What is Steampunk Fashion? A Guide
Steampunk Fashion is one of the best fashion trends out there. It encompasses passion, a love for history and engineering, a keen eye for intelligently-placed details and an ounce of nostalgy for the old times. In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about Steampunk Fashion.
⦁ What’s the Steampunk style made of?
The Steampunk style is made of a combination of Victorian clothing and rough industrial aesthetic. Steampunk Fashion mixes the beauty of Western European clothing with that dusty, austere, strict, cold and scientific feel of fiction literature and the technological revolution. This is why Steampunk’s primary accessories include cogs, gears, keys, chains, pocket watches, hats, goggles, and so on. This distinctive element has characterised the Steampunk movement for years, and it’s very easily spotted even by those who are not keen in following specific subcultures. Another characteristic trait of this movement is its very defined colour palette: sepia, browns, oranges, greys and autumn-esque colours. However, many twists and takes have influenced many sub-genres of Steampunk, such as the goth subculture and the cyberpunk subculture, in which other colour schemes take prevalence. It’s not strange at all to see these sorts of mixtures, and you will be hearing more about it in our section about Steampunk subgenres.
⦁ Where does Steampunk fashion come from? / Steampunk Fashion History
The Steampunk Fashion trend started as a mixture of elements from science-fiction, fantasy and history. Particularly, the English history surrounding the Victorian era was its main source of inspiration. The impact of the Industrial Revolution was not only for both capitalists and workers, but also for those who had an artist eye. Several novels (such as Jules Verne’s) wrapped up a setting inspired by the decadency of the mid-to-late 1800s, and those books are relevant even up to this day. Fashion designers, on the other hand, wanted to do something a little bit more risqué to keep the dressing etiquette of the 19th century alive between enthusiasts. At the end, combining literature with history was the perfect solution: mixing fiction with reality brought people of many different backgrounds and skills into a very lovely hobby. Make up artists, crafters, war historians, fantasy cosplayers, science fiction enjoyers, watchmakers, illustrators and musicians were brought altogether to create the Steampunk community as we know it today.
⦁ What are the main elements of Steampunk?
Many fans of Steampunk are also a fan of futuristic elements and sci-fi shenanigans. Even if the details and accessories of this fashion trend seem to be all over the place, there’s usually a very well-thought plan behind the specifics of a certain attire. Let us explain ourselves. Imagine, for example, sci-fi fans. They pay a lot of attention to the use of abstract shapes, their colours and how they affect the overall silhouette of their Steampunk suits and costumes. It’s common to incorporate neon colour palettes to a Steampunk-based suit, or pre-fixed and recognizable square or rectangular shapes covering hips or shoulders. As it can be seen in the picture below, these many of the shapes are strictly defined but the colours chosen match the typical Steampunk vibe, especially due to the metallic colours.
Hats are one of the most widely used accessories in Steampunk. They are a prevalent element as they can be customized with a very wide range of objects, such as goggles, monocles, and even huge pieces of clockwork! You can also mount your glasses over them and then keep them to wear them for later on. Some cosplayers add way too many objects to their hats, but watch out, that might be heavy! The good thing about hats is that their décor can be as convoluted or as delicate as you want, letting you choose the perfect look according to your personality. The baseline of the hats is usually your typical ‘Victorian gentleman’ hat, though other types of hats such as berets can be worn as well.
Leather is one of the most common materials for Steampunk enthusiasts – and rightfully so. It’s an extremely versatile material and it matches the colour palette perfectly. Not to mention that it can be used for very small accessories or for the most extravagant cosplays, from fun and delicate to intimate and intimidating looks. Asides from clothing themselves, Steampunk fans wear them to create book holsters, which is a beautiful addition to any attire. Of course, you can still make your typical accessories, such as bracelets, gloves, patches, pins, gun holsters, etc.
⦁ ABSTRACT SHAPES AND STRUCTURES
⦁ MILITARY-INSPIRED GARMENTS
It’s VERY common to find military aesthetic enthusiasts among Steampunk fans; not to mention military history and gun enthusiast peeps. Aviator looks are very frequent in this subgenre, specially because of the goggles. You’d be surprised the lengths some would go through just to have their perfect hand-crafted weapon; like the awesome man in the picture below. It’s not unusual to see a lot of gun buffs putting their extensive knowledge to use in order to create the most perfect replica.
⦁ What not to wear?
⦁ UNDISGUISED MODERN TECHNOLOGY
Even if Steampunk can have a retro futuristic take, you have to be careful in the way you choose your modern accessories. Elements such as headphones and mobile phones simply don’t match very well the vibe of the Steampunk look, except if you disguise them accordingly. For example, you can add your typical Steampunk charms to your head phones and that can work pretty well. About your mobile phones, you can simply buy a Steampunk-ish case and that could do the job very decently as well. It’s all about twisting aesthetics and finding a balance.
If you are worried about your headphones, here’s a tutorial made by Douglas Tonelli, who turned his common-looking headphones into a retro futuristic set:
Generally, Steampunk fashion tends to focus on old-fashioned materials such as cotton, leather and metal. There may be some occasions when leather accessories are created from plastic alternatives, but generally, Steampunk fashionistas tend to avoid plastic. If you need to choose a plastic item, be sure to ensure that it does not “look” like plastic and try to buy items that have been created from recycled materials. Don’t do it only because of a mere fashion choice, but also because it’s the right thing to do for the environment!
⦁ Modern Steampunk Fashion
You can wear your Steampunk clothes in different settings. Whether it’s at work, at your place, or at a very fancy wedding, there are options that fit all these scenarios and environments. Teust us, you don’t necessarily need to wait for the next Steampunk festival to wear your attire! Here are some examples of what we are talking about:
⦁ Casual Steampunk look: If you don’t have enough time or you simply don’t want to go through all the effort to have a Steampunk attire, that’s okay! You can always buy a dress of your choice, such as the one in the picture below, and pic a leather belt bag or pouch to accompany it. If you happen to have a necklace, or a pocket watch, you can also add them to your look and you are good to go.
⦁ Steampunk looks for any work environment: What we often recommend for work environments is a pocket watch, oftentimes worn as a necklace, or hanging from your belt. It’s a very sneaky detail but it has the very core concept of Steampunk right inside its case, so it’s obviously a very safe bet if you want a Classic Steampunk vibe.
⦁ Last-minute look for any party: If you have aviator goggles, you pretty much have a Steampunk look already. Don’t worry if you don’t have the ‘weird’ clothes that we are looking for – sometimes just having accessories does the trick! Check out this example below. This woman has an aviator cap (aside from the goggles), a very small leather pouch, a leather belt, and the rest is pretty much normal everyday clothes that anyone has on their closets. She also added a killer black eyeliner and a couple of small belts as bicep bracelets, which is a nice touch.
⦁ Some of the most important sub-genres of Steampunk fashion
⦁ Classic Steampunk/Victorian Steampunk: You surely grasp the concept of Classic Steampunk by this point, so we will go straight to the aesthetics. Auburn colours, cogs, gears, goggles, hats, and that’s Classic Steampunk for you.
⦁ Dieselpunk: This trend among Steampunk fans started with those that wanted a retro futuristic look. Usually, these costumes imply a mix between neon colours, abstract shapes, vintage guns, glasses with lenses with saturated colours, or any combination that implies a matching the old with the new.
⦁ Wild West Steampunk/Western Steampunk: Some people are more inclined towards Western vibes rather than your typical Victorian inspiration. It’s pretty much the same logic behind Classic Steampunk, but with a less aristocratic look and way, waaay more guns.
⦁ Silkpunk: This branch of Steampunk is based on traditional costumes of different Asian countries, being the ones from Japan, China and Korea the most common ones. The pre-fix “Silk” is because this type of cloth is a very common incorporation into these outfits.
⦁ Gothic Steampunk/Goth Steampunk: This is one of the most common alternatives to the Classical Steampunk look. It’s pretty much self-explanatory: you slap the gothic colour palette on your Steampunk attire, and that’s it!
⦁ Cyberpunk: This is a particular type of genre based on Steampunk that has a whole deal of exceptions. Remember when we told you about avoiding modern technologies? Well, this subgenre throws those rules out of the window. Neon, mobile phones, drones, white and pro-technological colour palettes are some of the elements that you can find here. The “over-the-top” accessorising is what this subgenre borrows from classical Steampunk.
⦁ DIY Steampunk fashion
Here we will guide you through several tips and tutorials about customising your Steampunk outfit.
⦁ Some tips:
-Gears and clockwork: Always think about clockwork and machinery when it comes to add charms to your attire. Think of vintage mechanical devices and incorporate them into your outfit.
-Stylish, not subtle: If you choose Steampunk, you are going to make a statement. It’s better to overdo it than underdo it with Steampunk clothing. Never fear going all the way when it comes to customising your outfit.
⦁ “Steampunk jewelry, what is it and what supplies can you use to make it”:
Here, Stephie’s Beads Baubles and Treasures comes to us with a very beautiful video with TONS of options for making your own Steampunk charms and jewels. They come of all sizes, colours and shapes.
⦁ “How To Make A Top Hat, DIY Steampunk Fashion Pattern Tutorial”
brought you here a fantastic tutorial for a metallic-looking Steampunk hat. The instructions are pretty straightforward and this channel is full of beautiful tutorials for all kinds of subgenres. Give it a look!
⦁ Junk Journal DIY #2: Altered Keys
Ephemera's Vintage Garden shows you a way to turn your boring extra keys into Steampunk keys. It’s not the most common decorative element for DIYing, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give it a try!
⦁ Steampunk tattoos and make-up
Tattoo fanatics are marvelled with the many choices they have when it comes to getting some Steampunk-inspired inking. What’s beautiful about Steampunk is that you can get a full back or chest piece or a very small detail if you are more into delicate tattoos. Here we will show you a few options of what you can get:
⦁ Make up:
There are many sorts of make up tutorials out there for Steampunk enthusiasts. However, the industrial-inspired look is oftentimes overlooked by Steampunk blogs and guides; and that’s why we want to introduce you to Glam&Gore’s brilliant Industrial Steampunk tutorial. Here are the links, and her guide is divided in two parts:
Industrial Steampunk FX Makeup tutorial- PART 1 PREP WORK
Industrial Steampunk FX Makeup Tutorial - PART 2 APPLICATION
It also gives general tips & tricks that would come in handy for those who are polishing their Steampunk make up skills, no matter the subgenre.
⦁ Steampunk for both men and women
⦁ For women: Corsets, dress, pocket watch necklace:
-Corsets: An obvious essential for any woman that wants to dwell into the genre. Corsets come in many sizes and shapes, so you better pay a lot of attention to each piece’s specifics before buying one (they tend to be quite pricey!). Also, remember that they don’t necessarily have to be brown-coloured; if you prefer black, red, or blue, that’s also an absolutely valid choice:
-Dresses: Many enjoy the freedom that dresses offer us, at least in terms of needing no-pants! Steampunk dresses come in various patterns, are often combined with corsets, and also with tons of leather ornaments, holsters, pouches and bracelets. It’s also common to see the women wearing them having a neckerchief, usually a white one.
-Pocket watch necklace: a classic item that can be worn literally anywhere. Whether it’s for work or for a cosplay event, the pocket watch necklace is essential to almost every woman who’s been working on her Steampunk persona. It’s a beautiful focal point for your attire and it helps you enhance any concept by working in all subgenres.
⦁ For men: Waistcoat, hat, goggles:
-Waistcoats: The waistcoat is used in almost all subgenres, but it’s definitely prevalent in Victorian Steampunk and Classic Steampunk. Remember to pick the colour of your waistcoat accordingly, and take into consideration that an extroverted persona would wear a more colourful waistcoat to match his suit. You can also add pins and patchwork to it, to make it even more flamboyant. Don’t be shy!
-Hat: Hats can work as a focal point for your attire as well as pocket watch necklaces do for women. You can add almost anything to it: clockwork, goggles, glasses, keys. Sometimes you can just wear a hat, and people would know that your costume is of the Steampunk branch. As simple as that.
-Goggles: Another essential item. Your goggles don’t need to be functional, actually, but you can add them to any sort of costume, no matter the subgenre. Whether they are made out of glass, cardboard, metal, etc, it’s no biggie: they will make you look smart and elegant either way.
⦁ Wedding steampunk fashion
Have you ever wanted to crash a wedding with your best look? Are your friends having a Steampunk-themed wedding? Or, maybe you want to have one yourself? Are you looking for venues? Here are a few looks and venues that you might want to look into:
⦁ Classic Steampunk, outdoors venue (Park):
⦁ Classic Steampunk, indoors venue (Theatre):
⦁ Classic Steampunk, outdoors venue (Forest):
⦁ Goth Steampunk, outdoors venue (Lake):
⦁ Steampunk pirates, outdoors wedding (Garden):
⦁ Steampunk cosplayers
⦁ ‘Elizabeth’ by April Gloria: Bioshock Infinite is a videogame recommended for all Steampunk fans, and here April brought to life a character from said game. It’s a pretty simple cosplay, really, but she manages to bring the life with a French blue colour palette and a simple heart-shaped corset. Her hairstyle work and make up is fantastic in this shoot, too.
You can see more of her work here: https://www.deviantart.com/aprilgloriacosplay
⦁ ‘Me, in my Adèle Blanc-Sec-inspired cosplay’ says cosplayers Lady du Lac. Here, she created a Steampunk persona based on the character from the comic book series titled ‘The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec’. It’s from the Gaslamp fantasy genre, a subgenre of fiction and fantasy. The protagonist of this book is a writer and journalist. Her leather gloves are a fanciful and elegant detail.
You can see more of her work here:
⦁ How to create your Steampunk persona?
First of all, pick a subgenre, or a concept. It will be very easy to you to build your own Steampunk persona if you fully imagine what you want to look like first. Picking a colour palette is easy enough, and also helpful if you are not very knowledgeable with all the subgenres. Once you’ve done that, you can start looking for more information:
⦁ Steampunk Goth: Some goths like to dwell into other subcultures as well, and Steampunk is no exception. Just bring all your dark make up and start doing your magic.
⦁ Steampunk Victorian aristocrat: The beloved look. This one is a classic, perfect for all Steampunk events, and definitely a safe bet if you are a beginner.
⦁ Steampunk pirate: Not everything that’s historical has to be aristocratic. You can always be an adventurous pirate who has a few tricks up their sleeve. Or an airship, for that matter!
⦁ Steampunk vampire: This is quite similar to the Victorian one, but with an extra bit of terror and dark fantasy. Fake blood might be your best friend here. Remember that you can put it over your clothes, too.
⦁ Steampunk Geisha: Silkpunk has a very archetypical character to work with when it comes to Geishas. Silk, long sleeves, protocolar make up, and you are good to go!
⦁ Steampunk Edwardian aristocrat: Do you want a typically British look, but you don’t fancy the Victorian era? We have you covered. The clearer, more natural, and more colourful colour palette of the Edwardian era is your best choice.
⦁ Steampunk military person: Many people fancy military-inspired fashion. It looks cool, after all. Metallic necklaces, chains, dog tags, chokers and camo patterns are all good options. Plus, you surely have some boots that you are dying to wear at some event. Now’s your chance.
⦁ Steampunk gas mask fashion: Enjoying dystopian worlds is not infrequent for Steampunk fans. Gas masks are a very common item, specially among cosplayers. It adds that mysterious and nihilistic vibe that many sci-fi enthusiasts crave for. It can definitely be found if you are looking for a Dieselpunk look.
⦁ Steampunk Lolita: Lolita fashion has been marketed towards women for ages. It implies usually very feminine accessories and make up, and it’s usually inspired by darker fashions (like military fashion) but with a “cuter” take. Steampunk is no exception.
⦁ Steampunk Western person: Western settings have inspired Steampunk to make other ‘period’ takes, apart from the Victorian era. Here, you use the aesthetic of the American Far West, so you can surely imagine cowboys, guns, outlaws and horses. Truly, a fun experience.
⦁ Where should you show off your costume?
Cosplay events and Renaissance fairs can be found everywhere in the world. Almost every country has at least one event in which you can show off your Steampunk persona and be complimented for it. Here are some names of events and festivals for you to start looking around the topic:
⦁ SWFLSteamCon (USA)
⦁ WhimsyCon (USA)
⦁ Gaslight Steampunk Expo (USA)
⦁ The Surrey Steampunk Convivial (USA)
⦁ TreasureFest (USA)
⦁ Whitby Steampunk Weekend X (UK)
⦁ The Asylum Steampunk Festival (UK)
⦁ Best Examples Of Steampunk In Popular Culture
Male Steampunk characters:
⦁ Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes): RDJ nails his role here with a very Victorian look that can be translated very well into the Steampunk community. His tinted glasses are the special touch that make it appealing for many cosplayers.
⦁ Johnny Depp’s Ichabod Crane (Sleepy Hollow): Ichabod Crane’s aesthetics are a goal for many Steampunk fans. The goggles, the scientific equipment, the spectacles, the magnifiers, the clothes…truly, it is an inventor’s dream.
⦁ Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing (Van Helsing): An acclaimed role for an acclaimed actor. Monster hunter equipment is prevalent in Steampunk settings, and Hugh Jackman’s look truly brings the magic with that iconic hunter coat. Not to mention the tremendously big crossbow.
Female Steampunk characters:
⦁ Rebeca Hall’s Sarah Corden (The Prestige): Sarah Corden’s role in the Prestige really made her look like she was truly born in late 19th century. Her facial features fit her character very well, and the simple make-up and the white attire she had, combined with her hairstyle, match very well the Victorian Steampunk vibe.
⦁ Kate Beckinsale’s Anna Valerious (Van Helsing): Beckinsale brings a beautiful vampires-inspired look, with a gorgeous burgundy coat and a marvellous leather corset. Truly beautiful to look at. Her outfit can pass as slightly pirate-inspired, too, specially because of the sword she has.
⦁ Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa (Mad Max: Fury Road): The post-apocalyptic look is mesmerizing in this picture. Perfect for the retro futuristic fans. The badass stance with the carbon-looking make-up truly makes a statement; not to mention her prosthetic arm.
⦁ Conclusion: Remember to Express Yourself
Hopefully, this introduction to Steampunk Costuming was interesting and inspiring to you!
Remember that you have to feel comfortable with everything you choose to wear. If you don’t feel like going for an extravagant Steampunk take yet, that’s okay! Just pick whatever you enjoy the most. Also, in order for you not to get overwhelmed, we encourage you to start with just a few accessories like a Steampunk pocket watch and start collecting from there; before you realize it, you will have a whole wardrobe made out of Steampunk clothes!