I will never forget my first costuming group. It was the summer that changed everything. My brother and I share a gaming console. If we were well behaved and performed our chores, our dad would buy us a game as a reward. My brother and I would read up on the previews for upcoming games for the Nintendo 64 in Nintendo Power. Believe me, we were excited for Robotech: Crystal Dreams and Earthbound 2. However, one game totally changed our lives. Goldeneye 64. At the start of my 8th grade year, my gamer guy friends and I thought it would be cool to dress up like characters in Goldeneye for Halloween. We totally geeked over the game. I, in turn, fell into the 007 fandom. That very Halloween, we had 007, 006, Boris, and your’s truly as Natalya. It was easy finding pieces for these costumes since they were mostly from our closet and we had to think of creative ways to put things together. All in all, it was just us kids having a good time.
Back in the late 1990s, when anime conventions were starting to pick up the pace and attracting a wider audience, cosplay was something a select few fans did. About less than 35% participated in the dress up game. Even so, there were hardly any resources to make costumes from scratch. Cosplayers had to come up with ways to just get the costume to look right. We did not have resources like Arda Wigs or Epic Cosplay to provide us with a multitude of multicolored wigs. Neither did we have Naruto headbands or Sailor Moon costumes ready to purchase at Hot Topic. Cosplayers had to figure out how to sew and put things together to make their character recreation to look close to the character.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, we also had a slew of commissioners. Anyone who was a cosplayer back in early 2000s can recall a seamstress by the name of Setsuna. She was widely known for her Sera Myu (Sailor Moon musicals) and various renditions of popular anime characters of the time. A commission can go from $100 to $300, depending on what you needed done. However, reviews for Setsuna and other commissioners were rather mixed. Without taking a risk, aspiring cosplayers had to teach themselves how to sew and create clothing pieces. A few costumers I talked to got their start in the late 90s. They recall cutting fabric on the dorm room floor, taking classes at a community college, figuring out how to make a Sailor Senshi outfit without the aid of a pattern, etc. It took an honest amount of commitment to subject oneself to a project.
Also at the same time, masquerades were the main event at an anime convention. While today, Anime Cosplay Paradise records and posts most masquerade performances from anime conventions nationwide, back in the day, much like fansubbing, you had to know a guy, who knew a cosplayer, who had a friend who was buddies with Eurobeat King to obtain a copy of the cosplay masquerade. While we are lucky to watch some great sketches from masquerade past and present, it was not surprising to finally see your masquerade entry until a month or two after the convention.
Cosplay photography was very much different back then. Cosplay photo shoots are almost essential in cosplay now than it ever was. Kevin Lillard (Fansview) would continuously post photos from various anime conventions he travelled to. Many cosplayers flocked to Fansview to see the photos and anime convention coverage posted live. Fansview had a charm to it. Instead of glossy glamour shots, we had a taste of what the convention atmosphere was like. We knew there was a Starbucks because he took a photo of a Nuriko in front of one. We knew that it was a poppin’ scene because he took a few candid shots of the massive King of Fighters gathering. Cosplay photography was limited to taking a few still shots of cosplayers at the convention. Nowadays, obtaining a photographer’s time to take photos of you is a hot commodity. Some photographers will even charge as much as $80 for a photo shoot, while others may offer for free. Most photos on cosplay networking sites are done by photographers with professional grade equipment.
The online community was also different then too. In the late 2000’s, we have something called EZboard. Every cosplayer had to learn how to create their own website to showcase their costumes. At times, they will also have a message board attached on to their site. This was a great way to chat and coordinate with local cosplayers. Though we had not many cosplay gatherings in the late 1990s, it was still a nice way to keep communication open after the convention was over. We really did not have a Cosplay.com or /CGL. Even if someone was trolling and causing trouble on the EZboards, we could always pinpoint their IP address and block them. We could easily call out who was causing trouble in our time outside of conventions. Even when Cosplay Scandal and Cosplay Shame hit the fan, they were immediately dismissed and in some cases, banned from major conventions. Drama did happen back then, but we knew who to avoid and we knew who was doing the trash talking.
In 2003, Cosplay.com really began to take off. Cosplay.com became the premiere site of uniting cosplayers around the country all together. There is a forum dedicated to every major convention for cosplayers to discuss plans and series based gatherings. Cosplay picnics and having events outside of conventions were almost unheard of in the late 1990s. Cosplay.com had a separate forum for cosplayers to organize local picnics and gatherings. Southern California, specifically the greater Los Angeles area, has a gathering almost every month. Cosplay.com also brought us one of the first cosplay friendly wig websites. Good quality wigs for styling and even just finding the right color (we all know how anime hair colors are like!) was really hard to come by. Cosplay.com had Cosworx, a commercial site that had party color wigs and offered them at affordable prices. Before then, one would have to go to a beauty supply store or Witch Wigs to get a good deal for a character’s coiffure.
Today, there are plenty of resources for cosplayers to tap into if they wanted to simply dress up as their favorite character. Cosplay stores have popped up on eBay making it easy to find a uniform from “Melancholy of Haruhi,” “Lucky Star,” “He is My Master,” “Bleach,” etc. Every time I attend Anime Central, it always seems as if you can buy the costume straight from the rack, purchase a wig at either Arda or Five Wits, maybe get a pair of shoes at the various clothing booths, and you are pretty much done with what you need. While there is nothing wrong with buying a costume, there is still a contingent of cosplayers who look down on purchased items and various accessories (ie: Naruto headbands, Bleach armbands, the infamous Red Balls Vash the Stampede coat, etc). I’ll even admit that the Sailor Moon costume from Leg Avenue does not look bad at all and I will not give anyone a hard time for wearing it at an anime con or gathering. For hall cosplay and just having a ball at a gathering, there is nothing wrong with wearing an already made costume. However, it is important to respect the rules of a cosplay competition in which costumes need to be made and / or modified by the participant.
Cosplayers definitely live in different times. It is easier to get the perfect wig in the color we need rather than going through excessive trial and error dyeing. It is easier to find tutorials on making a Sailor Senshi uniform. It is also easier finding character references. However, the community has gotten younger. Previous editorials focusing on immature behavior are very telling of this. ABC 7’s recent Anime Expo 2011 coverage had a cosplayer explain that the reason why cosplayers attend cons is because they have no social skills. It is important to remember what you are representing and how it reflects on the community when you put on the costume. The percetage of cosplayers at anime conventions is at an all time high. Even conventions have provided services – costume repair stations – to check any frays, patching up minor damages, and providing a safety pin or two. The cosplay community has it really good right now.
– Vicky, Editor in Chief
v @ scarlet-rhapsody.com
Special Thanks to Angela and Claudine for sharing their thoughts with me!