Nov. 13, 2012 at 5:59 PM ET
Men in tights, women with swords, and characters from pop culture walking around may sound like sights you'd only see around Halloween, but for some, designing fantastical outfits isn't just a once-a-year concern.
Professional cosplayers (or costume players) practice their art all year round, spending huge amounts of time planning and creating imaginative ensembles to wear at various events around the world.
While cosplay has been around for as long as people have been going to conventions and pop culture-themed gatherings, the practice has only recently been gaining recognition in the mainstream. According to a search on meetup.com, there are at least 10 groups in New York City that practice cosplay, and even a number of YouTube series that now focus on it, including "Just Cos" on The Nerdist channel. The show is hosted by 24-year-old Chloe Dykstra from Los Angeles, and the premiere episode — which aired in May — has so far received over 52,000 views.
Dedicating a life to cosplay
"I don't have savings," the 26-year-old told TODAY.com. "All of my extra money goes into this."
Conrad spends a varying amount of time creating her costumes depending on their intricacy, from weeks to months to a whole year. She usually plans on 3 or 4 different guises to wear to the 8 or more conventions she attends around the world each year.
For cosplayers like Bill Doran from Redmond, Washington, the huge time commitment pays off. He founded Punished Props, a custom replica props and costumes company.
"The cost [of cosplay] is the time investment. Usually, the monetary cost pales in comparison," Doran told TODAY.com.
No longer relegated to simply his spare time, cosplay now dominates Doran’s routine. He once spent 100 hours over the course of a week and a half creating a complicated armored ensemble.
"Online, people started asking me to build stuff for them, and I started doing that on the side too," Doran said. "But it got to the point where it became so time consuming I made the switch to do it full time."
Criticism and stereotypes
While there is a growing interest in cosplay, people who devote so much time and money creating costumes are still largely misunderstood by those who simply associate it with Halloween. There is even conflict within the cosplay community itself, especially when it comes to gender.
Tuesday was declared "Cosplay Appreciation Day" by comic book writer Gail Simone after Tony Harris, a comic book artist, posted a scathing Facebook comment about women who cosplay earlier this week. All day, people across social platforms like Tumblr and Twitter have been using the hashtag #CosplayAppreciationDay to share their positive experiences with cosplay in an effort to combat Harris' derisive generalizations.
While Doran hasn't received any negativity about his activities in person, he has experienced his share of criticism online.
"People who cosplay are really just normal people, but people from the outside think it must be something weird or different," Doran said. "People that go around dressed up are just like other people who have their passions."
In response to the condemnation, Doran likes to point out things people have had time to understand to explain his work, such as people dressing up for Halloween, Renaissance faires, and sporting events.
To Dykstra, it's important to celebrate being different, despite the slurs and stereotyping that may come with it.
"I know sometimes it's hard to not let things get to you, but if it's something you enjoy doing, who gives a crap what other people think? They're just jealous," Dykstra said.
Besides, Conrad asks, aren't people who are passionate about more mainstream interests such as sports just as weird in their own way?
"Doing what you love and going against the norm will always encounter that [criticism], but if you do what you love with no regrets you'll find that the positive will always outweigh the negative in time,” Conrad told TODAY.com. "Your co-workers might go to football games or baseball games and get half naked and paint themselves blue. They're passionate about their teams and they dress up to show that passion, how is that any different from dressing up as Superman or Commander Shepard?"
TODAY.com writer Lisa Granshaw will one day attempt cosplay and hopefully not ruin it in the process with her clumsiness. You can chat with her about anything from cosplay to every day geek fashion over on Twitter.