Last weekend, some of New York City’s most dedicated dressers gathered in one place. They spent months preparing their outfits, maybe even years. At last, they were surrounded by peers to hem and haw over each other’s looks. Getting photographed wasn’t the end goal, but it’s not a non-factor.
We’re not talking about New York Fashion Week; We’re talking about New York Comic Con. Cosplayers actually have a remarkable amount in common with the Fashion Week crowd, as both go all out for sartorial expression for an annual (or biannual) spectacle. And as nerd culture goes more and more mainstream, the former are finally starting to get more respect. Fashion is even beginning to pull from anime, with Michael B. Jordan bringing Naruto into his Coach collection, and other aspects of nerd culture, like Louis Vuitton’s League of Legends trunk.
Fans dressing up in costume as their favorite characters has been in practice since the early 1900s, when Mr. Skygack, a sci-fi comic strip character, was believed to be the first fictional character to inspire fans to emulate his attire. The term “cosplay” was coined by Nobuyuki Takahashi of Studio Hard after attending Worldcon in Los Angeles. What began as a subculture with roots in Japan has become a massive phenomenon, with more than 100 conventions across the world every year drawing cosplayers. More than 250,000 tickets were purchased for New York Comic Con in 2018 alone.
Carolina Wang, an activewear designer and co-founder of Eat Good NYC, is a retired cosplay who got into the practice back in 1998. Her best friend’s mom taught her how to sew, and she put together a Sailor Moon costume for her first convention. “From then on, I was super addicted,” she says. “I was probably making anywhere close to like five to 10 outfits per weekend.”
Today, Wang is entrenched in fashion with her own design work and Eat Good NYC’s heavy influence from the world of style. “I think it’s super parallel to [NYFW],” she says. “You’re portraying a character, and I feel like, especially here in New York, you have to be a character to stand out. Whether it’s through the hair, a signature item.”
Slayrizz, a pop singer and cosplayer, studied fashion design in high school and also frequents Fashion Week events. Individuality is paramount when she dresses for conventions or shows, but she says her approach is slightly different for each: “When I went to the Fenty show, I’m like, ‘What can I bring to the table? But also what are people about to do that I know I can slay better than anyone else?’ But when it comes to cosplay, I look at it more in a pop culture lens where it’s like, ‘What is everybody already doing? Do I want to do that or do I want to be inventive?”
For New York Comic Con, Slayrizz began planning a costume for a new Marvel character last year but wasn’t able to finish it in time. Instead, she only spent a few weeks preparing a Cat Woman costume that she fabricated from a pattern online.
Corey Stokes, Highsnobiety’s fashion editor-at-large, has been the frequent subject of street style round ups. He says he begins planning for Fashion Weeks in earnest in the weeks leading up to the event. Most of the clothing he’ll accumulate in the season leading up, but, of course, there are the occasional last minute purchases.
“Fashion week, for me, is just an excuse to look like my best self,” Stokes says. “To do things that I probably wouldn’t do, just going to the set or coming to the office. I like to buy nice stuff, but because my lifestyle is moving all day, if I’m on set, I’m probably just going to be in like a jean or a hoodie or something like that.”
But more than anything, the clothes and the costumes are just an excuse for both communities to convene. It’s a chance to socialize with like-minded people and bond over the same passions, whether they be the latest from Jacquemus or Studio Ghibli. Fashion may be a more glamorous arena, but what are its devotees if not nerds for apparel?
“Fashion Week in general is just a cool place to see your fashion friends that you haven’t seen in a while,” Stokes says. “It’s like work, but then it’s hanging out with friends that you made in the industry.”
“People are nice because they know that we all looked hard to look cool,” says Slayrizz. “There are all different levels of cosplay, and people don’t judge because everyone knows that there's some lower level and higher level. You don’t even need to be a professional. You can learn all this stuff now online.”
Men’s fashion has also blossomed with the help of the internet, with resources to teach men how to dress better and decrease the stigma of caring deeply about clothing. Street style shots on sites like Tumblr and Style.com were an early bible for the #menswear crowd. And while it’s still flattering to have your look chosen for a shot, it’s more of an added bonus than anything.
“If it happens, it happens,” Stokes says. “If not by [the photographers], I’m going to have someone take a photo. I do think it’s like ‘I’m going to document this outfit.’”
Slayrizz agrees, saying: “For me, before I make a costume or before I put a costumer together, I’m not thinking about getting photographed. But since I am a musician, and I do want to be seen and love getting my photo taken, in that sense, hell yeah. That’s the proof.”