The Nerd Renaissance: History of Cosplay in America!

Every year (before the pandemic) nerds and geeks from all walks of life would congregate together in sanctuaries of geekdoms known as ‘conventions’. Not matter if you’re an anime, manga, or Marvel/DC fanatic, these places were basically a haven for the collectors of Pokemon Cards, the consumers of anime wall scrolls, and the seekers of rare comics. In these conventions that are so near and dear to nerd culture, we find ourselves spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on fabric, accessories, and all other things needed to create the costumes of the characters that we adore so much from the series of shows that we crave.

 

A shot of Cosplay at our home convention in Baltimore, MD (January 2020)

It is also at these conventions; that people see a parade of nerds dressed up in multicolored wigs and medieval outfits that look like something straight out of Game of Thrones or K-Pop bands. We all know that every October 31st America dresses up as pop culture icons, bugs, strippers, you name em’. For nerds and conventions; every weekend is October 31st!

One words that has popped up at every interview outside of an anime or comic-con convention is the word “Cosplay”. For those who aren’t very familiar with the word or even its origins, check it out!

Cosplay is basically the combination or portmanteau of the words “Costume” and “Play”. It’s known as an performance art in which participants (often called Cosplayers) wear costumes and accessories of the character that they’re trying to portray. The term was first coined by Nobuyuki Takahashi in 1984 at the World Sci-Fi Convention (Worldcon) in Los Angeles. Originally, the word “Masquerade” was used as the term for Cosplay until Takahashi wrote an article in the Japanese magazine entitled My Anime after the convention.

Even though the term came about in the early-to-mid 80’s, we actually have to give credit to the first cosplayers who kicked off everything that we’re seeing in cosplay now! Forrest J. Ackerman and Myrtle R. Douglas (aka Morojo) are the true pioneers of the cosplay game; kicking it of at Worldcon 1939. (Not to mention the first “rave party” happened at the same convention in 1940; of course they were called Masquerade Balls.)

Since the 1970’s cosplaying has been a fan activity for Japan, and although the term didn’t catch on at first, it wasn’t until a couple years after Takahashi wrote his article that it started trending. The trend really took off in the 90’s after exposure on TV and magazines, and in the late 90’s came what we know today as one of the first cosplay maid cafe’s promoting a video game called Welcome to Pia Carrot! (Many might remember this game.) Hard to believe that all of this started from two sci-fi fans from the 1940’s, and Takahasi who went to Worldcon in the 80’s.

We started from the bottom…now we’re here!

Even though cosplay is more popular now that ever, it did have its ‘scantily clad’ moments. Back in the 70’s there were people who ‘appeared’ naked at sci-fi conventions in America; which prompted the “no costume is no costume” rule because it was happening so frequently each year. Now, we’ve been to a LOT of conventions in the past ten years and we’ve seen our fair share of scantily clad cosplay, but if 90% of your birthday suit is showing, the rule was that you had to return to your hotel room and change into something less revealing. That rule is true especially now with a large handful of conventions being more family-friendly; at the same token there are a handful of cons just for our age group (90’s and early 2000’s kids).

The second generation of the “no costume is no costume” rule is the “Cosplay is NOT consent” rule found at every convention we go to – even our own. With the cosplay trend continuing its popularity well past the 2010’s, it came and presented it’s own share of challenges; this being one of them. In 2013 Rochelle Keyhan, Erin Filson, Anna Kegler brought the issue of sexual harassment to the mainstream; and to this day this movement continues to gain momentum.

Another issue plaguing the cosplay community is the controversial point of cosplay ethnicity; the fact that people of color are seen as ‘not authentic’ or ‘faithful’ to their cosplay by ‘detailed elitists’. Although many cosplayers in the community feel that anyone can cosplay, it becomes difficult when some argue that they’re not being respectful to the character’s ethnicity. Even now this is quite a polarizing topic among the community, but as for where we stand, we love ALL cosplayers – that it!

To cap it all off; cosplay popularity kicked off in the 1940’s with Worldcon, and continued on throughout the 80’s and 90’s all the way to present day. With anime conventions in the U.S. taking the top spot in convention popularity; beating out traditional sci-fi and comic book conventions (though some have combined with anime cons like Zenkaikon for example), cosplay in Western countries among the general public is more accepting than their Eastern counterparts. Guess we’ve got Halloween to thank for that, right? XP

From movies and documentaries cosplay has been a part of nerd culture for 70+ years, and although there haven’t been any conventions due to COVID, we’re 1000% sure we’ll see cosplay and cosplayers again! 😉   

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