Perhaps more daunting than knowing what to wear under your attire is how to put it on. Since Steampunk fashion isn’t authentic Victorian fashion there are many cheats that a person can employ: however, I always recommend that a woman wear a corset and a man should sit his pants comfortably at his waist (not hips), which is best achieved with suspenders. One may wonder how to put on all those layers, and many a man may wonder how to get it off.
The main complaint and confusion from women who wear a corset is it’s too hot and too tight. Well you are wearing it wrong. Unless you are planning on not moving around, a corset should be worn to support not constrict. Yes women were known to whittle their waists down to 14 inches and fainting chairs were commonplace in rich homes, but your average woman wore a corset that was not too tight and could be put on and taken off by herself.
When choosing a corset, try to find one that has lacing in the back and a front busk. These are the sturdy hooks and eyes that can be hooked and unhooked without help. Plus when lacing into your corset, which you will need help with the first time, lace it to be snug but still have the ability to move and breath. When I put on my first corset I had a male friend cinch me in super tight and while wearing it I didn’t notice any issues, but when I finally released myself at the end of the night I had bruised ribs for a week. If you plan on wearing a corset be kind to your body and wear it to fit, not constrict. To ease the “I feel hot” issue, it is best to wear a layer underneath your corset. I often put on a tank top instead of the traditional camisole, it works great.
Also, there is nothing wrong with wearing a bra and a corset. Most corsets sit to hold up your chest, but to avoid falling out of your corset wear a bra to support your breasts and place the corset where it’s holding up just your underbust. Wearing these 3 items, corset, tank top, and bra help achieve a correct silhouette for Steampunk/Victorian clothing, while still helping maintain control and modesty. In the Victorian period a woman wore another chemise over the corset to add the coverage your bra will now achieve. As long as you procured a corset with a front busk, you simply need to unhook yourself to get in and out of the item. The lacing can stay tied and only needs to be adjusted if your weight changes.
Underskirts are also important. This is where steampunk gets very unauthentic; I haven’t met a modern woman yet who is instantly comfortable walking around in crotchless pantaloons and petticoats. If you venture into this realm you will find it surprising comfortable, and at the same time modern undergarments can function just as well. Pantaloons can be replaced by capris, shorts or leggings. If you’re wearing a hoop skirt, layering one or more petticoats between your hoopskirt and your final attire will help to avoid ghastly wire lines.
Wearing 4 to 5 skirts was not uncommon in the Victorian period since it added volume and drape to the garment. If you are befuddled by wanting a flat waistline, but need the layers, choose skirts and petticoats with pleats rather than gathers. You can also wear your overskirt at your waistline while draping your petticoats and hoop skirt on your hips. Remember to adjust the length of your skirts so you are not tripping over any of them.
Typically a hemline could vary from the floor to up to 4 inches above the ankle, especially with hoop skirts. There is nothing more frustrating than catching your foot on the front of your skirt and falling flat on your face. If you are custom purchasing or making your skirts use sturdy hook and eyes made for skirts. These slip on and hold, but can be easily unhooked. If you are wearing a skirt with a draw string, try to find one that uses a wide twill or grosgrain ribbon, these will remain flat when worn to avoid the pinching sensation and the texture should allow for secure ties. They will also allow for easier untying because they won’t get pulled into tiny knots that are a pain to undo.
Men should always be wearing some sort of cotton shirt, this could be a pull-over or button down. In modern times we consider a button down shirt a form of dressing up; however, back then it was your underwear. To be in the company of a woman in just your undershirt was very forward. Remember that the button down is your underwear so go find a vest or jacket to put with it. Also, use a modern method and wear a t-shirt underneath, this helps keep you cool and reduce sweat marks on your button down.
Suspenders are not very common these days and are associated with old men, eccentrics or men wearing high dollar suits. Suspenders kept your pants up, remember there was no elastic back then, a man’s pants could be worn a bit loose for movement, but still held on by suspenders. Just imagine wearing a pair of pants you did not have to constantly hoist back into place. I recommend finding suspenders that button to your pants, these hold better than the alligator clips, but are not very common. You can add buttons to any pair of pants. A belt can be worn as well since belts were often used to hold other items and Steampunkers love their belts! If you are wearing wool pants look into purchasing a pair of cotton long underwear, you can also substitute cotton pajama pants in their place. Wool can itch and, like with a woman wearing a tank top under her corset, the long underwear works with the wool pants to keep you cool.