Cosplay, short for "costume play", is a performance art in which participants wear costumes and accessories to represent a specific character or idea. Cosplayers often interact to create a subculture centered on role play. A broader use of the term cosplay applies to any costumed role play in venues apart from the stage, regardless of the cultural context.
Favorite sources include manga, anime, comic books, video games, and films. Any entity from the real or virtual world that lends itself to dramatic interpretation may be taken up as a subject. Inanimate objects are given anthropomorphic forms and it is not unusual to see genders switched, with women playing male roles and vice versa. There is also a subset of cosplay culture centered on sex appeal, with cosplayers specifically choosing characters that are known for their attractiveness and/or revealing costumes.
The Internet has enabled many cosplayers to create social networks and websites centered on cosplay activities, while forums allow cosplayers to share stories, photographs, news, and general information. The rapid growth in the number of people cosplaying as a hobby since 1990 has made the phenomenon a significant aspect of popular culture. This is particularly the case in Asia, where cosplay influences Japanese street fashion.
Cosplay costumes vary greatly and can range from simple themed clothing to highly detailed costumes. Cosplay is generally considered different from Halloween and Mardi Gras costume wear, as the intention is to accurately replicate a specific character, rather than to reflect the culture and symbolism of a holiday event. As such, when in costume, cosplayers will often seek to adopt the affect, mannerisms and body language of the characters they portray (with "out of character" breaks). The characters chosen to be cosplayed may be sourced from any movie, TV series, book, comic book, video game or music band, but the practice of cosplay is often associated with replicating anime and manga characters.
Most cosplayers create their own outfits, referencing images of the characters in the process. In the creation of the outfits, much time is given to detail and qualities, thus the skill of a cosplayer may be measured by how difficult the details of the outfit are and how well they have been replicated. Because of the difficulty of replicating some details and materials, cosplayers often educate themselves in crafting specialties such as textiles, sculpture, face paint, fiberglass, fashion design, woodworking and other uses of materials in the effort to render the look and texture of a costume accurately. Cosplayers often wear wigs in conjunction with their outfit in order to further improve the resemblance to the character. This is especially necessary for anime and manga characters who often have unnaturally coloured and uniquely styled hair. Simpler outfits may be compensated for their lack of complexity by paying attention to material choice, and overall excellent quality. The process of creation may then be very long and time-consuming, making it a very personal journey and achievement for many. This taxing and often expensive process is known to unite cosplayers and is considered a part of the culture of cosplay.
Cosplayers obtain their apparel through many different methods. Manufacturers produce and sell packaged outfits for use in cosplay, in a variety of qualities. These costumes are often sold online, but also can be purchased from dealers at conventions. There are also a number of individuals who work on commission, creating custom costumes, props or wigs designed and fitted to the individual; some social networking sites for cosplay have classified ad sections where such services are advertised. Other cosplayers, who prefer to create their own costumes, still provide a market for individual elements, accessories, and various raw materials, such as unstyled wigs or extensions, hair dye, cloth and sewing notions, liquid latex, body paint, shoes, costume jewellery and prop weapons. Some anime and video game characters have weapons or other accessories that are hard to replicate, and conventions have strict rules regarding those weapons, but most cosplayers engage in some combination of methods to obtain all the items necessary for their costume; for example, they may commission a prop weapon, sew their own clothing, buy character jewelry from a cosplay accessory manufacturer, buy a pair of off-the-rack shoes, and modify them to match the desired look.
In order to look more like the character they are portraying, many cosplayers also engage in various forms of body modification. Contact lenses that match the color of their character's eyes are a common form of this, especially in the case of characters with particularly unique eyes as part of their trademark look. Contact lenses that make the pupil look enlarged to visually echo the large eyes of anime and manga characters are also used. Another form of body modification that cosplayers engage in is to copy any tattoos or special markings that their character might have. Temporary tattoos, permanent marker, body paint and, in rare cases, permanent tattoos, are all methods used by cosplayers to achieve the desired look. Permanent and temporary hair dye, spray-in hair coloring, and specialized extreme styling products are all utilized by some cosplayers whose natural hair can achieve the desired hairstyle.
The most popular form of presenting a cosplay is by wearing it to a fan convention. Multiple conventions dedicated to anime and manga, comics, TV shows, video games, science fiction and fantasy may be found all around the world. The single largest event featuring cosplay is the semi-annual doujinshi market, Comiket, held in Japan during summer and winter. It attracts hundreds of thousands of manga and anime fans, where thousands of cosplayers congregate on the roof of the exhibition center. The two highest attended events in the United States featuring cosplayers are San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic Con, which both had over 130,000 attendees in 2013. The biggest event in the UK is the London MCM Expo, while the biggest event in all of Europe takes place in France at Japan Expo in Paris, with an attendance of over 200,000 in 2012. The biggest anime convention in North America is Anime Expo, currently held in Los Angeles. The biggest anime convention is Canada is Anime North, held in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The largest event in the southern hemisphere is AVCon in Adelaide, Australia.