A few years ago, I made my first steps into participating in the Steampunk culture. I had known about Steampunk for quite a long time, but never took any action to participate. I was into old west and Victorian era re-enacting and doing a little living history. That made sliding into Steampunk pretty easy.
But what IS Steampunk? It is still a mystery to a lot of people. So here is my take on it. Others may disagree, and that is fine. We all enjoy Steampunk in different ways.
Let’s begin at the when. Steampunk is Victorian era science fiction. Think of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and The Wild, Wild West (both T.V. show and movie). Normal Victorian setting and dress, with little added steam powered thing-a-bobs, whirly-birds and other little inventions that weren’t really around, but made to look as if they were. The fancy leg brace in ‘Hugo’ is a fine example. Alexia’s parasol in The Parasol Protectorate series is another. Goth is not Steampunk. Burlesque is not Steampunk. Cos-play is not Steampunk. Though Cos-play, Goth and Steampunk are sliding into each other. They are not the same thing. Cos-play is a completely different form of dress-up play. For those who are don’t know what Cos-play play is, it stands for costume play. It is generally people who dress up as a specific character. I see a lot people doing anime characters and frankly kicking butt doing it. Oh, and Lara Croft is not Steampunk either. Sorry. Steampunk is more about creating your Victorian own alter ego.
Victorian era? Well, when was that? How does this help me with a Steampunk costume? Ah. To know how to dress, you have to know what they were wearing way back when. The Victorian era is the time Queen Victoria ruled England. It is a huge span of time. Victoria came to the throne in 1837, and ruled until her death in 1901. That’s 64 years. Sixty-four YEARS!!
64 years holds a lot of fashion and fashion changes. Men’s fashions did not change much, but they did change. Even top hats changed in height and shape over the years. Women’s fashions changed rapidly. The new season brought new changes. The best way to find your outfit is to pick an era look you like. Love the round hoops? 1850’s and 1860’s. Remember, though, hoops became elliptical in the late 1860’s. Bustles came and went, then came back again only to eventually leave completely. Anything after 1900 is no longer Victorian, it is Edwardian. Queen Victoria had passed (in January of 1901), and her son, Edward, was now on the throne. See how that works?
So begin with an era and research the silhouettes. I love the 1874 large bustle era. Then begin building your costume and accessories. Within Steampunk there many little side shoots. Airship captain, pirate, inventor, explorer. The list goes on, but the premise is the same. Take a period, research who did what (airship flyers should look to boat captains mixed with a wee bit of pilot) and how they dressed. Add steamy accessories – compass, spy glass, pith helmet, goggles – to finish the effect. Try to keep it Victorian with imagination. I see a lot of people adding LED lights to costumes, and while it may look cool to a certain extent, for me it just screams too modern. I know a gentleman who made a smoking backpack contraption. I am not sure what it is supposed to do, but it looks like something a Victorian would have invented. It has pipes and rivets and do-dads that fit the era with imagination. The smoke puffs merrily out of a small smoke stack the rises above the pack. The overall look is very Steampunk. I am seeing a lot people taking a cue from Wild, Wild West (and other Steampunk movies) and making mechanical arms, multi-layered goggles, little ray guns that shoot out of their sleeves, all sorts things imagined Victorian.
While the Steampunk community has been slow to discover colors that are not black, brown or gray, Victorians often wore bright colors. Plaids were all the rage from time to time. Men wore suits there were entirely plaid. They even mixed types of plaid. Women wore stripes that when up and down, back and forth, and on a diagonal all on one dress. Some of them of almost hypnotic to look at. So have fun. Step away from the dull colors and light up your outfit with blues, greens, lavenders, florals and, yes, plaids.
Steampunk is fun. It a chance to create an alter ego and let your imagination fly. There are Steampunk groups all over the place. They get together and do things as a group. A good club is the perfect way to meet others and learn how gather your information, build a costume and find accessories.
Hop on in and join the fun! Let your inner airship captain fly!