Sunday, April 14, 2013

BioShock on a Budget: Cosplay for under $50

Just a few weeks ago, I decided to cosplay for AwesomeCon DC this coming weekend.  Now, I've been preparing my costumes for San Diego Comic Con for months, and one of the challenges I have frequently encountered is balancing cost, time, and attention to detail (the latter being extremely important to me).  But, I have found that being resourceful and creative can cut down on costs, and putting together a costume can still be managed as a side-project for someone working full time.  To prove that point, I decided to challenge myself to put together a convention-worthy cosplay for less than $50.

The Decision

Inspired by my recent playing of BioShock Inifinite, I settled on Elizabeth.  Before I definitively selected this character for cosplay, I considered several main factors which are relevant to any cosplay project (unless you're independently wealthy): 
1.  What skills do I have? 
I cannot sew, so I knew whatever I put together would be limited to stitch-free modifications and ideally a lot of pieces that could be found in my closet or at a thrift store. I do have some painting and artistic ability so I wanted to capitalize on that for some of the details.
2. How much time do I have? 
I work 10+ hours a day and do other stuff on the weekends, so assembly of my costume could not be a full-time commitment.  I was willing to set aside roughly 1-2 hours every couple days to work on different aspects of the costume.
3. How much can I spend on this?
I limited myself to $50 for this cosplay. Cost is something that I weigh carefully before embarking on any new costume projects.
4.  How accurate do I want/need this costume to be?
To me, costume accuracy to the original character is paramount; however, sometimes it is unrealistic to get every single detail correct, particularly when you consider my other three factors.  I had to ask myself which details of the costume am I willing to sacrifice on in light of the other constraints? I discovered that this answer changed as I began to search for key pieces of the costume.

The Hunt

Having assessed Elizabeth's costume while playing the game and looking at additional images online, I determined that many of her clothing pieces could be reasonably found at a thrift store, or at least something similar that would require embellishments or small alterations. So, I made my shopping list and headed out to my favorite thrift shops: Unique Thrift Store in Wheaton and the Georgia Ave Thrift Store in DC.  These places have a large inventory of clothing and are much more reasonable than the hipster consignment shops in U Street Corridor (but you know I Iove you guys).

My first visit to the thrift shops was largely a success! I found the pieces below which were more or less consistent with Elizabeth's main clothing pieces.  In total, these cost me  $11.89.

I knew it would be unrealistic for me to find a white blouse with blue-with-gold-trim collar, so I thought I could use a fitted blue collared shirt under a blouse, and paint on the gold trim, which is what I've done above.  Any gold acrylic paint will do, but in this case I used a gold fabric pen (about $2.99 at Michaels).  The skirt isn't exactly what I wanted--Elizabeth's skirt is a lighter shade of blue with dark trim on the bottom--but this is one of those times I had to ask myself, given time, money, and my skill limitations is it likely I will find a skirt that is a better fit for this cosplay in two weeks?  I decided that I wouldn't.

The other accessories that I wanted to ensure were part of my cosplay to really add that attention to detail (and utilize my art skills) were Elizabeth's brooch necklace, her blue hair ribbon, and the book that she was carrying with her when Booker first encounters her. I figured out from looking at a ton of online resources that the book is The Principlies of Quantum Mechanics by Rosalind Lutece, an NPC in the game.  At Michael's, I miraculously discovered that they sell small photo storage boxes that are designed to look like books.  I couldn't believe my luck!  It was $10, but splurged since it would save me some time (would only require minor modifications) and it would be dual use as purse-like storage for my cosplay during the convention.  Taking cues from BioShock photos online, I hand-painted a paper cover for the book and the binding to reflect the correct title and author.  I just taped it over the pre-printed design.  Here's how it came out.

The second accessory I crafted was Elizabeth's brooch.  In screenshots it appears to be a light blue lace necklace with either a birdcage or a bird design on the blue-colored brooch (depending on what Booker chooses for her in the game).  I found some inexpensive white lace ribbon at Michael's ($1.99) and a sheet of blue foam which I planned to use for the back of the brooch. I used blue acrylic paint to color the lace, and then I drew a bird like the one on her brooch and cut it out of a fairly thick piece of white cardboard.  I cut a circle out of the blue foam that would fit the bird cut-out, and painted the edges (again, just plain acrylic craft paint, $0.99) to match the design of Elizabeth's brooch, and glued it all together.  To make it a necklace, I used an elastic hair band piece that is usually sold in the jewelry section of the craft store--again, inexpensive, like $1.99.  Here's what it looked like before I linked all the lace pieces together.

The third accessory, her blue hair bow, was easy enough to find at the craft store; I intended to just buy some plain blue gift ribbon, but they actually had pre-made bows for the same price ($1.99), so I just bought that instead. I'll just tie it on to one of my hair elastics.  Done!

Lastly, I knew that I still wanted to modify the skirt that I bought so that it looked at least a bit more visually similar to Elizabeth's skirt, even if the coloration was off.  In the game, her skirt has four horizontal strips fastened by buttons at the top and bottom of the skirt.  I cut up some similar-colored blue fabric ($2.99 at the thrift store) to look like these strips and used fabric glue ($1.99 at craft store) to adhere them to the skirt.  I added some buttons to match the placement on Elizabeth's skirt.  I also used the fabric glue to shorten the skirt slightly since it was almost full-length when I bought it. Here's what it looks like now.

One thing that you have probably noticed I haven't touched on...and is a fairly important part of any ensemble for us shoes.  Elizabeth is wearing steampunk-style, lace-up knee-high boots in the game.  I was concerned about this component of the costume because a not-so-great pair of boots can easily go for $30-40, and my timing is off to catch the clearance sales from winter.  While I did not own any such boots, I do have several plain brown and black knee-high boots that would suffice in the case that I would not want to spend the extra cash getting a pair of lace-up boots that I may or may not use again.  Now, don't judge me, but I opted to buy a pair of lace-up boots that I really liked, but they put me WAY OVER my $50 budget for this cosplay project.  I have decided to write off this part of the costume as an expense because 1. I did have another option in my closet that could have been used, and not exceeded my $50 budget, and 2. shoes have reuse value  for costumes and I could have conceivably already had a pair of boots like this.  Fair enough? Good!

The Verdict

So, tallying all my expenses above the total came to $33.83, not including shoes as I mentioned.  So it was absolutely realistic to stay under $50 for this cosplay! YOU CAN DO IT!  You may be wondering how much time I spent on this project, between the thrift store trips and putting everything together.  I would estimate about 12 hours, spread out over two weekends and 3-4 evenings during the week.  It was a bit of a time sink, but ultimately doable since I chose to make it a priority for AwesomeCon.  It did interfere with my ability to get on the PS3 for a couple days, but I thought this was a worthy excuse!

Check back next weekend for the big reveal of my BioShock cosplay (to include my husband's cosplay of Booker--a whole other project!) and photos from AwesomeCon DC!



  1. This was super helpful, I've been wanting to do a Elizabeth cosplay in this costume, but had no idea where to start. I started to get discouraged and was considering buying my costume online.. There are very few out there and the ones that are don't have any pictures of how it would look.. I would hate to spend that money and have it look like crap. I was worried about the shoes too, they are the most difficult part of the costume!
    Anyway, so glad I found your post, it was super helpful. Can't wait to see the pics!

    1. Hey Lauren! I'm so glad to hear that you found my post encouraging. You can check out my blog post "10 Things I Learned at Awesome Con DC" which has a couple photos of our (award-winning!) costumes. I was overwhelmed by the positive reception that your cosplays received. I would love to hear about your progress and see your finished cosplay! Good luck!

  2. For the shoes you can also take cheap thigh high tights with little embroidery designs or patterns on them, wear closed toe high heels over the tights, and just simply fold the tights over your shoes and cut a hole in the tights to put the heel part through. So there you have a cheap way of making your own spats and cheap way of making your heels look like boots. :3

    1. That's a great idea Lacey! Thanks for sharing. Wish I would have thought of that when I was making the spats for my Mad Moxxi Cosplay!

  3. Wow, I am floored at your luck at finding those pieces at thrift stores! I want to cosplay this exact outfit and I have a feeling that I won't be as lucky; whenever I try and actively find something in a thrift store, it's never there! May I ask what thrift store/s you went to? Perhaps that will refine my search. Thank you so much!

    1. You might get lucky! Actually, I don't think you will have too much trouble finding the blouse...the thrift stores I frequent qr Georgia Ave Thrift Store (Brightwood neighborhood in DC) and Unique Thrift Store in Wheaton, MD--had a decent selection of white or cream-colored button down blouses with slightly poofy long sleeves. The skirt was a bit trickier to find....I had to get some extra blue fabric to add on to make it look like Elizabeth's. So it may take a few trips to the thrift store to find something that will work. Good luck!

  4. Hi do u have a photo of how it all looked on as a complete costume?

    1. Sharee--yes, in fact there are a couple photos posted in my blog entry "10 Things I Learned at Awesome Con DC": You can check it out here:
      You can also see more of my recent cosplay photos at
      thanks for reading!