20 Years of Cosplay Trends at Dragon Con

A graph showing the popularity of costuming groups at Dragon Con from 1997 to 2017

While writing my post What Happened to Klingon Cosplay? I went off on a bit of a tangent on the rise and fall of various cosplay groups as seen at Dragon Con. I decided that this attempt at recording our collective nerd history was so interesting that it deserved its own post.

Star Trek peaked in the 80s and 90s and had entered into its decline by the early 2000s, with Star Wars easily shouldering past to take the lead by the time the new films began to hit. The Lord of the Rings trilogy gave quite a chase and was wildly (wildly) popular, but the much younger Harry Potter series blew past them both to take the lead by 2003 – at its height the Yule Ball was THE best party at Dragon Con (before it became a generic rave, like all the dances at Dragon Con these days).

The Pirates of the Caribbean films delivered a boatloads of pirates to the shores of Dragon Con, but by 2011 their much prissier cousins (the Steampunkers) unexpectedly took control of Dragon Con, with nearly every man, woman and child decked out in a pair of goggles – all my friends at con that year seemed amazed that a fashion without a movie property behind it had been so widely adopted.

Long-term successes include super heroes (a perennial favorite), Doctor Who, and the slow but steady rise of video game cosplay. Note as well that Cardboard costuming continues to infiltrate all flavors of modern cosplay.

UPDATE: I can’t believe that I left Anime off the chart! It has been added AND I must say that it appears to have peaked somewhat over the past few years. Prior to 2016 the polite etiquette when you ran into a costume you didn’t recognize was to mumble quietly to yourself “It must be from anime or a video game” – these days even the anime cosplay folks find themselves doing that, thanks to the rising popularity of video game costumes.

Yes, I realized that I’ve left off a few well-represented fandoms like Stargate, Battlestar Galactica, Ghostbusters, GI Joe / Cobra, Game of Thrones, and Mad Max, but the graph was getting kind of busy.

Does my graph match your recollections?

What did I get wrong? Who did I leave off?

Thanks for reading!

9 thoughts on “20 Years of Cosplay Trends at Dragon Con”

    1. I just caught that it says “based on very little data”. lol Well, is this just your observations alone? Are you looking at pictures from over the years?

      1. LOL – yes, this is observational, but based on my having marched in the parade since 2006 (and been a parade watcher prior to that). I did go back and dip into the archived database of parade marchers from prior years, as the parade is often a bellwether for the overall “health” of a fandom. I have been going to cons since the mid-1980s and have been observing the rise and fall of fandoms for quite some time now. It’s sad when one fades away, but it’s inevitable that they will be replaced by something new that appeals to attendees :)

  1. I would say there was a second (far smaller) Lord of the Rings blip around 2012 when the first Hobbit movie came out. The Hobbit movies didn’t have the same staying power as the Lord of the Rings trilogy itself so it deflated quickly, but it did give a resurgence of track programming that year with a fresh set of actors.

    1. Yes! There are often “last hurrahs” for fandoms. The Hobbit-inspired resurgence had to have given the LotR community some great nostalgia. It’s interesting how friendships that are based on fandoms are often unsustainable after the property well and truly fades away. Someone mentioned the Dragonriders of Pern community, which really WAS a thing back in the 1980s and into the 90s – where are those people now? A good friend was a part of the Highlander (the television series) fan community, and they were thick as thieves back then. A few of them have stayed in touch, but that moment has passed as well. I’m happy that this post has been so much fun for folks :)

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