Would you spend over a hundred hours on something that you can only wear on a weekend every few months? I think that most people would balk at the idea of spending that much time creating anything. While volunteering at Dragon Con this past Labor Day weekend, I spent much of my time considering just that. Dragon Con is a place to see some of the best people-watching in Atlanta. Dragon Con is an annual fan multigenre fan convention featuring vendors, celebrity panels, workshops, and much more. Many people create elaborate costumes full of decadent detail. Many of these are uncomfortable to wear and difficult to put together- Why do so many people do it?
I was especially struck by this while reporting on the annual “Legend of the Chosen” costume contest, hosted by the Georgia Aquarium. As each contestant modeled their costume, the hosts (from the cast of The Karate Kid, if you were wondering) read out the descriptions of their creations, which were hand-dyed, hand-beaded and painted, hand quilted and adorned with homemade piping, and sculpted from EVA foam. All contestants had spent many painstaking hours of hard work to create something so wonderfully detailed.
When I spoke to a few of them afterward, each contestant showed me a detail on their costume that they were proud of, an elaborate detail that had taken them hours and may not be noticeable unless you were looking for it. “It’s quite a process,” one of them tells me, “but it works out.” For one woman, it is her fourth year creating an elaborate costume for the contest. She thinks it’s fun to show off her work. Another entered for the same reason, so people could see her cosplay and the work she put into it.
The creation of these pieces is special to them, something they put their hearts into. It’s an art form that they’re showing off. In a society that places value on the monetary gain something produces, it can be surprising to see people putting money and time into something merely because they love it. Not one of them was there for the prizes- that was incidental to sharing something they loved to create with others.
Another revelation into this question came during a pair of interviews concerning something that may seem completely different: furries. The head of the costuming track for Dragon Con tells me about his experience with people who wear fursuits. He tells me one of the reasons many people choose to buy (or make) and wear these expensive costumes is that it allows them to be part of a community. The anonymity of a fursuit also gives them more freedom to interact with others. He tells me that many people who are outgoing and love interacting with people while wearing the suit are quite shy without it. I talk to another young man, who has decided to attend Dragon Con as his first outing in a partial fursuit (paws, a tail, and a head). He tells me for him, the costume is a form of self-expression. Creating his fursona, a blue dragon, allowed him to explore his identity.
As someone who has only worn cosplays that took less than a dozen hours and a few trips to Hobby Lobby and thrift shops to create, I at first found the amount of work and expense that many put into their costumes to be mind-boggling. But maybe, in a way, I do understand- the experience of walking around in something you’re proud of is rewarding and it is amazing to see people’s reactions, to see that they’re excited about it too. Whether as a form of self-expression or for the enjoyment of the process, cosplay is something that countless people love.