Cosplay is about the costume, not being sexy

Hilary has become known on campus as ‘the hot chick dressed as Misty’

Vomiting on your fancy dress costume is a rite of passage for students, so it’s a good thing fancy dress doesn’t take much effort. Toga party? Bed sheet. Superhero party? Bin bag cape. Beach party? Lei.

But during my student years, I smothered myself in stage paint from head to toe, wore multiple pairs of contact lenses at once, crippled myself with unwearable shoes and slept rough in want of a hotel room: all for the sake of cosplay.

What distinguishes cosplay from fancy dress is commitment. Detail is key. To assume the appearance of a fictional character, cosplayers wear wigs, body paint, circle lenses and prosthetics. Costumes crafted from scratch can involve months of work and hundreds of pounds of materials.

Costumes like this take a lot of work and dedication

Costumes like this take a lot of work and dedication

Why would a student deplete their loan on costume making? For me, costume design is often the best part of a film and I love recreating what I see. For others, cosplay is an important fan activity.

Cosplay is most enjoyable when a cosplay community forms. These communities share tips, support each other, plan cosplay groups and head out all decked-out in their cosplay best.

There are small groups like this dotted all over the country. Your best place for finding cosplayers in Bristol is at Anime & Sci-Fi Society.

Most of the cosplay friends I made at university have been through Bristol Pokémon Trainer Society. In order to promote the society, I dressed as Misty, Ash’s female travelling companion.

Misty during bar crawl (Andrew Cumming Photography)

Misty and her fellow Pokemon trainers (Photo: Andrew Cumming Photography)

It was my first time heading out in cosplay in a “normal” environment. Even during the havoc of Lounge during freshers’ week, I looked unusual.

A cosplayer stands out like a lighthouse in the sea of street clothes you get on campus. Typical reactions are confusion and ridicule. Cosplay is geeky after all.

A skimpy costume like Misty’s means either lust or disgust are added to the mix, depending on how closely your anatomy matches that of an animated Japanese adolescent.

Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt and construction workers

Cosplayers often experience unwanted attention from other people

Within the student bubble, you’d be lucky to spot one or two cosplayers a year. Instead, if you want to see cosplayers in their natural environment, you need to visit a comic convention.

Conventions are welcoming, exciting and creative environments. Geeks are at home and being in cosplay alone doesn’t attract ridicule. In fact, many people go for the cosplay; to exhibit their own work and to admire the elaborate efforts of others.

You even find professional cosplayers such as Jessica Nigri or Yaya Han, who are paid to travel from convention to convention, showing off their costumes and meeting fans.

Jessica Nigri as Juliet Starling (Warner Brothers)

Jessica Nigri dressed as Juliet Starling

The most successful cosplayers, of course, are also the sexiest cosplayers. Because whether in the cosplay world or the outside world, a skimpy outfit draws attention.

Female characters often exist purely for the romantic or sexual fulfilment of their male counterparts. Particularly in video games, skimpy costumes are commonplace. The girls who go to conventions dressed as these characters draw a lot of attention and often suffer harassment.

Another Pokemon Society social, this time in a Drifloon-inspired outfit

Another Pokemon Society social, this time in a Drifloon-inspired outfit

In October 2013, an incident involving the sexual assault of a minor occurred at a comic convention in Seattle. In response, a movement known as “Cosplay is not Consent” began, with the intention of raising awareness of harassment at conventions.

During my very first cosplay experience, I was encouraged to dress as a character from a crude anime called “Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt”. As the title suggests, the anime was heavy on sex and my costume was light on fabric.

Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt

Costumes, wigs, and face paints galore: conventions are a chance to share your passion for cosplaying with others

While I was busy soaking up the sensory overload of my first convention, my boobs and butt were grabbed, I was called a slut and a whore, repeatedly propositioned, and cornered by a group of men who wanted a model for promotional material for their gentleman’s club.

These experiences must sound familiar to young female students. The problems faced by cosplayers who choose to wear skimpy costumes are indistinguishable to the problems faced by girls at university who go out in miniskirts and heels. Just with added wigs and body armour.

By its very nature, cosplay attracts attention, but it shouldn’t also attract derision. Besides, you’ll never regret having a cosplayer’s help before a fancy dress party.