How cosplay has become mainstream and hit retails stores, becoming more accessible than ever

Jan 4, 2020
Lara Lunardi in her Kasumi cosplay, manufactured by Cosplay SKY

 

Rapidly rising, cosplay has reached the mainstream level. The popular usage of the term “cosplay”, that is the intersection of the words costume and play, has allowed the hobby to evolve and gain attention from retailers and product developers. In this article, we will deep dive into how cosplay has hit the shelves.

 

When analyzing the rise of cosplay business, we have to look back to its past and how the hobby came to be in the first place. The term was coined in Japan, however, it was born in the USA. Japanese journalist Nobuyuki Takahashi attended the 1984 World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles California, later writing an article reporting on the experience for the Japanese magazine “My Anime”. Before the term “cosplay” was born, hobbyists called it “masquerade”, which caused confusion to the Japanese audience due to the costumes not living up to the aristocratic origins of the word.

 

With the intention to replicate specific character designs, cosplay has grown ardent with creativity. When the hobby first came to be, cosplayers created their garments in homemade fashion, mostly due to the lack of pre-existing costumes, making use of creative methods to achieve the look of their favorite characters. The precedent of a community of crafting oriented individuals had been set. 

 

A relic of an unknown cosplay convention in the 90s - Motherboard

 

Over the course of nearly 40 years, cosplay has gone from its thrift store clothing modification days to being present in retail shelves. What is the most interesting about the popularization of the hobby is that companies capitalizing in it are maintaining its core aspects. Consumers can find from pre-made costumes of the most popular characters to fabric lines catering to fantasy and sci-fi clothing designs.

 

Stores like JoAnn Fabrics have adapted to the current trends in crafting, carrying products that cater specifically to the new generation of crafters. One of their most popular lines was created in partnership with cosplay superstar Yaya Han, the Yaya Han Fabric Collection from CosplayFabrics.com features a whole range of specialty fabric catering to cosplay fans. The line has more than 70 fabrics in 15 different categories, the product lineup features brocades, stretch materials that mimic latex, carbon fiber and faux leather, and a wide range of trims.

 

Yaya Han as Arcade Miss Fortune - Photo by Benny Le

 

Crafting stores are known for carrying not only the materials, but also the resources to turn them into living breathing designs. As cosplay progressed, members of the community would trade information with each other through the use of forums (remember Cosplay.Com?) and social media, sharing tutorials, patterns and advice. McCall’s pattern company has released an entire line to assist cosplayers with their crafting needs, titled “Cosplay by McCalls”. The demand for specific patterns opened the door to officially licensed patterns, like the Super Mario pattern line by Simplicity.

 

Cosplay has grown to be much more than a hobby derived from crafting and fandom. As the community advances, the diversity of cosplay fans broaden, bringing in various interests together. This means not every fan is interested in the crafting aspect of it. Some are drawn to embodying characters, some are interested in the makeup artistry, prop making, and even performance. Cosplay is now more accessible than ever.

 

Spirit Halloween's Overwatch cosplay selection

 

The arrival of cosplay costumes to brick and mortar shelves has longed to arrive in the USA, while it had been present in countries like Japan, Korea and China for years prior. The cosplay sale trend started with commissions from various artisans, evolving into factories and businesses dedicated to crafting specialty costumes. Surprisingly enough, Halloween costume brands have not really updated to marked trends so rapidly. Game publishers like Blizzard Entertainment have taken the first steps to create affordable Cosplay/Halloween costume hybrid lines.

 

Popular cosplay vendor Mic Costumes/ Lara Lunardi in Mic Costumes' Xayah cosplay

 

China pioneered in creating business formats that involved streamlined factory work and the mass production of the most varied costume designs. MicCostumes is a very good example of a business that has thrived selling cosplay costumes online. The garments are of very impressive quality, with smart solutions to make outfits as comfortable as possible, and the website is constantly updated with new designs every week, topped with professional photo shoots of their products featuring cosplay influencers.

 

Professional Pharah armor sold by Cosplay Inspire

 

Accuracy and material quality are a symbol of status within the community, mimicking the fashion industry, with both fast fashion and couture aspects. Costumes can range from two figures to infinity and beyond: Super fans invest in movie replicas, designer armor and custom made wigs. The fees will vary depending on the artisan you hire, complexity of design and material choices.

 

You can find more about my professional cosplay work on www.laralunardi.com or on www.instagram.com/laralunardi 

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