Researching video game fashion history for cosplay

Bioshock: Infinite takes place in an alternate reality, in 1912. Columbia, the city in the clouds where this game takes place is a manufactured “utopia” engineered by a bigoted antagonist. The protagonist (the player) is a veteran of the Battle of Wounded Knee (1890) and is haunted by his violent killings of Native Americans, there are also multiple references to the Boxer Rebellion (1901) because the floating city of Columbia opened fire on Peking.

To begin planning my Elizabeth cosplay, the 1912 game play date had me looking at fashions of that era, but the shapes did not match the dress I was planning to make. Then I realized I had glossed over a crucial detail mentioned in passing dialogue. The dress Elizabeth wears in the second half of the game, in fact belonged to Elizabeth’s mother and Lady Comstock died in 1895. So this dress is Victorian in inspiration, not Edwardian or Titanic Era like I assumed based on the game’s date.

Obviously Lady Comstock wore a blouse over the corset.

Video game clothing, not matter the level of graphics, is not detailed enough to really analyze the historical inspiration for the dress. It was hard to choose between all of the very specific Victorian patterns online when the dress I am making is more of a costume-mutt. In the end I settled for a sewing pattern I already owned: Simplicity 1819, something of a Victorian-era fashion mutt  itself.

I used this pattern to create a costume for my friend last halloween:

MichellesCostume
Only corset and skirt based on Simplicity 1819; jacket was thrifted and modified.

When I went back to the pattern I realized it had just about everything I need. The under skirt was the right generic shape (without the bustle or overskirt, and without the hem ruffle) and the bolero jacket only needed small amount of modification in the collar region. I plan to use the skirt pattern with the hem ruffle to create a petticoat for the dress (as seen in these images from the Bioshock Wiki):

The image on the left shows the level of coverage of her corset, in comparison to the red one I am wearing in the upper right corner of this blog. This is what I was trying to work out the other weekend.

As we have established, I am a history geek and I have a hard time just making a video game costume without historical research. I know that the game designers referenced SOMETHING, so I want to connect the character with her initial inspiration. However, this can be a slippery slope.

What is the most research you have done for a costume? Did you find that it make your work easier or more challenging?

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One thought on “Researching video game fashion history for cosplay

  1. I do quite a bit of historical research. But I’m not usually trying to copy a costume when I research the historical stuff. I’m either copying the costume as seen somewhere, or researching a look to make an original costume/outfit.

    It’s tricky to combine the two things because any design by someone else may or may not have had appropriate historical research as inspiration, and it’s hard to reconcile the inconsistencies.

    You’ve got some good screenshots of the outfit you want – I would just go with it and copy what you see. =)

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