Basics Of Steampunk: Dressing the Part

You heard the word “steampunk” and you thought “what on earth?”

So you looked it up, and immediately, the internet bombarded you with images of Victorian era gentlemen with Buck Rogers-esque weaponry…. Ladies with industrial corsets and brass flight goggles… gears, and brass sprockets, and top hats, and you wanted more. Here are some basics to get you started on the path to that world where an insult is still answered with a duel.

Clothing: Begin with something Victorian. You don’t need to go out and actually purchase original Victorian-era clothing, you can get all sorts of reproductions, and patterns to reproduce online. The internet is a wonderful thing!
Some websites worth checking out for their historical reproductions:

  • The Gentleman’s Emporium
  • Reconstructing History

Accessories are key! You can tell a lot about how much someone cares about their new look by whether or not they change their eyeglasses and their wrist watch! Get yourself some round frames, and a pocket watch. How about a walking stick or cane? Something with brass end caps perhaps? (empty bullet casings make excellent end caps!), you could even grab yourself some punk sunglasses! You’ll need flight goggles for your next airship ride… you should look into getting a pair. Something in leather and brass will carry you far!

Ladies should consider a hand fan, and perhaps a parasol. Both can be matched to your clothing, as well as ‘steampunked’ with brass filigreed trim or leather wrapped handles. Not looking to be particularly lady-like? Consider gentlemen’s clothing, or trousers, matched with a tight-fitting bodice and leather corset.

You may need a gun belt slung on your hips, to holster your own innovative weaponry. Steampunk Lab has numerous photos of different sorts of handguns, all dreamed up by steampunk aficionados.

Footwear can be industrial and heavy, or Victorian, or a combination of the two. Buckles and belting only add to the look, so don’t fear them!

Don’t feel like looking like a dandy? No problem. All airships need crews. Dream up your ship, gather your ‘crew’ and consider your uniform options! Watch “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and see what they were wearing on the Nautilus.

Steampunk is everywhere… it is a subculture that embodies the ideas of romance and violence in one. What lady doesn’t want a gentleman defending her? Well, besides the obvious one who has her own weapons. It’s the thought that counts!

There are no real rules… dream big!

Growing Popularity Of Steampunk

By learning from the mistakes that were made with the growth of goth’s popularity, the steampunk community can make a concentrated effort to negate the Walmart effect.

Already, we have the first stage of the Walmart effect, people marketing products as steampunk that has absolutely nothing to do with the culture. Regretsy has an entire category dedicated to things that are Not Remotely Steampunk. Already, there are steampunk craft books that teach jewelry makers that anything is steampunk if you put a gear on it and some little brass bits. Hell, there’s already an item at ((shudders)) Hot Topic that’s tagged as being steampunk.

There is a cure for this. The cure is the promotion from within. As members of the steampunk community, we cannot allow the media to come to us, to decide who to promote for themselves. Instead, we must bring ourselves to the media. We must actively promote those within the community who provide the best example of who we are and what we’re about. We must shove ourselves down the media’s throat before they shove something that vaguely resembles us down the throat of society. We must be active in social media and conventional media. We must make a grass roots effort to promote those people and products that we love.

A perfect example of this type of promotion is Off the Beaten Path. At almost a year old, the store has already had a signing with Cherie Priest, been voted Best Overlooked Local Story by the readers of Detroit’s Metro Times, and most recently, today’s article in the Detroit News.

There are three reasons that Off the Beaten Path has gotten enough publicity to stay solvent and to even grow in the middle of one of the worst economies in the country. First, Off the Beaten Path is a great store. The owner Sal has done a great job of creating an environment that is inviting and comfortable. It stays on theme without intimidating customers who aren’t familiar with steampunk. The second major factor is Sal’s marketing prowess. A small independent bookstore cannot survive without getting customers in the door. How does Sal do it? By doing more than just sell books, she gets people to the store every night. There are food and beverages from the cafe, wares from several talented artisans, and special events nearly every night. She has drumming lessons, belly dancing lessons, a game night, a stitch and bitch night, musical performances, and once a month or so packs the house for karaoke.

That’s right, karaoke…in a bookstore…a steampunk bookstore. What’s wonderful about this event is that the crowd is of a common mindset, they’re pretty much all geeks and nerds. Nobody is too self-conscious to sing, and you’re more likely than not to hear both a group sing along and a Jonathan Coulton song in the same night. Lastly, and this is where we all come in, is that the customers of Off the Beaten Path are fiercely loyal. Sal is the Captain of the ship and her customers are her crew. We help keep the ship running, and in return, we get everything we could ever want out of the store. We get a place to visit and meet new people, purchase books and wares that you just won’t find in a chain store, and we get to be a part of something special.

Steampunk is a culture that still small enough to be a community. The great thing about a community is that it’s easy to get behind another community member and help lift them up. If we all do this, we all promote the people, products, and places that we love, we can dodge the Walmart effect. We may still burn brightly and burn out quickly, but if nothing else, we’ll at least do it our way. After all, that’s what being a steampunk is all about. We do things our way.

Who are the people, places, and products in the steampunk community that you feel are overlooked? Who do you think deserves promotion to the masses?

Check out our Steampunk Fashion article.

Jules Verne – Spiritual Father Of Steampunk

I discovered Verne years ago, reading the newly re-translated edition of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I was amazed not just at the thrilling story, but the science and political philosophy that motivated the characters.

Captain Nemo – a vengeful Indian who declared war against the British Empire – is a far more fully-rendered character in the book than in James Mason’s cinematic rendition, and whether or not the reader supports his bloodthirsty crusade to scuttle the Royal Navy stems makes for a great philosophical discussion.

Of course, such things were Verne’s stock-in-trade. His less well-remembered novels, like Paris in the 20th Century, had similarly thought-provoking themes; like how Verne lamented that technology and business were eclipsing literature and culture (with obvious parallels to society today.)

Likewise, Dick Sand, a Captain at Fifteen was a condemnation of the slave trade which, uniquely, criticized the African nations that sold their countrymen in addition to the traditional white ‘bad guys’ who shipped them into subservience in colonies worldwide.

But more people remember Jules Verne because of the technology he envisioned; like the incredible submarine Nautilus, which preyed on shipping from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the cannon which would send explorers From the Earth to the Moon and his revolutionary hydrogen blimp that stayed aloft for Five Weeks in a Balloon.

Verne meticulously researched each of his inventions, and envisaged many technologies that would be adopted in real-life application decades later. Although many of this concepts would later be proven not to work (like his battery-powered hydrogen balloon) many others did – or inspired more practical applications of the same technology.

Of course, Verne’s writing doesn’t always stand up well to politically-correct scrutiny – a scene in Five Weeks in a Balloon is particularly cringe-worthy from a modern perspective. It sees our heroes attacked by ‘natives’, who they slaughter with rifle fire – only to realize after examining the bodies that the ‘African tribesman’ were actually monkeys.

But that’s historical perspective for you; and in many ways, Jules Verne was as forward thinking about life and society as he was about technology. Today, we live in a world of electronic calculators and high-speed trains – the same world he envisioned in Paris in the 20th Century.

Only it doesn’t look as cool.

Check out our Steampunk Fashion article.