- What is a workable definition of cosplay?
The word cosplay originates from Japan being a combination of the word costume and play, and refers to the practice of dressing up as a character from popular culture, most commonly anime, films, games and TV shows – but this can be extended to a character in any medium. This is cosplay in its simplest form, but it accommodates a whole host of possibilities. While gatekeeping occurs in the community as to what does or does not constitute cosplay (e.g. whether cosplayers look enough like the characters, whether the costume is store-bought or handmade, or if the costume is accurate enough) these are ultimately trivial and unimportant to cosplay’s definition.
Furthermore, the costumes do not necessarily need to be of specific characters from a text. At conventions generic character types such as vampires and zombies can be found, as well as fashion and art styles such as Lolita and Steampunk (Matthew Hales as cited by Mountfort, 2019). Another form of this is crossplaying, a term which can have an uncertain meaning. It has been used in the past to describe cosplayers who have dressed as an opposite sex version of a character but in my experience is more commonly used in common parlance to describe cosplayers who dress as the opposite sex (for example, the subreddit r/Crossplay on Reddit). It appears Mountfort (2019) has done both with Fig. 14 and 48, as the former example does not seem to be presenting as female while the latter is. Crossovers and mash-ups of different texts or franchises are also quite popular, although these tend to be the domain of more experienced cosplayers trying to expand the possibilities of cosplay (Mountfort, 2019). A one-to-one authentic recreation of a character is admired, but it is not the only way to cosplay.
Although cosplay is closely linked with photography it does not need to be photographed to be defined as such. Naturally though taking photos is a large part of the appeal, both for the cosplayers wishing to be photographed (especially true for those that have created their own costumes) and for fans wishing to have photos taken with the characters. “Cosplay is a performance medium in which embodied textual citation and photographic practices come together” (Mountfort, 2019), and as such photographs can act as an extension of this performance, either through the visuals themselves or through social media. Dynamic poses tend to be favoured for this reason, as they allow the cosplayer to act in-character while staying still for the camera. Similar to costuming, there is a wide range of investment and effort that can go into cosphotography, with some preferring the more casual, impromptu shoots with personal cameras or phones, and others preferring to focus on authenticity, using sets and professional equipment to recreate scenes from the source materiel (Mountfort, 2018).
Overall, while there are various forms cosplay can take it is in essence a celebration of media, and creates a space where people can challenge societal norms for the purposes of self-expression and creativity. By adopting the guises of favourite characters cosplayers can take on roles they do not in their daily lives, whether that be as a superhero or another gender. Conventions foster a subculture in which these cosplayers can interact and socialize with each other, and this social force can be an industry unto itself.
Mountfort, P. (2019). Cosplay at Armageddon Expo. Journal of Geek Studies, 6(2) 91-110.
Mountfort, P., Peirson-Smith, A., & Geczy, A. (2018). Planet cosplay: Costume play, identity and global fandom. Chicago University Press.