Earthlings, such an unfathomable species - we live out our lives - go to work, sleep and eat in our normal, everyday life, but forever in our history has been our element of dress up, of self-decoration and playing someone else.
Shamanic ceremonies with animal characters danced and played out an experience for the entire tribe in elaborate costumes. Ancient Roman actors donned simple, and then later, elaborate masks for their plays. Oh, and by the way, this is where the theatrical symbol of comedy tragedy masks began.
Renaissance Europe had elaborate masked balls in Italy. The Victorian populous in London, who at the time was a more contrived, always concerned with properness in social situations, even succumbed to the lure of dress up. In the 17th Century, tickets for Masquerade Balls could be sold to anyone who could afford one. This made for parties where the commoners drank, gambled and delved into lasciviousness with the nobles.
In America - - the tradition of wearing masked began in Mardi Gras which started around the early 1700's, tied to Carnival.
Halloween as a dress up holiday in the US did not gain hold until the immigrants from Europe, especially Irish immigrants, brought the tradition over to dress up and go house to ask for treats or money. Halloween was an Autumn festival - and for several centuries was a prankster, ghostly time of year.
As we see, there has always been a playful, dress up, and roleplaying part of us - getting out of a day to day world and live as another, in another time or place. It's a phenomenon that has been researched and studied and many theories written. Why do we love this so much? Maybe it relieves stress, or maybe it's just fun, but there is probably a deeper underlying need to pull out all the stops and get our yah-yahs out. One that speaks to our soul in a way that faith and religion do not, perhaps to play out dreams and desires so that we may connect to inner ourselves in a different way? Behind the anonymity of mask, or within the role of a superhero or supervillain.
With the advent of the pulp Sci-Fi magazines and books in the early 1900's - there was a fan base that began doing what is known as fan costuming. In the late 1930's a dynamic sci-fi geek couple duo - went way out and upped the level of fan costuming - Myrtle Douglas and her boyfriend, Forest J. Ackerman, with their home-made silver, diaphanous attire, debuted at the first World Con, dressed up as characters from an H.G Wells novel.
From Dressing up for Halloween to dressing up for conventions (or for - whatever!) eventually came about via LARPing, (Live ActionRolePlaying.) LARPing jumped off table top board games such as Dungeons & Dragons. D & D is the iconic board game that began in 1970. It is set on a board and in the player's imagination, requiring players to play in an adventure that they traveled through with friends, a world of heroes, monsters, dragons, castles and dangerous dungeons. LARPers began creating the game in the real life with"sets" or even fully acted out battles. Several spin-offs emerged in a similar format.
LARPers and other role players soon took their costumes to another level and went beyond dStar Trek uniforms, but role playing all their favorite characters. Thus began the world of cosplay.
Cosplay is tied to fandom. But Cosplay really wouldn't be Cosplay without something to play as. And although humans always admire greater humans - (leaders, royalty, and celebrities - hello - kinda boring!) for a very, very long time, fandom is not really about a love of the real person. It is about the love of a character (not boring!). And never before has such a diverse world of characters existed.
There have been fans of cartoon characters in America, fans of Sherlock Holmes in London and fans of other literary figures. But the idea of dressing up as Miss Marple or Orphan Annie probably wasn't what our grandparents dreamed of doing on a Saturday night.
The term cosplay was first used by Nobuyuki Takahashi, a Japanese writer, in 1984 when he attended the New York World com. Starting mostly out of anime fandom in Japan people began dressing up as the characters they saw in the most famous of the Anime work being printed. The First Comic Con Comic Book Convention was in 1970. Fans of Comic Books started dressing up as the favorites - following suit from the Japanese anime players.
Star Trek conventions began with the dress up of the famous uniforms that people could buy (and make) and start to were to the conventions. Then it just spread like Game of Thrones Wildfire since then. Marvel Characters, movies characters, tv and super heroes all began to show up and Cons around the world. And the Cons began to diversify so that people who felt their section of the alternate world was not being supported enough in the bigger Cons. The Myths and Legend, Anime Star, Supernatural, you have a favorite genre - there is a con for you. Love Orange is the New Black hit Series? Yep, there is one for that too.
What is most exciting to look at, as we delve deeper into this history, is the actual players themselves. This is a multi-cultural, multi-generational, multi-pass phenomenon that does not seem to be slowing down. In fact - if you took a poll of cosplayers, you would probably find that a high percentage of them would like to dress like this all the time, or at least go to work as Zena. We are starting to see tattoo art that supports the role players vision and body piercing implants and plastics surgery - permanent elf ears anyone?
Maybe it is a little too hunger games - but as society becomes more prosperous and works becomes easier or covered by robotics, what is a human to do? Dress uP! As a source of entertainment, adornment, and self-expression in a unique way, acting out your fantasies every day is more popular than ever. While we change as humans and more Ii and VR move into our everyday life - our expression and maybe even our need for self-expression will grow even more.