Cosplay Taxonomy 101

Okay, before I begin, this post isn’t prompted by any one thing. Rather, it’s something that I’ve been thinking about off and on since Pop-Expo and the Great ‘Heroes of Cosplay’ Panic of 2013. The idea of “right” cosplay vs “wrong” cosplay has come up again and again in different forms since last December. Just look at the google search results for “bad Cosplay“. Some of these aren’t skilled, but I bet that most of the cosplays listed aren’t about winning awards, they’re just enjoying playing the character.

Cosplay means different things to different people.

I’m going to break down the different ways people cosplay and the goals they want out of it, and why sometimes the different understandings lead to hurt feelings and head-butting of Mountain Goat proportions.


Like this but less cute, more headaches.

 Okay, so cosplay to one person means one thing, but cosplay to someone else means something totes different. How can we just get along? WHY CAN’T WE JUST ALL GET ALONG?

We’re all different species of the same family: cosplae.

Science Cat

Darwin Cat is about to get his classification on!

Keep in mind that EVERY SINGLE one of these kinds of cosplayer is legitimate. There is no ‘better’ or ‘wrong’ way to cosplay. There are problematic approaches, yes, but there is no ‘wrong’ way to have fun. (Except if it involves hurting non-consenting partners.)

Like all things, there will always be some mixing and matching of Species for each individual. Hybrids are plentiful and wonderous things.


The Cosplay Taxonomy

CosPLAYers- cosplae Playis

Found wandering the halls of Conventions, attending panels and posing for pictures, Playis travels in packs, and exhibits unbridled enthusiasm for their chosen fandom. This enthusiasm is often contagious, especially to small children.

Admiral Snackbar


Why they Cosplay

CosPLAYers likes to have fun and dress up as their favourite character.  Some, but not all, like role-playing the character they dress up as. Quality of costume varies depending on skill and the desire to dress as close to that character as possible.

They’re here for the ‘play’ in cosplay, and enjoy just spending time with friends in costume and talking about their favourite series and characters.

Approach with caution!

  • Do not offer unwanted critique on the following:
    • costume fidelity
    • body type fidelity (you know what? Just don’t do this. Ever.)
    • wig styling, un finished hems
    • why that character is an awful character (even if they are)
      • ignore this if it’s a case of ‘we love to hate him’ like Joffery. No one loves Joffery.
    • Why that series is the worst thing ever. And for babies.
  • Don’t look down on them because they like being in character. These are the people that make children burst with happies when they see Batman or Spiderman on the confloor.

Captain Canada

Or Captain Canada.

Room for improvement

CosPLAYers sometimes need to understand that some people don’t feel comfortable being in character. This doesn’t make these other cosplayers any less of a fan of a particular series, nor does it make them a fake fan.


Cospetitors- cosplae Ribbonis

Individuals of cosplae Ribbonis pupate in the Green Room before making their triumphant metamorphasis onstage to the delight of the gathered audience-beasts. While they can be found elsewhere in the con, the Ribbonis feels most comfortable under the bright lights of the stage.

Costume Con Best in Show

The Well Deserved Best in Show: Costume Con -32

Why they Cosplay

Cospetitors like competition pure and simple. They like the challenge of competition, along with the rush that winning an award brings. Some people compete in work, some in sports, Cospetitors compete in cosplay.

Look for immaculate work, ribbons or dejected posture after the awards ceremony.

Approach with caution!

  • Constructive criticism may be welcome, but only if they ask for it.
    • be sure to make sure any criticism is constructive.
      • “I loved the trim but I noticed that there’s a bit by your seam that doesn’t lay flat”
        will go over much better than…
        “Dude your trim sucks“.
  • Competitive egos can sometimes get defensive, do not encourage this behaviour

Room for improvement

Their egos can be super fragile. Some have never lost a contest, and are used to being on top, or winning something. Losing sucks. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been competing in something, losing means that you don’t get that thing you want. (Even if it’s a show-ribbon).


Sometimes, Cospetitors are used to this, and they shake it off. Othertimes… less so.

Losing sucks, but I can tell you that I’ve learnt a hell of a lot more from the competitions that I’ve lost than the ones I’ve won. Why? Because that meant that there were people that were better than me who were competitng. It can be hard to put aside the grumpy face and analyze why they won and you didn’t, but maybe there were flaws that you didn’t see, or maybe it came down to something as small as a zipper being installed slightly crooked. I’ve seen it happen.

Ottawa Pop Expo



Costumers – cosplae Kostumeris

Kostumeris appears in panels and Masquerades, claiming a territory larger than their Competitive cousins. They decorate their bodies in carefully crafted finery, that takes days if not months to complete.


Unf. That Monarch Dress.

Why they Cosplay

Because costuming is Art, and Costumers are artists. Instead of painting on a canvas, they work with textiles, worbla and feathers. Sometimes it’s a means of expression and other times it’s a way to get rid of the stresses of day to day life. (Though cosplay has its own set of stresses, that’s for sure…)

Costumers like challenging themselves, and it is all about themselves in the sense that they’re not making the costumes for anyone else.  It’s the process that’s the payoff, not the final result. (Because a costume is hardly ever ‘done’!)

Approach with Caution!

  • Please do not touch a Costumer’s cosplay without asking. It’s like smearing hands over a painting and then looking at the artist and going ‘that’s okay, right?’ sometimes it will be okay, other times, not so much.

Zodiac Posse


Go on, touch our headdresses. We dare you.

  • There’s a lot of overlap between Cospetitors and Costumers in what costumes they wear, and that both will enter masquerades to show off their work.
    • BUT. Costumers are not in it for the ribbons, they’re in it to hear the ooohs and ahhhhs or laughter (intentional, of course!) of the audience. Please do not confuse the two. If you talk to a costumer about all the awards you’ve won, you’ll often just get a blank stare or awkward smile.
  • Please don’t assume all Costumers like to compete, some just like to wander around in their works of art!

Room for Improvement

Costumers can sometimes look down on other species because they feel that Cospetitors and Professionals aren’t cosplaying for the right reasons, or that they’re commercializing an art. This is an issue that artists have, regardless of media. Some painters can see Graphic Designers as ‘sell outs’, same with Couture designers looking down on Commercial designs.

There’s different niches for all art, and there’s no one that’s better than the other.


The Model – cosplae Modelis

Modelis individuals are most often found in front of cameras, or behind booths. They are strange solidtary creatures who rarely wander from their symbiotic relationship with a photographer.


My own arc went: CosPLAY -> Model -> Costumer.
It’s completely okay to change species, do what you love

Why they Cosplay

Some people want to model, and they’ve chosen to go after the geek market instead of commercial, ‘Alternative’ or high fashion. This isn’t to say they don’t like the series that they cosplay from, but they might not be as devoted to it as other cosplayers.

More than any of the other sepcies of cosplayer, these are the ones who seem to want to be ‘cosplay famous’ or become a Professional. Making a cosplay is less important than wearing it, and getting likes on a page.

This doesn’t make them fake, it just gives them different priorities.

Approach with Caution!

  • Do not ‘call them out’ on their lack of love for whatever series they are playing on.
  • Do not call them names or offer unwanted critique.
  • Don’t talk about them in hushed tones as ‘fake’. If you are cosplaying, you can hardly be a ‘fake’ cosplayer, now can you?
  • Do not use them as a straw man for the mean people you knew in highschool or university or whereever. If you do, you’re just perpetuating the bullying cycle.

Room for Improvement

I’m not going to comment too much on this, aside from the following: Know your market. Same as with any business, you have to know your market. You have to know how to interact with them and how to make them want whatever it is you’re selling.

So Sexy

I quickly learned modeling wasn’t for me. So Sexy.

If you are going to market yourself, you are going to have to make yourself marketable. This means learn the geek culture, find things you like and be able to discuss them with fans. Go after work, and make your work worthwhile.


The Professional – cosplae Professionis

Members of cosplae Professionis are the rarest of all cosplay species. They are both respected and criticised by the others for their ability to monetize cosplay and sometimes make a living from it.

Nigri, Monika Lee, Yaya

Why they Cosplay

Oh dear, okay. This one will be polarizing. Professional Cosplayers are completely legitimate cosplayers.

You do not have to agree with their life choices, or their decision to monetize their costumes, but you don’t have the right to say that it is ‘wrong’. Just that it is a path that would be wrong for you.

Professionals have started out Cosplaying for any (or many) of the reasons listed above. Then they evolved. Presumably after eating a candy they found in tall grass. Now they sell prints, host workshops or panels and appear on TV shows in order to help fund their hobby/passion.

Approach with Caution!

  • Professional Cosplayers are not ‘ruining’ cosplay. They are part of the reason that cosplay has become so accepted in the mainstream culture.
  • They are not responsible for the rape culture/oversexualized culture of videogames. That was there well before the Professionals showed up, and it’ll be around for a long time if we keep blaming it on cosplayers.
    • As for perpetuating this culture, I can tell you cosplayers are far less of an influence on games than the consumers are. If you don’t like the way a game portrays females/transgendered/queer characters, don’t buy it and write a letter to the studio explaining why.
  • This shouldn’t need to be said, but… They’re human and deserve to be treated like it. They’re just more prevalent in the cosplay friendly media, so it’s easy to use them as an example for what we don’t like about cosplay.

Elffi and Calssara

  • Please do not say that they’re ‘fake’, you’ll just be perpetuating the Fake Geek Girl’s bastard brother, the Fake Cosplayer. 

Room for Improvement

 I really wish that the Media would stop the Drama-train. Cosplayer X threw shade at Cosplayer Y. Gasp! Groan, to your internet battle stations. Spoilers: drama on TV gets ratings. Drama online gets annoying.

As for the Professionals themselves, they likely know at this point what they need to work on. It’s a business for them, and if they didn’t treat it like a business, they wouldn’t have their business.


 But I’m not listed there! I’m a cosplae Special-snowflakis.

This is by no means a catch-all or a cosplay Encyclopaedia, but if we follow the list below, I think there’ll be a lot less headaches.


Be an Awesome Cosplayer Regardless of Species

  1. Don’t be an asshole.
  2. People like other things than you. That is okay.
  3. Do not give criticism or advice unless asked.
  4. Some people will not follow these rules, at which point, disengage and go find awesomer people who do. Your cosplay experience will be better for it.
  5. Cosplay is about fun, if you are not having fun, take a break. Take a new approach, or try something silly.

Calamity, Dart:Dense Boy, Melting Mirror and Guy

Raptor hugs!

I hope this helped. Even if it’s to gain a bit of insight into the strange world of Cosplayers.

 xox Calamity