Steampunk is as well known for its aesthetic as anything else. One of the best loved examples of this is reflected in the amazing variety of outfits worn to events and conventions. Styles of clothing range from pirate wear to military style uniforms to full Victoriana to post-apocalyptic punk and everything in between. It’s also one part of entering into the world of Steampunk that I’ve heard gives a lot of people pause and worry.
Since there are so many wonderful costumes and outfits it can cause people to be self-conscious. Many worry that because they don’t have a beautiful corset or amazing bit of leather or that one mind blowing prop that someone else has they’ll be looked down on. Thankfully in Steampunk, that’s just not the case despite jokes to the contrary. Most Steampunks just want you to show up and have fun at events with costumes being optional. Really though, to get the full impact of Steampunk you should try to find yourself at least a starting costume and then build from there; that’s what most people have done including yours truly.
There are several excellent guides out there already on what to get for both men and women. They can help you decide on what direction you might want to go when it comes to putting together an outfit. Building yourself a persona can also go a long way in assisting you in having a starting place for your look. Instead, let’s take a look at where you can go to get what you need for building your first costume.
The first thing you should do is see what you have already. Guys sometimes have it a bit easier because men’s fashion hasn’t changed all that much in the last two hundred years. Dress shirts, dress slacks, dress shoes, you get the picture. Even jeans can often work thanks to the fact that denim has been used for pants since the 1860s. These are very viable options to get yourself started.
Women might find it a bit trickier as styles of skirts and blouses have changed from decade to decade, let alone over centuries. Styles do have a habit of coming back into fashion, though and you might be able to track down a blouse or skirt that works for the look you’re going for. Remember to put your idea first and historic accuracy second.
This is the first place most Steampunks will tell you to go since they’ve been doing it for years anyway. Good Will, the Salvation Army, and any number of local stores and smaller chains carry a lot of options to get yourself started. The wonderful thing is that even beyond clothing, people have a tendency to donate objects that can be used for props and accessories. Candle sticks, clocks with actual gears inside, jewelry, watches, and a myriad of other things.
Take your time when going through the store and try to go in with an idea. Don’t be afraid to change plans as you spot something that might work better than what you have in mind. Also, make sure to think creatively when you spot options. That length of cloth used to cover a dining room table can make for a fantastic shoulder wrap to add some color to your outfit. That set of drapes might just be turned into a fabulous jacket. Don’t be afraid to go back from time to time in order to see what new goodies the stores have.
Clothing vendors are everywhere both online and at conventions. Some people might find it just plain easier to buy what it is they’re looking for and there really isn’t anything wrong with that. Even if there is a strong DIY theme in Steampunk, you’re still often helping artisans and small businesses to support themselves. Other stores may not make their own clothes, but many are strong supporters of the Steampunk community and provide quality goods made by quality people.
This is also the place to go for accessories and leather bits in case you don’t want to learn or try on your own. To say there are a lot of Steampunk leather workers would be a bit of an understatement. Keeping to the better known and better reviewed vendors will help ensure you get good quality and that it’s worth what you paid for. Same with jewelry and neckwear, look for vendors and makers that have a lot of good feedback and offer options that appeal to your sense of style. The majority of leather workers and jewelers also do their own work so you are supporting a small business artisan.
Make it Yourself:
This is probably the scariest option for people who’ve never done it before. The idea that you’re going to spend money to try to figure out how to sew, or cut leather, or build yourself a prop gun can be a daunting one. To many the idea that they’re capable of making something as nice and amazing as a professional just doesn’t jive. The truth of the matter is you can and if you think you can do better or only get what you want by making it yourself, do so.
Learning how to sew or do leatherwork isn’t nearly as farfetched as it can seem at first. People have been learning how to do these trades for centuries and even the best out there had to start somewhere. Many craft stores offer classes on how to get started and how to get better. The Internet is chock full of guides that can give you a leg up as well. Nick Bauman of the League of STEAM has talked about how he figured out his famous net gun by starting with a video by a 12-year-old explaining how to make a potato cannon. If a professional prop maker can learn from a Youtube video, just imagine what you can pick up.
I’ve been told in the past by some of my friends who find Steampunk fascinating that the idea of getting involved still seemed scary. Part of that is seeing some of the absolutely incredible costumes that are posted all over the Internet. Remember, though, that everyone had to start somewhere and not everyone just suddenly had these outfits. Don’t try to keep up with others; concentrate instead on what you want to do. Don’t be afraid to experiment or try new things even if it moves you out of your comfort zone. In the end the most important thing to remember is to have fun. After all if you’re not having fun, then why are you doing it?