Cosplay: A History by Andrew Liptak

Wow, what a comprehensive look this is at the past and present of cosplay!

I’ve always loved dressing up, ever since my parents bought me a gorgeous Snow White dress that I was forbidden to wear except on Special Occasions, so I maybe got to wear it twice before outgrowing it as a child (which absolutely underscores for me the fact that you shouldn’t save your pretty clothes for other people’s “occasions” but should wear them when you feel you want to.) But wearing fancy dress or even a costume is quite different from cosplaying in this day and age. The closest I got to it was me being entirely meta and cosplaying as my own original character Soshi Idaurin after she made her way onto a Legend Of The Five Rings card, my prize for winning a role-playing competition at Origins some time before. I had no say in the art on my card, but did my best to combine the outfit depicted there with my character’s later RP developments for the costume I eventually wore to GenCon a few years later. People stopped me for photos and I had a lovely time, tho cosplay was 100% incidental to why I was there. And in fairness, my outfit was more for the purposes of LARPing than anything else, tho I imagine in my case that there was a pretty thin line between the two to begin with.

Anyhoo, this is all to say that I’ve never super felt interested in dressing up as someone else’s character but I can absolutely understand the impulse to get dressed in costume when it is, perhaps, less than socially acceptable to do so. Fortunately, it is getting more and more socially acceptable with the rise of geek culture, as Andrew Liptak masterfully illustrates in this very thorough look at the hobby. From the first European masquerade balls where Jules Verne encouraged attendees to dress as characters from his novels, to the first science-fiction fan conventions in mid 1900s America, to the very coining of the term “cosplay” by a Japanese writer seeking to translate the American scene for manga- and anime-loving readers back home, Mr Liptak vividly describes the birth of cosplay and its struggles towards mainstream acceptance along the way.

As a member of the 501st Legion, a group of diehard Star Wars fans who dress up as Stormtroopers and have strict standards for uniforms and “trooping”, as their particular form of cosplay is known, Mr Liptak speaks knowledgeably from the inside. He’s also done a ton of research, not only plunging into the historical archives but also interviewing dozens of cosplayers who’ve been active since at least the late 20th century. In addition to covering the sociological aspects (including the growth of communities dedicated to the hobby,) he touches on changes in technology and design and what that’s meant and continues to mean for cosplayers. He also discusses the relationship between historical reenactments and modern cosplay and how the two often overlap.

If you’re interested in learning more about cosplay, whether you’re already part of the scene or just interested in finding out what all the fuss is about, this is a fantastic place to start. With color photographs throughout, it’s a smart, thoughtful overview of how the hobby began and developed and where it is today. You won’t find instructions on how to build your own costumes and props here — there are plenty of other books that do that already — but you will find a wonderful resource on the motivations and philosophies of the movement, as well as plenty of entertaining and encouraging anecdotes from experienced cosplayers through the ages.

Cosplay: A History by Andrew Liptak was published yesterday June 28 2022 by Gallery/Saga Press and is available from all good booksellers, including

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