How cosplay was back then!
If you’re new to the Cosplay Community, then I’m sure you enjoy what this hobby has to offer. But I’m sure you’ve heard your cosplay friends talk about the past; about how things were better back then, how it was much more fun or how much cooler people were in the day. It’s as if cosplay had a golden era before it became mainstream. Wow, if only you were around that era.
Well, it’s partly true! I can tell you that I was around during this mysteriously golden era of cosplay before it was super popular. So I wanted to make this post about how cosplay was back then in the day. You’ll find this post interesting!
In this article, I’ll give you 10 things about how cosplay was back then. Some of these things may seem obvious, while others will definitely will be surprising! You’ll have fun with this article.
Note: when I’m talking about cosplay in the past, I’m talking 10-20 years ago. Although I wasn’t cosplaying regularly at the time, I certainly got to experience it back then too.
Without further ado, let’s get started!
1. Conventions far less crowded than today
One of the biggest differences between cosplay back then and today is the amount of people at conventions. Back in the day, there were a LOT less attendees inside the conventions. The crowded hallways like you see at Anime Expo or San Diego Comic Con; that was not a thing. I would say the most crowded it ever got before 2010 was like a typical Friday of a convention today. Somewhat crowded, but still tons of room to move and nothing like the frantic pace it is today.
Speaking of pace, the fewer crowds meant the vibe of a large cosplay convention was completely different back then. You know that chill, relaxed vibe you get from a small convention? That was how like every large convention was!
Imagine going to a big convention like Anime North or Fan Expo but having a slower, relaxed and more chill vibe at the convention. Everyone there wasn’t trying to get to the next panel, cosplay photoshoot or party. They were just wandering around and enjoying themselves. To be honest, that is one thing I do miss about the big conventions in the past; the slower pace.
We’ll probably never get that same experience of walking into a big convention and just relaxing. The closest thing we have now is simply going to a smaller convention.
2. Cosplays were far, far worse
I have to say; today we take the amazing and beautiful cosplays that are bombarded with…for granted! The standards today are so much higher and the cosplay quality is insane compared to back then.
No disrespect to the cosplayers back then, because there were some great costumes even in those days. But even the cosplayers back then would agree with me; most of them were bad, at least compared to today’s cosplays. Whatever was considered top-quality cosplay in the past, it would be considered amateur today.
The standards for “good cosplay” were much much lower. As long as people had an idea of which character you are cosplaying, you would get recognition! Even if your cosplay was “bad” (by today’s standards at least), you would still get much love for even cosplaying. I describe this experience in my post about my first cosplay. I was probably the worst Sora cosplayer ever, yet people still loved my cosplay and even asked for photos with me. It truly was a magical time if you were a casual cosplayer; if you put the effort, people would appreciate it.
3. It was much friendlier
Speaking of magical time, one of the best things about cosplaying back then was in general, it was a lot friendlier atmosphere. I’m not saying people aren’t friendly today; I myself have met tons of great people during today’s era.
But to be objective, it was definitely a lot easier to socialize and talk to people at cosplay events back in the day. Because cosplay was so niche and less popular, you’d probably have an easier time meeting people with the same interests.
I think a good comparison is small town vs. big city vibes (where cosplay in the past is the small town and big city is how the Cosplay Community is today). It’s probably easier to socialize with people in a small town, whereas a big city can be more difficult because it’s so big.
There are other reasons for the change in social atmosphere in my opinion. Cosplay going mainstream means you’ll have all sorts of different people going to cosplay conventions now (which is not necessarily a bad thing). On top of that, it was a different world even 10-20 years ago with advancing technology and different viewpoints. So the way we interacted back then is not the same way we interact today.
Oh well, you can still make lots of great friends and have networking opportunities. Click here to read how to make cosplay friends and here on how to meet cosplayers.
4. Getting help for cosplay-making barely existed
Here is one significant difference between back then and today; there was no help for making a difficult cosplay! Cosplay tutorial videos on YouTube or websites like mine (wink wink nudge nudge) never really existed. Not only was that, your options for buying cosplay online very limited to the most popular characters only. Not like today where you have plenty of cosplay websites to choose from (click here to see the best ones).
That is also partially why cosplays weren’t as spectacular as they are today; it was difficult to get the help you needed to do so. As Yaya Han describes in her book, Yaya Han’s World of Cosplay, if you wanted to make your dream cosplay back in the day, good luck! You either needed to have serious skill in costume-making, or try the best you can.
Speaking of making cosplays…
5. The best cosplay materials were not readily available
You know those fancy cosplays that feature beautiful armor, LED lights, Worbla, thermoplastics, and fancy cosplay props? Not possible during those days! You couldn’t get a hold of those type of materials back then, or it was incredibly difficult to get your hands on them. Not only that, most cosplayers didn’t have the skill level to make anything that elaborate. I like to compare it to video game consoles. Back then it was like Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis for cosplay. But now we have advanced technology making cosplaying closer to PS5 and Nintendo Switch levels!
It’s interesting to see the materials we used back then to make cosplays. Things that are considered “bad” material such as polyester and duct tape, they were a lot more common to use back then. I remember all the shiny polyester costumes and things being visibly taped up with duct tape. Back then, this was all good. Like I mentioned earlier, it was the effort that counted more than how your cosplay looked. Now, it would probably be considered tacky if you didn’t at least try!
6. Cosplay wasn’t mainstream at all
It’s crazy to think about it, looking back. But cosplay wasn’t a very popular hobby at all. Back in the day, if you asked the average person if they knew what cosplay was, they would have no clue. I myself had no idea about cosplay until I attended my first Anime convention.
These days, cosplay is very mainstream and known to a lot of people. Not only can you find cosplays at almost every Anime and Comic convention, you can find them in other places such as video game events and Halloween parties. And a lot of people from other subcultures have come into the Cosplay Community to take part in this wonderful hobby! (Click here to read why cosplay is popular link). The popularity of cosplay just continues to grow, and it’s quite interesting to see how much from back then.
7. Cosplay or geek culture wasn’t considered cool
Another factor in why cosplay wasn’t popular back then; geek culture in general was not mainstream. I remember the crazy days when it wasn’t cool to be a geek or into something like cosplay. In fact, you might have been made fun of if you openly said you’re a geek!
It was actually pretty bad. I remember seeing those mainstream articles making fun of “ugly” or “overweight” cosplayers. It was really bad and not cool, and thank goodness we are past those days of shaming geek culture.
Today, geek culture is completely accepted into mainstream society and media. It’s considered “normal” to cosplay now! So it wasn’t necessarily that the Cosplay Community was more open and inclusive, because the Community has ALWAYS been like that. It was just that mainstream culture accepted being okay with geeks and cosplayers.
8. Glomping and Yaoi paddles
Ohhhh boy! So if you were around in cosplay back in the day, then you know the craziness of this. But if you don’t, then let me explain. Let’s start with glomping.
What is glomping? Glomping is when you randomly run to somebody and give them the biggest and craziest hug you could imagine. Now if it was with a mutual or someone you know very well, then glomping is fine. But this was happening between random strangers at a convention! So you could imagine how out of hand glomping would have gotten.
Yaoi paddles. Oh man. Attendees at a convention would bring an actual paddle and smack other random attendees in the butt with them. Yes this actually was a thing back then! It’s crazy to think how it was totally acceptable to spank a random stranger with a paddle, especially where Cosplay Is Not Consent very important in today’s world of cosplay conventions.
As you could imagine, both glomping and Yaoi paddles were banned from conventions by the late 2000s. Those are two things that definitely do not need to come back into cosplay conventions!
9. Cosplay was far less competitive
One of the biggest distinctions with cosplay back then and now: it was a lot less competitive. As mentioned in my previous points, most people were just cosplaying for fun and doing an okay job at it. Yes there were Masquerades and cosplay contests, but social media apps such as Instagram and TikTok were not big at the time, so you weren’t comparing yourself to cosplayers around the world like you are today.
While people today still cosplay for fun, there is far more competition today than ever. That’s because the expectations are much higher; there are tons of amazing cosplayers and while that’s always a great thing, it does also mean you need to try harder to stand out in the crowd.
Fortunately, there are many tutorials and helpful people in the community willing to help you get better. I myself have made guides on how to improve your cosplay (click here to read the guide). So while the standards for cosplaying have gone up today, it doesn’t mean you have to be left out in the dust if you’re a beginner. Not only are there are tons of resources to get you started (like my beginner guide), the journey itself is a lot of fun.
10. Was cosplay better back then?
Last but not least, we have the ultimate question, was cosplay better back then?
For me personally, I will say cosplay is in a better place than it was in the past. Yes, I certainly miss the warmer interactions with people at the large conventions of the past. There was an incredibly magic atmosphere when cosplay wasn’t mainstream; no competitive aspect, everyone was just there to have fun and enjoy themselves. And as weird as glomping and Yaoi Paddles were, it was truly a different era when we were just filthy Weebs who love Caramelldansen (we still do deep down inside).
At the same time, cosplay is definitely a lot more accessible today than it was before. If you want to wear a beautiful cosplay, you can either find lots of resources and tools to make that costume yourself. Or you could hire someone to make it for you. People’s boundaries are respected much more today than in the past. You won’t get bullied or made fun of for being a cosplayer or geek in general anymore. Seeing all those amazing cosplays in-person or on social media is always a joy to see. And best of all, TONS of new conventions to try out, including YetiCon and Holiday Matsuri.
So even though we probably won’t ever go back to the cosplay era in the past, there are tons of things to enjoy about the cosplay world TODAY!
So I hope you found this post interesting and enlightening. That is my first-hand experience of being in the Cosplay Community 10-20 years ago. It was a completely different era that paved the way to how cosplay is today. The hobby has certainly come a long way! I’d love to hear your thoughts on all this.
Did you ever get to experience cosplay way back in the past? Or are you only reading about it now? Let me know in the comments below!
My name is Roger Senpai. I’m a cosplayer that’s been in the community for well over a decade now. I’ve traveled all over the world to Anime and Comic conventions and hosted my own cosplay events. Now I’m writing articles for new and experienced cosplayers like you to help inspire, save you money and improve your cosplays!
Would you say also that the convention events back then were more lowkey and niche than how they are now? As well as photoshoots not being too commonplace and organized? I’ve seen vids of Anime North events from 10-15 years ago, such as the cosplay chess and the Hare Hare Yukai competition, and wish they would reintroduce those to 2023’s rendition 😞
Oh for sure! Well some conventions like Fan Expo were somewhat popular even back in the day. But I’d say cosplay conventions were pretty lowkey and niche. Like for me, I didn’t hear about Anime North until my friend invited me there. I feel like now, everyone knows about Anime North because cosplay is so mainstream now!
I was watching a video of Anime North first years at The Michener Institute as a tiny convention, what a time! Now it’s the largest Anime convention in Canada.