A few years ago, we received a call from an old friend asking my husband and me to be in a Steampunk fashion show. I quickly made a face and said, “A Steam what now?!”
Al is a huge sci-fi junkie, so he was a little more up on the Steampunk movement than I was. He told me to go read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne and watch the Sherlock movies to understand Steampunk style. AND he said this was an excuse to wear Victorian costumes. DONE! I was a go.
What is Steampunk?
Steampunk is a creative alternative reality stemming from the Victorian era when steam engines were powering much of the industrial world. What if electricity was never developed and steam power continued to dominate? What would our daily reality be like? Then add in some extra science fiction, Hollywood effects, cosplay adventure and over-the-top costumes and you’ve got the Steampunk genre down.
Here are some hints for getting started in Steampunk:
1. Join a local Steampunk Club
Most communities have Steampunk social clubs or have Cosplay or Science Fiction groups that have Steampunk members. Our group (called Temporal Entities of Syracuse or TEOS) was originally a Dr. Who Club that spun off in the steampunk direction. Many groups have events such as monthly dinner gatherings (in costume), a yearly steampunk ball, gear swap weekends, dates to work on costumes, parades, fashion shows, conventions and Victorian street festivals.
2. Connect Online
There are tremendous forums, websites, Facebook groups where you can virtually connect with other Steampunkers. There are tons of tutorials to help you create your costumes, accessories, and characters. Pinning ideas on Pinterest is a great way to also get ideas.
3. Develop Your Steampunk Character
Do you have a favorite character in literature or the movies? Or a historical person you admire? With some ingenuity, almost any character can be “steampunked.” Or start by researching Victorian-era costumes, plus the culture of the 1880s in Europe or in the U.S. What scientific and industrial advancements were taking place? What political issues were occurring at the time? Start with a person and then develop a story around them. Who are they? What’s their personality like? What do they do for a living? What do they struggle with? What inspires them?
4. Visit Your Local Thrift Shop
The thrift shop is a great place to start to put together your first Steampunk costume. While ready-made Steampunk Halloween costumes are available and great if you need an outfit on short notice, most Steampunkers like to create their own unique style.
For men, look for striped or corduroy pants, collarless dress shirts, vests, boots, and sports coats you can doctor. Also look for leather coats and bomber jackets.
For Women, look for long flowing skirts, Victorian-style blouses with high necks and puffy sleeves, flowing gypsy-style blouses, tight-fitting tops with corset seams, vests, boots and leather coats.
For both, look for belts, jewelry and leather handbags that can be repurposed as Steampunk accessories. You may want to check the knickknack and electronics sections for items you can also repurpose such as small glass bottles, wood boxes, old clocks with gears, etc.
5. Purchase Steampunk Accessory Essentials
It is worth the money to purchase certain essential parts of your Steampunk costume. These include a quality wool top hat or derby hat, goggles, leather gloves and comfortable boots if you plan to go to a lot of events or conventions. Women may want to invest in a quality made corset and men may want to invest in a proper waistcoat or tailcoat.
6. Get Out Your Sewing Machine and Glue Gun
Simplicity and McCall’s have produced several great Steampunk costume sewing patterns for men and women if you want to make a costume from scratch. If you don’t sew, then you may want to go the thrift shop route or make fast friends with someone in your club who can help you. If you are willing to invest, many talented artists sell elaborate Steampunk costumes and accessories on Etsy. Also check eBay and Amazon regularly for Steampunk related items. As a Steampunker, you will find there are many things you can make for your character. Besides a sewing machine, antiquing paint and your glue gun may become your favorite go-to tools!
7. Have Fun!
Steampunk is all about an imagined alternate reality. There is no right or wrong. Keep evolving your character and your Steampunk costume will evolve as well. Fully embrace your character when in costume and remember to take photos!