60's. The ‘Hobby’ costuming understandably owes it origins to these trends.


My Thoughts:

I am fond of cosplay because it takes me back to my childhood and I love to be an anime character if only for just a few hours. It is magical, being surrounded by others who feel and do the same. This is most common at anime conventions where almost everyone cosplays and is a rare opportunity when every geek, dork, and social reject comes out and shows their true colors. I don't care what other people are going to make fun of me; I will not pretend to be someone I am not.

People cosplay since its acquiescent, it's fun, there's an open avenue for anyone and there are no rules for age and skill. No one cares and there are judgments. People who are ignored in schools and society can make and find some of their best friends through conventions. Marvel, Disney, cosplay, comics, MLP, etc. there are no limits to characters, it brings people together, and it opens doorways to other states and countries. It's indeed like a big family; people care about one another, they talk about their problems; those with disorders are accepted far more quickly than they would be in school or society. That's just my view on cosplay; it's not juvenile or immature, it has a deeper meaning than a Halloween night.


Other's Thoughts:

My mother and I were having a disagreement (more like a war as it has been going on for weeks now) regarding why people participate in cosplays. She is very resolute in her belief that cosplaying is done so the person can live in a fantasyland 24/7; act like they have superpowers; pretend to be a made-up character because they want attention; that they're immature and need to find another way to enjoy life; are trying to relive their 5th grade Halloween night etc.

My point-of-view is contradictory to her thoughts, as she said that I was making a generalization and could not speak for a community. Which I obviously can't; but I can ask the community. I would like to hear:

  • Why some of your cosplay and how it impacts your life. Does it make it better? Worse?
  • Do you feel like you're living a fantasy or that it actually has a deeper meaning? Does your family approve?