Casual Cosplay: What is it? and Why it’s More Common Than You Think

What is casual cosplay?

Cosplay is a lot of fun at conventions, but sometimes it’s not appropriate for everyday life. Your coworkers might not appreciate you walking into the office in full Wonder Woman armor. But that doesn’t mean you have to put aside your nerdy interests just to avoid standing out. You can use your favorite characters to inspire you and create casual cosplays based on their style.

Casual cosplay is the term used when you put together an everyday outfit that is inspired by a favorite character. You’re not trying to create an exact replica of a character to wear as a costume. Instead, it’s all about using fashion as a way to subtly express yourself even in scenarios where a cosplay costume would be out of place.

In the past decade, casual cosplay has become even more popular with the rise of social media. Instagram and TikTok, in particular, have been excellent platforms for people to express their creativity in fashion alongside their interest in anime, comics, games, or whatever characters they love.

What is casual cosplay?

While there is no official definition of the term ‘casual cosplay,’ most people use it to describe the phenomenon of styling an outfit that is influenced by a character they love. Most of the time, the idea is to be deliberately discreet. You want to put together an outfit that makes you feel empowered by the character you are styling it after but is also tactful enough to be worn in everyday settings.

You’ll often take the color and general design from the main character and transform it into your own outfit. For example, this casual Jane costume takes the yellow and white from the character design along with the general shape of the clothing to create a completely unique outfit.

Some people will also call it a casual cosplay when they try to mimic the style of a character with a more realistic look. Since many characters in anime and comics have exaggerated character designs, you may choose to tone it down to create a more natural look that can be worn every day.

You may also hear the term when people cosplay in casual clothing that their character wears in canon. However, this is more often referred to as closet cosplay.

Do you have to look like a character?

The best thing about casual cosplay is that you don’t have to put any effort into looking like your character if you don’t want to. While some people may still choose to style their hair in the same way as a character or wear similar makeup, this is not at all necessary.

You can be as creative as you want with the outfit. It’s more about being inspired by the character than actually dressing up like them, unlike other forms of cosplay. Casual cosplay is a lot more about how the clothing makes you feel than how it looks.

Why is casual cosplay so popular?

In general, casual cosplay is more popular than it seems. Since the idea is often to be discreet, it’s not uncommon for people to go out in public and never be noticed as wearing anything out of the ordinary. It’s a great way to get into cosplay if you don’t want to fully dress up in costume, or it’s an excellent way to bring cosplay away from conventions and into your everyday life.

Why is casual cosplay so popular?

  • You can cosplay without feeling weird. I love cosplaying, but it’s understandable that many people feel a little weird about dressing up in costume as adults. With casual cosplay, you can show your love for a character without getting into costume.
  • It’s typically cheaper than traditional cosplaying. Cosplay can be an expensive hobby. However, a casual cosplay can be put together with everyday clothing that you might already have in your wardrobe.
  • It takes less time to create. Even if you never construct your cosplays from scratch, it takes time for costumes to be created and shipped from commissioners and merchants. You usually need to plan at least 2 months in advance if you want a costume ready in time for a convention. A casual cosplay, however, can be put together in an afternoon with one shopping trip to your local mall.
  • It gives you a chance to be creative. If you love fashion and designing your own clothing, casual cosplay is an excellent way to show off your skills. You don’t have to worry about creating a costume that is accurate to the character, which gives you a lot more freedom to be original.
  • It allows you to embody the confidence or feelings of the character. Sometimes you admire a character for their strength, optimism, resilience, or other characteristics. Wearing clothing designed for the character helps you to bring these aspects into your own life.

Casual cosplay and social media

Casual cosplay has been an aspect of fandoms and nerd cosplay communities for decades, but it’s been gaining more popularity in recent years with the rise of social media. There are many critiques about Instagram and how it creates unrealistic ideals of beauty, but one positive aspect that I’ve seen is the outlet it provides for creative expression.

With these types of platforms, you readily have the excuse to design all kinds of fashionable outfits based on the characters you love. You see this frequently with Disney or superhero-inspired outfits. Most of the time, these outfits will be more obviously representative of a character than a more everyday casual cosplay, but they are still a representation of the creativity involved with fashion and photography.

Casual cosplay vs. closet cosplay

The terms casual cosplay and closet cosplay are often confused with each other. You may hear people using them interchangeably, but they actually refer to different types of cosplay experiences. 

For a closet cosplay, you are trying to find clothing in your wardrobe or purchase it cheaply to create the actual, recognizable outfit that a character wears. It’s a low-budget way of putting a costume together for an anime convention or cosplay event.

On the other hand, casual cosplay is about taking inspiration from a character to put an outfit together. You’re not necessarily trying to recreate a costume, but instead, wear clothes that invoke the feeling of a character you love. It’s a much more subtle form of cosplay.

Emily Joice

My name is Emily, and I have been cosplaying since my very first convention in 2008. Over the years, I've experimented with all different kinds of cosplay costumes, especially loving the process of creating props and styling wigs. I also delved into cosplay photography, and love exploring how to optimize costumes so they look excellent in photos. Most of the photos you find on this site were taken by me over my years at anime conventions.

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