Even if you don’t participate in cosplay, you probably have an idea of what it’s about. But if it comes down to it, are you able to tell the difference between cosplay and a Halloween costume?

Cosplay is a performance art where people don costumes and accessories to represent fictional characters. Cosplayers assume the identity of the person they’re impersonating and even adopt their mannerisms. The role-playing aspect is what separates it from ordinary costuming – think of it as an elaborate, adult version of dress-up. But do you know about another type of costume phenomenon called fursuiting?

The furry fandom

If you’ve seen pictures of people in furry animal suits, you may have linked it to some sort of cosplay. Known as the furry fandom, the subculture revolves around “fictional anthropomorphic animal characters”.

In other words, they’re animal characters with human intelligence and characteristics. They talk, walk on two legs and even wear clothes. These furry enthusiasts are known as “furries”.

The difference between furries and cosplayers

Is wearing an animal costume (also known as “fursuiting”) considered cosplaying? It’s a subject of intense debate online, but the general consensus is that while it’s still broadly cosplay, there are a number of significant differences.

For one, cosplayers dress as human (or at least humanoid) characters. Furries, on the other hand, dress as non-human characters. It’s also been argued that while cosplayers base their costumes off existing characters from pop culture, furries base their fursuits off their inner animal spirits, which can be unique and original creations.

It’s all about art

As with cosplayers, art plays a huge part.

“We’re driven by imagination, and art lets people create the impossible and bring it to life. It’s a great visual guide to the community, and I’d almost say art and creativity are part of the backbone of what makes a furry,” says Sean Piche, site director of Fur Affinity, the furry subculture’s largest online community with more than 1.8 million registered accounts.

Known to the community as Dragoneer, the US-based 37-year-old artist says it’s variety that drew him to the subculture.

“You can take 100 different [animal] species and draw them in 100 different ways, and no two will ever be alike.”

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The fursuit 

It’s probably easier for furries to come up with a fursona than to get their hands on a fursuit. Unlike the animal onesies lazy costumers throw on, a fursuit is far more elaborate and typically consists of a head, body and paws.

Since furries feel strongly about individualising their fursonas, fursuits are usually made to order and a single fursuit can take hundreds of hours and cost several thousand dollars to make – a fair bit more if it includes animated features like “follow-me eyes”, a moving jawline and a wagging tail. A 2016 The Guardian article by Kim Wall reported that a master fursuit maker can easily be fully booked for an entire year.

Channelling the inner spirit animal

The real question, of course, is why anyone would be into dressing up like animals. A trawl through furry forum threads offers some insight.

For one, furries appreciate how, when channelling their “inner animal”, they aren’t segregated by race, class, age, size or any other social construct that has the power of dividing us. They love that they can accentuate their personality traits without having to worry about their looks getting in the way of how they’re treated by others, and that everyone is united as one happy animal family.

“In the furry fandom, it’s not about what you look like or where you come from, but who you are,” says Sean.

Depiction in the media 

Yet despite being just another hobby, the furry subculture has a history of unsympathetic media coverage and is frequently the target of hate groups.

One possible reason is that they’re commonly thought to be fetishists. But in the same The Guardian article by Kim Wall, Samuel Conway, a professional scientist and chairman of Anthrocon, the world’s largest anthropomorphic convention, was quoted as saying: “Furry fandom is not now – nor has it ever been – born of a sexual fetish.”

Sure some of them might be interested in sex; but that’s the same as any subculture.

Singaporean furries

While the furry subculture isn’t exactly widespread, there are more furries than you might think.

“Worldwide, it’s hard to put an exact estimate on just how many there are, but I think it’d be safe to say there are at least a few million out there,” says Sean. Aside from Anthrocon, there are a whole host of other international furry conventions that take place every year, and one (Furry Lah!) even took place here last year.

That’s right, we’ve got a furry group in Singapore. Founded in 2004, Singapore Furs has over 100 members and their own website. We reached out to them for an interview but they declined to comment as “the community as a whole isn’t comfortable engaging with the media.”

An earlier version of this article first appeared in CLEO June 2017. 

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