For Some, Halloween Comes Five Times a Year

With most people, Halloween tradition mandates two things: sweets and costumes. It is the one time of year the average Joe drops their ‘people suit’ and spends the night dressed in a mask or fluttering cape. For one night, you’re expected to be something you’re not.

One group of people, however, spend a large amount of their free time doing just that. Cosplay – a portmanteau of ‘costume’ and ‘play’ – is a hobby where people seek to dress up as a character, or their interpretation of a character, from any form of media. Inspiration for these costumes comes from many things: comic books, anime, cartoons, and fantasy films are all popular genres cosplayers explore. I first heard of cosplay when I was younger, visiting my local comic book shop on Free Comic Book Day. There stood Batman, but it wasn’t anytime close to Halloween? He told me of the large, global community of people that make these outfits, for fun instead of candy. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I would later be well in the tide of the hobby.

Pop Culture Meets D.I.Y. Ethic

With any hobby, there’s a cost of time and money, so why would someone want to put forth such effort to wear outlandish outfits?

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Amber Elmore, dressed as Shimakaze from the Japanese web game “Kantai Collection”. Photo taken at the Georgia Aquarium.

“I cosplay because of a few reasons,” said Amber Elmore, an Alpharetta cosplay veteran of 13 years, “Ultimately, it gives me confidence in myself and lets me show off my hard work in making the costume and props.” Amber is not alone with these sentiments.

For many, cosplay is a creative outlet attracting those skilled in things from sewing and painting, to electronics and programming. Over Labor Day weekend, Dragon*Con, a science fiction and fantasy convention, was held in Atlanta. This event boasted over 80,000 people in attendance, the largest event of its kind in the southern United States. Cosplay is an integral part of the convention experience, with half of attendees in costume (yours truly being one of them!).

DragonCon 2012 - Marvel and Avengers photoshoot

 Stan Lee at the Dragon*Con 2012 Marvel Comics Meet and Greet. Image credit: Kyle Nishioka via Flickr

These events give people a chance to meet the creators and actors of many popular series, as well as shop from local artists and participate in games and discussion panels. For those wishing to compete, costume contests are held for beginner and master crafters, with cash prizes awarded to those with the highest marks in accuracy, craftsmanship, and presentation.

Spider-Man to Wonder Woman – Who Am I?

Unlike what is commonly believed, there isn’t a large amount of roleplay in the cosplay community. While everyone has their own reasons for who they choose, it mostly comes down to aesthetic appreciation or picking someone whom they see a bit of themselves in. Some view each character as a challenge that puts their ingenuity and skillset to the test, turning fictional characters into a living emulation of art that can be appreciated. Others use the character as a representation of where their passions lay, allowing them to meet and interact with those with the same interest. “It makes people like each other, though they have never met and normally wouldn’t give [others] the time of day,” said Drew Boland, now entering his 3rd year of cosplay.

I feel that his sentiment hits on one of the key points of the community. When you’re dressed up, you are literally showing your heart on your sleeve in terms of how you feel about a series or character. Others are drawn to talk to you because there’s already an aspect of common interest; what you choose to wear is the perfect icebreaker.

An incredible example of this is the 501st Legion, an international group of Star Wars enthusiasts over 10,000 members strong.

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Photo: One troop of the 501st Legion. Image Credit: Stevan Lam on Flickr

This group builds their own outfits and allows fans to come together to promote their interest in Star Wars, but also in contributions to their local community. Their efforts resulted in direct donation of nearly one million dollars to charity, as well as over 180,000 hours of community service in 2016 alone.

Cosplay as a Community

Ultimately, the hobby is an extremely social one, with many participants shedding their introverted selves (or at least the part that stops them from, say, discussing Steven Universe lore) when surrounded by those they can share their nerdy interests with. NPR previously did a wonderful article on the psychological impact dressing up does for someone – if you dress smart, you feel smart. However, the cosplay community goes further than clothing as an extension of emotion or adults that never “grew up”. By becoming something they’re not, cosplayers get a chance to open up who they really are – forming friendships and relationships from all walks of life. The amount of support I have seen at conventions is incredible, with cosplayers frequently complimenting, photographing, or helping each other out should something unfortunate, like a broken prop, occur. With the current rise of nerd culture, thanks to flourishing superhero movie and comic book sales, it is expected the hobby will only continue to grow into a more eccentric, diverse, and special pastime.

About the author:

image3 Jeremy Duke is a Biochemistry and Molecular Biology PhD student at UGA, focusing on glycoconjugate vaccine development. He has a wonderfully eclectic music taste and likes to make costumes and read when there isn’t a pipette in hand. He can be contacted at jad71457@uga.edu. More from Jeremy Duke.