Exploring the subculture of Cosplay

For a common person, Cosplay may look like a fancy dress competition. But there is a lot more to Cosplay than a simple fancy dress up. The word Cosplay comes from two words costume and play.  Cosplayers dress up as a particular character and typically interact with other characters of the subculture in a specific setting, like a convention. The costumed role play happens at different venues and can even be themed. For example, you could be a part of the Game of Thrones or Final Fantasy Cosplay. In this article, we discuss the history of the subculture.

The beginning:

Cosplay can be traced all the way back to 1930 ‘costuming’ parties. Back then, there was no need to dress to mimic a specific character. Most people would dress according to the theme or the genre, be it sci-fi, renaissance, etc. The best-costumed participant was usually awarded a prize. the idea not limited to North America.

In Japan, manga series like Urusei Yatsura had a huge following, and the students dressed as their favourite characters from the series when attending conventions. But they went beyond wearing the costumes. Learning from the North American masquerading parties, they started to role play and re-enact the scenes from the series.

The name recognition

By 1984, the term Cosplay came to signify the subculture of the costume play. A Japanese reporter – Nobuyuki Takahashi coined the term. He found the word ‘masquerade’ too old-fashioned to describe the scene to his Japanese audience and thus used the word Cosplay to explain what he saw at the Worldcon in Los Angeles.

Typically, you would see Cosplayers in Gamer Conventions across North America. It remained as a niche hobby until early 2000.


Cosplay subculture went mainstream thanks to the encouragement from the highly popular series The Big Bang Theory, which made it ok for the nerds to come out in the open. Collecting comic books, playing video games or dressing up as your favourite superhero was no longer frowned upon. There are even Cosplay dating sites.

The rising accessibility to the internet, coupled with the popularity of superheroes based movies have made Cosplay a fashionable hobby, For some people, Cosplay has also become a lifestyle choice.

The trend is not limited just to North America; the Japanese have taken to Cosplay like a duck to water. If you visit Harajuku and Shibuya districts, it is not very uncommon to see Cosplayers in their costume avatar in their daily life.

For a person not used to Cosplay, It may be hard to figure out why these people spend so much time and energy to dress up as a fictional character.

Some people embrace Cosplay because it gives them the strength to face certain situations. For example, if a person is scared of talking to people, dressing up as John Snow may give him the strength to stay silent yet be attractive to the surrounding people.

Cosplay also gives a chance for a person to ‘act’ like the character and that is another reason some people are attracted to this subculture.