Are we reaching a cosplay Restoration Era?
I think it’s safe to say that cosplay has changed a lot. It seems like a lot of people have fallen out of the hobby and many veteran cosplayers talk about better days in the community.
But why is that? I pondered this question and I went down a rabbit hole of what the “eras of cosplay” have looked like.
When I started to cosplay in 2004, it was a time of optimism and creativity. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t exist anymore, but rather that it was at its peak. A lot of people refer to the early 2000’s as the Golden Age of cosplay. It was a time when there was a lot of innovation, because everything was new. Although costuming had been around for a long time, this time marked an influx of people interested in the hobby, anime getting a massive boost in the West, and the boom of fan conventions. YouTube was new, there was no social media, and most cosplayers just wanted to create. A belle époque of sorts.
The cosplay community has never been perfect. There are many downsides and negatives that continue to happen to this day, but I think these all really came to light through social media.
When cosplay first hit social media, in the late 2000’s, it did not go over well. It was the Pop Art/Futurism Era of cosplay, so it was a time of a fragmented community whilst trying to synthesize with the rest of the world. I remember when people started to leave cosplay-centric websites like cosplay.com, ACParadise, Livedoor, etc., to start posting cosplay on MySpace and Facebook. When FB rolled out pages, people would be looked down on for having cosplay pages. It was seen as self-centered.
But things eventually changed and it was more accepted to see cosplay as art and to separate things from real life. By the early 2010’s, cosplay started to gain traction globally, eventually becoming more mainstream and giving way to a Dream Era. During this time we see cosplayers begin businesses in cosplay (print sales and maker/crafting from cosplayers), conventions invite cosplayers as guests regularly, information (tutorials, streaming, etc.) is now shared, and cosplayers can now be more open with their work through social media.
We get to the late 2010’s, reaching a Vex Era, where social media starts to become a major impact and worry in the community. Around this time, there is a big focus on popularity, photorealism/photography edits and replica costumes, and making money through cosplay. There is a disparity between makers and what defines cosplay, which brings about a lot of deflation and “lost magic” for a lot of people.
I remember during this time, wanting to take a year break because I felt so burned out. I was trying to keep up with all the changes and not let numbers worry me.
The start of 2020 was very hopeful. It felt like something was about to change and there were lots of plans in the works. Cosplay had reached a cusp and was starting to even out with more companies taking cosplay seriously. But then a few months later, the Pandemic hit and the world changed. I think we’re still feeling the effects of it, but this brings about the TikTok Era.
The world stopped and TikTok barraged through and brought about a massive amount of young cosplayers, but also a MASSIVE change to the community. People start to rely heavily on pre-made costumes (which have become extremely well made), instant gratification and the need to create
content is ridiculously high, and the community starts to heavily rely on TikTok performance. However, this also creates an increase in sharing information/tutorials, materials for cosplay are at its peak, and there is a higher openness for interpretation.
Although we’re still around this era, I’m starting to see a change and we’re probably going to experience it any day now. I’m calling it a Restoration Era, because it feels like the world is starting to come back from the Pandemic. Conventions are starting to invite cosplayers again, there is a boost in cosplay competitions, there are more cosplay-friendly events/places, and there is a reawakening of craftsmanship. Whilst still present, I think people are starting to focus less on numbers and more on content. More on what they can make and achieve long-term, rather than instant gratification.
Cosplay is currently at a stage where technology, art, and wisdom are at an all time high. There’s still a long way to go and we do have a broken world to deal with, but somehow it feels calm and hopeful within the community. It’s starting to feel a little bit like that Golden Age again.