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Dressing Steampunk: How to get started

Updated on March 14, 2013

So you'd like to achieve a steampunk look?

Steampunk or Victorian science fiction is very popular these days. For brevity sake, I'm going to assume if you are exploring this lens that you already know what steampunk is. If not, a bit more complete essay can be found here:

I'm going to go over some of the most common ways to dress steampunk and give you links to places you can find resources.

Getting started

What would you wear?

Steampunk dressing can be broken down into a few basic archetypes. One good place to begin is to decide what sort of character you are portraying, in other words: who are you? Are you an aristocrat, mechanic, aviator, pirate, explorer, or zombie hunter? Many of these archetypes do overlap, but it gives you a basis for your outfit. Think of what it would make the most sense to wear. If you are a mechanic, maybe a skirt would be silly. Would your character really wear goggles? Let's face it, they have become cliché in steampunk. But a cliché comes about because it is recognizable and iconic. So, if they make sense, why not wear goggles.

This photo is of some very creative young friends of mine in their steampunk finery. Most everything they are wearing or carrying was made or modified by them.

Steampunk Archetypes

Here are a few of the most common archetypes, but by no means all of them. Most of these can be combined to make a completely unique look. Experiment.

Adventurer: Think Rick O'Connell, but Victorian. Utilitarian clothes, shirt with sleeves rolled up, jodhpurs, khaki clothes, suspenders, rugged but sensible boots, belt full of gear, side arm, compass.

Aristocratic: Often the patron or patroness of an adventure. High class, rich colors, rich materials, usually clean, well accessorized, stylish, perhaps more prim. Fabulous hats, gloves, parasols for the ladies.

Aviator: Goggles (again a good excuse), flight helmet, leather gloves, insignia (the more creative the better!), shoulder boards, belt with side arm, any other weaponry or gear, military style jackets, boots!

Dandy (male) : Very stylish clothing, well tailored and flattering. A suit, perhaps a formal tux and tails depending on the event. Well chosen accessories. Rakishly worn hats. gloves.

Explorer: Pith helmet (cliché, but so cool!), goggles(sure), khaki colored clothing, compass, gear, weaponry.

Femme Fatale (female): Form fitting clothing, perhaps exposing decolletage or a scandalous amount of leg. Lace, silk, velvet, feathers. Rich colors, red or rich burgundy. Granny boots (preferably without a zipper)

Hunter/Fighter: Almost anything goes here as long as you are properly equipped for what you are hunting. A western look is most apropos here, especially with a modified rifle. A monster hunter carrying strange arcane weapons. Rarely clean, lots of leather, lots of weapons.

Lolita (female): Little girl or porcelain doll look. Lots of lace, shortish skirts, cap or ribbons, gloves, boots.

Military: Uniforms are wonderful. Here you can be quite creative. So many different countries have come up with distinctive looks that you can use as springboards. Design medals. Epaulets are wonderful details. Piping. Caps, or helmets. Gloves. Tall Boots.

Mechanic/scientist: Goggles (a good excuse to wear them because you would), work gloves, usually very dirty, practical clothing (so pants would be appropriate for girls), tool belts, tools, weaponry, and inventions. Mustn't forget the inventions!

Aviator, Sky Pirate or Dirigible Captain?

This adventurous choice has many different possible options. As the Captain of an airship, you can go uber-military or more independent and casual. You can be a scruffy sky pirate wearing the scrounged medals of your various heists.

This photo is of one of my aviatrix outfits. The shirt came from Wild West Mercantile, the belt from Newport News and the pants and boots were on clearance at JC Penneys. The flight helmet I found at an Army Navy surplus store, and the goggles were in a costume shop. I added pins and insignia to the shirt. I modified or "modded" a plastic squirt gun as a side arm to complete the look.

Putting the "Punk" in Steampunk

"Steampunk needs historical accuracy like a dirigible needs a goldfish" - Diana Vick

Steampunk costuming is based on the science fiction of a by gone age as envisioned by H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and many others. It is ostensibly make believe, and so there is no right or wrong. While you can be completely historically accurate with your clothing, it's preferable to be a bit anachronistic to convey the steampunk mode. You can achieve this in many ways: use of distinctly modern fabric such as PVC in a garment, shortening the hemline scandalously, adding modern cuts to a more period garment, and the popular fad of wearing tiny versions of period hats. Your accessories can go along way towards conveying the steampunk mode. Goggles! Yes, they may be cliché but they convey the concept very well. It's why they are worn so much. Accessories with a sinister aspect such as skulls or octopi are evocative. Brass and copper are popular metals for the steampunk crowd. Trying for a mechanical look with an antique feel for any accessory works well. Carrying weaponry or gadgetry of this style as well, as long as it's appropriate to the venue will give your character a more dangerous aspect.

This photo is of an outfit I put together for a convention. The mini pith helmet, short skirt, extra belts and shiny bronze boots are examples of "punk", things that would not be historically accurate, but add fun to the outfit.

Places you can find some basic essentials

Chances are you want to get going right away. If you can sew, there are some great patterns out there in the mainstream, but I don't sew, therefore I'm going to point you at a few websites where you can procure your garments posthaste.

Possibilities on Amazon

A quick search of Amazon or eBay can often yield treasures or the finishing touch you need.

Machinist Goggles by elope
Machinist Goggles by elope

If you can't make your own goggles yet, consider an inexpensive pair for now.

Gear Wings Antique Adult Pin Accessory Size One-size
Gear Wings Antique Adult Pin Accessory Size One-size

Medals and pins can make great additions.


Other places to find gold

Most of my outfits are the result of finding one or two items as inspiration and then working to figure out what else is needed. I search through thrift stores on a regular basis looking for the perfect parts. I also haunt discount stores, and often find great belts and such. Costume shops especially right after Halloween can be gold mines. Never assume you won't find something just because you haven't yet. Perseverance is the key. Many of my outfits continue to change and grow in complexity after the first time I wear them.

This is a photo of my Lady Explorer ensemble. I got the blouse at Wild West Mercantile and changed the buttons. I found the pith helmet on eBay. The belts, skirt and boots are all from thrift stores. I made the collar decoration from a dragonfly button and some ribbon. I added a Graf Zeppelin pin that I found on eBay and a gold pocket watch to complete the look. More tools and things will probably follow as I find or create them.

Buy the Book!

After a few years of dressing in steampunk fashion, lecturing and talking to folks about it, I decided to create a little book about the topic. It's 20 pages, fully illustrated with photos of my various steampunk endeavors. It talks about the archetypes that are most common in steampunk and gives some tips to achieve the looks. Click on the picture of the cover to go to the Blurb site and get a copy of your very own!

So, let me know how I did. Or even better, let me know how you did. Are you off to find the perfect steampunk accessories?

Reader Feedback

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    • profile image

      Valkyriescarlett 2 years ago

      Very helpful. Gives me more ideas for my persona. Thanks :)

    • TalkingFreebies profile image

      Reshel 4 years ago from Sierra Nevada ~ Reno

      Unique costume attire... this type might actually get the fiancé to dress-up for Halloween this year! Anyway you can add visual examples for the men? That would be great! Again awesome lens!

    • Boyd Carter profile image

      Boyd Carter 4 years ago

      Another curiosity satisfied. Now I know what "steampunk" is. ")

    • LauraCarExpert profile image

      LauraCarExpert 4 years ago

      Great lens! I love the variety of themes and ideas. Steampunk looks to be a pretty fun way of drssing up for a comic convention or a cosplay, thanks!

    • Diana Vick profile image

      Diana Vick 4 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      @anonymous: Men's fashions change much less drastically than women's, so you can probably get away with accessorizing a suit or tux, as long as it isn't a 19070's powder blue one. Add a cravat, maybe some button covers and a hat and he could look reasonably appropriate. A lot of it depends on how much time and effort you want to put into it. If you have more money than time, you might look up some things to purchase from Gentlemen's Emporium online. I hope that they have a wonderful time. It sounds like a lot of fun!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      HELP! My Sons girlfriend is wearing SteamPunk Dress to Prom... So Now where does one find SteamPunk tux to accompany her attire?

    • Diana Vick profile image

      Diana Vick 4 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      @anonymous: No yelling, just a few educational points. For me, the reason that the word rococopunk makes no sense at all, is that rococo is not a power source, it is an art movement. Steampunk and dieselpunk both begin with the prevailing power sources for the period of time in question. So rococo not being a power source is not technically correct. Iâm afraid that I cringe anytime I see people doing rococo with their steampunk. It implies a lack of understanding and historical knowledge. I recently saw a drag queen on a television show say âI love Victorian fashion so I tried for a Marie Antoinette look!â Um, no. Antoinette is NOT Victorian. You have missed by at least forty years. The only way Antoinette would be even vaguely steampunk is if she was traveling in a time machine.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Please do not yell at me but I am wondering what your and other's take on Rococo Punk is in the Steampunk realm. Is it welcome? Can the two be mixed for ones own personal flair? The Marie Antoinetteish look with the Victorian flair looks so much fun and colorful and since the Victorian era was only 44 years after Marie 's death is it a stretch to see the two intermingle? I have tried asking this in the past of my local group and been berated and even attacked for 'daring' to even consider "tainting" Steampunk with a hint of the Rococo.


    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      i have a lens about modern wedding ideas. being a wedding officiant, people ask me for ideas, i will point them here and to the other lens of yours. i hope i get to perform a steampunk wedding. if i do, i will send pics! now, to figure out how to break my new found interest to my wife. who knows, she might get into it too!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I'm nervous to tell my mom that I want to dress this way. What do I do...?

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: I had a costume wedding and quite a few people dressed steampunk. my husband and I were steampunk mad hatter and the Red Queen

    • Diana Vick profile image

      Diana Vick 5 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      @anonymous: I'm SO glad! I'd love to see pictures!

    • Diana Vick profile image

      Diana Vick 5 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      @anonymous: I think that steampunk is a lot less intimidating to people than some subculture styles you could wear. It focuses on an appreciation of the past that almost everyone can relate to. My own mom has really enjoyed seeing my photos. Rather than just jumping in, maybe you could begin to alter your style gradually, and see if the change gets approval. Don't put on goggles at first, but aim for a more neo-victorian style. Mainstream fashion has a lot of really cute clothes, boots and belts right now. Good luck Ari, and let us know how it goes?

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: best . wedding . ever :D

    • Kailua-KonaGirl profile image

      June Parker 5 years ago from New York

      Came back again to bless this fabulous Steampunk lens and I added it to my "My Squid Angel Blessings for 2012" in the "Fashion & Beauty » Women's Fashion" neighborhood.I also added it to my new "Adult Steampunk Outfit" lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Thanks for this! My wedding theme is Steampunk - I'm sending all the people who say "But I don't know what to wear!" to your page - maybe they'll 'get it'!

    • mihgasper profile image

      Miha Gasper 6 years ago from Ljubljana, Slovenia, EU

      Thumbs up for steampunk accessories!

    • audreannaga profile image

      audreannaga 6 years ago

      love the look thanks for the inspiration

    • LewesDE profile image

      LewesDE 6 years ago

      Awesome lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Very informative. My friend was into steampunk for a while after seeing it at multiple conventions. She bought a few steampunk items but never really got into it. Meanwhile I've been looking into it as well and should I decide to try it out I've decided it would have to be something utterly spectacular for my first time! I'm still coming up with a concept and such though I look forward to the day I am able to accomplish my goal.

    • agoofyidea profile image

      agoofyidea 6 years ago

      I love the steampunk look. Great lens. Your costumes are awesome!

    • Tattoo Rebel profile image

      Tattoo Rebel 6 years ago

      Awesome lens! Very informative, love the pics... very creative and fun!

    • cducky profile image

      cducky 6 years ago

      I love your photos! nice lens.

    • Kailua-KonaGirl profile image

      June Parker 6 years ago from New York

      Fabulous! I loveSteampunk and you have made a wonderful lens. Your photos are quite wonderful. I am featuring you on my Adult Steampunk Costume lens. **Angel Blessed**

    • zeronese lm profile image

      zeronese lm 6 years ago

      nice lens... fun to read :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I found a lot of things at Micheals in the place where you can buy beads and such, I found army badges, victorian cameos, lots of lace, brass chains, compasses, and a TON of things to accesorize a steampunk costume!

    • SydneyH LM profile image

      SydneyH LM 6 years ago

      This is a fun lens. I love your costume and your advice on coming up with your own costume.

    • cdevries profile image

      cdevries 6 years ago

      Lots of fun! Great suggestions.

    • Candor profile image

      Candor 6 years ago

      Pretty cool lens. I've always thought about going steampunk one Halloween but never knew exactly what qualifies. I'm definitely going to try it now.

    • profile image

      MisTikkal 6 years ago

      Just finished (bar polishing some more - naturally) lens on "Steampunk Ingenuity" and added your lens - your focusing on costuming is perfect for introducing the whole crazy-wonderful world of steampunk. Congrats on the LoTD.

    • kismetsc profile image

      kismetsc 6 years ago

      I had never heard of this style before, but the pictures are beautiful. Nice lens!

    • retta719 profile image

      Loretta 6 years ago from United States

      Love the pictures! Congrats on Lens of the Day! <3

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 6 years ago from New Zealand

      My oh My, this is great, you have sure may some very great outfits. A bit out of my age group, but I love looking at them. Thanks for sharing with us, I like it.

    • Diana Vick profile image

      Diana Vick 6 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      @WeirdStuff: I'm not sure I have a fave yet. I am in the middle of "Morlock Night" by K.W. Jeter, the man who coined the term. He's going to be the guest of honor at Steamcon III.

    • Diana Vick profile image

      Diana Vick 6 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      @Marelisa: I have a lens in the works about how to create your own!

    • Diana Vick profile image

      Diana Vick 6 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      @delia-delia: I'm 48. I run a steampunk convention and we get attendees of every age. You're never too old for it. If it appeals to you, then why not?

    • Diana Vick profile image

      Diana Vick 6 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      @KiwiGayle: Yes. Great book, but it isn't steampunk. It's too technologically advanced. It has some of the aesthetic though.

    • profile image

      do_one_cox 6 years ago

      Big steampunk..Great I like your lens ^__^

    • KiwiGayle profile image

      KiwiGayle 6 years ago

      Have you read Neal Stephenson's 'Diamond Age". Lots of inspiration for outfits in that book. Cool lens.

    • profile image

      happynutritionist 6 years ago

      I've learned something from your lens...and that is that I'm really out of touch with the times:-) Never heard of steampunk before, but that's okay, it's good to learn something new every day, and now I've done that. Looks like really creative fun! Congrats on the LOTD

    • lovelylashes profile image

      lovelylashes 6 years ago

      These ensembles are so creative! Congratuations on Lens of the Day!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      So interesting and a little bit Willy Wonka...but I am impressed and it sure looks like fun. The clothes are amazing.

    • chezchazz profile image

      Chazz 6 years ago from New York

      Big steampunk fan! This is a great summary of cosplay steampunk style.

    • profile image

      JackalyeYe 6 years ago

      The lens is very fun and enjoy. Congrates LOTD!

    • MartiLawrence profile image

      Marti Lawrence 6 years ago from Grain Valley, Missouri

      I love the steampunk look an appreciate your explanation of the various styles!

    • Pip Gerard profile image

      Pip Gerard 6 years ago

      you can definitely see your passion for it. Well done! Years of hard work shown here. congrats on your LOTD :)

    • knit1tat2 profile image

      knit1tat2 6 years ago

      Enjoyed your lens, and it looks like great fun! I've been dressing funky for many years, but not as put together as your outfits! (I don't seem to look good in mine either!)lol, but I enjoy unusual, creative, and useful in my wardrobe, as evidenced by some of my lenses on button jewelry, etc. Thanks for a good look into steampunk! And congrats on being chosen LOD!!!!!

    • Jadimon LM profile image

      Jadimon LM 6 years ago

      Looks like a lot of fun! You make a great model! Thanks for the lens!

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 6 years ago from Vermont

      I've been dressing like this for years, but had no idea it had a genre or style. Cool.

    • Risa28 profile image

      Risa28 6 years ago

      I'm lovin this lens with your photos, outfits and creativity. I have always been a punk and now I feel my fashion boundaries expanding again. Thanks for the education and inspiration!

    • ggalea profile image

      Gilberto Galea 6 years ago from Willemstad

      Great lens, and wonderful costumes.

    • auxpwr lm profile image

      auxpwr lm 6 years ago

      This is awesome, Those guns and goggles are so cool. Thanks for a great lens, will check out other lenses, thanks and thumbs up

    • Angelina Gherna profile image

      Angelina 6 years ago from California

      A great explanation of steampunk

    • gypsyman27 lm profile image

      gypsyman27 lm 6 years ago

      Congrats for LotD, this is an interesting subject. I had never come across anything like this before. See you around the galaxy...

    • profile image

      CraftLyn 6 years ago

      I really enjoyed the slide show of your costumes, weaponry and accessories. Great lens!

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 6 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      What a fun topic and lens. You are quite the expert on all things Steampunk. Congrats on the lens of the day!!

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 6 years ago from Concord VA

      Very interesting lens! Congratulations on LotD!!

    • profile image

      Ruthi 6 years ago

      I'd heard of Steampunk before, but honestly didn't have a clue what it actually was. So, thank you for the clarification. Congratulations on Lens of the Day!

    • profile image

      PlayOutside 6 years ago

      Congrats on the LOD! I often look for items at garage sales to list on ebay as "steampunk". Usually great old welders' goggles. Even tho I do not dress up "steam", it is fun to send the stuff on to someone who does.

    • dianbee profile image

      dianbee 6 years ago

      Really enjoyed this lens! As a writer these kind of archetypes fascinate me.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Congratulations for your Lens of the Day award for this very enjoyable and "unique" lens - I will be looking at some costume ideas very soon and I am thinking "steampunk" could be an interesting line to take :)

    • blessedmomto7 profile image

      blessedmomto7 6 years ago

      I had never heard of steampunk before this lens. Neat stuff.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Love the style and your lens, congratulations on your Lens of the Day!

    • GreenfireWiseWo profile image

      GreenfireWiseWo 6 years ago

      This was really fun and interesting to read. Thank you!

    • profile image

      GrowWear 6 years ago

      A fun and most interesting style. Congratulations for LOTD. :)

    • profile image

      Matie 6 years ago

      truly awesome lens, there's quite the demand for steampunk artists that can create characters or illustrations of that style

    • profile image

      sujaysen 6 years ago

      Nice lens.

    • SunnyDaze LM profile image

      SunnyDaze LM 6 years ago

      Congrats on LOTD. Cool looking outfits. Looks like lots of fun.

    • Diana Vick profile image

      Diana Vick 6 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      @KarenHC: Firefly is not steampunk, although it has some of the aesthetic. It's too technologically advanced. You can take a look at my Steampunk Litmus Test for help on determining what fits and what does not.

    • KarenHC profile image

      Karen 6 years ago from U.S.

      What fun to read! I read Asimov magazine each month, and there are occasionally "Steampunk" type stories in that. Also the TV series "Firefly" comes to mind -- don't know if that's really Steampunk, or "Wild wild west / sci fi", but it still comes to mind :-)

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Steampunk is such fun!! Thanks for sharing your many looks.

    • PromptWriter profile image

      Moe Wood 6 years ago from Eastern Ontario

      I'm familiar with steampunk jewelry but never could wrap my head around steampunk clothing. Thanks for clearing it up!

    • sushilkin lm profile image

      sushilkin lm 6 years ago

      Nice Reading ! thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      What a fun style to wear, this is so creative. I enjoyed this page and...congratulations!

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 6 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      I am getting ready to create my very first steampunk art project This lens is a great inspiration to me.,

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 6 years ago

      Congratulations on LOTD! interesting lens...I don't think I'm a steampunk person at my age..thanks for sharing!

    • greg2213 profile image

      greg2213 6 years ago

      Finally, a LOTD that I can get into. :) Being a cyberpunk fan I tend to learn towards the tech and the weaponry. Most of the steampunk art I've seen has been more in that direction. Your costumes and such have expanded my outlook, in addition to looking pretty darn cool. :)

      Well done!!

    • profile image

      skibarefootfun 6 years ago

      too cool

    • profile image

      Marelisa 6 years ago

      I had never heard of this, but I'm glad I stopped by this lens because it's fascinating. I want a pair of goggles now. :-)

    • creativedreams profile image

      creativedreams 6 years ago

      Awesome lens!

      There's a guy who makes amazing steampunk laptop boxes (the laptop is inside and you can actually use it, but it looks totally like a steampunk computer would be) and other similar stuff. Can send you the url if you want. I think you may love it :)

    • profile image

      kimmanleyort 6 years ago

      This is new to me, but I love your steampunk style. Congrats on LOTD too!

    • profile image

      highmant1145 6 years ago

      Wow ... it looks very cool.

    • profile image

      67Shelbygal 6 years ago

      Cool Lens! Very interesting. I had heard of Steampunk, but never really knew what it was. Neat! Congrats on LOTD! Great Lens!

    • Diana Vick profile image

      Diana Vick 6 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      @sociopath-free: Well, this would sort be "fashion backward", in a way. Thanks!

    • sociopath-free profile image

      sociopath-free 6 years ago

      I've seen this type of clothing but didn't know it had a term, but I'm not fashion forward. Great pics!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      What a fab look, and cocngrats on the Lens of the day!

    • profile image

      botanylass 6 years ago

      Love it!~You might like to check out my blog regarding dressing 'Goth' at It has a quirky side to it riddled with a bit of humor.

    • rhodacks profile image

      rhodacks 6 years ago

      You have a great idea, really. The Aviator looks sporty, love it.

    • Dkyforever LM profile image

      Dkyforever LM 6 years ago

      That is sweet. I've always liked the steampunk style. This is a great introduction to the different distinctions.

    • profile image

      celeBritys4africA 6 years ago

      Congrats for the LoTD. Happy day!

    • ludyshubs profile image

      ludyshubs 6 years ago

      I like your lens. You did great! I learned something new today. I didn't know about steampunk. Congratulations for LOTD

    • youthministry profile image

      Paul Turner 6 years ago from Birmingham, Al.

      well done!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Nice Lens! Gratz LOTD!

    • profile image

      TKOSquidoo 6 years ago

      Nice lens! Gratz LOTD

    • jenms lm profile image

      jenms lm 6 years ago

      Very cool - congrats on LOTD! I like elements of steampunk but have never dressed in a full costume.

    • profile image

      Top10BestBudget 6 years ago

      Good creative. Nice lens.

    • kerbev profile image

      kab 6 years ago from Upstate, NY

      What a great introduction! I'm featuring this on my lens Sensational Steampunk Shoes for a Futuristic Victorian Lady on the Go.

    • hysongdesigns profile image

      hysongdesigns 6 years ago

      I just recently heard of steampunk, had to get my kids to tell me what it was :-) Nice lens, great outfits and photos!

    • profile image

      JennySui 6 years ago

      Beautiful lens! Congrats on LOTD! I wish i could get LOTD for any of my lens...

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 6 years ago from Colorado

      Congrats on LOTD! Very creative. All of this was new to me. Enjoyed your outfits and archetypes.