When stepping into the world of Steampunk many people often wonder what they should wear and what genre to use. Is Steampunk Edwardian, Victorian or even WWI era? Is it gears, goggles, or top hats? Can girls wear pants and short skirts? Can I be a pilot, pirate, or cowboy?
The answer to ever question above is yes. Fashion of the Steampunk world is supremely diverse. It encompasses several eras and can be reworked into your own unique style. Unfortunately this can make deciding what to wear very difficult. My first suggestion is decide your persona. Do you want to be a mad scientist, a daring explorer, an aristocrat, a gypsy, a sky captain, or a wrench monkey? Steampunk gets its roots from mainly the Victorian/Edwardian era where the idea of a class system is still very strong. People have ranks, and positions in life, even if your persona decided to buck the system. So perhaps let say you want to be a Sky Captain, then the use of goggles, leather jacket, flowing scarves, and a sextant are excellent choices. Did your sky Captain come from a world of aristocracy and is a woman, then you may choose to still wear skirts rather than pants or add a splash of elegance to your attire. Mixing eras is perfectly acceptable too. Do you love big hats of the Edwardian era, but want a bustle too, go ahead, but always remember to look at your silhouette and see if it’s what you want others to see. Fashion is always about the silhouette you want to portray, whether shapes and curves or long sleek lines.
A quick rundown of silhouettes by era and decades is as such:
You can see from the image above how the shape changes, take careful note of proportions. If you saw these images from the front you would also see how the silhouettes change. In the 1860s the goal was to achieve a very round snowman type appearance of 3 progressively large round shapes. In the 1870s elongation was introduced and where hair had once been used to widen the face it was now used to lengthen it. Sleeves are very important in the 1840s the width of the sleeve rivaled the width of the dress, but in the 1890s sleeves were very large while the rest of the dress achieve a more natural shape by the early 1900s the goal was a very loose S-curve that gave you a voluminous top and rear.
These shapes were not achieved by clothing alone. It is very important to understand the foundation garments in order to achieve shape. To truly have a stable, beautiful bustle you need the pillow or cage that helps you achieve that look. To have the smooth lines necessary to pull off most any Victorian or Edwardian silhouette you need a real corset with 5 to 7 stays and steel boning. In future articles I will discuss how to pick a corset for your attire and how to wear it properly.
Don’t worry men you were not ignored you have a wide range of clothing and shapes to choose from too. The greatest challenge in wearing men’s clothing is understanding that there is often a restriction of movement incorporated into the clothing. Your standard Victorian cut coat was designed to fit, but with limited arm movement. If you cannot handle this idea then avoid frock coats and fitted tails and look at sack coats. If that doesn’t work then forgo the coat, but wear a vest. It is never wise to wander around in just a shirt, because during the Victorian Era that was your underwear. In fact just wearing your shirt did not become acceptable in polite society until after WWII. A good check list for men is to have a Shirt, Vest, Jacket, hat and necktie (Victorian ties are different from today’s tie) eliminating one of these often reflects your station and physical activity.
Hats, oh the lovely hats. You can go beyond the top hat, there were so many fashions and styles, not just for women. Men loved wearing hats; your hat was a signifier of your personality, your pride. Don’t limit yourself explore all the different styles available out there. My rule of thumb is anything before 1930 is fair game, after that hat styles dramatically changed. Don’t worry if you love the Fedora of the 1940s I suggest you take a look at the Hardy Hat. It is a great hat that over time molds and becomes unique as you.
Accessorizing is very important in adding flair to your Steampunk style, but that doesn’t mean slapping on just gears or goggles. Many of the items you wear should tell something about your character, whereas other items can simply be fashionable. You are creating a look, an expression of yourself for others to see, so it is important to contemplate what you are expressing. If your persona has an occupation, then try adding tools of your trade. Is your character more rough and tumble or does he prefer finer things and is a bit of a Dandy? Belts are a great accessory to an outfit in the Steampunk world. I’ve seen attire that has 4 to 5 belts some functional others just for show. Buckles by themselves also come in abundance. I’ve seen them hitch up skirts, hold down cuffs and I’ve attached them to lovely crocheted collars. That little extra touch of leather and metal can make all the difference. Don’t worry you do not have to go overboard with the accessories in Steampunk. We’ve all seen the guy that has so many shiny bits on his outfit that it’s hard to focus on any one thing, but you can be just as Steamy while being simplistic. That’s why I always recommend the first place to start is with a Historical piece of attire and build from there.
In future articles I will talk about where you can find or make your steampunk clothing, along with recommendations and guidelines to follow so when you finally look in the mirror you can say, “Yeah! Now that’s Steampunk!”
Silhouette images from: http://lady-of-crow.deviantart.com/art/Victorian-Silhouettes-83666275