Discovering Worldcon: Masquerade, Costuming, and Cosplay

Dressing up in costumes has been a part of many cultures historically—at carnivals, dances, masquerades, religious events, and formal court balls—and for dramatic performances such as plays and later film and TV. Costuming by fans has been a feature at science fiction conventions since the very first Worldcon in 1939, where Morojo (Myrtle R Douglas) and Forrest J Ackerman wore ‘futuristicostumes’, designed and made by Morojo, inspired by the film Things to Come

©2015 John O’Halloran
©2015 John O’Halloran

Costuming continued at the annual worldcons and spread to other SF conventions in the following decades along with the establishment of costume competitions and Masquerades. Costuming grew significantly in popularity in the 1960s and 70s with the interaction of fans from different countries and with the interest and fan activity triggered by media SF, particularly Star Trek and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. By the 1980s, as fan conventions grew in size, there was enough interest for Costume-con to be established, with its genesis at the 1981 Worldcon in Denver and Costume-Con 1 being held in 1983. The term ‘cosplay’ was created in Japan in 1984 (possibly with some inspiration from the 1984 Worldcon in LA, the largest for many decades) and gained worldwide use. The International Costumers’ Guild (ICG) was created in 1985 and it provides very useful resources including this gallery of Worldcon costumes:

Photographer: Henry Söderlund

SF conventions in Glasgow started in 1978, and grew during the 1980s. They also featured a costume competition and, usually, a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with full audience interaction! (I even dabbled a little bit myself, including entering the contest once as ‘Riff Raff’ from Rocky Horror—fortunately in pre-internet times, so hopefully no photos exist!) Fans from Glasgow and the rest of the UK have continued to actively participate in costuming in the decades since. I recall some amazing costumes at the 1987 Worldcon in Brighton, particularly the Best-in-Show “Elric of Melnibone” (more details here) and at the subsequent UK Worldcons in Glasgow in 1995 and 2005, in London in 2014, and at Worldcons in Helsinki in 2017 and Dublin in 2019.

Creating and wearing costumes generally around conventions (‘hall-costumes’), as well as performing in costume competitions, or Masquerades, remains a key element for many fans at genre conventions, including Worldcon, Costume-Con, Dragoncon, and at the huge popular culture events such as Comic-cons.

Photo Credit : Keith Stokes

At Glasgow 2024, we’re looking forward to seeing members dressing up and wearing costumes throughout the convention. These can be from your own imagination or inspired by books, comics, manga/anime, film/TV/games, or the convention Guests and themes. Whatever inspires you! You can also participate by encouraging and thanking the people wearing hall costumes, as all attendees will receive tokens that can be used to vote for the costumes you like. There will also be photography backdrop areas around the convention. 

©2015 John O’Halloran
©2015 John O’Halloran

The Glasgow 2024 Masquerade will take place on Saturday evening in Hall 2, where we will celebrate costumes inspired by science fiction and fantasy. Whatever your level of experience in creating a costume, this is your opportunity to share your imagination and creative skills with an appreciative audience. All Worldcon members are welcome to participate, either by producing and entering costumes on their own or in groups (many memorable costume entries have been ensemble groups), or by joining the audience to watch the show. Look out for more details on the Glasgow 2024 website.

Vincent Docherty is a fan and con-runner, who co-chaired the Glasgow Worldcons in 1995 & 2005. He grew up in Glasgow, where he also studied and researched in Chemistry. His career in the energy industry has taken him to London, Muscat (Oman), and The Hague, where he currently lives. He had an early interest in SF&F, Space and Science, and at 16, he attended the first SF convention in Glasgow, quickly becoming involved in organizing SF societies and conventions, including British National Eastercons and Worldcons. He has been Fan Guest of Honour at the UK Eastercon and other cons and was presented with the Big Heart Award in 2014. He remains an active con-runner and programme participant, chairing the 2011 & 2021 SMOFcons, member of the Hugo Award Subcommittee several times, running the music program & symphonic concerts for the 2014 & 2019 Worldcons, and Chair’s advisor and a Division Head for the Dublin 2019 and Glasgow 2024 Worldcons.

The 82nd Worldcon will take place in Glasgow, August 8–12, 2024. We can’t wait to welcome you to Glasgow and the SEC/Armadillo for a Worldcon for Our Futures.