There have been a number of pieces written in the past few weeks discussing the rise of cosplay, and how that has been changing the face of conventions. And what is frequently overlooked is how other factors are impacting the convention scene as well. An increased attention to harrassment policies, for example. Or the increasing focus on celebrities over dealers. Or simply the improved technology that’s available to enable a different experience at a convention. Naturally, all of these things play a part in defining what a convention looks like these days, but here’s an interesting correlation that I haven’t yet seen made… the increased popularity of Halloween.
The costuming aspect is the obvious similarity between Halloween and cosplaying, of course, but I think it’s worth noting that the rise of the two trends closely correlate with one another as well. Over the past several years, a number of people have studied the popularity of Halloween and have drawn a number of possible conclusions as to the reasons for it. Some attribute it to prolonged adolesences (some claiming it stretches well into people’s 30s) usually with decidedly negative connotations that include using the words “arrested development.” Others look at it as a failing of society in general, and the holiday is a means to connect with one’s immediate community. Still others tie it to a political framework, claiming that people are using it as a form of escapism from the dismal prospects of the real world.
Here’s some additional considerations that I haven’t seen in any of these analyses. People’s life expectancy in developed countries has been steadily increasing for decades; not only has it been increasing, but people are living longer with fewer debilitating health issues. Accordingly, young people are encouraged to spend more time “finding themselves” as they are more likely than not to outlive their careers any more. So the notion of an extended adolescence makes sense relative to one’s entire lifetime. The idea that “40 is the new 30” comes from this concept.
Interestingly, disposable income has, by most measures, been decreasing over the past decade or so. So common sense would indicate that people would spend less on costumes, since they’re pretty far from a necessity. But maybe that’s where this notion of escapism comes in. If people are facing more challenges because more of their income goes to food and shelter, then that might explain a desire to really step out one’s own skin for at least a day or an evening as a short form of relief.
The technological aspect is also frequently overlooked. There was a time, not too long ago, when Halloween costumes were little more than plastic bags with a character’s name printed on them. Manufacturing has advanced enough now that you can purchase not only cloth costumes, but ones with musculature built in. Make-up is no longer just some coloring on your eyes and cheeks, but can include unusual appliqués that blend into your skin nearly seamlessly. Not to mention the electronics and animatronics that can go into even seemingly simple costumes.
I don’t know that there’s any one reason why cosplay has become more popular in recent years, any more than there’s any one reason why Halloween has taken on greater significance in the public consciousness. But I can’t help but think the two trends, while not identical, are not far removed from one another. Real research is only now getting starting to get published that helps to understand the shifts in Halloween, and I think that would be an ideal starting point for understanding the shifts in cosplay as well.