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Dressing Steampunk: How to get started
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: http://www.squidoo.com/steampunk_litmus_test
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.
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.
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.
- Gentlemans Emporium
A great resource for you aristocratic men out there. You can find shirts, vest, hats and more here.
This is a wonderful place for the women to find fabulous dresses, blouses and accessories.
- Wild West Mercantile
Both men and women should check this one out. Despite the name, you can get much more than just western apparel here. They carry many basic shirts, vests, skirts, hats and more. The "granny" boots without a side zipper that are so hard to find can be
Possibilities on Amazon
A quick search of Amazon or eBay can often yield treasures or the finishing touch you need.
If you can't make your own goggles yet, consider an inexpensive pair for now.
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?