The term “cosplay” has only become mainstream in the last twenty years or so, but has actually been around since the 1980s. The form really took off in the early 2010’s once the term was being used by celebrities like Adam Savage, Tom Hiddleston, and Daniel Radcliffe. However, the first cosplays ever were said to have taken place in 1939, when a couple dressed up for Worldcon in outfits that reflected the science fiction magazines of the time.
The 1966 World Science Fiction Convention was no different. Fans from all over arrived at the convention dressed up as aliens, astronauts, and other otherworldly costumes. However, it was not unusual to see people dressed up as their favorite characters from a variety of film and television, including Star Trek which Gene Roddenberry premiered at the event. Many of these “old-timey” cosplayers are also participating in a costume parade, which one could argue could be the start of cosplay masquerades that are now seen at cons around the world.
The photos were taken by photographer Jay Kay Klein, who was also a huge science fiction fan. He would travel to conventions throughout the United States photographing people dressed up in intricate costumes. We could potentially say that he was one of the first “cosplay photographers,” considering he now has over 6,000 photographs digitized from the conventions he attended.
All the photos to Jay Kay Klein’s collections are seen on the Calisphere, a massive digital archive from the University of California. Through their work, they are preserving, cataloging, and digitizing his photographs for researchers and fans alike.
All photos in our gallery are used by permission. Be sure to check out more of Klein's work through Calisphere!