Most people have dressed in costume a few times over their lives, usually for Halloween. However, it’s largely considered a pastime relegated to young children playing pretend or those with acting gigs. Even fewer would consider a complete alternate identity, and if they did, it’s in the way that Clark Kent removes his glasses to become the hero from Krypton.
But there are people who band together and dress up as characters, either from a preexisting source material or someone (or something) of their own creation. Even into their adulthood, they put on elaborate outfits and get-ups simply because they love the craft. These are called cosplayers and furries.
Cosplay, short for “costume play,” is a long-standing tradition among
fandoms where fans dress up as their favorite characters, usually for a convention or event of some kind. A related group of costumed fans are called “furries,” so named for their animal costumes. Instead of existing works, however, these people create their own costumes based on a real-life animal or a custom character, often referred to as a “fursona.”
Pittsburgh has been a welcoming home to both these groups for some time, starting in 2003 when Tekko (then known as Tekkoshocon) began hosting their yearly anime convention. Anthrocon followed suit in 2006, after moving to Pittsburgh from Albany, New York. Anthrocon is the world’s largest furry convention, with over 7,000 attendees in 2017.
Amy Phan, from Squirrel Hill, has been going to Tekko for 13 years. She says that while cosplay can be very expensive and time-consuming, it’s something she enjoys doing and appreciates the craft. “I cosplay because I love the creativity I get to express while preparing [the costume] and doing it. I enjoy a challenge, and trying my best to look like a character. Cosplay also pushes me to try new things constantly.” However, she stresses that buying a premade costume online or throwing together an outfit using items from your closet is also acceptable. “[It’s] about having fun and showing your appreciation for something you love.”
Michelle Gallant shares a similar view. “I started [cosplaying] because I loved a character so much, and it didn’t seem like anybody around me cosplayed her.” She ended up taking matters into her own hands, which lead to a her eventually getting married in cosplay (which cost nearly $1,000 and took over a year and a half to make, and is still not complete).
Being a furry also requires having considerably deep pockets. Nikko Gloeckl has two fursuits, a cartoon-like one and a more realistic one. The cartoony suit was $300, whereas the realistic “was roughly $250, because I reused some parts.” Gloeckl, who lives in Brentwood, does think the expense is worth it. “[The furry community] is one of the nicest, most accepting fandoms I have ever been in.” He’s also an enthusiastic fan of Anthrocon. When asked if the event has helped clear misconceptions regarding furries, his answer was a resounding “absolutely, 1,000%. And I mean a thousand, too.”
One such misconception is that furries believe themselves to be the animal
they dress up as. Drew Affeltranger, from the South Side, laughed at the claim. “Honestly, most furries don’t want to be animals. Most simply love animals.” While he does admit there is a percentage of the community that think of themselves as a critter, the 21-year-old explained it was just a small fraction.
Cosplayers face a similar problem: the idea that, while in cosplay, they are acting as their character. Some cosplayers do go this extra mile, but most avoid doing so unless posing or being filmed. Phan and Gallant both said they’re too shy to roleplay, but Phan admires those that are brave enough to own the character they’re dressed as. A woman from Harrisburg, who wished to only go by “Maiacat Cosplay,” said that roleplaying certain characters can be obnoxious and disruptive, depending on said character’s personality.
Perhaps that is the biggest stigma surrounding both communities: that they are nothing but obnoxious, costumed weirdos. 24-year-old Anna, who lives just outside of Pittsburgh, says she wears her fursuit to bring joys to others. “I enjoy making kids smile when I go out in costume… if I’m able make one person happy while I’m out in suit, then I’ve accomplished my mission.” Gallant believes it is a practice that brings people with similar passions and interests together.
That is why conventions like Anthrocon and Tekko are viewed as positive factors towards both enjoyment for cosplayers and furries, and being educational for others. It shows that the people attending the conventions are just ordinary humans with a passion for something that’s a bit unorthodox. Furthermore, the events act as a way for those who are long-standing members of the community and those newly curious about the fandom to meet and have fun.
There’s nothing to be misunderstood about that.