14 ways cosplay has changed in 14 years

So, I just got a KILLER Morrigan photoset back from Matthew Sperzel Photography. It mostly looks like this:

Dragon Con Cosplayer

Photo by Matthew Sperzel Photography

...and it got me thinking: Gosh, cosplayers in 2015 are lucky. My yellow eyes, light-up staff commission, picture-perfect photo editing, even my wig- none of these were available when I started. I've been cosplaying for 14 years, and let me tell you, the early 2000s were the WILD WEST.

Pull up a chair, young'n. Here's how cosplay was different back between 2001 and 2003, when I was just getting my sewing legs:



1. Wig selection was super-slim. This is always the first thing I think about when it comes to "old timey" cosplay. Wig colors and styles were extraordinarily limited. There was no Arda. Terms like "heat resistant" and "lace front" weren't for us. You could go to a local costume shop, explore an actual wig store, or try your luck on eBay (which still accepted cash in envelopes. Whoa.)

My friend cosplayed FFX-2's Paine by styling an old lady wig from the Fantasy Costumes bargain bin. I remember when I found my Legend of Zelda Saria wig. People were FLOORED. "LIGHT GREEN?!" Yes, my children. Light green.

2. We paused VHS tapes and video games to get reference images. These days, companies like BioWare are kind enough to make "Character Kits." I remember watching Yuna's FMV sequences in FFX over and over, just to see specific details on her obi. I do admit, for obscure characters, sometimes the Blu-Ray is STILL the only way to go. I'm looking at you, Saffron from Firefly.

3. Worbla wasn't invented yet. ...Or at least it hadn't come to America, I dunno. Now, we not only have Worbla's Finest Art, we also have transparent AND black variants. What did people used to make armor out of? Well, we had craft foam/funky foam/foamies, cardboard, spray paint... but frankly, there wasn't a lot of armor.

4. There was no Etsy. Let that sink in. Where did I even find all of those beads, lace trims, and gems? ...Oh, right, I didn't. I just used whatever I had lying around. Cute.

5. Digital photography was new. Many people were still using cameras with (GASP) film. So, many photos were developed, scanned, THEN posted online. The result:

This is me as a baby. I do miss that Rinoa weapon I made.

This is me as a baby. I do miss that Rinoa weapon I made.

Dig that muted glow! Digital cameras were for fancy people (and not high school students.) So, we'd all huddle around Kevin Lillard's website, A Fan's View (now defunct,) waiting for our precious pics to appear.

The only Fan's View pic I could find was of my sister.

The only Fan's View pic I could find was of my sister.

6. We hung out at Cosplay.comAmerican Cosplay Paradise, and Cosplaylab. COOL WEBSITES, BRO. Cosplay.com didn't sell anything, ACParadise hadn't split into three, and Cosplaylab was holding those dreaded look-a-like contests.

7. There weren't that many conventions. Here in Chicago, I looked forward to Anime Central all year. There was nothing else. Now, this pretty city has multiple cons every month. The audience is also much younger, as anime is easy to access. Kids today will never know what Suncoast was.

8. You couldn't buy a pre-made cosplay if you wanted to. When they started selling Naruto gear at Hot Topic, it was a BIG FLIPPIN' DEAL. Anybody can buy cosplay off-the-rack in 2015. Pictures of my Rinoa cosplay (seen above) have actually been stolen by overseas cosplay manufacturers claiming my product is theirs.

9. Cosplay skits were bare-bones. I was into the amateur voice acting/fan-dubbing community, so I was literally one of the first cosplayers with pre-mixed audio at Masquerades. It was baffling to people. I have several trophies that I'm sure were earned because of the audio and nothing else.

These days, every skit has extra production value: music, voice acting, huge sets, "stage ninjas," or all of the above and more. ...FYI, these things don't automatically make a piece more entertaining. *cough*

10. People literally raced to be "first" of a character. I remember this happening for Yuna in FFX-2. Cosplayers slapped together completely speculative costumes to be "first," even though the front of her outfit hadn't been seen yet. This is particularly funny, given that the front of Gunner Yuna's shirt is... unique.

On today's vast Internet, the "first" of any costume would be impossible to track.

11. Costume satin wasn't a sin. In fact, it was all that was available. ...Well, that and brightly-colored dancewear spandex, but who had the right equipment to work with that? NOBODY, that's who.

12. "Cos-famous" wasn't really a thing. Sure, there were people who were more well-known in the community, but it meant something different. The "popular" people almost exclusively got that way by owning a nice camera, a rad website, or both. A few of us remember having "fan appreciation posts" on the G4 forums where people would just share pictures of us and discuss them. That was sort of it.

BTW, because "cos-famous" wasn't a word, cosplayers weren't invited to conventions as guests. Not ever. So, if you've ever gotten this honor, you should appreciate it immensely. I'm sick of seeing jealousy over who got invited where. It's a huge shame. We should just be excited that cosplayers are sought after at all!

How honored should you be? THIS HONORED.

How honored should you be? THIS HONORED.

13. The mainstream did not know about our hobby. Cosplayers didn't have TV showsprofessional patterns, or US-based magazines. I was, however, in a Japanese magazine. I special ordered a copy so I could see myself in it. <3

14. Yaya Han was already around. I'm completely fine with the "fame" Yaya has today, because frankly, she has paid her dues. She has been busting her butt for over 15 years. Her craftsmanship is INSANE. Not a single person I've seen spewing hate has been cosplaying as long or as well. Heck, I haven't held a job for 5 years, let alone 15. I must give credit where it's due; game recognize game.


I didn't create this list to complain. I wrote it to express gratitude. If you're a cosplayer in 2015, please save this post for a stressful day. Read it when your themoplastic armor isn't quite coming together, when your gorgeous wig is tangled, or when you just plain feel inadequate.

Even today's most basic, amateur-ish cosplay is a miraculous work of art. The tools available to us are thanks to years and years of cosplayers creating, innovating, and demanding better. We are SO LUCKY to participate in this hobby during its most well-respected era.

So, don't throw your sewing machine across the room when it eats your fabric.

Don't say nasty things about a fellow cosplayer when they receive praise, a convention guest opportunity, or other positive feedback.

Don't think nasty things about yourself in those moments, either.

We have come a long way. We are lucky, we are privileged, this is fun, this is for everyone, and...

Did I mention that you look AWESOME?

My X-2 Yuna with some wonderful friends. Photo by Photography Banzai, just taken on Saturday!

My X-2 Yuna with some wonderful friends. Photo by Photography Banzai, just taken on Saturday!

What do YOU remember from the early days of cosplay? Share below!

Then, follow me on FacebookTwitter, and with an e-mail subscription. Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.


Filed under: Cosplay

Tags: Anime Central, cosplay, nostalgia, Troppy

Leave a comment