The Difference Between Cosplay and Halloween Costumes

It’s that season again! That wonderful time of year when people all over get together, dress up as their favorite things, and have fun! No…I’m not talking about San Diego Comic-Con. I’m talking about Halloween. But both of these occasions have me thinking: what is the difference between cosplay outfits and Halloween costumes?

Are they really that different? Can you wear your cosplay out for Halloween? Can you wear this year’s Halloween costume for next year’s fan convention?

Let’s discuss the differences between cosplay costumes and Halloween costumes.

What is cosplay?

Cosplay at the most basic level is a conjuncture of “costume play.” But going further, the dictionary defines it asthe activity or practice of dressing up as a character from a work of fiction (such as a comic book, video game, or television show).” Does this mean that it isn’t cosplay if you are dressing up as your favorite author or humanitarian? I don’t think so. More broadly, I would say that cosplay is a way of showing your dedication to certain fandoms or the things you are most passionate about.

Cosplay is a way to show off not only your love and passion for the aforementioned things, but it’s also a great way to show off talent for costuming, makeup, and accessories. Many people spend years perfecting their cosplay outfits. They spend time and money finding each unique piece to complete the outfit as close to the original character they are portraying. Many people make their cosplay completely from scratch, starting off with nothing more than some fabric and maybe a pattern. From there, they add those precious little details to make it as authentic as possible.

The makeup and accessories are equally important to cosplay attire. Simply throwing on a wig doesn’t always cut it. Some professional cosplayers spend hours doing hair and makeup equal to the kind you would find on a studio set. Next time you see a cosplayer, take a moment to appreciate the thought and effort that went into their look, and maybe compliment them on it. I guarantee some blood, sweat, and tears went into it.

So then what’s a costume?

Going back to our dictionary, we see that costume is defined as “an outfit worn to create the  appearance characteristic of a particular period, person, place, or thing.” That seems pretty clear… cut and dry even. Dress up in an outfit portraying something else and you’ve got a costume on. You want to be a pez dispenser? Neat! How about Thor? Awesome. Zombie Lincoln? Absolutely. A costume is a costume. It’s meant to be fun.

Notice any similarities there?

Now sure … there’s a quality difference when it comes to the two. Halloween quality costumes tend to be more cheaply made. They are manufactured for use one day a year (at least in theory). They aren’t going to be worn for sometimes long weekends and need to hold up to that much wear and tear. That doesn’t mean you can’t find quality Halloween costumes but they aren’t going to be as sturdy as most cosplay ones. I’ve got two Wonder Woman costumes of different qualities: a cosplay one and a Halloween one. If I’m going to spend 8+ hours at a convention and sometimes dealing with the elements, I’m going to need something that can cover all my assets.

They aren’t going to be as authentic as the handmade cosplay outfits, because they are mass produced to appeal to … well … the masses. I have a Codex costume that’s more or less Halloween quality but I love it and have gotten tons of compliments on it. But in no way is it a replica of her actual outfit. Halloween costumes aren’t always meant to be 100% accurate to what they are portraying. I will be the first to give mad credit to the people who go above and beyond on their Halloween costumes and make them authentic though. But in that example, I would consider that cosplay.

Even if it’s something like a bucket of popcorn that looks like someone wearing an actual oversized bucket of popcorn. They took the time and energy to make it authentic, that’s what cosplay is all about. Does that mean if you buy an exact replica Batman costume you aren’t cosplaying? Nope. Just means it took you less time to put your cosplay together. Not everyone is great at everything. If I make my dress but buy my wig, am I still cosplaying? Yup.

So where did this unspoken shame of wearing a Halloween costume at a convention come from?

Ignorance and Bullying

I personally haven’t been to a lot of different cons. Which is actually sad when I say that at almost every single one I have been to. I’ve seen someone getting hate for wearing an obvious Halloween costume. I’ve overheard someone telling an adorable Harley Quinn that she was a  “cheap attempt at supporting the fandom.” Isn’t the whole point of a fandom to bring together all the fans? Would it have been better for her to just dress in regular street clothes? Is she not a real fan then?

It made me sad. Not only because it’s rude as heck, but it’s also really ignorant. Some people save up all year just to be able to afford tickets to local conventions, not to mention the people who travel to the bigger ones, and tickets only get you in the door. Between photo ops, autographs, collectibles… it ain’t cheap. So to knock someone for using any extra money to wear something that makes them feel like they are supporting the fandom is stupid. There’s really no other to put it … oh, wait … it’s bullying.

There will always be trolls out there. Someone out there might just not like the color of your hair. You may remind them of someone they used to know that they hated. Or they could just be total jerkwads who want to talk crap because that’s what they do. So please let me speak for all the other, less sucky people … you do you.

What fandoms should be like

A fandom should be like a family. It’s supposed to be the one safe place for you to go and totally geek out on the things you love so much. Coming from someone who was bullied as a kid, I know firsthand how much it sucks. It’s actually one of the reasons I loved my visit to CONvergence this last year. It felt like a huge family reunion, and it truly was. I’ve already made friends with others who go every year from all over the U.S. and I was there for 1 hour, on a staff-guided behind the scenes look. Even with family, you have that one distant relative who says something stupid. Hey, it could even be you… no judgments. So being able to still enjoy yourself is the next step. Know that it could happen, no matter what you choose to wear. Just keep on having fun.

I mentioned above that cosplayers go through a lot for their outfits. So beyond just being kind to one and another, tell someone when you like their costume. Imagine spending an entire year making something you love and hearing someone be like, “wow, that’s really cool.” I don’t know many people who wouldn’t appreciate that. Same goes to someone wearing a “Halloween quality” costume. Let them know you appreciate them being there. We do it on actual Halloween when everyone’s pretty much wearing Halloween costumes. Why not at conventions too?

I’d love to hear from you on any costume/cosplay related experiences at conventions as well. Do you think there’s a huge difference in people’s fandom love if they don’t go all out? Are you just happy to hang out with like-minded people? Leave us a comment below.


Featured image credit: ChinLin Pan/Geek Gals

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