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Expressing Fandom Creatively: The Joy of Cosplay in Fan Communities
From conventions to concerts, fans love dressing up!
In November of 2022, I entered “The Great War” to obtain tickets 🎫 for the most highly anticipated concert of the year: Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour. I was one of “The Lucky One(s)” who did procure tickets, and then a brand new stress came over me: I only had six months to decide on an outfit. 👗 As soon as the tour started, social media was flooded with pictures and “get ready with me” videos of girls and women getting dressed for the concert of the year; the fits ranged from cosplay to actual costume, some concert-goers opting for replicas of Taylor’s current and previous tour outfits, as well as creative options like “the scarf”🧣(if you know, you know). The point being, this wasn’t an average concert-going experience in terms of dress: attendees went all out.
Dressing up for an event in fandom is hardly a new phenomenon. For decades, fans have incorporated cosplay into their expression of fandom. The first comic-con 🦸♀️🦸 in San Diego in 1970 was a small event, but later turned into one of the biggest international conventions celebrating comics, science fiction, and fantasy across mediums.
“Cosplay,” short for “costume play”, a term coined in Japan in 1984, refers to the idea of dressing in the manner of characters. From dressing in full costume to either emulate a character or using streetwear to subtly convey character through clothing, cosplay has, over the years, become a huge part of any fan convention.
Why do fans feel compelled to dress in costume, in general? On the surface, it falls under any other form of fandom expression: it’s a creative endeavor, from ideation to execution, not so unlike fanfiction or fan art. But psychologists have done studies on how an article of dress might compel a person to act a certain way; we all know the old adage “dress for the job you want,” which suggests that putting on clothing that conveys an aspiration might help with confidence and goal-setting. In a costume based on a character or idea, a fan might feel uninhibited, less anxious, and more confident. Costumes put the wearer in a mindset of play, allowing them to experience an event in a way they might not when dressed as they usually do. Halloween costumes, and spooky season 🎃 in general, offer a somewhat controlled environment in which to try on another persona, and cosplay is no different.
I, myself, was never a big fan of comics or science fiction, so I’ve never been to a giant fan convention where this is the norm. But one place I do love is Walt Disney World. 🏰 As a child, I desperately wanted a princess dress–maybe Cinderella’s sparkly blue ball gown or Belle’s bookstore-chic aproned day dress. Authentic-looking costumes and makeovers for kids are a huge part of the Disney theme park business–just take a walk by the Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique for proof. Back in the 1980s, my parents never succumbed to the huge price tag such a costume would come with, but they did buy me my very first pair of Minnie Mouse ears which I wore proudly throughout our vacations. While I had no word for it then, this was my foray into cosplay: donning my ears 🐭 in a space where it was socially acceptable to get in on the character fun.
This kind of cosplay fun is very much a part of the Disney experience for both kids and adults. Since Disney Parks are known for character meet and greets, any guest over the age of 14 is not permitted to wear a full costume–for everyone’s safety. Adults who want to get creative with their outfits for a day at a Disney theme park have helped launch a side business in fandom: DisneyBounding. DisneyBound cosplay was created in 2011 by blogger and creator Leslie Kay. DisneyBound shows guests how they can use street clothes and toned down costume elements to create a look that is reminiscent of a character, but still playing within the rules of the theme park dress code. The DisneyBound Instagram feed, run by Leslie Kay herself, is full of amazing ideas! Forget what you’ve heard about “Disney adults;” theme park cosplay is one really fun and creative way that fans can express their fandom in a place that begs every guest to connect with their inner child.
But what about cosplay in other spaces that aren’t begging for us to return to our childlike selves? Conventions are one thing, but costumes and cosplay are showing up in more and more fan spaces.
We all witnessed the phenomenon this past summer that was the release of the Barbie movie. 💖 While fans of classic comics and books have been dressing up for superhero and fantasy movie opening nights for decades, the convention “fangirl” trope has expanded over the years from something male-character driven to more feminist. And Barbie transcended it: women and girls flocked to theaters to fangirl over Barbie herself, dressed to impress. Movie-goers donned everything from Barbie-pink outfits to more intricate costumes inspired by the dolls and the movie wardrobe. It wasn’t uncommon to hear fans saying “hi, Barbie!” to each other in concession lines and theater bathrooms.
As the Eras Tour film opens up in theaters for a limited run all over the world, fans are again dressing up the way they did for the concerts themselves. They’re wearing their favorite Taylor Swift looks, as well as wearing tour-specific merchandise–both authentic and fan-created-like tees and sweatshirts with the iconic Eras logo design. And of course, no true fan is skimping on the friendship bracelets.
For the past couple of years, especially when tickets to the Eras tour were hard to come by, Taylor Swift dance parties–organized events at venues where a DJ would simply play Taylor Swift’s music all night for fans to dance and sing along to–have popped up all over the world, and often. Fans dress up in their best Taylor-inspired outfits to dance the night away.
And as a regular theater goer, I have recently seen fans–mostly young fans–dress up in cosplay to attend a Broadway musical. 🎭 While costumes are common at the industry’s New York fan convention, BroadwayCon, and it’s expected to see children in costume at a Disney musical like Aladdin 🧞♂️ or The Lion King 🦁, fans sometimes also express themselves through cosplay at shows that have somewhat of a cult following. I have attended the musical Six several times where fans dress in the assigned color or don the iconic hairstyles of their favorite queens 👸, one of the six wives of Henry VIII. And the practice has been common at other fan-favorite shows, like Hamilton and Beetlejuice.
Cosplay is a great way to live your fandom in an outwardly creative way, especially if it provides an extra layer of fun and confidence while enjoying your favorite content. We can’t wait to see what fans cosplay next!
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