Cosplay (コスプレ/costume play) is a term that is often bandied around when discussing Japan & Japanese sub-cultures, and with the ever increasing awareness of Japanese pop culture cosplay has come to the forefront of many enthusiasts interests. Usually linked to anime and manga, cosplay is essentially the act of dressing up as one’s favourite character. Cosplay, despite strong connections to anime and manga, is not limited to just to these mediums – for example, it’s also possible to see cosplayers emulating their beloved musicians, game characters and idols.
However, many have seen the line between fashion inspiration and cosplay blurring. When does fashion become cosplay? When is cosplay considered genuine fashion?
Fashion exists in many forms across the world, and is exemplified by constantly changing trends. If we take the example of lolita – characterised by bell-shaped skirts, blouses and feminine accents – could we argue that it is cosplay? Lolita, although stemming originally from pink house fashion, takes much of it’s inspiration from the Rococo & Victorian eras. This again leads us back to the issue of mimetic Japanese fashion; the idea that as indigenous Japanese dress is far removed from can be seen on the Western-influenced streets then it must be mimetic. If we take fashion to be solely linked to the influence of couture trends then we could say lolita is cosplay of a sort as it exists outside the mainstream. Yet lolita does have its own trends – black & white coordinates were prevalent a few years ago, yet current thought dictates more of a pastel look with child-like kawaii prints and heaps of accessories. I would argue however, that as lolita is not a direct copy of old European dress, it’s not cosplay as such.
What about Western girls dressing up in lolita frills? Are they cosplaying as Japanese lolitas?
This is a pretty interesting point. If I, for example, copy an outfit directly from a gyaru magazine, am I cosplaying? Gyaru style itself follows many trends, some directly from the catwalks, so we can say that is a genuine fashion. But when is copying considered cosplay and not inspiration? What if you only dress in the lolita style at certain times? Are time & integration in to your own wardrobe major factors?
I think it has to do with the degree of mimesis, as well as the media. Cosplay exists within it’s own media-constructed bubble – it can’t escape it’s mimetic nature. Cosplay is the direct representation of the character, not as style or fashion, but the very image itself. But what happens when other fashion images are directly copied? Is it just dressing up? Where do you draw the line between cosplay, inspiration and fashion?