Dressing up is not a game for the attendees of the 2015 Cosplay America convention.
Marie Pouler, a 26-year-old UNC Charlotte student working on her second master’s degree, spent over $400 to become Maleficent, both the main character in Angelina Jolie’s 2014 movie and the witch in “Sleeping Beauty.”
Mallory Walker, 20, became anime character Ciel Phantomhive, a costume that included a large pink dress that also cost about $400.
Costume play, or “cosplay,” can be an expensive and time-consuming hobby, which is why Cosplay America is a two-day convention at the Sheraton Chapel Hill dedicated to the craft of cosplay, not just doing it.
“We’ve got a lot of programming put together to help people get better at it or focus on one element of it,” said Cosplay America staff member William Bloodworth.
The convention, which is planned and staffed locally, invites attendees to learn how to make costumes on a budget, how to create their gear from the beginning and admire the outfits put together by cosplayers from all over the world.
Cosplay America is full of panel discussions and workshops. There are sessions to learn how to make jewelry or armor, style a wig and craft molds for more complicated costumes.
The organizers of the event used to work together on Animazement, a Raleigh anime convention, Bloodworth said. The group, himself included, wanted to focus on something different.
“This convention is specifically for cosplayers,” he said. “It takes that one aspect of fan communities and focuses on it.”
This year, Cosplay America staff hope that about 1,000 people attend over the two days. The number is typical for most local fan conventions, Bloodworth said.
Most fan conventions are themed – for example, steam punk, comics or video games – and welcome cosplayers, but they are not necessarily about cosplaying, Bloodworth said.
Appreciating art and community
As the conventions get more popular, cosplaying is more prominent. And the number of conventions in the state has exploded recently, said Sharon Berg, a volunteer coordinator at Cosplay America.
About five years ago, it was difficult to find a convention besides Animazement. Now, there are all kinds of conventions and thousands of people from throughout the state attend.
At Cosplay America, there is a special emphasis on what people can create, which is exciting, said Alexandra Higgins, a 21-year-old from Raleigh. She spent less than $50 to become Cecil, a character from the fantasy podcast “Welcome to Night Vale.”
Higgins prefers to keep her costumes inexpensive, so seeing more intricate and expensive creations is a fun part of the weekend for her.
“I like appreciating the art and work that goes into a costume,” she said.
But cosplaying, and Cosplay America, often means much more to participants.
For Pouler, who also cosplays as Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” in her yellow ballgown, conventions are a place for everyone to embrace a hobby that other people may find strange.
“It’s so open,” she said. “People don’t judge you if you want to have blue skin or large ears. It’s magical in a way nothing else is.”
The world of cosplay
Cosplay: Costume playing. Cosplayers pick or create characters and make costumes to look like them. Although cosplaying is common at fan conventions, cosplayers can also show off their costumes by booking private events, such as birthday parties, to perform as their character.
Anime: Animated Japanese movies or shows. Anime may also refer to characters or shows styled like Japanese animation. Many cosplayers use anime characters as inspiration.
Manga: Japanese comics. Cosplayers also base costumes on manga.
Conventions, or ‘cons’: Events that allow fans of a certain show or genre to get together to meet people involved with the topic and meet other fans. Fan conventions are sometimes to referred to as ‘cons,’ such as Comic-Con, and welcome cosplayers.