Visit any science fiction convention and you'll see Star Wars cosplayers aplenty. Crafty fans who buy or painstakingly make detailed replicas of the outfits of Darth Vader, Boba Fett or Princess Leia. And while the late Carrie Fisher's space princess had a lot of great looks in the films, none is more popular with cosplayers or their admirers than the bikini she wore in Return of the Jedi. Carrie Fisher wasn't a fan of the costume personally, but fans love it. And it's not hard to see why: first off, it's hot. But even more than that, it was hot in a film intended for kids. If, like me, you first saw Return of the Jedi as a young child – I saw it in the cinema, so I must have been five or six years old – the Slave Leia costume could well have been the most overtly sexual (I nearly said “nakedly”) thing you'd ever seen in your young life. That's the sort of thing that sticks with you.
But cosplay's roots go back much further, and it has a long history with the sexy side of science fiction fandom. While there are reports of people dressing up as science-fiction characters as early as 1908, the beginning of the tradition of dressing up to go to conventions is usually dated to 1939, when fan figure Myrtle R. Douglas (“Morojo” in the community) designed and created a pair of “futuristicostumes” for herself and fan legend Forrest J. Ackerman to wear to the World Science Fiction Convention.
Morojo's costumes are creative and well-made, but they're not exactly oozing sex appeal. It didn't take long, however, for the fan community to start cutting down on the body coverage. After all, a lot of the classic science fiction art and movies they were inspired by featured some pretty salacious images. Scantily-clad or topless people cosplaying characters like Dejah Thoris from Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars novels or Vampirella became more and more common. Some conventions even had to implement rules to prevent nude costuming.
I've been using the word “cosplay” throughout this article because that's what it's usually called today, but it was simply called “costuming” at most English-speaking events. The term “cosplay” started to appear during the 1980s in the Japanese press and gradually spread to the west through the ever-growing anime fandom.
Camera phones, Instagram and an influx of fans from the world of anime and video games have made cosplay a big part of modern-day convention culture. Professional cosplayers effectively act as promotional models – and as everyone knows, sex sells. Check out the sites of popular cosplay icons and you'll see that they tend to run to the scantily-clad. But none of that makes for a fetish in the traditional sense. After all, there's nothing kinky about wanting to see pretty people wearing revealing outfits.
But there is something that's different, isn't there? Something that makes, say, someone dressed as Chun-Li different from just someone in a low-cut dress, or the slave Leia bikini different from just a regular old bikini. I can't speak for guy-fancying comic fans, but I assume that ripped Aquaman cosplayers are different from just regular shirtless ripped guys – although perhaps only in the unlikely event that you care a lot about Aquaman. Maybe it's the association with youth – it's often been theorised that we become fascinated with the things that we're around during our sexual awakening, which would account for people's fixations on everything from the aforementioned Chun-Li to the Baroness from G.I. Joe. But it can't just be that.
Part of it may just be the heated atmosphere of the convention scene. Science fiction, gaming or comic book conventions are great places to meet your favourite authors, buy some rare memorabilia or just make like-minded friends. But the SF and kink communities tend, for whatever reason, to cross over quite a lot. After dark, you might be surprised by what an airport hotel full of spaceship enthusiasts gets up to. And while costumes in the bedroom aren't as common as cartoonists would like to think, there is a certain appeal to more private cosplay. Who doesn't like the idea of combining their love for Star Wars with their love for looking good by getting a suit of femtrooper armour?
Although sexy cosplay is a lot of fun, it does have some drawbacks. Sadly, cosplayers at conventions can receive unwelcome behaviour, from uninvited touching to abusive language. A lot of costumes worn by female cosplayers are seen as sexy, which some people take as an invitation to be intrusive. And since conventions – despite sixty-plus years of sexy costuming – aren't necessarily seen as sexual spaces, they seldom have the kind of clear, explicit rules about consent that are fundamental to healthy kink communities. That's changing, fortunately, but there's still work to be done.
So as May the fourth rolls around and we celebrate the impact of Star Wars on all our lives, a good sexy cosplay is a great way to commemorate it. Get your Sexy Wampa costume on and dive into that pile of Sand People. Just make sure to do it respectfully.
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