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What is Steampunk Style?

what is steampunk style

What is Steampunk Style?
A Detailed Guide to the Retro-Futuristic Aesthetic

Steampunk style is a retro-futuristic fashion trend that combines Victorian-era style with industrial materials and fantastical technologies. It’s an aesthetic that imagines how people in the 19th century might have envisioned the future, with steam-powered machines, airships, clockwork robots, and outrageous scientific inventions.

Steampunk style has its roots in science fiction literature but has expanded into fashion, music, film, DIY crafting, and mainstream culture. Steampunkers embrace elaborate outfits inspired by explorers, soldiers, aristocrats, and workers from the industrial revolution. Common accessories include goggles, corsets, top hats, tailcoats, leather harnesses, and clockwork embellishments.

The steampunk aesthetic is bold, dramatic, and eccentric. It celebrates creativity and ingenuity by repurposing everyday objects into fantastical contraptions. If you’re fascinated by retro-futurism, intrigued by Victorian fashion, or just want to sport a stylish neo-Victorian look, then read on to learn all about steampunk style!

The History and Origins of Steampunk Style

Where did steampunk come from? Here’s a quick history of the origins and evolution of the steampunk aesthetic:

  • Term “steampunk” first coined in 1987 by author K.W. Jeter as a tongue-in-cheek label for Victorian science fiction stories.
  • Inspired by 19th century science fiction writers like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Mary Shelley, who imagined futuristic technologies powered by steam.
  • Literary origins give way to a broader artistic and fashion movement in the 1990s and 2000s.
  • DIY crafting community embraces steampunk and gives it a distinct handmade aesthetic.
  • Steampunk motifs appear in mainstream film, television, music, and gaming in the late 2000s.
  • Full-blown steampunk subculture emerges, complete with conventions, costume balls, bands, and more.

Steampunk originated as a retro-futuristic spin on Victorian science fiction and fantasy stories. Over time it grew into a vibrant subculture and aesthetic movement that brings 19th century style into the modern era.

Defining Characteristics of Steampunk Style

What exactly makes something “steampunk”? Here are some of the defining characteristics of steampunk fashion and design:

Victorian Influences

Steampunk style draws heavily on Victorian era fashion. Corsets, bustles, tailcoats, vests, hats, and lace are common garments. Textiles tend to feature damasks, brocades, stripes, and floral prints popular in the 19th century. Hairstyles also reflect Victorian trends.

Industrial Revolution Themes

Steampunk embraces the technologies that emerged during the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Expect to see influences from steam power, clockwork mechanics, locomotives, and heavy machinery. Cogs, gears, springs, and pistons are common decorative motifs.

Fantastical Inventions

Steampunk revels in imaginative technologies that go far beyond what was possible in the Victorian era. Airships, mechanical wings, ray guns, robots, exoskeletons, time machines – anything is fair game if it looks retro-futuristic.

DIY Aesthetic

Many steampunk outfits incorporate a handmade, DIY look using found items and repurposed materials. Goggles made from antiques, costumes pieced together from thrift store finds, accessories crafted from scrap metal and hardware parts – this do-it-yourself ethos is part of steampunk’s charm.

Dapper and Dramatic

Steampunk style has a sense of adventure and drama. Outfits tend to be bold, luxurious, and elegant, sometimes bordering on the outrageous. Top hats, goggles, flashy accessories, and lavish embellishments add flair.

what is steampunk style

Blends Retro and Futuristic

The “retro-futurism” of steampunk blends old and new. It imagines how the future might have looked to people living in the 19th century – quaint and mechanical, rather than sleek and digital. Steampunk is Victorian science fiction.

Key Steampunk Style Influences

Steampunk style draws inspiration from many sources. Here are some of the most prominent influences in steampunk fashion:

  • Victorian era clothing – corsets, suits, dresses, coats, hats
  • Industrial technologies – gears, cogs, pistons, springs, steam power
  • Science fiction by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley
  • Gothic motifs – decadence, romanticism, drama
  • Adventure stories – explorers, soldiers, frontiersmen
  • Circus and vaudeville performers – ringmasters, daredevils
  • Burlesque dancers and cabaret stars
  • DIY and reuse culture – modifying antiques and found items

Notable Steampunk Literary Works

Steampunk originated in the pages of science fiction books and stories. Here are some of the most influential early steampunk works:

  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (1870) – a Victorian era science fiction classic about Captain Nemo’s advanced submarine, the Nautilus. Verne’s other books also established the “Edisonade” genre of stories about fantastic inventions.
  • The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895) – Wells’ time traveler ventures to the year 802,701 AD and encounters the gentle Eloi and sinister Morlocks in this seminal work of Victorian science fiction.
  • The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (1898) – another Wells classic featuring an invasion of Victorian England by advanced alien machines from Mars.
  • The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (1990) – this posthumous collaboration between cyberpunk authors imagines an alternate history where Charles Babbage’s analytical engine became a reality in the 19th century.
  • The Steam Man of the Prairies by Edward S. Ellis (1868) – an early Edisonade featuring a steam-powered robotic man.

Steampunk Art, Crafting & DIY Culture

The steampunk community embraces arts and crafts with a neo-Victorian, DIY twist. Steampunk enthusiasts modify antique items, incorporate salvaged materials, and apply Victorian or industrial touches to create unique jewelry, accessories, costumes, and decorative objects. Common mediums include:

  • Modified antique watches, clocks, and scientific instruments
  • Jewelry made from watch parts, keys, glass, bones, minerals
  • Found object sculptures with gears, typewriters, taxidermy
  • Costumes stitched together from vintage fabrics
  • Accessorized outfits with goggles, weapons, gadgets
  • Decorative painting on reused wooden crates and boxes
  • Lampshades, terrariums, vases from discarded materials
  • Intricately detailed models of airships and mechanical creatures

The handcrafted, salvaged aesthetic of much steampunk art aligns with sustainability and reuse movements. Workshops at steampunk events commonly teach costume-making, prop-building, and modification techniques. Overall, steampunk DIY culture values creativity, resourcefulness, and community.

Popular Steampunk Styles, Personas & Costumes

Steampunk outfits are only limited by your imagination! Steampunkers costume themselves as all manner of retro-futuristic personas. Here are some of the most popular steampunk looks:

  • Aristocrat/Dandy – Top hats, waistcoats, walking sticks, tailcoats
  • Explorer/Adventurer – Pith helmets, aviator goggles, leather satchels
  • Soldier/Sky Captain – Military coats, brass buttons, captain’s hat
  • Frontiersman – Cowboy dusters, leather chaps, bandoliers
  • Scientist/Inventor – Lab coats, gadgets, gizmos galore
  • Engineer – Overalls, tool belts, hard hat
  • Officer/Gentleman – Frock coat, cane, pocket watch
  • Dame/Lady – Corsets, bustles, petticoats, parasols
  • Scoundrel/Rogue – Dramatic coats, weapons, gloves
  • Circus Performer – Ringmaster coats, top hats, stripes
  • Dancer/Saloon Girl – Bustiers, garters, feathers, fans

Mix and match elements from various 19th century archetypes to create a distinct steampunk persona. Top off your outfit with goggles, weapons like ray guns or swords, a pack full of mysterious gadgets, clockwork accessories, and you’re ready for a steampunk adventure!

Steampunk Style Clothing & Accessories

Let’s explore popular steampunk garments, accessories, and accoutrements:


  • Corsets – Slim the waist and add a feminine Victorian touch
  • Tailcoats – Iconic formal overcoat for gentlemen
  • Vest Waistcoats – Pair with a dress shirt and necktie
  • Bustle Skirts/Dresses – Pleated, draped, ruffled Victorian styles
  • Harem/Jodhpur Pants – Billowy legwear for adventure
  • Leather/Canvas Dusters – Rugged jackets and coats
  • Military Styles – Dramatic cuts, embroidery, buttons
  • Top Hats – The quintessential steampunk accessory


  • Goggles – Protect the eyes from sparks or alien rays!
  • Pocket/Fob Watches – Indispensable for steampunkers
  • Parasols & Canes – Complete your dapper ensemble
  • Ray Guns & Holsters – Defend yourself on voyages
  • Gadgets & Gizmos – Fill your pockets, pouches & packs
  • Tool Belts – Stylishly hold implements & inventions
  • Fascinators – Dramatic Victorian hair ornaments
  • Clocks & Compasses – Useful explorers’ tools
  • Welding Masks – Post-apocalyptic headgear
  • Jewelry – Gears, keys, watch parts, found items

Where to Buy Steampunk Clothing, Supplies & Props

You can find steampunk attire, materials, and accessories from these sources:

  • Specialty online shops like Steampunk Emporium, RebelsMarket, and Etsy sellers
  • Major online retailers sometimes carry steampunk costumes and accessories
  • Check your local costume and vintage stores around Halloween
  • Thrift and antique stores can yield Victorian clothing to modify
  • Craft stores for goggles, gears, decorative elements (Joann, Michael’s)
  • Hardware stores for metal bits, gadget parts, tools, and belts
  • Army surplus stores for pouches, satchels, holsters and military wear
  • Fabric/sewing supply shops for corset boning, fabrics, patterns

Many steampunkers embrace the DIY ethos and hand-make elements for their costumes. Learn to sew, solder, stitch leather, sculpt, and more. Check out tutorials online or in steampunk crafting books.

The steampunk community enthusiastically shares tips and resources. Connect with local groups through social media to discover shops and suppliers in your area.

Popular Steampunk Makeup & Hairstyles

Just like the clothing, steampunk makeup and hair draws from retro influences with modern flair. Here are some quintessential steampunk beauty looks:

  • Strong cat eye and dark lips on women
  • Pale complexion and red or dark lips on men
  • Elaborate mustaches and sideburns on men
  • Gibson girl updos on women
  • Victory rolls and pin curls
  • Heavy bangs or fringes
  • Bandanas and headscarves
  • Top hats and bowlers for men; fascinators, feather plumes, and veils for women
  • Goggles pushed up on forehead or hanging around neck
  • Fake blood, scars, stitches, skin mods for edgy looks
  • Metallic accents at eyes, lips, or temples
  • Gears, keys, chains woven into hair

Steampunk beauty is bold and expressive. Go bright, go dark, go glamorous with your retro-futuristic hair and makeup!

Popular Examples of Steampunk Style in Mainstream Media

Steampunk motifs have appeared across film, television, video games, music, and more:


  • Hugo, The Golden Compass, Sherlock Holmes, The Prestige
  • Wild Wild West, Steamboy, Sleepy Hollow
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Time Machine

TV Shows:

Video Games:

  • Bioshock, Dishonored, Final Fantasy
  • Machinarium, Rise of Legends, Aion


  • Abney Park, The Men That Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing
  • Professor Elemental, Dr. Steel, The Cog is Dead
what is steampunk fashion

Steampunk Conventions, Events & Communities

A vibrant steampunk subculture exists around the globe. Here are some ways to connect with fellow steampunk enthusiasts:

  • Conventions like Steampunk World’s Fair, AnachroCon, TeslaCon, Clockwork Alchemy
  • Regional groups on Facebook and
  • Events at science fiction conventions like San Diego Comic Con and Dragon Con
  • Crafting workshops at maker spaces, libraries, schools
  • Theme nights at clubs, restaurants, and other venues
  • Group outings to museums, exhibits, and steampunk-friendly locations
  • Online forums like Brass Goggles, Steampunk Empire, and Dieselpunks

Steampunks organize festivals, dances, costume contests, musical performances, panel talks, and more. Check your local listings and online groups to find steampunk happenings in your area.

The Many Flavors of Steampunk Style

Steampunk is a broad aesthetic umbrella encompassing several related retro-futuristic styles:

  • Steamgirl/Steampunk Lolita – Cute, feminine steampunk variant
  • Dieselpunk – Inspired by WW1/WW2 aesthetics instead of Victorian
  • Atompunk – Focused on the Atomic/Space Age of the 1950s-60s
  • Teslapunk – Inspired by Nikola Tesla’s inventions
  • Clockpunk – More renaissance than Victorian in influence
  • Western Steampunk – Cowboy/frontier spin on steampunk

So whether you prefer your retro-futurism with petticoats or pilot goggles, corsets or conning towers, there’s a flavor of steampunk for you!

Steampunk Interior Design & Decor

Steampunk style extends beyond fashion into interior decor. Here are some ways to incorporate steampunk elements into your home:

  • Display steampunk art – prints, sculptures, wall clocks
  • Use gear/cog motifs in textiles – pillows, curtains
  • Create a gallery wall of framed Victorian patents, maps, diagrams
  • Incorporate antiques like typewriters, telescopes, globes
  • Hang an ornate airship model from the ceiling
  • Use industrial touches like metal lamps, factory carts
  • Make functional steampunk decor – candelabras, desks, mirrors
  • Craft an elaborate steampunk treehouse or workshop nook

With salvaged wood, brass accents, steamer trunks, and a bit of fantastical flourish, you can transform any room into a retro-futuristic haven. Let your inner Victorian mad scientist design the steampunk lair of your dreams! Or keep decor subtle with just a few steampunk-style accessories.

Steampunk for Guys, Girls & Children

Steampunk style is for everyone! Women, men, girls and boys can all rock retro-futuristic fashions.

For women, don Victorian-inspired dresses and skirts, corsets, bustiers, petticoats, suits and vests. Accessorize with parasols, hats, fascinators and bold jewelry.

Men can wear tailcoats, waistcoats, top hats, military uniforms, dusters, jodhpurs, and other period garb. Top it off with goggles, spy gadgets, and a dramatic pose!

Kids will love playing dress-up and imagining themselves as young inventors, explorers and aeronauts. Stash costumes, props and art supplies for steampunk craft projects. Build gadgets from scraps and cardboard tubes. Let their creativity run wild!

Steampunk is for everyone who feels a sense of adventure, loves sci-fi and history, and embraces imaginative retro style.

Steampunk Design Inspirations

Here are some key influences to study for steampunk style ideas:

  • The Victorian era (1837-1901) – clothing, decor, inventions
  • The Industrial Revolution (1760-1840) – machines, factories, transport
  • Historical fashion plates – see how Victorian-era styles looked
  • Vintage patents – real 19th century inventions and schematics
  • Circus and vaudeville posters – bold graphics, daring feats
  • Burlesque – glamour, risque attire, feathers and frills
  • Early science fiction – Verne, Wells, Shelley, Poe and more
  • Antique photos – styling, props, backdrops
  • Artists like H.G. Schnebbelie, Albert Robida, Etienne-Gaspard Robert

Immerse yourself in visuals from the late 18th and 19th centuries. Look at historical photos, engravings, and sci-fi book covers. Study real-life engineers, inventors, soldiers, explorers, and aristocrats as inspiration for steampunk personas.

Let history fuel your retro-futuristic creativity!

In Summary: The World of Steampunk Style

  • Steampunk is a retro-futuristic aesthetic that fuses 19th century influences with fantastical technologies.
  • It originated in the science fiction literature
  • Steampunk style embraces Victorian fashions like corsets, suits, and bustled dresses combined with industrial elements like gears, goggles, and ray guns.
  • Common steampunk personas include aristocrats, soldiers, explorers, scientists, engineers, and circus performers.
  • Steampunkers make elaborate costumes and accessories, often incorporating a handmade or DIY aesthetic.
  • The steampunk community connects through conventions, music, crafting, and online groups.
  • In addition to fashion, steampunk style extends to interior decor, music, movies, gaming, and more.
  • Related retro-futuristic genres include dieselpunk, atompunk, teslapunk, and clockpunk.
  • Steampunk offers creative fun for women, men, girls and boys of all ages.
  • To create steampunk styles, draw inspiration from Victorian fashion plates, vintage patents, early sci-fi books, circus posters, and antique photos.
  • With an adventurous spirit, DIY attitude, and taste for sci-fi, you can transform everyday objects into fantastical steampunk creations!
what is steampunk?

Steampunk style is a vintage Victorian aesthetic meets futuristic technology. It’s retro and modern, history-inspired yet fantastical, practical yet whimsical. If you love imagining gadget-filled airship voyages, exploring the steam-powered world of yesterday’s tomorrow, or just crafting outrageously fun costumes and accessories, then welcome to the wonderful world of steampunk!

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