Bits and Bobs of Steampunk

People love the look of Steampunk.  The styles, aesthetics and certain looks that turn what could be an ordinary outfit, or a Victorian recreationalist outfit, into something slightly off the beaten path and into the realm of Steam.  One of the biggest fears I hear from a lot of people just starting out isn’t that they don’t have an outfit so much as they don’t feel it’s Steampunk enough.  This, of course, raises the question…what does it take to make an outfit Steampunk?

Taylor goes Middle EasternIt’s something I’ve debated with my wife on multiple occasions about how many added bits do you need to really make your get-up feel Steampunk.  For the purpose of this blog and discussion we’ll define ‘bits’ as costume additions one uses to be more Steampunk.  In a lot of cases what people remember when it comes to an outfit are the accessories someone brings with them.  Goggles, keys, jewelry, leather pieces and amazing props will leave an incredible impression on most.

To answer the first question of do you need all of this to look Steampunk? The answer is a resounding ‘No’.  While the aesthetic is important the attitude is just as much so.  If you want to show up and have fun wearing the minimum then in most cases that should not be a problem.  If you feel what you are trying to portray is best done without goggles, nick-knacks and a really fancy belt, then do so.  While I do encourage people to really flesh out their outfit in order to better fit in visually with everyone else, I’ll be the first to defend one’s right to simply attend and enjoy.  Dressing up, though, is half the fun of an event in my opinion.

With that out of the way what bits can be used to make an outfit more Steampunk?

You need to start with a base.  There are plenty of amazing articles, blogs and postings on getting the basics down for an outfit.  Two such sources include this one for men’s Victorian and Edwardian suits by Mr. Theridion Grallator and this podcast by the League of Steam on period costuming. Cheryl Trent just posted another interesting read about patterns and fitting on this very blog.  There are several other very informative guides and I encourage you to do plenty of research to get the start you’re looking for.

Once you have your basic outfit the next question is what sort of image are you trying to give off and what additional parts will help you project this image? If you’re simply trying to start out, then goggles tend to be the most common means of signifying you’re there for more than just the tea.  A symbol of adventure, getting dirty and open possibilities, a nice pair of goggles has become the primary calling card of Steampunks.  They are not necessary for every outfit, and feel free to consider if you should or would wear them.  If you do, look for a pair that fits with the rest of the outfit and enjoy.

Jewelry tends to be another very common and well loved means of evoking a Steamy feel.  Creatures, gears, clockworks and designs of all sorts are used and claim to be Steampunk on Etsy, at conventions and on websites all over the internet.  It’s up to you to decide if you think a piece stands out enough to fit your needs.  There is a bit of difference between Victorian Jewelry and Steampunk jewelry in design and layout, so keep that in mind.  If you do want to go more Victorian then do research on what it was they actually wore.  If you think a small clock encased in glass hanging from a chain fits better, then that is perfectly all right too.

Leather Bits
Leather creations have become almost as synonymous with Steampunk as goggles at this point.  Pictures of bracers, pouches and even full suits or armor circulate and cause people to ooh and aah at the incredible craftsmanship.  Belts with a few pouches on them are quite common for many people’s costumes, something very much more the Punk element than Victorian since only working men and those carrying weapons usually wore belts.  A good $20 leather belt form a department store and a couple of pouches from the Ren Faire or an antique dealer will go a long way to helping add something to your outfit, and usually for far less than you’d pay for other pieces.  Though if you do want something a bit more extravagant there are several dealers out there.

Props are another popular option for a lot of people.  Painted plastic guns, hand-fans that have been decorated up in some way, massive tools as well as the prop du jour, backpacks are everywhere out there.  Creative people love to see what they can come up with and these items can often be seen at events and conventions.  Carrying one can give a little extra oomph to an outfit as well as to signify your allegiance to Steampunk.  Do ignore the haters, though, if they try to deride your painted Nerf gun as I can almost guarantee you many of them started out that way too.

One tip I do want to give you in all of this is not to try to compete with others.  We’ve all seen the amazing Steampunk arm by Thomas Willeford of Brute Force Leather fame and not everyone is capable of affording or creating one of these pieces of art.  Don’t be afraid to start small, with little bits that will help you build on where you’re at and give you time to create your preferred kit.  It’s not a competition, and while it is certainly understandable to want something of incredible beauty and innovation, that doesn’t make one Steampunk.

So do the extra bits and bobs make a Steampunk costume? They can help take an outfit form being pure recreationalist Victorian and move it into the Punk end of the spectrum, certainly.  Are they necessary? Certainly not.  If you do want to add them, please do so and enjoy the process.  Don’t agonize over your choices too much, try not to lust too hard after what you cannot have just yet, and make sure to have fun.  That is, after all, why most of us do this.

4 comments for “Bits and Bobs of Steampunk

  1. January 20, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    Very nice advice here. At Teslacon I attended a panel on Steampunk vs. Neo-Victorian and the guests seemed to agree that one of the main differences between the two is the bits and bobs. I am hoping to come up with a few more good pieces to complete my outfit for the Steampunk Empire Symposium here in April.

    • M Gabriel Colbaugh
      January 20, 2012 at 7:42 pm

      It took my wife nearly 10 months to finally nail down what she wanted for her outfits so it can take some time, but well worth it to find the right piece! I’m sure you’ll get it nailed before then.

  2. January 29, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    Having a base idea is great, one thing I’ve observed in steampunk over the years is that once your costume is made, that becomes the new “base”. As in, outfits are always changing and evolving, almost a magnetic attraction for replacement trinkets and new costume directions. And can always have more than one base.

    • M Gabriel Colbaugh
      January 30, 2012 at 1:18 pm

      Certainly agreed! That’s me in the second picture there and I can tell you that I alter and move around depending on which vest I want to wear that day. Trousers, bracer choice, whether or not I go with the pouches, etc. Much like Steampunk itself, costumes can definitely change, evolve and switch back to basics.

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