Deconstructing Steampunk: Designing Your Own Costume

Armed to the Nines

So now that you’re all aware of how awesome steampunk is, you’re thinking, “But it’s so awesome! How can I possibly design my own steampunk costume that will be as awesome as everyone else’s?” Never fear, dear readers; I am here to tell you all about the world of steampunk and how understanding it will help you design your very own, very awesome steampunk costume!

Lady AlmiraThe basic premise of the world of steampunk boils down to one simple principle: It is a world in which Newtonian physics are king. Imagine if no one ever bothered to learn about atoms, if Einstein had never come along with his theory of relativity, if the threat of world-wide destruction via atomic bombs had never been made possible.

That is the world of steampunk. It is very science-oriented, but with gears and cogs; pure mechanics. Nothing is digital, nothing is atomic, there is no quantum theory. Perhaps it’s so popular because it can be considered the layman’s science.

What makes steampunk different from most science fiction is the synthesis of science with fantasy—using science to create a fantasy world. Steampunk basically says, “Anything that can be done with magic can be done with science, and we’re the ones to do it!”

Let’s take flying, for example, which is a huge part of the steampunk world. Mankind has dreamed of flying from our birth. There’s the ancient Greek myth of Daedalus, who creates wings for himself and his son in order to escape their labyrinthine prison. There are records of an ancient Chinese man who attempted to reach the moon by strapping firework rockets to a chair. Leonardo da Vinci sketched theoretical designs for several flying contraptions, including one similar to the helicopters of today, but manually powered.

These legends attempt to use science to achieve their airborne dreams. More strongly in mythology, however, is the use of magic to fly. Witches fly on their broomsticks. Sorcerers use dragons as steeds. Vampires gain flight through the use of their demonic powers—in some myths they can fly in human form, and in others the vampire must transform into a bat. Fairies, pixies, and other magical winged creatures are able to fly, and often they can use their magic to give humans that power as well.

The Victoriana

In the early 1900s, what had always been a fantasy for the entire human race became a reality. Using science and physics alone, the Wright brothers were able to break free from gravity. Their innovative designs set the groundwork for all mechanical flight as we know it.

And flight is everywhere in the world of steampunk. Great ships roam the skies as they once had done the seas. Entire communities are held aloft by mechanics. There is no magic involved here—just pure, physical science. Almost anything from science fiction can exist in steampunk–robots, computers, cyborgs–they are simply made using mechanical technology, the type of technology which existed in the early 1900s and late 1800s, which means they are simply different than how we normally think of them.

So what does this have to do with costumes?

Medical Mechanic

Understanding the world of steampunk leads naturally to understanding the aesthetic of steampunk. Steampunk predates the Einsteinian physics of the 20th century and focuses primarily on the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Victorian clothing adds most of the influence to the style of steampunk. The women use structured undergarments such as corsets and petticoats. Men often wear vests with tailcoats.

Steampunk is a sexually equal world, so it’s not uncommon to see women wearing trousers or shorts. Anyone who desires will wear hats such as top hats, coach hats, derby hats or fedoras.



Pretty much anything that you find in Victorian clothing is used in steampunk. Prop guns are necessary for every sky pirate to have on their person (they are usually modded from toy guns). Parasols are a popular accessory, but not as popular as that staple and emerging icon of steampunk, the goggles.

Which leads to the second half of this dissection of steampunk style. Because mechanics are such an important part of the steampunk world, it is naturally integrated into the style. Watches are reconstructed, or just taken apart to use the innards to create other pieces of jewelry. The gear motif is very strong—gears are used to make jewelry, or are sewn onto the clothing. Sometimes gear designs are embroidered or printed instead of using real metal gears.

The color of the clothing often tends to reflect the colors of metal—oranges and yellows for bronze, browns and dark reds for rust, gray and black in various shades for other metals. Brown is one of the stronger colors in the steampunk aesthetic—it can also signify wood, a lighter-weight component out of which the outer structures of flying machines are theoretically made. Military colors are also seen, though a little less popular. Metal is used a lot in the clothing, in the forms of decorative studs, d-rings, rivets, chain maille, accessories, or basically any way that one can imagine.

Time TravelerPendant

MilitariaMarshall Falls Evening Attire

Since flying is such a large part of the steampunk world, reasonably, traditional flying clothing is integrated into the style as well. The goggles I have already mentioned—I can’t even see a pair of goggles anymore without automatically associating them with steampunk. Aviator’s hats and jackets also show up frequently.

MarcusstratusSister Mercy

Winter FashionKodak Top Hat

This is a nice delve into the theory behind steampunk fashion, but there really aren’t a lot of rules. Many steampunks will choose to have Asian influences to their style, or they will use fashions from farther back in the past, like the Renaissance.

DanaThe best way to become familiar with the aesthetic is just to do a lot of research and see what everyone else is doing. You’ll start getting ideas from that and pretty soon you’ll have developed your own steampunk style. Steampunk doesn’t have a strict society mandating rules of fashion.

If you want to do it, and if someone can look at it and say, “Yeah, that does look steampunk,” then there’s nothing stopping you from doing what you want.

Victoriental Gavin Theorbo and his Kitharra

All images used with permission.

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69 Responses to Deconstructing Steampunk: Designing Your Own Costume

  1. Austin says:

    Very cool, Im making a Steampunk costume of my own hopefully…i have my goggles so half is done already!

    Just need to fin clothing….

  2. Bsti says:

    As someone who dresses like this daily, I don’t know whether to be insulted or flattered. Many “Steampunks” don’t consider what they wear a costume or something you just wear one day out of the year. I know a fireman who can’t understand why anyone would dress up as a fireman on Halloween.

  3. Ronin says:

    I’m getting my steampunk outfit together for going to conventions, but i do enjoy wearing it around town every now and again. And by the way, i liked the article 🙂

  4. betwixt says:

    i definately question the authenticity of those who question the authenticity of others

    I am going as an authentic for halloween.

  5. silastic armor fiend says:

    really good article. i just started working on my outfit. i already have my leather flying helmet done and am just beginning work on my raygun.

  6. LOC says:

    i would like to agree what Bsti said. steampunk is not just a novelty it is a way of life.

    just like hippies, goths emo’s or Lads (All u aussies from sydney know who i mean)
    steampunk is a culture.

    and i think we should be flattered Bsti

  7. betty b says:

    come and check out the bogville creature feature , it is right up this alley gibbious designs and a huge cast of dark circus folk in portland on the 2nd of april, its a thursday, you wont be dissapointed!

  8. Sydney says:

    I would like to also agree with Bsti and LOC, even as an outsider-ish

    i infuse Lolita into my style, which is also treated by most with the same novelty-type regard. I mostly only integrate Lolita (and eventually steampunk) fashion because it’s temperature-ily convenient where i live, but i def. agree that it is a way of life and a culture

  9. Kurt says:

    i dont understand what Bsti and LOC mean, do people actually wear steampunk clothing everyday? is it a job? how can does it compare to people dressing up as firemen for halloween. i dont mean to be rude, im just really confused, can someone please tell me what sort of a job entitles steampunk attire and daily wear?

  10. Alex says:

    well Kurt.. wearing steampunk isn’t part of a job necessarily, although the James Gang do make it a part of their job. steampunk is a style, asking what job requires it is like asking what job requires you to be goth, or to wear convers. It compares to dressing up as a fireman because people who dress steampunk every day don’t see it as dressing up, it’s just wearing clothes. The same with a fireman; the fireman doesn’t see wearing his gear as dressing up, he’s just wearing his everyday clothes.

  11. None says:

    I agree with Bsti and LOC to an extent. Unfortunately, most people can’t make a living dressing any way they want every single day, though I wouldn’t call anything I put together a costume. If I dressed in steampunk-style clothing every day, I can guarantee you I would have either no job or a low paying one.

  12. Dan says:

    None is correct. I’m a businessman. Like it or not; image has a lot to do with success. If I showed up to work in Victorian style clothing, let alone Steampunk; I’d soon be living on the street.

    I’d like to know what Bsti and LOC do for a living where they can get away with wearing full steampunk attire.

    I have to tell you; I’m a steampunk; and if any of my people showed up for work in Steampunk gear, I’d send them home to change. If it continued to happen; I’d fire them. It’s just bad for business.

    It’s no different than if they showed up in full goth or lolita attire.

  13. N. says:

    I thought i was alone
    I’m not the only one who goes gaga over steampunk!
    The moment i read fire works went off in my head
    I even tried to solve perpetual motion using gears, pulleys, cranks etc
    I’ve been drawing and creating ever since

  14. SeaNymphette says:

    I agree with Kurt, the correlation between a Fireman and a Steampunk is marginal and dubious. You see, I think Kurt was being facetious, and hardly expecting a self important lecture with flawed reasoning. The outfit that a Firefighter wears everyday is a safety uniform for his/her job (this is why Kurt was asking “at what job do you wear Steampunk attire?” Since the helmet, jacket and boots, are tools of the firefighter’s rigorous on-the-job labor, and not garments he/she chooses to wear as an expression on personal style, it only stands to reason that he/she would not choose to get in full drag with this hot & heavy gear for Halloween. Not the case with Steampunk, which is a personal fashion statement of retro chic. When a Firefighter is off duty, his “everyday” clothing could be something entirely benign and conservative. What’s truly sad is that whenever a strong trend occurs, new or retro, there is always a group of so-called “purists”, hypocrites really, who make elitist judgments to dismiss those they don’t consider to be true followers. They try to make it a “closed club” so they can feel really important, and part of something special, that excludes the rest of us. “They’re “real Steampunks” because it’s not a costume to them”. Oh, get over yourself! What a bunch of hogwash! It’s all a costume, all clothes, all makeup, even “normal” average clothes and makeup are a masquerade, because you’re putting on how you want people to see you, not necessarily who you really are. All that’s really required to be Steampunk is love of the era and the science fiction literature that came out of it. I’ve been enamored of this newly coined “Steampunk” style for 38 years, long before these douche bag snobs were even born, They hardly invented it. I’ve been living and breathing Victoriana since the 5th grade, when my parents bought a haunted Queen Anne mansion. Kurt, simply read “The Time Machine” and “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea” and you too can be a Steampunk.

  15. makapiaschlumpf says:

    Dan – “Normal” modern business attire is derived from the same Victorian fashions. There is a place between cosplay-steampunk and neo-victorian that I think some of us wear everyday. If people opened their minds a little then the business world could accept steampunk, lolita, goth etc. Heck, people of these styles dress better the the average acceptable businessman anyway.

  16. Zindikasheen says:

    Let’s not turn this comment section into a discussion of purists and whatnot. It’s fashion, it’s science, it’s love of exploratoin and what could have been. It’s steampunk, and it doesn’t need a definition. Do what you want, wear what you want, that’s my steampunk motto!

  17. Luka Pierrot says:

    this post helped me get an understanding of what Steampunk is, so thanks. 🙂

  18. steampunked says:

    Hey, thanks for writing this article! Overall, very helpful in getting an idea of this culture 🙂
    I am def. excited about steampunk, i’ve been interested in this kind of stuff for ages, play around with metal works, gears etc and watch various anime stuff that is steampunk style without even realising that this was the style i was in to, so when i found out that this kind of thing had a name, i was soo happy ^.^
    steampunk love xoxo

  19. steampunked says:

    ps- camilla, if that’s a pic of you at the beginning of the article, you look HOT! 😛

  20. quantumcat says:

    I agree that steampunk fashion can be incorporated into everday wear.

    It might be easier to do in a “Dress for Success” business setting where “Sunday” clothes are the norm.

    If in doubt,look at the “vintage” motifs that have appeared in garments the last few seasons.

    Just as in the sixties and seventies,certain elements of Victorian and Edwardian attire appear.

    Vests,boots,pinstripes,paisleys,longer skirts,lace,ruffles,blazers,hats,cameos,fillagree brooches,cufflinks,pocket watches,etc. can be worn without looking too over-the-top and distracting.

    Our school district bans “goth” and “lolita” apparel but would be hard-pressed to send a child home for wearing a cardigan,bow tie,sailor dress or puffed sleeve blouse identical to what was worn in the fifties and sixties.

    (Wearing a mass of leather,buckles,fancy bonnets and confectionary rompers might be another story.)

    Persons with good taste and common sense can find a way to make just about anything fit their body type and the setting in which an outfit would be worn.

    The trick is to look at the fashions of the past,imagine the styles that might emerge in the future,examine what is appripriate for one’s personal here-and-now and incorporate the overlap into a steampunk wardrobe.

    It shouldn’t be any more difficult or less attractive than those that gre out of other retro-friendly eras.

    We’ve had fads for fans of vampires,the Old West,the Gaslight era and pulp adventures before.

    A synthesis for mainstream wear made itself available then.

    I imagine steampunk will wend its way to the classroom,the corporate office,behind the retail counter,in the laboratory,before the bench,in the pulpit and on the backs of the artisan and the laborer so long as it manifests in a form that is comfortable,affordable,efficient,modest and attractive.

  21. nameless says:

    Actually, I think the reason those who dress in steampunk attire were being related to firefighters is that a particular fireman whom a poster knows in their private lives does not understand a those who have a desire to dress as a firefighter for Halloween. This is likened to steampunks who do not understand a desire to dress in steampunk attire for Halloween. Whether or not steampunks and firefighters have anything in common has nothing to do with the post. The poster was simply wondering allowed whether or not they should be offended by someone desiring to dress as a steampunk for Halloween. That ends up being a matter for the individual to decide on their own. Should someone who wears “normal” dress be offended if a steampunk wears “normal” dress on Halloween?

    And to answer the question of whether or not anyone wears steampunk regalia on a daily bases, yes. There are those who do not work, such as children and teenagers who do not and are not likely expected to work or stay-at-home parents, and so forth. Then there are those who dress steampunk when they are not at work. Dressing in steampunk fashion does not necessarily mean that you are foolish enough to wear it to a job that is unsuited to such attire.

  22. a Steampunk Halloween says:

    I don’t live completely in the lifestyle, but I’ve been fascinated by it for a while, and elements of it have worked their way into my everyday clothing since before I knew it had a name.

    I’m finding this discussion interesting because a friend and I are currently planning Steampunk-themed Halloween costumes. We are not however, “dressing up as steampunks.” One thing no one seems to have considered yet is that while you may or may not consider a steampunk a character, it IS a style that can be applied to a character. For example, you can go as a devil, or as a Steampunk-ed devil. You could be a Steampunk detective, Pope, or kitty cat if you so desire. That’s nothing for even the most elitist to be offended by.

    I recently walked in the Mermaid Parade in New York, and I styled myself an “Undersea Diver/Explorer” who happened to be from the Victorian era. I constructed some fun dive gear. I had never attempted a costume so obviously steampunk and was a bit nervous about any negativity from so-called purists. I even read an “if I see another Steampunk Mermaid I’m gonna…” rant- but I said if it’s done well, and not just me wearing a tail and gluing a gear on my forehead, why shouldn’t I take a shot? So I did, and a couple of people (literally 2) recognized it, which felt great.

    As for the firefighter comment (and I realize the seriousness of a firefighter’s job makes this a somewhat flawed analogy) I’m a dancer who has in the past whipped out a pair of old pointe shoes and a practice tutu for a last minute costume, and have never been offended by a fake ballerina at Halloween. I know I’m the real thing.

    And…Halloween’s the one time of year in which you CAN get away with wearing your full get-up to the workplace, which is an opportunity I’d take!

  23. Captain Quinn says:

    Please, I’m desperate for steampunk to not start reflecting the reasons I left the EGL community.

    Someone else dressing up like you as a costume shows that they think that you are worthy of emulation, doesn’t it? That means it should be an honour.
    And I know why someone would want to dress up as a firefighter – same reason they’d want to dress up as a steampunk. IT LOOKS COOL.

    One of the reasons I was initially attracted to steampunk as a subculture was the complete lack of elitism at the beginning. Let’s see if we can retain at least some of that?

  24. I have a bike shop. I mean I built a bike shop out of the dumpsters of Pittsburgh. I found a nice welder and started welding. While I do what I want to do, for a job, I still meet with people that want to buy bikes and such.
    I have found that the application of steam punk ideas and ideals upon business would benefit everyone. To much simplicity and lack of honest craftsmanship was lost when americans went wild straddling the atom. While the former generations had no light bulbs, they had gears, and metal and gasp, the wright brothers came up with a working airplane, not flight. The french were flying in hot air balloons in 1783!
    The us govt. was granting billion dollar contracts to howard hughes and he would not even put on pants!!
    No friends, the modern us business man/woman’s proper attire in nothing more than steam punk cleaned of its magic.
    People that wear steam punk daily live near you, are the black smiths, welders, artists, tattooists, and etc, that dress freely in the thriving world outside of the office towers.

  25. Whitney says:

    Some people are saying they dress like this daily. So you wear machines on your arms and carry fancy gold guns everywhere you go? Time and place for every attire…and I’m pretty sure if you’re getting stared at…its not so much the goggles on your head as it is the fake shiny .45 you’re sporting in your right hand.

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  27. Cecily says:

    I have a question i can’t seem to fin an appropriate place to ask this. I’v been on ebay for the last 2 months trying to bid on like items when it comes to aviator welders glasses and such the really neat kind with the wire mesh sides and I must admit i’m very discouraged. I’ve lost like 13 bids 3 just today and 5 that went out of my price range. To be quite frank i’m sick and very tired of sitting in front of my computer. I’ve even prayed i’d win a few of the one i most liked. T.T Praying for selfish reasons is wrong. I actually just want a pair to give to my boyfriend for christmas he’s an antique collector. Especially ww1 and ww2 stuff, has a lot of uniforms displayed. We want to base our home around whats vintage like my victorian style phones and dressers and such. He love victorian too 🙂 So lucky XD. Anyway I just want some suggestions. I’m very bored i want to go back to working on my Bloodrayne 2 Cosplay :O *sigh* Oh By the by i found you really awsome steam punkers becuase i wondered what steam punk ment as i was looking for the type of glasses he said he wanted. Everyone displays or most everyone displays the add as steam punk safety glasses. :] So i looked into it hoping maybe a generous soul would help me 🙂 Thank you kindly. Sorry i was so long. NIce article by the way to very well written. If anyone could contact me please do so either at or at
    -Cecily 🙂

  28. TC says:

    I knew I was bound to see at least one or two “elitists” when I found this article. If you have the money and means of wearing this stuff every single day without getting bored, good for you! *thumbs up*

    I’m going to bookmark this for later reference. thank you for taking the time to break the basics down for the rest of us who are just now getting around to figuring it all out. If anything, I can at least start with the gear-based brooches and work my way up.

  29. PeacockChihuahua says:

    I dress steampunk/old west most days of the week, even at work. However, because I have a professional job, I don’t wear goggles and all the accoutrements that go along with the clothes. I simply add a few interesting pieces to my wardrobe during the day. For example: a Gibson Girl blouse with a longer black skirt with modern flair, or a pinstripe jacket with a longer Victorian skirt. I get lots of compliments on what I wear.

    In an era where people think it’s ok to wear pajamas to Walmart, I think I dress pretty nicely. I definitely outdress a lot of people in my “business” work environment.

  30. Eden says:

    To BSTI:

    well i think theres a name for people like you & the fireman friends, and anyone else who is “insulted” at people dressing up for a day or so like something instead of choosing to immerse themselves in the culture or lifestyle.


  31. L.P. says:

    Actually, the shiny guns and bits of machinery strapped to various and sundry body parts is Steampunk _cosplay_. Nothing wrong with that, at all. It’s fun, it looks cool. I do it on occasion, myself. In the proper time and place.

    But _not_ what is meant by those who are lifestylers. Steampunk as a lifestyle is often far more subtle: a newsboy cap or bowler worn with a suit coat, vest/waistcoat and neatly pleated slacks; a pocket watch and a greatcoat over just about anything; a long skirt, feminine blouse and Victorian boots accessorized by a cameo choker and perhaps a pair of “Lennon” shades; shortpants and a basic sweater with spats; the more militaristic styles that circulate regularly throughout the fashion world.

    And let us not forget the “punk” aspect, either, which often incorporates updates on the chimney sweep, dock worker and street urchin attire, generally mixing with touches of your more classic Punk subculture. Though the more extreme fringes of this look are generally reserved for one’s days off, or for people who don’t have a particularly stringent dress code (or work for themselves).

    And why the assumption Steampunk lifestylers don’t have the common sense the gods gave sporemold when it comes to such things? I’m sorely confused by statements to that effect, in all honesty.

    Come to Portland, Oregon. You’ll find Steampunks around every corner. _If_ you know how to look. My favourites are the lifestyler lawyers and bankers encountered frequently in City Center. You see them often enough riding the MAX train through town: bowlers or traveling hats cocked ever so slightly at a jaunty angle, their greatcoats spotless and neatly buttoned over vintage-inspired three piece suits, the leather briefcases and folios clutched in their hands often authentically vintage, pantboots polished to a shine and sunlight glinting off their wire-rimmed glasses. Often enough, they’ll consult their beautiful pocket watches as the train pulls into Pioneer Square, before flashing their fellow Steampunks a knowing little smile and bobbing a subtle, acknowledging nod as they slip politely out the door and into the flow of the workaday crowd.

    As for the “money & means”, Steampunk is, at its core, DIY. Thrift shopping, pattern-hunting, a bit of elbow grease and perspiration (and, yes, some lucky finds and nice breaks. Oh, and craft-inclined family & friends never hurt, either!) and you’ll have yourself a decent start at a respectable wardrobe 🙂

  32. Not new to costuming but very new to Steampunk. Thanks for providing this great article.

  33. adam cochran says:

    would a cowboy hat be classed as steampunk-ish? it would e so cool if there was western-style steampunk dont get me wrong i dont come from texas actually i come from england i just love the idea of a steampunk western era too

  34. Cerrberus says:

    Adam Cochran- don’t look to modern Western wear, or ‘Urban Cowboy’, but the Old West/cowboy days of the 1870s to 1890s, actual Victorian-era clothing, are essential Steampunk. Search on ‘cowboy re-enactors’ or something similar. I can whip up a nice steampunkish outfit easily from my wardrobe; kitbashing accessories will take longer.
    And for those in the thread above seeking serious Steampunk job attire, check out Captain Robert [Abney Park sky pirates/musicians].- the man definitely dresses for his job.

  35. M-- says:

    Well, I suppose it’s been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

    I’m not steampunk, but I enjoy that era of fashion (specifically ‘Ouji’ style, which is a type of neo-Victorian Japanese alt that aims for the look of a young Victorian boy with a romantic gothic twist) and I think that people who dress in costumes or cosplay real styles are– well, a little strange. Steampunk, as has been said before, is simply a type of alternative fashion, and thankfully one that hasn’t (yet) really been adopted into the mainstream like industrial goth or scene; this means that while it’s not just a ‘poser’ fashion– note the quotemarks, because I’m only making my point by how others see such styles– it’s also lesser-known, and very few people realise that by dressing up in someone else’s style, they could well be seen as insulting the dedicated wearers of that fashion.

    Designing a costume is fine, but you’ll have to prepare for meeting real steampunk-ers. If they see you dressing up, especially if you look like some of the above photos which use poor-quality pieces, badly coordinated colours and little real knowledge of the genre past Google Images, then they might well give you some funny looks, or even possibly confront you about it. You’ll be seen as little more than a bad poser, I have to warn.

  36. NorCalViking says:

    Steampunk as a fashion or a lifestyle or as a costume doesn’t really matter. What you people are talking about is fiction, based on what our world would be like if it headed in a different direction. It is what you want it to be. If you want to live Steampunk as your lifestyle more power to you. However, do not look down upon those who choose to dabble in the Steampunk genre, because they like to celebrate the world that is Steampunk, just not every day. To people who can’t understand why somone whould choose Steampunk as a lifestyle, it is about embracing the ideals of Victorian splendor,romance, and science fiction to express yourself. If you want to wear a damn Steampunk costume on halloween then go right ahead because halloween is about dressing up as something your not. The REALITY is that, people choose to express themselves through this genre and there will always be people who are to good for every one else they are called “Elitists” and their antithesis the “Posers” who the elitists don’t like because, “They aren’t true Steampunk, like I am.” That leaves every one in the middle who just wants to have fun. Me, I just want to have fun. It that makes me a poser then so be it.

  37. VelvetSky says:

    I have always been fascinated with the juxtaposition of old and new, science and fantasy, etc., never knowing that Steampunk existed until a friend of mine introduced me to it. Funnily enough, there are several pieces of my wardrobe that fit into the style. I do intend upon expanding, and most likely wear some semblance of it in my everyday life. Yeah, I may have some of the more flashy and cliche things for events and such, just for fun.
    No, I may not be a fully immersed, “true” Steampunk. I like the style, I like the ideas, I love science. To me, that’s all that matters. Those who think I’m wrong, well, your opinion shall have no bearing upon my choices, because I shall do whatever makes me happy.
    For those of you wondering how you fit this into everyday wear: I am currently wearing black pants, black, leather, high heeled, laced, wing tip shoes, a lacy purple tank, and a black, satin-backed, pinstripe crop vest. See, you don’t even have to wear it all at once; it’s easy. For those who think businessmen can’t do it: slacks, leather shoes, button up shirt, vest…done. Add a pocket watch, if you’d like. It can be done simply, or over the top, whatever you choose. Like the article said, just about anything goes.

  38. Damion says:

    As SeaNymphette said, all clothing is costume. Costumes serve the function of conveying ideas. Given environments will have differing tolerances for various ideas. Suit and tie is the iconic costume of the corporate world because it conveys ideas of seriousness, orderliness, and social status. Lingerie is the costume of seduction because it conveys the idea of carnal sensuality. The reason that “lifestyle” elitists among fashion subcultures dislike “Halloweeners” is largely because the elitists desire a legitimacy for their costumes and ideas that they feel is undermined by those who merely occasionally play in like costumes. A fireman does not feel that his position is threatened by someone who dresses up as a fireman for Halloween because the position of a being a fireman in society is solidly legitimized. It is the lack of widely acknowledged legitimacy [of their costumes, ideas, and identities] that causes the subcultural elitists to feel threatened by cosplayers, and due to that they feel the need to vocally differentiate themselves from those who merely occasionally play. Ultimately it is a quest for identity and legitimacy.

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  40. Roo says:

    Ridiculously expensive fad

  41. Jason says:

    I am looking at doing a Confederate Officer-inspired Aeronaut. I’m thinking of a Cav-type officer, but aviation branch. A couple of modified pieces, some gadgeting, a baldric… this article helped a great deal.

  42. Curiosity says:

    How are ridiculously spray painted plastic guns ‘steampunk’?

  43. British Railways Toff says:

    I’d just like to point out that it’s “Fire-fighter” not “Fireman”. Sorry for the pedantry, but it’s like calling a railway station, a train station. Firemen work in locomotives shovelling coal and tending the fire, not trying to put it out. Well, they have to empty it but you know what I mean. Also, I apologise for my ignorance, but why would anyone dress as a fire-fighter at halloween? aha. Certainly breaking away from convention there… though, may dress like that to put out pumpkin or lanterns that have got out of control? hehe.

  44. Pingback: Deconstructing Steampunk: Designing Your Own Costume « Trial By Steam

  45. FaeryCandi says:

    article is great, but i do believe that Steampunk is not a costume, though some may treat it that way. I myself dress regularly in steampunk lolita attire and i see that as just my normal clothes. also, as to work places where it’s acceptible to wear full goth/steampunk/lolita regalia everyday, i work at a cafe in downtown seattle…so honestly i don’t think (unless you work in an office where suits are required) not many people these days care…

    also SeaNymphette WAS right to an extent. but also wrong…these things are masquerades to an extent, but they ARE also a way of life. i grew up living and breathing goth culture from my parents, and it is very much a living breathing culture. though i agree, ALL clothing no matter what is simply a way to present yourself the way you want others to see you. though that doesn’t mean people who are purists to a certain style are snobs, it just means they’re passionate about their culture.

    ^_^ nice article though, great history!

  46. Pingback: Facets of the Steampunk Community « Airship Ambassador

  47. Aubergine Velvet says:

    I just needed to leave a note to say thank you for the article. It’s good to know that what I’ve been dabbling in and how I’ve been accessorizing for the past 25 years has a name! Apparently I’m mildly Steampunk and never knew it until now… (laughs)

  48. 5-HT says:

    I pose a question to those of you who view Steampunk as a lifestyle rather than a fashion decision. If I embrace the other aspects of the steampunk lifestyle (DIY attitude, optimism, rationalism, or anything else you feel constitutes steampunk, because based on my reading it varies widely), but I do not dress in steampunk attire, am I, or am I not, a steampunk? Also, what about if a read steampunk novels, or listen to steampunk music, without embracing the other elements, how much steampunk do you need to ‘be a Steampunk’?

  49. Pingback: Ask Lilli: Steampunk | Frocks & Frou Frou

  50. Stewart Kristian says:

    I’ve heard the term ‘Steampunk’ floating around for quite some time but never really investigated it’s meaning. So far, I think it’s great and hits me fairly close to home.
    For many years I have been trying to sneak various anachronistic elements into my personal style of dress. I mostly lean towards ‘Gentleman Cowboy’, ‘Southern Gentlman’ with a subtle bit of ‘Victorian Vampire’ thrown in from time to time, LOL!
    The first time I actually heard of ‘Steampunk’ was from a rather attractive woman sipping scotch with me during intermission at Avery Fisher hall. She seemed to think that was what I was shooting for.
    I think this ‘Steampunk’ has been stalking me! So WTF, I’m going to run with it. This will be a great excuse to modify a smartphone case since I’ve been wondering how the hell I could get away with pulling a Droid out of my pocket.
    And I know I’m going to make the purists cringe, but I’m thinking I need a nice retro weapon and shoulder holster for halloween. I couldn’t wear that to the Symphony, LOL!
    Thanks for the article and all the interesting posts, this might get fun. Now, where are all the 40-something, corset wearing Steampunk ladies?

  51. Simon says:

    It really comes down to two distinctions:

    Those who -dress- Steampunk.


    Those who -are- Steampunk.

    Both are valid forms of expression. Being a steampunk is a mindset. That doesn’t mean that those who enjoy dressing in steampunk-fashion from time to time are less valid.

    Donning the clothes does not make one a ‘steampunk’, any more than wearing a leather jacket makes one a “biker”.

  52. professor Melchior says:

    We learn our children to put on a funny hat to be happy or to dress up in bright colours. As they grow up we tell them, that it’s not appropriate to wear their “own style” at school. They better convermate to other children otherwise they don’t belong to the herd anymore.

    I was amazed by the comment of the businessman who wrote you can’t dress up when you’re a serious businessman. Maybe he should ask hisself: Am I an outstanding and original businessman?

    Is Carl Lagerfeld a businessman?
    And would you fire him as he was working at your office?

    Everybody dresses up: firemen, cowboys, soldiers, doctors, sailors, politicians, truckdrivers, etc. and don’t forget:
    fashion is just an excuse to dress up for a season.

    My compliments to the Steampunkers who live their lives as they wish, dress samewise and don’t care about critisism.

  53. Sparks says:

    I can see how people where this as their everyday clothes… but where do you buy enough Victorian era clothes for everyday!?! i could only find enough for one or two outfits. plus I dont think I could live every day like that… sorry. I think it’s awesome but i like my normal clothes and I like to where different styles!

  54. Dalton says:

    It seems to me that people are failing to seperate Victorian and Steampunk. They are not one and the same. Yes, Steampunk has it’s basis in Victorian fashion(which, if I had my way, would be how everyone dressed), but, has evolved into something else almost entirely.

    So, when someone says they are dressing Steampunk every day, and then say they wear waistcoats/frockcoats/etc, that’s Victorian. Add in the classic Steampunk accessories, such as goggles and the various imaginitive and often ingenius clockwork devices, then you are dressing Steampunk.

    As far as being Steampunk vs. not being Steampunk? Who cares? If you want to call yourself Steampunk, who is to say you’re not? I would categorize myself as Steampunk, simply because I hold many of the ideals and dreams and the romanticism of it all close to my heart. Do I dress Steampunk? Sometimes, if I feel like it. I dress Victorian much more often, and dress “normal” even more often. If someone tells me i’m not a “real” Steampunker, I smile, nod and say good day.

  55. Maryann says:

    No. Just no.

    People will insist that one does not call a spade a spade if they find the term doesn’t suit them. It’s tiresome. Some hard-core Steampunks here are failing to realize that you ARE wearing a costume. You simply choose to wear it every day.

    That says nothing about whether you ARE Steampunk or merely DRESSING Steampunk. Either way, the correct term is “costume.” Insisting on anything OTHER than costume is merely dancing around a reality you’ve chosen to interpret as negative.


    1: the prevailing fashion in coiffure, jewelry, and apparel of a period, country, or class, 2: an outfit worn to create the appearance characteristic of a particular period, person, place, or thing 3: a person’s ensemble of outer garments (especially a woman’s ensemble of dress with coat or jacket)

    The word expresses the concept of an outfit that conforms to a particular aesthetic. Nothing more. There is NOTHING about the word “costume” that automatically defines it as occasional.

    Some of you are riding your high horses butt-first. Whether someone’s a purist who wears Steampunk COSTUME every day, or someone wishes to join in only once a year, the term is correct and apt.


    You’re better off dealing with that rationally rather than issuing knee-jerk denials. If someone asks about what you’re wearing, instead of saying it’s not a costume (and being dead wrong), try something like, “Yes, I wear Steampunk costume as part of my daily life.” You might get someone interested, and you won’t look silly to someone who’s looking at you knowing full well you’re costumed.

    I’d add that virtually every aesthetic or style that’s not mainstream can and does attract attention at Halloween. Every October, the world is flooded with goths and emo and rock stars and punks and everything under the sun, not to mention the uniforms of many professions. Steampunk has entered public consciousness, so it’s going to happen. Deal.

  56. Trickster says:

    hey there. i make costumes all year round, and i wanted to make a steampunk costume.instead of a ray gun i’m making a strap-on sonic boom cannon for my sister. i have a hat, old goggles, rice bag corset, and boots/shirt. any ideas for accessories and props/add-ons? thnx, ~mreader1

  57. Tobias says:

    I have to say I laughed at some of these posts. I dress Victorian or Steampunk all the time (I agree with Dalton that there is a difference), and would I shun someone because they decided to do it as a one off? No sir! Now come, and tell me where you got that splendid waistcoat…

  58. Weaver says:

    “If I showed up to work in Victorian style clothing, let alone Steampunk, I’d soon be living on the street.”

    That’s funny – the only person I know who wears Victorian clothing on a daily basis has a good job as a librarian.  He wears a frock coat, vest, the works… No one seems to mind, and a lot of people like how he dresses.

  59. Amonite says:

    According to such a definition, my sister would be more ‘steampunk’ than I am! (When I’m the one who makes the ascessories, reads the books, is the fan, goes to the conventions, attends the mad scientist parties, puts together the steampunk costumes, etc). My sister’s entire non-work wardrobe is comprised of clothing from bygone eras such as the Renassaince, the 50’s, etc,. She’ll go to church in full victorian garb/a new costume every week – but that doesn’t make her a fan of steampunk.It’s true there are (a few) steampunks who dress up frequently or go on forays into town to picnic at the local steamworks (Which does sound incredibly fun). Usually I am content to wear just steampunk ascessories with my daily wear, and save full on garb for conventions.
     Steampunk is playing with the idea of a history that never happened – taking science as far as it could have gone without advancing the technology level, but advancing its capabilities (like mimicing ‘magic’ as the article mentioned). Victorian steampunk adds the sensibility of order underlying what appears imaginative or fanciful – everything beautiful is functional, everything functional is beautiful. As to what defines cultural steampunk, besides noting that steampunks in general are a bit more ‘do it yourself’ than goths and other fandoms (this is lessening slightly as its becoming more mainstream and steampunk ascessories are now selling), – there isn’t really a cultural note that defines steampunk (that everyone can agree on at least). In fact, to say steampunk followers have to be one way or another in the *present* would be antithetical to the concept of a genre that deals with throwing anachronisms at a reinvisioned past. 

  60. Addie says:

    I completely agree! I work in a car dealership, where ties and slacks are the norm for business attire. I am able to incorporate my casual Steampunk fashion into my work clothes. I don’t wear the goggles and aviator jacket unless I’m out elsewhere, but I have a nice waistcoat with a high collar and high heel boots that go well with any skirt/blouse combo I have. 
    It’s all a matter of your ability to see past the fashion and get right to the root of it. People spend so much time worrying about others who are trying to “replicate the fashion” or that are watering down the style by it becoming too mainstream, but those of us who don’t care enough to pay attention don’t even notice the hype. 

  61. ChelsealikeEngland says:

    This is so, so late, and you’ll probably never, ever read this, but: Please be flattered! It’s not practical for me to dress this way every day (though I do dress unconventionally often,) but Halloween/cosplay/costumes are all about transforming into someone other than yourself. I have always enjoyed making costumes – any excuse to dress differently, take on a character, etc., and I jump for joy. Please take it as a great compliment that people want to transform into, well, you. 🙂

  62. cherry says:

    really cool! i found an guy on facebook. his handcrafted art objects and clothes are amazing because they look so realistic! he also has an very detailed outfit in his albums:

  63. Raindrops&Roses says:

    This is a very helpful piece of literature.I do believe that mechanics are much more interesting than today’s ….gadgets,let’s say.I’ve waiting to do steampunk for about 2 years but haven’t received much help.It’s absurd some of the so called ‘steampunk’ costumes that you can buy on line nowadays.anyhow,thank you greatly kind sir/madam 🙂

  64. Raindrops&Roses says:

    Then why are you reading this if only to be rude to those who enjoy this alternative sale hmm?

  65. Pithy McPithington says:

    Its only as expensive as you make it out to be.

  66. Amelia says:

    I found this article very helpful. Working on a steam punk dinosaur hunter sort of outfit, and it’s just nice to get a general idea of what is allowed and what other people are doing in steam punk and how they envision it. Thanks!

  67. John Gradwohl says:

    Kurt, I perform an old time medicine show and flea circus as well as other “lost arts” While I don’t wear steampunk daily, I certainly wear it “on the job” which often is 4-6 days a week.

  68. vyse says:

    other than goggles a good pair of old wealdiers goggles can make for good steam punk eyewear

  69. Cameron C. says:

    The only parts of my steampunk outfit that I still in need to acquire would be the jacket and the shoes. Other than that it’s all set.

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