What is Steampunk Fashion? Steampunk fashion is a style inspired by 19th century industrial steam-powered machinery and Victorian-era aesthetics. It combines historical elements with anachronistic technological influences to create a retro-futuristic, science fiction inspired look.
The Origins of Steampunk Fashion
Steampunk fashion has its origins in the steampunk literary genre that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s. Works by writers like H.G. Wells and Jules Verne inspired a subculture that blended advanced technology and antiquated design. Fans began donning historical garb and integrating industrial touches to emulate the aesthetic from their favorite steampunk books.
As steampunk grew, fashion became a key component for fully realizing the neo-Victorian steampunk universe. Dedicated followers, makers, and designers took inspiration from the Industrial Revolution, western outfits, Victorian science and engineering, and the American Wild West.
Though steampunk has origins in the 1980s, the 2000s brought a resurgence and wider popularity for steampunk style. Steampunk rapidly evolved from a niche literary genre to a full-blown subculture with distinctive fashions, artwork, DIY creations, music, and events.
Common Characteristics of Steampunk Fashion
While personal style varies greatly within the steampunk community, some common threads and staple items define the overall aesthetic:
- Victorian-inspired clothing like corsets, lace, ruffles and ascots
- Tailcoats, vests, cravats and spats for gentlemen
- Puffy shirts, bustles, parasols and elegant dresses for ladies
- Leather aviator caps, bowlers, tophats and goggles
- Knee-high leather boots or rugged work boots
- Military-inspired greatcoats, jackets and garb
- Clockwork and mechanical influences
- Gears, cogs, goggles, chains and industrial fabrics
- Rich colors like burgundy, brown, black, navy and green
- Materials like leather, suede, velvet and linen
Steampunk fashion exudes both elegance and grittiness. The juxtaposition of luxury fabrics like silk and lace with distressed leather and industrial accessories creates an intriguing blend of sophistication and roughness.
Key Pieces and Accessories in Steampunk Style
Certain distinctive pieces and accessories make an outfit decidedly steampunk. Here are some of the most popular:
- Corsets: These Victorian undergarments cinch the waist and create an hourglass silhouette. Steampunk corsets are often embellished with gears, chains or buckles.
- Top hats: One of the most iconic images of steampunk is the top hat perched on a gentleman’s head. They lend a dignified, sophisticated air.
- Goggles: Goggles represent the fusion of new technology and old world charm in steampunk. They were crucial for engineers, pilots and explorers.
- Pocket watches: The old-fashioned pocket watch exemplifies outdated tech made modern again in steampunk. Watch chains dangle across vests and coats.
- Spats: These coverings over shoes keep steampunk outfits dapper and polished. Spats protect dress shoes from dirt and grime.
- Canes/Walking sticks: As both functional and fashionable accessories, canes and walking sticks finish off a steampunk look.
- Cravats or Ascots: A folded neck cloth adds Victorian sophistication, recalling Jane Austen’s dashing leading men.
- Leather boots: Knee-high leather boots pair well with both pants and dresses in steampunk. They’re rugged and practical.
- Tailcoats/Frock coats: These knee-length coats were the peak of fashion for 19th century gentlemen. Coattails and intricate fabric buttons make them fancy and functional.
- Bustles: Extra fabric gathered at the back accentuates the rear in women’s Victorian dresses. Bustles bump up the elegance.
- Parasols: No proper Victorian lady would be seen without a parasol. These lace umbrellas shield steampunk ladies from both sun and rain.
Popular Variations of Steampunk Style
While united by their Victorian-inspired retro-futurism, steampunk fashions come in an array of flavors. From Wild West to apocalyptic, here are some of the top steampunk styles:
- Western steampunk: Blends American Old West influences like cowboys, saloon girls and Native American culture with steampunk technology and science fiction. Utilizes materials like leather and denim.
- Military steampunk: Inspired by 19th century soldiers, sailors and battles. Incorporates medals, epaulettes, navy jackets, and militant colors. Men add cravats, spats and brass buttons.
- Apocalyptic steampunk: Envisions a gritty post-apocalyptic world where steampunk gear prevails. Distressed leather, gas masks, armor and weapons dominate the harsh aesthetic.
- Aristocrat steampunk: Focuses on the elegance and luxury of the upper classes. Emphasizes fine tailored suits, grand ballgowns, top hats, and the sophistication of high society. Clean lines and minimal bells and whistles.
- Explorer steampunk: Inspired by intrepid 19th century expeditions to Africa, the Americas and beyond. Khaki vests, aviator goggles, and travel gear like satchels and canteens commonly feature.
- Casual steampunk: More relaxed, everyday workwear like waistcoats, breeches, peasant tops and modified dresses. Introduces modern pieces like jeans to blend in.
- Circus steampunk: Heavily influenced by old time traveling circus. Incorporates circus costumes, top hats, illusionists and sideshow folklore. Bright colors, whimsy and showmanship.
- Weird West steampunk: Anachronistic technology meets Wild West in this genre. Revolvers, spurs, cowboy hats and saloon dresses get steam-powered upgrades.
Steampunk for Ladies and Gentlemen
Steampunk fashion allows for plenty of ways to express femininity, masculinity and individual flair. Here’s a deeper look at common steampunk garb for ladies and gents:
- Elaborate gowns with corsets, ruffles, bustles, lace and trim
- Petticoats and chemises under graceful dresses
- Parasols and decorative hair accessories like feathers and fascinators
- High-heeled granny boots and knee-high leather boots
- Striped stockings or tights under full skirts
- Tailored military and explorer jackets over dresses
- Avant garde asymmetrical skirts and frock coats
- Top hats and bowlers topped with goggles
- Tailcoats, morning coats and frock coats
- Pocket watches on long chains hooked into vest pockets
- Cravats, jabots, ruffled collars and button-up shirts under vests
- High-waisted trousers, knee breeches and spats over boots
- Handcrafted historical canes and walking sticks
- Long form-fitting coats with coattails
- Monocles, glasses and smoked glass goggles
Some choose to blend masculine and feminine pieces for a more avant garde personalized look. Dapper ladies might opt for tailored vests, newsboy caps and men’s trousers. Gentlemen could sport a ruffled pirate-style shirt, heeled boots, or other feminine touches. This breaking down of gender norms opens up more possibilities for self-expression.
Making and Modding Your Own Steampunk
One of the most exciting parts of steampunk is the opportunity to invent your own persona and assemble unique costumes. With a little ingenuity, found items can be reworked into spectacular steampunk pieces.
Those new to steampunk often start by “modding” modern clothes to give them a neo-Victorian edge. Here are some examples of easy modding:
- Add metal cogs, chains, buckles and buttons to jackets and corsets
- Affix gears or monocles to tophats and goggles
- Createighthaven brooches out of old watches and found objects
- Attach tubing, wiring and lightbulbs to clothing as mechanical elements
- Use spray paint and stencils to create metallic accents on fabric
- Sew ruffles, puffed sleeves, lace and trims onto plain garments
- Distress and age clothing with rough sandpaper or scissors
As skills progress, steampunkers begin fabricating apparel from scratch. Some methods include:
- Using pattern books to sew historical costumes
- Altering modern patterns to create neo-Victorian garments
- Sculpting bustles and corsets from foam, steel boning and leather
- Crafting automaton-style accessories from wood, copper tubing and found objects
- 3D printing and laser cutting raw materials into elaborate steampunk pieces
- Learning leatherworking to make belts, custom holsters, and embellished garb
Part of the appeal of DIY steampunk is the process of technical creativity. Building unique functional props and clothing allows makers to immerse themselves into steampunk worldbuilding. The community also embraces open source sharing of patterns, tutorials and techniques to expand the possibilities.
The Evolution and Future of Steampunk Fashion
Steampunk fashion has come a long way from its obscure literary origins. As the genre exploded through literature, film, art and design, the fashion took on a life of its own. No longer a novelty, steampunk style has evolved into a craft and an art form.
Designers like Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood featured steampunk influences in major runway collections. Punk rave fashion incorporates steampunk elements. Both high fashion and Hollywood embraced the style, introducing it to the mainstream.
The vibrant steampunk community keeps developing the aesthetic. Technology continues to enable more innovation and intricate clothing fabrication. As younger generations discover steampunk fashion, they reshape it to be even more diverse, dynamic and avant garde.
With pop culture steampunk icons like author Cherie Priest, musician Abney Park and The League of S.T.E.A.M. performance group, the fashion continues to capture imaginations. Today’s steampunk clothing pays tribute to the 19th century while looking hopefully toward the future. More than a retro imitation, it is a vision of how 19th century style might have evolved if steam power had continued dominating technology.
Steampunk fashion allows complete imaginative immersion into alternate histories and possibilities. Its anachronistic spirit encourages fun and fearless personal expression. Blurring the lines between past and present, steampunk style will continue to evolve in unexpected wonderful ways.
Whether you’re a hardcore DIY devotee or just getting your feet wet modding ready-made pieces, one thing is certain – once you don the goggles and gears of steampunk fashion, your imagination will never be the same!