Cosplay, the word we know to be defined as dressing up in a costume to portray a character from a comic, video game, anime, manga, book, TV show, or movie, is still a relatively new term used in the broader scope of time when relating to just how long people have been costuming as their favourite literary and film characters.
In a short history, the first time the term ‘cosplay’ was used was in 1984 when the Japanese reporter, Nobuyuki Takahashi, frankenworded ‘costume’ and ‘play’ to explain his experience while attending Worldcon in Los Angeles.
Takahashi thought that translating ‘masquerade’, the traditionally oft-used word to describe costuming, felt too old-fashioned to translate to his modern Japanese audience, and thus, ‘cosplaying’ was born.
Although the term ‘cosplay’ didn’t make its debut until the 1980s, cosplay has existed since the early 1900s. The first documented instance was in 1908, when Mr and Mrs William Fell of Cincinnati, Ohio, attended a masquerade ball dressed as Mr Skygack and Miss Pickles, Martians from a newspaper comic that first ran in the Chicago Day Book.
Forrest J. Ackerman, a sci-fi writer and fan, became one of the first sci-fi cosplayers when he was the first person to attend a sci-fi convention, New York’s first World Science Fiction Convention, Worldcon, wearing what was dubbed a ‘futuristicostume’ (another fun frankenword!) complete with a cape and tights, in 1939. The outfit, designed by his girlfriend Myrtle R. Douglas (better known as Morojo), sparked interest in fan costuming, or cosplay as it is now known, and sci-fi conventions began to look like masquerade balls, complete with costume contests for ‘best costume’.
Ackerman continued to support and cosplay his beloved sci-fi, and eventually became a key figure in establishing sci-fi fandom. In the years since, many more sci-fi conventions have developed worldwide, with legions of fans attending dressed in cosplays made from a variety of materials to showcase fandom of their favourite characters from popular modern and classic sci-fi such as Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Star Wars. Bruce Holt is one of them.
PLAYING WITH COSTUMES
A cosplayer, master craftsman, and teacher specialising in intricate EVA foam cosplay creations, Holt remembers the first time he heard the term ‘cosplay’. It was in the 2000s, and he was in Tulsa at Hard Rock Casino for a costume contest.
Wearing a Star Trek Borg costume that he’d made out of plastic and leather, another attendee approached him to ask if he’d made his cosplay out of foam. Holt had not only never heard the term ‘cosplay’ yet, (even though he’d already been hired to guest host panels on costumes and makeup at this point in his costuming career), he’d never even considered using foam as a material for costume creation.
Although the Borg costume was what had initially put cosplaying regularly, especially competitively, on the map for Holt, he had been making costumes since childhood.
Growing up in southern Utah, his parents divorced when he was nine years old. His father subsequently moved to California, got remarried to a seamstress, and together Holt’s father and his wife created costumes for local school productions and events, such as plays and cheerleading. Holt mentions that he’d never had much interest in material costuming, until one year while spending summer with his father at the age of 14, he decided to ask his father for help making an elaborate Halloween costume. They worked together to create the costume, effectively igniting an enthusiastic passion for cosplaying that set Holt on a fast track that eventually became the cosplaying business he now owns and operates – Crazy Costumes.
LEARNING THE TRADE
That first costume he and his father made together was ‘a reverse man’, as Holt recalls. ‘Reverse Man’ was such a huge hit at Halloween that year; each year after he strove to make more elaborate costumes out of any materials he could get his hands on, which at the time consisted of leather, plastic, and fabric.
He joined his school’s theatre group and participated every year to increase his ability as a maker. As he grew older and received more and more positive feedback for his makes, he began dreaming of moving to California permanently to make costumes all the time. However, in 1979, after meeting his wife of 40 years now, Joyce, he was set on a whole new, wonderfully different trajectory when they married and settled in Cassville, Missouri.
Despite moving halfway across the country, Holt continued his love for costuming, travelling to sci-fi conventions wearing the Star Trek Borg costume that he’d continued to wear throughout the 2000s, and attending Halloween parties. It wasn’t until some time in the 1980s, after being approached at a Halloween party while wearing the Borg costume, that Holt realised there was money to be made in costuming, opening up an incredible door of new opportunities.
Holt was told that his Borg costume was so incredible that he should consider entering into a local bar’s Halloween costume contest the next year, and they give away cash prizes for contest winners. Holt entered the contest the next year with his Borg costume, and won. He states that when he realised there were prizes to be won, money to be won, he began to get more creative with his craft. One of his bigger and more elaborate cosplays was a Star Trek Klingon. Holt had honed his skills quite a bit more by that point, and the facial prosthetics were praised as looking ‘movie quality’.