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Unread 08-30-2017, 10:26 AM   #1
Yikes!
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What was the cosplay community like in the 1990s?

Hello. I'm doing a brief video on the evolution of cosplay and I've gotten quite a bit of info on what cosplay was like from the late 30s all the way to the 80s. I even have info on what it was like in the early 2000s. But there seems to be very little info what the cosplay community was like in the 90s. I myself was born in the 90s but didn't really get into cosplay until the 2000s. So can any veterans tell me what the cosplay community was like at that time?

What kind of resources you had to make your cosplays? What kind of trends started? Anything would be helpful.
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Unread 08-30-2017, 01:24 PM   #2
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Give the International Costumer's Guild website/youtube/other links a look around- they have a lot of archived masquerade and convention footage from that period (and the 70's and 80's).
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There's a vibe here that says "We're in this together!Through thick and thin fabric! Through cold water washes and burning hot irons! Though we might super glue ourselves to our projects, cut holes/gashes/oh-god-mom's-gonna-kill-me into the dining room table, we will stand strong together. Unless there is a 75% off sale at the Fabric store. Then you're on your own. And get the hell out of my way."<3
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Unread 08-30-2017, 07:31 PM   #3
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The market for materials was entirely different. You couldn't order anything off the internet, only by mail order, which meant that knowing what materials to use and being able to get them was a much slower-moving, word-of-mouth thing. Things that are affordable now because they're exposed to a mass market through the internet and thus mass-produced (good wigs, premade costumes, thermoplastics, various types of paints, surface treatments, specialty fabrics, specialty tools, etc.) just weren't available unless you knew someone who worked with them professionally. You probably didn't.

Even fandoms were primarily word-of-mouth then. The internet was a thing but it was slow, expensive, and sending large files was hugely expensive or impossible for most of the 90s. Even in the late 90s, it was cheaper and easier than sending a file to physically mail a copy of any video longer than a few minutes.

People had LAN (local-access-network) parties to play networked games against each other and still had to see each other in person while they did it. Clubs had viewing-marathon parties of series that their members had all the episodes of. People put a lot more effort and time, because they had to, into enjoying the same thing together.

Now...is that good? Not necessarily. Participation in fandom was a privilege much more than it is now. If you didn't have the good luck and resources to find people or send things, you didn't get to see a lot of source material. Gatekeeping was everywhere; if you didn't like someone for whatever reason, you didn't send them things. And since fandom is the precursor to cosplay, you can easily see how cosplay was rarer, harder to do, and a sign of much greater devotion to fandom than it is now. Cosplayers in the 90s were HUGE nerds, and it showed. Even the late 90s. (trust me, the shift in tech and communication from early to late 90s is huge. Think of the tech necessary to make Total Recall and The Matrix, respectively.)

Tutorials are also a huge difference. Being able to find out how to do anything was largely a question of who you knew. Populated urban areas with established nerdy-maker groups like the SCA had cosplayers who could sew and possibly incorporate metalwork, because who you knew was a huge factor in what you were into and what you could learn. Less-populated and less nerd-friendly areas had cosplayers who mostly learned things from books and still-image internet tutorials. And they all still had to mail-order things, remember. 6-8 weeks turnaround.

So. Short version: things were slower and more personal. You couldn't get nearly as many different kinds of things. It was harder to find out how to use them. You had to spend a LOT more time interacting with people in order to participate in fandom, and thus to cosplay and find out places to see other cosplayers. You were also MUCH more trapped by the people who happened to be near you. If your local crew was creepy, or didn't like you much, or just liked things you didn't, you had to choose between sucking that up and participating in fandom at all. A lot of people sucked it up, and I'm immensely glad it's an option to no longer do that.
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Unread 08-31-2017, 09:14 AM   #4
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Man, threads like this make me realize how young the cosplay community in my country is. Our first anime convention started in 1999, as far as I know.
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Unread 09-03-2017, 09:18 PM   #5
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Mango's summary is dead-on, but I will add that what you know (or get from the ICG or Worldcon archives) about the 80s and what you can tell from the early 2000s, well, the 90s were a transition period. Fandom itself went from completely meatspace (since there was no internet) to gradually using and evolving the internet itself to take all fandom activities - meetups, rpgs, fanzines, and costuming - into something accessible from anywhere in the world. Sharing music and videos (VHS only!) shifted from actual snail mail to online, and though it took ages to upload and download images and vids, it was still possible to get things within a day rather than weeks through the mail (assuming someone even mailed it).

I came into costuming in 1999 so things had already evolved to the online presence at that point, including forums for sharing info/advice and just fandom activity in general. But yeah, you still had to do a lot of legwork to get supplies, buying everything from fabric to wigs still happened primarily in brick and mortar stores, and people generally did everything alone, at home, not involving other people and not sharing anything. The research, the planning, the actual construction, we all did it by ourselves and only reached out to others when we were genuinely stumped.

But conventions? Cons in the US have been virtually unchanged since the 80s in their overall format and function. I don't think the explosion in number of cons happened until the turn of the millennium, things were pretty much status quo in the 90s.
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Unread 09-04-2017, 12:31 PM   #6
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Again, echoing previous comments; I was living in the UK in the 90s, and started attending cons in the 90s, MinamiCon, AyaCon, even travelling overseas to the very first AnimeCon in The Netherlands!

Cosplay itself was there, just a lot less people doing it. You could play 'spot the cosplayer' amongst the geeky college age folks (Note, this isn't meant as an insult, I was defnitely one of the latter!) - I started drawing for convention books in '98 and was admiring the cosplay in the 90s, but didn't start with it until 2004 personally.

I was first on the internet in 1993, and while the world wide web was created in 1991, it wasn't anything like it is today for finding resources or buying things - pretty much everything cosplay was home made, we didn't have access to wonderful materials like worbla!

I was lucky to be doing fanzine work in the 90s, so I had an easy in to dealers dens, and being one of the 'early adopters' if you like, of anime in England as it suddenly started gaining popularity.

Regarding CapsuleCorp's post above; if we wanted to _see_ anime, we either bought overly expensive VHS (I still remember saving up 30 UKP each time to buy a VHS tape with 25 minutes of Oh My Goddess..) or went to fansubbers, who you ordered from with check, and then received VHS tapes in the mail. It's why video rooms were so important at 90s anime cons, because you could actually check stuff out that you'd probably never see again.
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Unread 09-12-2017, 05:55 PM   #7
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I'm working on a panel about the history of cosplay for an upcoming con, and this thread has been highly informative!
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Unread 09-14-2017, 02:56 PM   #8
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I did a history of Cosplay panel for the last convention I went to!

I went from 1200 AD in Britain straight through the 20th century. I could have gone earlier, but it was getting to be too much information, haha.

"Cosplay" as we understand the practice today started in the late 1880s in Britain, with the first sci-fi conventions appearing in the 1930s. You'll be able to find more information using the term "sci-fi masquerade".

As for the community in the 90s....... it was kind of elitist? This lady from that era wrote an article about cosplay from back in her day. You can taste the salt; it's hilarious. XD http://www.wendyrosskaufman.com/cost...o-its-cosplay/
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Unread 09-15-2017, 12:15 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Attlebridge View Post
I did a history of Cosplay panel for the last convention I went to!

I went from 1200 AD in Britain straight through the 20th century. I could have gone earlier, but it was getting to be too much information, haha.

"Cosplay" as we understand the practice today started in the late 1880s in Britain, with the first sci-fi conventions appearing in the 1930s. You'll be able to find more information using the term "sci-fi masquerade".

As for the community in the 90s....... it was kind of elitist? This lady from that era wrote an article about cosplay from back in her day. You can taste the salt; it's hilarious. XD http://www.wendyrosskaufman.com/cost...o-its-cosplay/
Where the hell do you find that to elitist and salty? I think it was well written and an excellent piece on the dislike of having your work called by a name you don't identify yourself with and by a younger generation that barely knows you (and speaking from experience- I have met MANY costumers who've been doing it longer than I've been alive. By that age the con drama is gone, the "She used the same hem finish as me, this won't stand!" drama is gone, their skills are amazing and they're insanely nice and welcoming to the young'uns). I remember the rather rapid shift in using cosplay to exclusively refer to Japanese-source costuming, to "literally all fan costumes" that's generally used today. Not many people were particularly pleased with suddenly being lumped in with anime cosplayers when they were totally different. Hell, today? I've started going back to using "costuming", myself. When I'm making historical garb, costumes that take an entire year to build, original concepts that don't have a source material and also starting to work in professional settings that apply to making costumes such as theatre, film/TV or live performances and re-enacting, cosplay gives ALL the wrong implications thanks to the spin the media's put on it. I say "cosplay" to some sewing store people and they often think I want the cheapest shittiest fabric they have. I say darn near anything else, and "Oh, we have this, and this, and this....". Or "I'm a costume designer" versus "I'm a cosplayer". Yes, I've been asked if "I'm hot like those cosplay girls" by complete strangers before with the latter.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Moofingham View Post
There's a vibe here that says "We're in this together!Through thick and thin fabric! Through cold water washes and burning hot irons! Though we might super glue ourselves to our projects, cut holes/gashes/oh-god-mom's-gonna-kill-me into the dining room table, we will stand strong together. Unless there is a 75% off sale at the Fabric store. Then you're on your own. And get the hell out of my way."<3
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Unread 09-15-2017, 09:03 AM   #10
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Interesting. In the german community I experiance it the other way around: Many people who do their own character designs fight with their teeth to be called cosplayers and their work to be cosplay. I you are a"hater" if you say its "just" costuming.
On the other hand most other costume-related communitites/hobbies fight equally hard to not be lumped together with cosplay, as if it was something cheap and dirty only stupid teenagers do.
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Unread 09-15-2017, 10:28 AM   #11
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Interesting. In the german community I experiance it the other way around: Many people who do their own character designs fight with their teeth to be called cosplayers and their work to be cosplay. I you are a"hater" if you say its "just" costuming.
On the other hand most other costume-related communitites/hobbies fight equally hard to not be lumped together with cosplay, as if it was something cheap and dirty only stupid teenagers do.
Yeah, that was part of the point I saw in that article- cosplay has SUCH a shifty definition that it represents something different to EVERYONE. I remember when you only called Japanese-sourced costumes cosplay and nothing else. I pretty well only use cosplay myself to make the difference between "crappy cheap Halloween costume" and "costumes I put a heck of a lot of work into" since at least the public usually realizes there's a difference between the two (and I basically never watch anime or play JRPGs any more. I only have a few die-hard-can't-get-rid-of-them costumes today that would always be considered a cosplay). Me personally, I'll usually call it a cosplay if it's something made from a fictional source that you'd wear around a sci-fi/anime/comic convention. I'm one of that younger generation (though now getting to be considered "old" at the anime cons) who had that word used regularly, so I'm used to calling it cosplay and not costuming. But if we're talking about the days before cosplay was even a word, I always refer to it as costuming. And back in the 70's, 80's, etc. it was also VERY different from cosplay, as there was little direct recreation like we have today. Almost all the stuff I see in the ICG archives is entirely original stuff, made just for the stage and more straight-up artsy than nerdy (And in the 90's and before, you could also push some SERIOUS boundaries with what you put on stage that would get you crucified by Tumblrinas today). Nothing like today, so I don't call it by today's label.

I've also seen cosplay used in extremely inappropriate definitions- costumes made for theater/broadway, both the ones worn by the actual cast, and ones people make to have fun in and wear at a con or on Halloween, nobody EVER calls them cosplay, because they're not. They're costumes, but almost never cosplays. And I've seen a few incidents of people calling ethnic dress like kimono, hanbok, native American regalia, etc. "cosplay". NO NO NO NO NO. I was incredibly mad to see that. Calling someone's traditional cultural dress, that may have taken years to make and thousands of dollars and with a history way beyond "this person wears this", the same as "costume you run around a con in while playing pretend" is beyond insulting.
And go around trying that term in the historical community? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA, NO. And for historical dress I don't even call it a costume at all, as I don't make it to be a "costume". I'm making CLOTHING. Even if you don't wear it daily, it was once real-life clothing for people, and it's made to that same standard, not to a "play dressup with cheap stuff and throw it away" standard. So it gets called garb, kit or historical dress.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Moofingham View Post
There's a vibe here that says "We're in this together!Through thick and thin fabric! Through cold water washes and burning hot irons! Though we might super glue ourselves to our projects, cut holes/gashes/oh-god-mom's-gonna-kill-me into the dining room table, we will stand strong together. Unless there is a 75% off sale at the Fabric store. Then you're on your own. And get the hell out of my way."<3

Last edited by ShinobiXikyu : 09-15-2017 at 10:38 AM.
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Unread 09-15-2017, 10:37 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by ShinobiXikyu View Post
Where the hell do you find that to elitist and salty? I think it was well written and an excellent piece on the dislike of having your work called by a name you don't identify yourself with and by a younger generation that barely knows you (and speaking from experience- I have met MANY costumers who've been doing it longer than I've been alive. By that age the con drama is gone, the "She used the same hem finish as me, this won't stand!" drama is gone, their skills are amazing and they're insanely nice and welcoming to the young'uns). I remember the rather rapid shift in using cosplay to exclusively refer to Japanese-source costuming, to "literally all fan costumes" that's generally used today. Not many people were particularly pleased with suddenly being lumped in with anime cosplayers when they were totally different. Hell, today? I've started going back to using "costuming", myself. When I'm making historical garb, costumes that take an entire year to build, original concepts that don't have a source material and also starting to work in professional settings that apply to making costumes such as theatre, film/TV or live performances and re-enacting, cosplay gives ALL the wrong implications thanks to the spin the media's put on it. I say "cosplay" to some sewing store people and they often think I want the cheapest shittiest fabric they have. I say darn near anything else, and "Oh, we have this, and this, and this....". Or "I'm a costume designer" versus "I'm a cosplayer". Yes, I've been asked if "I'm hot like those cosplay girls" by complete strangers before with the latter.

Like, the reason you don't find it elitist and salty is because you take offense to being called those things when you agree with the article. That doesn't make it not those things. What you wrote in response here is also elitist and salty, so might as well own it.

As for the article "the same reason you breathe!!" is one of the funniest things I've ever read. It's not that serious, lady. I bet the thought of using floor mats to make armor gives her the vapors and she has to sit in the sun room.

The questions that this brings up to me are basically this: if cosplay/costuming is an art, who are we allowing to participate in art and what is art? Who makes these decisions? If everything can't be art, then nothing must be art, because until there is a central authority that limits the creation of art to only certain people and bans everything that doesn't meet a criteria, which is ludicrous, there is no actual real way to restrict this.

Therefore, either everything is cosplay or nothing is cosplay. Gatekeep all you want, art is for everyone, citizen comrade.

If I can piss off elitists by bringing more of the unwashed masses into the hobby, I'm gonna do that. I have a new purpose now for the future. Hold my beer, tomodachi-kun, let's ruining cosplay ~!
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Unread 09-15-2017, 10:41 AM   #13
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Like, the reason you don't find it elitist and salty is because you take offense to being called those things when you agree with the article. That doesn't make it not those things. What you wrote in response here is also elitist and salty, so might as well own it.

As for the article "the same reason you breathe!!" is one of the funniest things I've ever read. It's not that serious, lady. I bet the thought of using floor mats to make armor gives her the vapors and she has to sit in the sun room.

The questions that this brings up to me are basically this: if cosplay/costuming is an art, who are we allowing to participate in art and what is art? Who makes these decisions? If everything can't be art, then nothing must be art, because until there is a central authority that limits the creation of art to only certain people and bans everything that doesn't meet a criteria, which is ludicrous, there is no actual real way to restrict this.

Therefore, either everything is cosplay or nothing is cosplay. Gatekeep all you want, art is for everyone, citizen comrade.

If I can piss off elitists by bringing more of the unwashed masses into the hobby, I'm gonna do that. I have a new purpose now for the future. Hold my beer, tomodachi-kun, let's ruining cosplay ~!
I didn't see any form of gatekeeping in it, I saw "We're not cosplayers and we never were, here's why/here's the big difference. So don't call us cosplayers." And as most cosplayers get older, the recreation cosplay gradually fades out and the original costumes like they wore come on in. It's more like "I've reached middle age" than anything, to me. CostumeCon skews that way a lot- the young'uns are mostly doing recreation cosplays, the older folk are the ones doing original stuff and crazy stage theatrics taken from their own imagination like back in the previous decades.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Moofingham View Post
There's a vibe here that says "We're in this together!Through thick and thin fabric! Through cold water washes and burning hot irons! Though we might super glue ourselves to our projects, cut holes/gashes/oh-god-mom's-gonna-kill-me into the dining room table, we will stand strong together. Unless there is a 75% off sale at the Fabric store. Then you're on your own. And get the hell out of my way."<3

Last edited by ShinobiXikyu : 09-15-2017 at 10:43 AM.
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Unread 09-15-2017, 10:59 AM   #14
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"how dare you lump me in with those hobbyists you hobbyist! We're making serious art for grown ups to enjoy in a grown up way, not HAVE FUN like we us the artisans!"

What if I told you it's possible to be skilled and also have fun recreationally? What if I told you about dragoncon? Would this rock your world? Maybe you can take the red pill and the blue pill at the same time, or maybe you can take neither of them. Maybe you can make your own pill.

You can be innovative without being there from the beginning. New people have ideas and some of them are good. Think differently. Don't think. Do shit. Don't do shit.

What if I told you that measuring things objectively is a false concept we've only agreed on because it shuts people up?

My proposal still stands. Let's ruin cosplay. Who's with me?
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Unread 09-15-2017, 08:22 PM   #15
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Actually, I know Wendy Kaufmann and yes, she is actually trying to gatekeep. She's old and salty and resents cosplayers for being popular when back in her day she was considered a weird geek for cosplaying. She's alienated a lot of people with her crying about wanting some kind of cred for being in this hobby longer than some of us have been alive, including other people I respect for their talent (like sarcasm-hime).
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