Steampunk costume. Note the hat, the voluminous sleeves, and the deep bustled skirt. Photo courtesy of the steampunk event, Aethercon, and Paradox Photography.
Steampunk and me: we were meant to be. My love of science history and natural science "wunderkammers" - my lifelong vintage clothing + jewelry collection, which began at about age 14, when a British great-aunt left us her miscellaney of Victorian jewelry, laces, and photographs - my naturally prim face, which can be traced back to those Victorian photos. Steampunk ties it all up with a bow and a couple of gears, just for the looks of it, and encourages us to tell stories about the fantastical fictional worlds where tech-friendly, remixed clothes of yesteryear would be everyday wear.
As a science-fiction/fantasy genre, steampunk has refreshed the fun of being a sci-fi fan, revitalized steam-technology museums, and even increased interest in Victorian architecture. Steampunk is a delightful Victorian manse in the air, with many rooms, but is it possible to rifle through its wardrobes for every day?
I wish to debunk three huge fallacies about steampunk style:
Steampunk style is for costuming only. Not so! I incorporate steampunk items all the time. My more "everyday" steampunk-flavored looks set aside strong costume elements - long skirts, hats, and ray guns - and give normal garments a twist.
Steampunk style is based on a muted brown/gold palette. Like these looks here.- It's often said that "steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown." My everyday steampunk look is, admittedly, exhibit A. But steampunk can be done up in any color palette you desire. Club-room Victorian colors seem like naturals (navy, hunter, burgundy, amber) but the Victorians themselves loved what artificial aniline dyes could do for their wardrobes. And there's no reason that the pastels of the late 1800s and the Regency aren't steampunk. So if you aren't an "autumn", you can still get steampunky.
Steampunk flavored for a night out. This survived an 80-km Wellington wind...can't say the same for my hair in this picture!
Steampunk style is hard to find. - Granted, not everyone has a great-aunt who empties the lumber room for you, but most of my key steampunky pieces were thrifted or second-hand. Victoriana and "the military look" come and go.
You can steampunk it up by adding any of the following to your style, with some basic polish as a foundation.
Outerwear/The "Third Piece" - A button-and-buckle laden coat, a nipped-waist jacket, or a tailored vest.
Detail and Richness - Pattern and texture, quality and patina. Brocade, stitching and fabric layering. Tweed and leather. Buttons. More buttons. All the buttons! Perversely, I like mixing Arts and Crafts patterns into steampunk looks, even though the Arts and Crafts crew were entirely against 19th century industrialization. Brocade jeans are having a moment, by the way.
Jewelry - Steampunk rewards those who love good bling. A simple outfit framing steampunk jewelry is a great way to evoke steampunk 24/7.
Victorian/Edwardian Looks - Buttoned gloves, buttoned or laced footwear, lavish blouses, a purse with embellished silver hardware, a hat or headband, even some real vintage in a scarf, fur, bag, or jewel.
Bump Up The Quality - Speaking of jeans, it is indeed possible to have jeans and sneakers as the backdrop for all these steampunk accoutrements - if the jeans are trim-fitting and fresh, and the sneakers are smooth dark leather or brocade fabric. Be thoughtful about your foundation wardrobe - quality never hurts. It's my experience that people who like steampunk are smarter than average, and I'm confident that you can extrapolate on this.
My next post is going to showcase five successful "everyday steampunk" looks that I snapped at Aethercon, the New Zealand steampunk convention. So you'll see all of this in action tomorrow.
Steampunk necklaces by Unseen Things.
Some links for steampunk and vintage inspiration...
Aethercon - New Zealand's steampunk convention. Held last weekend in Wellington, it was absolutely fantastic and you should come along next year!
Steampunk Oamaru - The delightful Victorian town of Oamaru in New Zealand hosts twice-annual steampunk festivities.
2D Goggles - Amusing web comics about a version of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage...who fight crime!
Gail Carringer - Her Parasol Protectorate series is engaging steampunk romance/comedy, complete with awful millinery. And Gail Carringer herself, when I met her, was a lovely person, even when being mobbed at a Worldcon. Her retro style blog is separate from her author blog.
Vintage Textile - Do not stop, proceed directly to the Victorian/Edwardian textiles.