Eccentric hair, ornate weapons, billowing gowns and hulking armour: an exotic fantasy world instantly comes to mind. But these things are not limited to fiction; for cosplayers, it is a very real way of life.
Cosplay, or costume play, is quickly gaining traction alongside the growing interest in popular culture. It is a major draw at conventions, with the cosplayers exhibiting their often handcrafted costumes and embodying their characters.
Putting on a costume and taking on a new persona is usually something people look forward to once a year, for Halloween. That’s how it all started for second year animation student Debbie Williams, 28, when she dressed up as the character Inuyasha at the age of 12.
“Inuyasha is the character that got me going on the internet for the first time to find pictures,” Williams said. “When I was on the internet, I found people that were dressing up and that inspired me to do it.”
Since then, Williams, known in the cosplay scene as Faerykit, has gone on to create numerous other cosplays, Disney princesses being a favourite. In 2016, she competed in the animation students’ annual Halloween costume contest with a homemade Mulan cosplay and won.
“People loved it and I was so happy,” Williams said with a smile.
While wearing the costumes is rewarding, it can take a lot to get there. Williams has spent several long days crafting, once even when classes started at 8 a.m. the next morning. Being a full-time student, supply costs also pose an issue.
“Cosplay is a luxury. It can be pretty expensive,” said Williams.
Eleanor Barney, 24, an applied museum studies student at the college, understands the struggle to balance her hobby and school.
“There have been times where I have to make sure my homework is in good shape, so I have to do it well in advance or go [to the convention] for one day and take the other day to do work.”
Barney, who has been cosplaying since 2009, also has methods to deal with the high costs involved with cosplaying.
“I go to the thrift store and find something to modify,” Barney said. “I also try to do more than one cosplay per character so that I don’t have to buy more wigs because I find wigs are one of the most expensive parts.”
Since the interest of popular culture has grown significantly over the last few years, so has the acceptance of it, along with cosplay and the people who make it. Barney takes pride in being part of the creative community.
“I’m really proud of what I make, so I like to tell people, especially if they have similar interests,” she said.
“By post-secondary, most people don’t see it as, ‘Oh, you’re a weird nerd.’”
For 22-year-old early childhood education student Regan Yang, cosplay has been a big way to express himself. Yang, who has cosplayed since 2011, moved to Ottawa from China in December 2018 to attend Algonquin and said that since the move, he has felt much more freedom, including with the perception of cosplay.
“When I arrived here, I felt that everybody was kind and there wasn’t that much judgement. But in my country they do,” Yang said. “I have makeup on. In my country, everyone will look at you because it’s not normal.”
For anyone hesitant to jump into cosplay, Debbie Williams encourages them to find the fun in it and to make the leap.
“I say do it,” she said. “I
just encourage them to do it.”