Cosplay is much more than just dressing up: for those who utilize it as an outlet for social interaction and as an art form, it’s a means of self-expression and extravagant pleasure. That’s what I’ve learned from Theresa Winge who discovers deep lessons in the cosplay world.
Winge tracks cosplay’s history from its beginnings in manga and anime, to its current-day incarnations on the internet and at conventions.
She writes that though cosplay’s origins are unclear, it is comprised of four basic components–the cosplayer, the social setting, the character/role-playing, and the dress–that facilitate social interactions between people, environments, and the imagination. Winge describes a type of cosplay continuum that is based on the level of commitment, from casual to more complex.
She says that even casual cosplayers are often serious. “Regardless of his or her location on the cosplay spectrum,” writes Winge, “each cosplayer has a remarkable degree of dedication and devotion to portraying a chosen character.”
Winge distinguishes between American and Japanese cosplay conventions. These conventions usually have an element of masquerade. Cosplayers perform their characters before an audience.
In North America, this masquerade includes performance, writes Winge, while in Japan it’s more static. In addition, she writes, Japanese cosplayers tend to limit costume wear to events in contrast to American cosplayers taking their costumes out into the open.
Winge says that cosplay extends beyond clothes and role-playing. It’s “a social activity that allows cosplayers to assume protective identities that help create and strengthen social networks that focus on and more than play.”
Through the creation of private and public spaces as well as experiences that are distinct and significant, cosplay provides an alternative identity.
Winge writes that cosplayers take on “malleable identities” and then translate them to the world. This implies that the world might be a simple, recognizable costume that can be worn or taken off at will.