As soon as we encountered Elizabeth in Bioshock:Infinite, I was eager to cosplay this brunette. She was so damn spunky and after a few hours of gameplay Greg and I were very invested in her and her story. Then she had a jarring experience and dramatic costume change…and I had to decide which outfit to create.
Initially, I gravitated away from the corseted option. I imagined people accusing me of picking the “sexy” version because I wanted attention. I’ve seen the comments digitally hurled at the Slave Leias and spandex-clad Marvel super heroines. I was not in the mood for that.
Then I realized what I had done.
I had let OTHERS decide my cosplay for me, before I had even bought the fabric. I was opting for the more innocent, conservative outfit out of fear and feelings of insecurity. That is exactly the problem (well, ok, one of the many challenges) in the cosplay arena. Yes, when I cosplay, I do become something that others visually consume at the convention. But I am also expressing my interest in a particular character and franchise. As a woman, I am told to be proud of my body…but keep it hidden. If you fit the “beauty standards” and dress in revealing cosplay, the naysayers will call you “attention seeker” and “fake geek girl.” (As if anyone would pay $70 for convention passes, $100+ for costume material, and spend months sewing to try to get attention for a franchise they don’t like.) And if you don’t fit the “beauty standards” and dress in revealing cosplay, the naysayers have more nasty comments for you.
I do like the outfit Elizabeth wears for the first half of the game, and I guarantee you that I would have been much more comfortable—physically—in that loose blouse and mid-weight skirt. But I was in love with the long blue skirt and the corset. All my costumes up to that point had been comfortable. I wanted to be pretty, elegant, and sexy. I wanted to be “Post-tramatic Stress Elizabeth.” Who cares what the Negative Nancys might say. I’m not cosplaying for them. I cosplay for myself and for the love of geekdom!
- Corset—Pattern drafted for me, then modified by extending the bust-line higher
- Bolero Jacket—Simplicity 1819 with self-drafted collar and sleeve cuffs
- Full A-line Skirt—Simplicity 1819
- Petticoat—Thrifted bridal petticoat (Red Light Vintage) and fluffed with extra tulle
- Boots—Purchased from Amazon.com
- Choker Necklace—Purchased from Lady Cassaundra’s on Esty.com
Design & Construction Notes
I was able to save significant time on the costume’s design because after researching historical video game fashion I realized that I already owned a commercial pattern (Simplicity 1819) that contained similar costume pieces. This allowed me to devote a great deal of time to sourcing the materials.
Skirt & Jacket:
The general consensus among the cosplay community is that Elizabeth’s blue skirt and jacket are made of a velvet-like fabric. I opted for a blue cotton velveteen rather than pure velvet because the blue hue of the velveteen was a closer match.
I made only two minor adjustments to the skirt:
- I extended the length of the front and back skirt (patterns #12 and #13) by 3 inches so that the hem hits my ankle.
- Rather than gather the back of the skirt, as the pattern instructs, I opted to make pleats to keep the fullness of the skirt’s hem, but reduce the fullness at the waist. Elizabeth’s corset is meant to extend over the hips and I want to reduce volume at the lower back.
The jacket sleeves required some adjustments and a new sleeve cuff. Simplicity 1819 features a bolero with bell sleeves, but Elizabeth’s jacket sleeves have a very slim fit. I used a button-up oxford shirt to determine the circumference of the wrist and then tapered the sleeve from the elbow to the wrist. That same cuff circumference was used to draft the large white sleeve cuff. I did line the sleeves with interfacing, but I am not sure that was necessary. The cuff pattern in the illustration below is not necessarily to-scale.
When I design costumes, I always take time to consider pockets. I like to be able to carry my phone and some form of payment and ID, so I designed a small pocket inside one of the sleeve cuffs.
The adjustment made to fit the shoulder is a personal adjustment to account for the way my shoulders roll forward.
The most challenging pattern design was the bolero’s collar. Collars in general have vexed me, from Ezio to Amon. In both of those previous costumes, I was able to cut a rectangle that was equal in length to the circumference of the neckline, line with interfacing for stiffness, and voila! To determine the curve of the collar where it would connect with the neckline, I put the jacket (front and back pieces sewn together) on my dress form, inserted paper between the fabric and the dress form, then traced the edge of the neckline. The top edge of the collar follows a similar curve, but tapers as it gets closer to the bust dart on the bolero front.
When I made my first test muslin of this collar, aligned the pattern with the incorrect grain line:
Center back line parallel to the fabric grain on on the cross grain (red arrows): the curved sections of the collar fell on the bias and when sewn to the rest of the bolero maintained a slight ripple. I need this collar to be stiff and smooth along the seamline.
Grainline laid through the majority of the front curved portion of the collar (blue arrows): This was the correct answer. If you want these pieces to be stiff, the majority of the collar needs to be lined up with the fabric’s grain.
When I finally attached the collar to the bodice of the jacket, I sandwiched the collar between the lining and exterior fabric. It worked just fine, but in researching how I should grade the seam allowance of the collar I realized that I should have sewn the outer collar and inner collar to their respective necklines first, then sewing the two halves together. I think it would have made the seam less bulky.
I have seen a number of costume variations of the white lace trim that peeks out from beneath Elizabeth’s skirt. Some costumes feature lace or a white trim sewn directly onto the hem of the blue skirt and others clearly use separate petticoats. I opted for a separate garment to achieve the specific full A-line silhouette seen in the reference image above.
Initially I planned to sew a white, lace-trimmed version of the Simplicity 1819 skirt for the petticoat. Then I went to my friend’s wedding and helped her into a bridal petticoat. A lightbulb flashed on. Why spend the effort to cut and sew, when these exist for purchase? I succeeding in buying a used bridal petticoat from Red Light Vintage, improving the sustainability of my costume. (Yup, I think about the environmental impact of my costumes.) It was not quite full enough to match the flare of Elizabeth’s skirt, so I cannibalized a friend’s tulle veil to add fullness to the petticoat.
I’m thrilled with the result. Though after walking around in the stuffy convention center, I started to think that the cosplayers who opted to sew white trim to the blue skirt hem may have made a better choice. While I was dealing with and sweating in layers of velveteen, satin, and tulle, they had one layer of fabric to contend with.
I selected a mid-weight white satin for the corset (and used the same satin for the sleeve cuffs). After trying to live-tweet the drafting process for a new corset pattern, I realized that my existing corset pattern (drafted by a sewing instructor) was just too short for my torso. I traced all the pattern pieces and extended the top edge 2-3 inches to give me sufficient bust coverage.
Can you keep a secret? The black trim on the corset is glued on. When it was finally time to apply the black trim to the corset, I was tired of hand-sewing. (see: Booker costume, vest hand embroidery) I had been unable to find a black ribbon with white lines along the edge, so I briefly considered sewing white lines onto the black ribbon, but after 3 stitches I chose sanity over accuracy.
Costume in Action
Cosplaying as Elizabeth was fun and I think it was a milestone in my cosplaying career. Over the past three years I had been easing into cosplay. First by assembling a Kaylee (Firefly) costume out of thrift store clothes, then by making costumes for Greg and letting him absorb the majority of attention. I later joined Greg’s Ezio Auditore as a nameless assassin, but it would be Avatar Korra who was my first leading-lady cosplay. But even as Korra at Emerald City Comic Con 2013, I was still a little shy.
Elizabeth brought me out of my shell. Colors affect mood, and in that vibrant blue I felt powerful. I felt like I might be able to open a dimensional portal if I really tried. It was also very visible and recognizable. Elizabeth was frequently recognized before Booker was even noticed. Booker is the protagonist of Bioshock:Infinite (and Greg cosplayed him well), but you rarely see Booker in-game. Every person who played Bioshock:Infinite developed a relationship with Elizabeth, and that often came out in people’s interactions with me. People didn’t just take pictures of us, they often stopped and talked. Another Elizabeth walked up and said, “It is great to see another Asian-American Elizabeth at the con.” It was great to see her too. Cosplay is not a competition, it is a community.
At the BioWare cosplay parade (I know, wrong studio), where everyone is given an award in the form of a cool compliment and BioWare swag, Jessica Merizan awarded me for “great use of materials.” I feel like I am bragging, but please bear with me for just a moment while I try to find the right words. We all have insecurities and we all have self-doubt. I’ve been guilty of making something and immediately being bummed because it “wasn’t perfect.” Growing up, I shied away from or shrugged off compliments and attention on my art or my school projects because on some level I didn’t believe I deserved it. Because I blog about my sewing projects, I have a better record of the time, money, and work that I put into each costume. I know I was obsessed with finding the optimal fabrics for Elizabeth, and Jessica recognized that effort. As a seamstress, that was one of the best compliments I could have received because it acknowledged the process and the effort as much as it was about the final product.
But my favorite memory as Elizabeth? Booker and I were eating dinner at an Italian restaurant after the live D&D game when a 4- or 5-year old girl walked up to me and asked “Are you a princess?” It was an adorable question that left me fumbling for an answer. For anyone who has finished the game, you know who and what she is. Elizabeth is no princess. Though…she was locked in a tower. And she is the daughter of the “kingdom’s” ruler. And she looks a little like Belle from Beauty and the Beast at the start of the game…
So I responded: I’m a character from a video game, whose father rules a city in the clouds. I’m not a formal princess with a crown, but I do have magic powers and I am on an adventure.
And I am damn proud to portray her.