ComicCons have grown from a niche “nerdy” hobby to a full-blown industry–San Diego’s famous ComicCon has an estimated three-year impact of $488.4 million on the local economy–and with it, the world of “cosplay” (short for costume play) has grown as well.
It’s a world that can seem intimidating to an outsider–I mean, I’m pretty nerdy, and I can’t even name half the costumes in this story–so I got the inside scoop from some of ComicCon’s most active members.
Victor Gamez, a sort of street-style photographer for the ComicCon set, assures me that cosplay is becoming more inclusive. “Now its not just limited to comic book or anime characters,” he says, “plenty of people this year dressed up as Jesse Pinkman and Walter White from Breaking Bad, a show I feel few people would call nerdy.”
Gamez has been shooting at San Diego’s ComicCon for a few years now, and he never fails to find something interesting. This year’s favorites were people whose costumes crossed fandoms. “One cosplayer dressed as Tony Stark, but within the world of Game of Thrones,” he tells me. “He wore Tony’s trademark Iron Man helmet, but rounded out the rest of the ensemble with a broadsword and a House Stark fur cloak.” (“Winter is coming,” even for multi-millionaire superheroes.)
It is possible to attend a Con without dressing up–though you probably won’t have as much fun. Alexandra Sutton, who has been attending various Cons since 2007, says that dressing up enhances the overall experience. “Dressing up as one of your favorite characters is a great conversation starter with people who are into the same things that you are into,” she explains.
She has a series of costumes she uses, from those she puts together from things in her closet to elaborate costumes her grandmother sews for her. There are two common threads: one, they must be blonde like Sutton (she hates wearing wigs); and two, they’re all women she considers role models.
Sutton definitely prefers the more complicated costumes. “A large part of the cosplay-ing experience for me is designing and making the costume with my grandmother,” she says, “so throwing on jeans and a leather jacket and calling myself Buffy wouldn’t be nearly as fun as figuring out how to make the perfectly flowing, off-the-shoulder, white silk, pleated cape that Emma Frost wears.” (And it is pretty damn perfect.)
Women can also dress as male characters. Called “crossplaying,” Emily of The Stylish Geek says it’s her preferred style of choice lately. “I swear it’s not intentional,” she insists. “I guess there is more room for interpretation when you translate a male costumes to a female figure and I find that cool and challenging.” Her simpler costumes take her a couple of weeks; more complex ones, like her female Darth Vader, can take five to six weeks to put together.
But despite the attention she garners, Emily doesn’t make her costumes to stand out. “I make them because number one, I’m a fan,” she tells me, adding that it’s a great creative outlet and technical challenge. “I’ve always loved art, and studied computer science and math in college, so it’s kind of like those two parts of my brain coming together,” she says.
Still, cosplayers can become famous with the right costume.