“Once you’re in, you’re in.” That’s how Wendy Sonali would explain cosplaying — think “costume” and “role-play” — a pastime that has people dressing up in costume as video game, movie or comic book characters. While cosplay is thought to have originated in Japan, its roots are firmly in Western science-fiction and fantasy conventions.
Sonali attends multiple comic book, video game and anime conventions a year. It’s a hobby that can be not only addictive but costly. For each “con,” she makes costumes and props costing hundreds of dollars — all for a few hours of fun and release from the real world. Once she’s in one of her elaborate costumes, it can be difficult to get out of it — even to take care of the most basic of human functions.
“I forget I’m a person, and I’m not this non-human video game character,” said the 24-year-old Garden Grove resident. “Humans have bodily functions, but it’s a struggle going to the bathroom a lot of the time in costumes. “In a lot of costumes, you would have to undress to get into the bathrooms, so you don’t want to drink anything or eat anything because you don’t want to have to deal with going to the bathroom. I’ve had panic attacks because I don’t hydrate.”
Sonali, who goes by the cosplay name “Miss Wendybird,” said these are just some of the inconveniences she deals with to celebrate her nerdom. She began cosplaying at 17 and is often recognized at conventions for her outfits, allowing her to connect with other cosplayers, like Caitlin Schwartz.
The two met at a convention two years ago when they both dressed as different versions of Elizabeth, a character in the video game “Bioshock Infinite,” who wears several outfits that incorporate blue, white and gold colors. One almost resembles a teenage school girl outfit, while another shows a more grown-up side to the character in a corset.
Schwartz, a 23-year-old Fullerton resident, who goes by “Lady Shepard,” began cosplaying about three years ago.
But getting to the point where she is now — she has more than 8,800 Facebook fans — wasn’t easy. She didn’t know how to sew in the beginning. At first she commissioned costumes, but when her mom eventually got her her first sewing machine, Schwartz was able to create Elizabeth.
“I just fell in love with crafting, being creative and feeling proud after I make something,” she said. Schwartz, who works in retail, said one of her favorite pieces was a prop gun that cost her about $200 to make. That price didn’t include the fabric for her costume, wig or any other materials. That all ran a few hundred dollars more.
But the cosplaying process is more than just buying, making and wearing costumes. The two women can spend months brainstorming, researching and finding patterns. The cosplay community is supportive. “It’s just been a lot of trial and error with YouTube videos and figuring it out,” Schwartz said. “The thing about making friends in this community is everybody has the weirdest set of skills, and everybody just helps each other.”