America vs. China: What Do You Need to Succeed in Cosplaying?

As an ACG lover, I bet you have thought about cosplaying your favorite character at least once. Maybe you have dreamed of being very good at cosplaying, and having many supporters, even fans, on social media. But wait before you start: do you know how to be a successful cosplayer?

Similar as many subcultures, cosplay has different meanings and ways of representation in different area of the world. Since I am from China, I will use the Chinese cosplay subculture to compare with the American one to show you the significant difference.

I am going to talk about two phenomenons that I have observed. You may feel some of the content very interesting, but some may be not so fun. Anyways, I hope we can learn together from the differences, keep the positive traits and change the negative ones, so that we can support the ACG world together.


Costumes: Self-made vs. Bought

Costumes are the life of cosplayers. Before psychologically becoming a character, you need to try to get the certain costume and accessories to physically become him/her/it.

From my personal experience, U.S. cosplayers love to make their own costumes and accessories. I have a friend who made a whole set of armor with foam boards. Although the details of the armor are not so well-made, she was very proud when wearing the set to comic cons.

In China, costume-making has become a business. Thanks to the fast-growing online shopping industry, factories can produce very detailed costumes and sell them on the Internet. Chinese cosplayers usually only make props for themselves because all costumes and accessories can be found online for a fairly cheap price.

Talking about price,  I searched for the full set of Attack on Titan costume (includes a jacket, a cape, a belt set, a shirt, and a pair of boots) on eBay, Amazon, and Taobao. I found the most relevant items with medium-ranged price, and here is the comparison result:

On eBay, the price for a full set is $92.16 without tax or shipping fee. The good thing is you can find free-shipping items easily on eBay, and if you are lucky enough, sometimes you can bid an item with a fairly low price.

On Amazon, the price for a full set is $108.82 without tax or shipping fee. You can find the same item with lower price, but that depends on your luck for most of the time because cheaper ones usually has more shipping fee.

On Taobao, the price for the full set is around 300 Chinese RMB, which is about $45. Also, the clothing pieces are sold in sets, so you do not need to spend time to find different pieces and put them all together. Because of the high competition and the low cost of making the costumes, many sellers choose to cover the shipping fee for the customers.

In general, buying costumes is really more convenient in China, and making costumes is more realistic and popular in the U.S.. The factory-made clothes do have a lot of great details, but the cold purchases eliminate the fun of making the costumes for oneself. On the other hand, you can also make great costumes as long as you have passion in it and would like to keep practicing.


Social Media: Passion or Similarity?

This is another thing that I found interesting when I compare American cosplaying and Chinese cosplaying. Cosplayers love to post their cosplay pictures on social media, but the audience in the two countries focus on different things.

U.S. cosplayers and audience love to compromise the cosplayer’s hard work and passion toward the character, while Chinese people compromise more about how similar the cosplayer is to the character.

The controversy arises from here: which one is more important? If I am overweight but I really love the beautiful and slim character, should I cosplay her just because of my passion? If I look like Ursula, should I cosplay her with my friend who looks like Ariel, although I do not like Ursula at all?

The sad thing is that in China, people show their preference on good-looking cosplayers, and they “encourage” the not-good-looking ones by leaving anonymous messages which say things like “you should really lose weight” although the cosplayer is already fairly fit and healthy. They ignore the cosplay’s hard work, sometimes just because he/she does not have the idea face or body shape.

In the U.S., things are going to another extreme. People lower the standard of similarity because they want to show respect to the cosplayers’ passion, but similarity is also important. Sacrificing soda for three months to fit in a dress, or practicing makeup for five weeks to make oneself look like the character is worth trying. Sometimes, the high similarity is also one way to show the passion, just like making your own costumes.

For me, both passion and similarity is necessary. It is like auditioning for a play. The actor/actress needs to have understanding and passion toward the character, but he/she must have some kind of physical similarity with the character as well. If the character is blond, he/she needs to bleach the hair; if the character is overweight, he/she needs to gain some weight in order to look like the character.

If we can understand the importance of balance, maybe we would do better on commenting the cosplayers’ work.


I hope this post has not been a heavy one for you. I have talked about some serious things, but learning is generally interesting, isn’t it? If you want to discuss more with me about anything in this post, feel free to contact me. You can also find me on Twitter by searching @Purdue_ACG. Alas, thank you for visiting me, and see you next time (>v<)~⭐️


Cosplayer in feature image: Conger Shi, HTM Senior at Purdue, dressing as Sakura the Cardcaptor

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