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Steampunk Corset – Cinching and Shaping the Past

Steampunk Corset

The Allure of the Steampunk Corset

The steampunk aesthetic is known for its blend of retro-futurism, Victorian-era fashion, and industrial flair. At the center of many steampunk outfits is the corset – a garment which epitomizes the look and feel of the genre. Corsets have a long and storied history, but their incorporation into steampunk style imbues them with a new twist. Let’s explore the background, design, and symbolic significance of the steampunk corset.

A Brief History of Corsets

Corsets have been around for centuries, originating as an undergarment designed to shape the torso. The first corsets emerged in the 16th century, constructed out of wood, horn, and whalebone. By the 18th century, tight lacing came into fashion, as women sought an exaggerated, hourglass figure. The 19th century saw corsets reach the height of their popularity, becoming more elaborate and decorative. The Victorian era brought a renewed enthusiasm for tight lacing, which continued into the early 20th century.

As time went on, the corset evolved from a restricting undergarment to a more versatile fashion statement. It went in and out of style throughout the 20th century until finding its way into alternative subcultures like goth, burlesque, and of course, steampunk. Modern corsets bear little resemblance to their historical predecessors, but they retain the signature shaping and cinching that makes them such a recognizable garment.

what is a steampunk corset?

What Defines the Steampunk Corset?

Steampunk corsets draw inspiration from Victorian and Edwardian fashions, but with a futuristic, industrial twist. They are typically made of leather, PVC, mesh, and similar fabrics that evoke the steampunk aesthetic. Other common features include:

  • Boning – Plastic or steel bones provide rigidity and shape
  • Lacing – Corsets often lace up the back for a snug fit
  • Embellishments – Elaborate embroidery, beading, cut outs, and trim
  • Color palette – Rich, saturated hues like wine, emerald, navy and black
  • Fabric texture – Distressed leather, fine brocade, latex, and metallic fabrics
  • Functional details – Gears, buckles, chains, utility belts and holsters

Steampunk corsets range widely in terms of coverage and design. Some consist of just the bodice while others extend down over the hips. Suspenders and garters may be incorporated. Necklines can be low and sultry or modest and frilled. These corsets may be worn over blouses, trousers, skirts, or dresses.

Crafting a Corset: Structure and Materials

Creating a steampunk corset requires skill with sewing, pattern making, and three-dimensional design. While ready-made corsets can be purchased, making one from scratch allows for complete customization. Here are some tips for constructing a well-fitting steampunk corset:

  • Choose a sturdy fabric for the base, like canvas, denim, or cotton twill. These withstand cinching and provide shape.
  • Incorporate coutil, a tightly woven material, for strength in areas that will be stressed. Coutil makes up the bone casings.
  • Use steel or plastic boning to create structure. Spiral steel bones offer flexibility. Rigid bones like plastic or reed can be used for more dramatic shaping.
  • Line the inner corset with a soft fabric for comfort against the skin. Cotton sateen or microfiber work well.
  • Lace up the back opening using grommets, cable ties, or other functional closures that suit the steampunk style.
  • Decorate with vintage trim, leather straps, decorative metal hardware, beading, and other embellishments.

Getting the proportions right takes practice and fitting. Custom corsets are usually drafted from a personal pattern based on measurements. An overbust design extends up to cover the breasts while an underbust corset ends below them. Proper waist reduction should not exceed a couple inches to avoid discomfort and allow mobility.

steampunk corset

The Symbolic Allure of Steampunk Corsets

Beyond their visual appeal, steampunk corsets reflect many of the cultural themes and values inherent to the aesthetic:

Rebellion and empowerment – Wearing a corset can represent liberation from traditional gender roles and expression of sexuality, especially for women.

The marriage of old and new – Corsets symbolize the past but take on a modern edge with industrial and futuristic accents.

The beauty of craftsmanship – Handmade corsets demonstrate skill, detail, and mastery of a traditional art form.

Nostalgia for the past – Corsets harken back to bygone eras of fashion, making historical style relevant in the present day.

The resilience of materials – Corsets transform rigid, durable industrial materials into an object of beauty and functionality.

Personal flair and customization – Corsets allow each person to put their own creative stamp on their look.

While corsets once represented the confines of femininity, their steampunk reincarnation plays with notions of gender and self-expression. The focus is less on achieving an idealized body shape and more on crafting a personalized statement. Worn properly, the steampunk corset adorns and accentuates the wearer’s body rather than restricting it.

Famous Steampunk Corsets

Steampunk fashion has entered mainstream pop culture, with celebrities flaunting high-concept corsets and bustiers on the red carpet. Here are a few memorable steampunk corset looks:

  • Madonna’s Met Gala 2016 outfit designed by Jeremy Scott featured a dark umber leather corset with 3D printing and circuit board detailing. It helped cement steampunk style on fashion’s biggest stage.
  • Beyonce’s costume for her “Sorry” music video included an ornate metallic gold corset with an asymmetric neckline and waist cutouts.
  • For his 2012 World Tour, Adam Lambert performed in a black leather corset accented with silver studs and buckles paired with a duster coat.
  • Model and actress Cara Delevingne wore a jet black embroidered corset by Dior Haute Couture to a movie premiere in 2017.
  • The late David Bowie, a pioneer of androgynous style, donned a famed Union Jack corset designed by Alexander McQueen in 1997.
  • Rihanna sported a flesh-toned corseted bodysuit from Adam Selman layered with a black fishnet overlay at the 2014 CFDA Awards.
  • Azzedine Alaïa created a showstopping red corset and skirt embroidered with poppies, worn by Naomi Campbell at the designer’s 2007 retrospective.

On the Red Carpet and Beyond

Stars like Rihanna and Beyonce have brought steampunk glam to high fashion, amplified through intricate craftsmanship. But regular fashionistas also incorporate corsets into their everyday steampunk wardrobes and for cosplay. A simple Google search reveals countless tutorials for DIY corsets, using common materials like PVC piping and duct tape. YouTube abounds with step-by-step construction videos. Etsy and other handmade marketplaces offer custom corsets at a full spectrum of price points.

Diehard steampunk fans invest great time and care into planning and assembling their looks. While many wear corsets and bustiers as outerwear, some choose to layer them under clothing for an invisible but meaningful touch. For those who desire an exaggerated silhouette, tight lacing does persist among a niche group within the subculture. However, the modern steampunk corset need not render the wearer immobile despite its structured appearance. When properly fitted and designed, it can feel like a second skin.

Corsets for Men and Gender Play

The corset certainly carries femme associations due to its placement on the female body, intimate nature, and history of enforcing gender norms. But part of the appeal of steampunk is its androgyny and fluidity between binaries. Corsets for men provide a way to experiment with gender performance while adding interest and edge.

Masculine corset styles typically nip in the waist without pronounced curves. They may incorporate masculine motifs like military-inspired frog closures and epaulettes. Some male steampunk garb pairs corsets with pieces like tailcoats, vests, and duster coats. Celebrities like Adam Lambert have normalized the male corset on the world stage.

On women, corsets can also create a more androgynous silhouette when worn over pants or without defined cups. The juxtaposition of masculine and feminine elements is a hallmark of steampunk’s playful paradoxes. Wearing corsets and taking ownership of one’s body can represent empowerment for people of any gender.

Steampunk Corsets in Literature and Media

The steampunk corset has moved beyond fashion into iconic representation in movies, tv shows, books, comics, and video games. Steampunk staples like goggles, airships, and corsets instantly evoke the genre. Here are some examples of steampunk corsets in fiction:

  • Phryne Fisher’s wardrobe in the Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries TV show features an array of sultry underbust corsets, drawing inspiration from 1920s flappers.
  • Tony Stark crafts a steel overbust corset as part of his Mark 42 Iron Man suit in the 2013 Marvel film.
  • Final Fantasy VI includes a playable character named Maduin who wears a brown corset, pauldrons, and thigh high boots.
  • In the comic series Girl Genius, heroine Agatha Heterodyne is drawn in a wispy black underbust corset and trousers.
  • The video game characters Elizabeth (Bioshock Infinite) and Ruby Rose (RWBY) both wear neo-Victorian corseted dresses.
  • In the novel The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, Nell wears interactive clothing like a corset that can alter its color and texture.

Steampunk literature explores alternative pasts and futures where corsets persist as functional garments, underscored by themes of technology and empowerment. They add visual interest and emphasize character backgrounds.

DIY Steampunk: Accessorizing Your Corset

A steampunk corset provides an anchor for adding layers of intricate accessories that bring the look to life. Here are some ideas for embellishing a corset outfit:

  • Layer necklaces likecameos, gears, keys, pearls, and watches
  • Affix decorative brooches and pins across lapels and bustlines
  • Adorn hats and goggles with feathers, flowers, buckles, and leather
  • Incorporate holsters with ray guns or tool belt pouches
  • Add armbands, glovelettes, and statement cuff bracelets
  • Carry a fringed parasol, pocket watch, or vintage walking stick
  • Customize the lacing with ribbons or chains up the back
  • Attach fabric rosettes, chains, and other trim around the waist

The modular nature of steampunk dressing allows for boundless creativity and personalization even with a basic corset. Thrift stores and flea markets offer troves of vintage baubles to upcycle. Possible embellishments are limited only by imagination.

The Allure Endures

Steampunk corsets appeal across boundaries of gender, age, and style preference. Their rich symbolism empowers the wearer to interweave the past and future into their own vision of retro-futurism. Part cosplay, part craft, part fashion – the steampunk corset remixes history into something utterly new and exciting. Like the gears that drive a steam engine, each part comes together in synchronicity: fabric, boning, embroidery, and fasteners fuse into a cohesive work of wearable art. The steampunk corset provokes imagination and nostalgia for times that never existed. Its spirit encapsulates the genre’s romantic outlook on progress and human invention. With renewed enthusiasm, the corset endures as the heart of the steampunk aesthetic.

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