I bet you’ve seen the pictures on social media. Heck, I bet you’ve seen it in real life. Everything from animals to cartoon characters, it’s in the form of a onesie. This trend has been catching on even more worldwide, but did you know that it originated in Japan?
Yup, that’s right. These pyjama onesies started in Japan and now it’s a worldwide phenomenon, some say. And they’re called “kigurumi”. Now, I bet you have more questions than answers. But you’ve come to the right place. We have all the answers you have about kigurumi here. All you have to do is read on!
What Is Kigurumi?
Kigurumi (着ぐるみ) is a form of cosplay that originated from anime stageshows but also became an own distinct subculture over the decades, known for its appearance inspired by anime figures and dolls. The wearers use a fiberglass or plastic mask and a skin-tone spandex bodysuit called a hadatai in order to archive that look. Kigurumi mostly depends on expressive body language, so physical and performance requirements are higher than of regular cosplay, making it more difficult to beginners.
Within the community, there are lots of abbreviations and slangs used that newcomers might be confused about. Please refer to our dictionary for a more in-depth guide on those.
Kigurumi began in the mid-1990s. It’s said that a company called SAZAC started it all in the fashionable streets of Harajuku and Shibuya, where most Japanese subcultures are born. It was used as a simple way out of cosplay. All you had to do was wear the mascot-like outfit and you’re a walking anime character!
Some say that kigurumi could be traced back to the 1600s when kabuki (歌舞伎) and bunraku (文楽) were formed. Kabuki is a traditional and theatrical dance-drama that is still performed today. Performers wore masks and elaborate makeup to look like creatures and ghosts. Bunraku is a traditional puppet theatre performance. Puppeteers would be in black clothes with hand-made masks on.
When kigurumi took off in the 90s, so did the manufacturing of masks. Japanese entertainers like musicians and celebrities started following this trend. By the time the mid-2000s rolled around, kigurumi was the norm.
Despite the media reporting on kigurumi, it wasn’t until the early 2010s that the Western countries caught onto the trend. Now, even though kigurumi isn’t interpreted as it was originally, it’s a hyped-up Japanese trend worldwide!
Types of Kigurumi
So we briefly mentioned the two common variations of kigurumi. Kigurumi comes in various types: kigurumi cosplay, kigurumi masks and kigurumi pyjamas.
Kigurumi cosplay, or kigurumi kosupure (着ぐるみコスプレ) in Japanese, focuses on Japanese pop culture. People dress up in kigurumi-style costumes in the character they like. This includes anime characters as well as some American fictional characters. Common kigurumi cosplay includes Pikachu, Hello Kitty, Pokemon and anime characters.
Sometimes, kigurumi cosplay can revolve around sex appeal, especially when it comes to anime characters. Not all the time, though. This type of kigurumi is also used for stage shows of anime both in Japan and overseas.
Another type of kigurumi is kigurumi masks. In Japanese, this type of kigurumi is called animegao (アニメ顔) to mean “anime face”. It’s similar to the previous type we mentioned. The only difference is that this kigurumi involves only the face. The body is then dressed up in normal clothes.
Kigurumi masks started off as masquerade masks, but now has evolved to be anime characters. Now, kigurumi masks have included other types of cartoon characters like Frozen and other Disney shows.
The last type of kigurumi is kigurumi pyjamas. It involves pyjamas usually in the style of a onesie. Most of the time, the kigurumi pyjamas are in the shape of animals. This type of kigurumi is the one we see often on social media. It has become a hit in countries outside of Japan. Europe and America have embraced kigurumi pyjamas with open arms.
Animegao performers at Anime North.
Kigurumi of HeartCatch PreCure! characters
Kigurumi of Kantai Collection, To Love Ru, and Fancy Frontier 26 characters
Animegao kigurumi, known colloquially as kigurumi, kigu or occasionally doller and kig, is a type of cosplay which uses a masked character costume to portray anime or cartoon characters in the real world. The face of the performer is fully covered with a stylized mask, and the costume of the character is worn. Used in stage shows, the concept of animegao kigurumi was then adopted by cosplayers, who made custom masks of various characters. In Japan, most cosplayers refer to this style as animegao (アニメ顔, “anime face”), while performers are sometimes called “dollers”. It is still a very minor part of the cosplay scene in Japan, though around 2005, it began attracting attention elsewhere, including North America and Europe.
As with other kinds of cosplay, many hobbyists have costumes of established characters from games or animations. The characters are usually female, and commonly human, although kigurumi characters of other races and genders do exist, including male (such as Kenshin Himura from Rurouni Kenshin), mechanical (such as Gundam Wing), elfin (such as Deedlit or Pirotess from Lodoss), and demonic (such as Inuyasha from the anime of the same name). Some kigurumi are original characters created by the performer. Both men and women wear kigurumi.
By wearing a body suit and mask, kigurumi cosplayers are able to get closer to the appearance of the original character, especially in the case of animal characters or highly stylised characters. In animegao kigurumi, the performer playing a humanoid anime character wears a flesh-coloured body suit (a zentai suit known as a hadatai) and matching mask usually moulded from clay or fiberglass composites. The body suit allows them less-detailed skin features, on the level of animated characters, and the mask allows a similar level of facial features.
Some hobbyists obtain masks from established hobbyist mask studios. As of 2018, there are six mask studios locations in Japan, as well as in Taiwan and the United States. Major production examples include a Japanese studio that takes orders for customized masks with wig and eye parts based on studio’s original designs for over 130,000 yen(about USD 1,182), and a Taiwanese studio that takes orders for fully customized masks for over 131,000 yen(about USD 1,190). The average price of a mask produced by Mask Studio is between 100,000 and 200,000 yen(about between USD 910 and 1,819).
Though this term originated as animegao, the original Japanese term is not used to describe masks based on anime characters. Instead, the term kigurumi (着ぐるみ) is used by most performers.
Comparison With Cosplay
As mentioned previously, kigurumi is an extended form of cosplay, but kigurumi and regular cosplay are very different in that kigs wear a full-body costume. Due to that, you will have a hard time to tell the wearer’s actual appearance or gender when the costume looks convincing. In principle, in order to fully become the character, a kig will not expose any part of their real body. Of course, there are exceptions, such as the japanese DJ and lead singer of the band “Legend of Face”: Minami Momochi, she is a special case of only wearing a mask while not wearing a hadatai.
Since kigurumi was born, there always have been comparisons with regular cosplay. One of the biggest differences is that cosplayers can better reflect the charm of the characters through the change of the facial expression, something still very limited in kigurumi. However, kigurumi has the advantage that the appearance of anime characters is really hard to pull-off in the real world due to their exaggerated features, and even cosplayers with the prettiest face and most detailed costume still have hard times to look accurate, but kigurumi completely hides the wearer’s real self and portrays the characters in the most believable way instead.
In comparison to regular cosplay, kigurumi needs slightly more complicated parts. The resource page contains an extensive collection of links, for everything you need, with detailed descriptions on what is offered.
With no doubt one of the most important things in kigurumi, since it’s what gives it its iconic appearance.
As not every country got own makers, most kigs will order their masks online from overseas makers as a surprising high number of them can handle english and international shipping. If a maker doesn’t speak english or can’t ship international, there’s always the option to use one of several shopping services listed in the resource page. Which maker to choose mostly depends on your budget, head circumference, style preference, as well as the desired features.
The vision is usually located in small slits inside the eyelid crease as well as in the black parts of the eyes. Generally the primary ventilation is also through the vision slots mentioned above, though it’s possible to get fans added to the inside of the mask. Another optional feature would be a locking mechanism, but it’s not recommended as the slightest core warping can cause it not to function properly anymore, resulting in an unwearable mask.
Regular maintenance should never be neglected if you want to keep the mask in a good shape. Storage should be done inside a padded box that is kept in a dark and cool space as direct sunlight and heat can cause the core material to warp. The wig needs to be brushed and detangled after every use to extend its lifespan, and styling might have to be redone once a while.
If you don’t feel like showing your real skin, it doesn’t match your mask, or if you need to hide shapewear, there are multiple options to cover your body. As the masks restrict airflow, it’s important to consider that each additional layer of clothing will be a burden on your health, and therefore you should try to only cover what is necessary. For example, if you are wearing an elaborate outfit, it’s enough to wear gloves and thights, but for something like swimwear you will want to wear a proper bodysuit.
In order to archive a smooth-looking skin, a hadatai must be tailored to your measurments, otherwise it will appear very wrinkly and ill-fitting. Generally you should have your innerwear completely figured out before ordering your hadatai to prevent the risk of poor fit or torn seams. As the base color of masks varies between makers, it’s a good idea to order fabric samples first to see which fabric color option gives a good match.
The main features that distinguish a hadatai from regular zentai are not only a skin-like texture and seamless appearance, but often also an integrated vest that functions as pockets for the breast forms. An alternative for female wearers is a 3D chest that’s tailored to fit the shape of your natural breasts, however, this has the downside of an increased amount of seams in that area.
While it mostly depends on the character, proportions in anime are often exaggerated in way that your natural curves will seem small in comparison. Due to that, kigs can wear everything from breast forms, corsets, waist cinchers, and multiple layers of padding, to nothing at all. All of this depends on the difference in anatomy between your own body and the one of the character that you want to depict.
Different to real breasts, the cup sizes of breast forms are defined by their weight, meaning the letter will say nothing about how large they will look on your body. In general, it’s possible for everyone to wear breast forms, but you will have to get the concave type in case you just want to increase the size of your natural bust. While the measurments used by manufacturers for breast forms can vary, there are some common types, which can be found here.
Padding is used regardless of gender when in need of thick curves, and it’s often worn in combination with a corset or waist cincher. Compression shapewear or tights are commonly used to help smooth out the padding and hide its edges. For an optimal appearance, it’s essential that nothing stands out below the hadatai, and everything is in a similar color.