75 Years Of Capes and Face Paint: A History of Cosplay
Cosplay certainly wasn’t born at Comic-Con. The art of dressing up in elaborate sci-fi or comic-book inspired costumes existed long before the convention’s modest first outing in 1970, but San Diego’s annual celebration of comics, TV, and movies helped launch the once-niche craze into the mainstream. (All of those Leias in gold bikinis probably didn’t hurt either.) With Comic-Con International opening Thursday, we’ve taken a journey back to the beginning of cosplay — when it was dubbed “costuming” — and assemble a timeline of some important moments in the history of fan fashion.
Forrest J. Ackerman in his “futuristicostume” in 1939
1939: Forrest J. Ackerman, perhaps the greatest fan of science fiction who ever lived, attended the first ever World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon, in “futuristicostume.” Ackerman “strode the streets looking like a proto-superhero” speaking Esperanto with his friend and the designer of his costume, Myrtle Douglas. He was the first sci-fi fan to attend a conference in costume.
1940: A year later in Chicago, the first Worldcon masquerade was held. According to Mike Resnick’s book …Always a Fan, “for the first couple of decades it was actually a masquerade ball.” There was a band, drinks, and dancing, with prizes handed out at the end of the night.
1941: In the fanzine The Southern Star, Milton Rothman, who would later become a nuclear physicist, describes a handful of costumes observed at a sci-fi convention, including one of a man who came dressed as a “bug-eyed monster” from one of Saturn’s moons: “Completely hand made. A blue and yellow suit with a helmet made of dozens of feathers pasted on one by one. Horribly hot to wear.”
1956: Seventeen years after he wore the first costume to the first Worldcon, Forrest Ackerman returns to the convention to report for Fantastic Universe. By this point wearing costumes is so well established that, he writes, “Monsters, mutants, scientists, spacemen, aliens, and assorted ‘Things’ thronged the ballroom floor as the flashbulbs popped.” Ackerman also reports that Olga Ley, wife of writer Willy Ley, “won for the Most Beautiful costume.” According to Resnick, Ley was “the first great costumer.”
Bruce Pelz in an Edgar Rice Burroughs inspired outfit