On January 3rd, 2020, I woke up with the sudden idea that I needed to make a historical cosplay.
Now, I’ve been sewing since 2008 and cosplaying since around the same time, so this wasn’t as wild an idea as it could have been. Still, it did seem a little out of left field for me, since I’d never done a historical costume before and had no idea where to start. I didn’t even know what historical era I wanted to do. What I did know was that my partner and I usually go to two anime conventions a year, and I had previously remarked that it would be nice to have a formal cosplay for the formal ball at one of them. I’ve been a Zelda fan very nearly my whole life, so when I had this spark of an idea, it was quite specifically to do a historical interpretation of Princess Zelda (Breath of the Wild version).
I did a bunch of research that day, and eventually settled on the U.S. Civil War era, not least because my partner’s family used to do Civil War reenacting.* Thus, my partner was fully on board for a coordinating Link cosplay, and my mother-in-law would be an excellent resource for women’s clothing.
Then… I did nothing.
It wasn’t until almost exactly a year later that I started working on the costume itself, starting with the underpinnings. Ultimately, the whole process took a year and seven months to get to what I’m calling the “base” costume. The tricky thing with historical clothing is that you can’t just do the outer, visible clothing—you need to have the correct undergarments to create the right silhouette and structure. At a minimum, that means chemise, drawers, corset, crinoline/hoop skirt, and petticoat. Then, of course, I had to create a dress fit for a princess, and then find all the little pieces and accessories to top it all off. My goal is to document the process of the entire costume creation, because it’s going to take a lot more space than Instagram offers.
I’ll begin with my concept sketch, which I didn’t actually create until I’d started the project.
My plan was to use Simplicity 5724, a Martha McCain Fashion Historian pattern.
When I first started, I was still very new to the process of researching historical clothing and how to make things historically accurate, but generally the pattern seemed to be well-regarded. I decided to adapt Princess Zelda’s formal gown for this project. The curly designs on her sleeves transferred to the skirt petals, and I could copy the triangle design from the hem of the gown. After that, it was mainly a matter of representing the color scheme in a way that looked more or less recognizable. I also decided to borrow the Triforce brooch/medallion seen in several of her other costumes. I had vague intentions of inkle-weaving an appropriate trim for the bertha, which so far I’ve never done.
Zelda’s outfits in Breath of the Wild
My sketch (the gloves would ultimately shorten to a more historically accurate length)
Up next: underpinnings, including my chemise, drawers, and ruffled petticoat.
*This project was initially nicknamed Civil War Zelda, and occasionally people refer to it as such. However, very shortly after I started working on it, January 6th, 2021 happened, and that name felt… uncomfy. So officially the costume name is “1860s Zelda.”