Threadbare: The First Stitch

By Alexa Ray Corriea

March 6, 2012

[Threadbare is a column about the how and why of cosplay, with an emphasis on video game variations.]

It’s one thing to put on a costume and take on the guise of someone else. It’s an entirely different beast when you piece the costume together with your own hands.

Most of you will know cosplay as that thing people do where they make costumes and dress up as their favorite fictional characters to have their photo taken. Non-cosplayers don’t usually harbor a particular interest its origins, and often consider cosplayers a particular strain of antisocial nerdom. This is a gross assumption about the community as a whole. We’re here to set the record straight.

Cosplay is considered a type of performance art. Beyond stitching up outfits and getting photos taken, cosplay allows the wearer to take on the guise of the particular character they choose for their masquerade. There is much more going on behind the scenes than elaborate plans to become the next costumed pin-up. While some strive for this, most of us are in it for the fun — the sense of community, the overwhelming joy at finding others with similar interests, the proud feeling that washed over you when someone compliments your work. There is a feel-good aspect to doing this, a positive boost for self-esteem.

Cosplaying is an expressing of adoration for a particular fandom or character, and there is nothing wrong with shouting to the world that you’re a fan of something. While the words otaku and weeabo carry negative connotations, the fundamental idea that someone is crazy-in-love with a series or persona isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Cosplay provides a creative, productive outlet to channel that admiration. Trust me when I say that you don’t cosplay something if you don’t love it — producing a costume from scratch is not an easy feat, particularly some of the more elaborate designs found in current anime and video games.

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It’s hard to describe how to cosplay. It depends on what you want to be — a mecha? An anthro? Are you into crossplay? Is the sex appeal what you’re after? There are so many different categories it’s hard to keep them all straight, and they frequently blend into one another. But we’re here to talk about cosplay in its purest and oldest form, not to pander to fans jonesing to see some boobs. It’s not all about the boobs, we promise.

The creative process, no matter the budget you have to spend on thread and sheets of molding plastic, yields its own rewards. The sense of accomplish is unparalleled, in our opinion. Whether you’re a cosplay photographer, a professional cosplayer who enters competitions, or someone who simply likes to attend conventions, the world of cosplay harbors some of the most understanding and creative “nerds” (and we use the term very loosely here) this side of Japan.

Here in the West, cosplay originated with science fiction and historical fantasies like steampunk. What began with comic books and television shows spread into anime and video games, among other things, as Japanese culture became popular in North America. Costuming is a three-dimensional art form, an expression that breaks all barriers and limits on the imagination. There is no end to what a cosplayer can choose from or make, with patience, skill, and funds being the only true limitations.

“Costume fandom,” as it is sometimes called, originated in the West at the first Worldcon in 1939. Of the almost 200 attendees at the New York convention, a handful of people in costume wowed the crowd and set a precedent for creating personalized fantasy attire. A little over 70 years later, conventions are among some of the best gathering spots for meeting people among the fandom communities and showing off one’s own cosplay.

This is the first installment of Threadbare,” and we intend to wield this forum as a way to set the record straight when it comes to cosplay. It’s not all about boobs and glory, pretty girls with perfect faces or men in cardboard armor. It is a dynamic realm full of patience and acceptance, but also with threads of disdain and elitism. A world in and of itself, cosplay is not something that those heavily invested in it want to see become a venue for exploiting and demeaning people. We want to see it flourish — we want non-cosplayers to understand that it’s more than putting on an outfit and spending half of your weekly paycheck at JoAnn Fabrics and Home Depot.

The first stitch is always the hardest.

Photos by Ger Tysk.

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Alexa Ray Corriea

A High Summoner from the Woods of the North (read: New England), Alexa and her ragtag band of comrades have saved the world from cataclysmic destruction countless times -- you just didn't notice. When she isn't writing or gaming, she enjoys baking, long walks at dusk, and cosplay.

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