A Closer Look at Steampunk Fashion

A Closer Look at Steampunk FashionSteampunk fashion has become increasingly popular in recent years, but is it just a fad or the start of a new subculture? This blog post...

A Closer Look at Steampunk Fashion
  by Marama Martin
## Introduction to Steampunk

Steampunk is a retro-futuristic science fiction and fantasy subgenre that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. Steampunk fashion combines historical elements like corsets, top hats, and dresses with anachronistic technological components like goggles, gears, and gas masks to create a unique hybrid look.

The steampunk aesthetic is distinguishable by its evocative mashup of old and new. Brass, leather, and wood blend with modern accessories tricked out with fake gears, clocks, and lightbulbs. This neo-Victorian style romanticizes exploration, invention, and industry in a fantastical past or parallel universe.

At its core, steampunk emphasizes creativity and craftsmanship. Many Steampunks adopt DIY ethics to make custom attire, props, and mods that transform mass-produced devices into one-of-a-kind designs. This emphasis on handicrafts makes steampunk both an artistic movement and a mode of cultural expression.

## Origins and Influences

Steampunk traces its origins back to the 19th century, drawing inspiration from Victorian-era fashions, the industrialization of the steam engine, and early science fiction literature.

- The Victorian era was known for its elaborate fashions and accessories like corsets, top hats, tailcoats, and goggles. This iconic aesthetic forms the backbone of the steampunk style.

- The Industrial Revolution introduced steam power and elaborate machinery to everyday life. Steampunk celebrates the aesthetics of gears, engines, and inventor's workshops powered by steam.

- Early science fiction writers like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Mary Shelley wrote stories featuring steam-powered machines, airships, clockwork robots, and mad scientists. These imaginative tales went on to influence steampunk.

- In the late 1980s, sci-fi authors like Tim Powers, James Blaylock, and K.W. Jeter coined "steampunk" to describe their novels set in a neo-Victorian alternate history with advanced steam-powered technology.

- Steampunk grew through the 1990s as a subgenre of science fiction with an enthusiastic cult following. DIY communities soon emerged online and at conventions around meticulously crafted steampunk costumes, props, and artworks.

## Key Characteristics

Steampunk fashion and aesthetics are known for blending Victorian-era style with fantastical, futuristic elements. Some of the most recognizable characteristics of the steampunk look include:

- **Merging retro and futuristic** - Steampunk combines influences from the 18th and 19th centuries, like corsets, top hats, and frilled dresses. It combines them with speculative science fiction themes involving technology, airships, and automatons. The retro meets future fusion is a core part of steampunk's retro-futurist appeal.

- **Goggles** - Thick steampunk goggles made of leather and brass are a quintessential part of the look. They represent the intersection of the past and imagined future, serving practical use while evoking pilots and inventors.

- **Gears** - Intricate gears made of brass or copper adorn steampunk outfits and accessories. They symbolize the importance of technology and machinery in the steampunk aesthetic.

- **Brass** - Using brass and other antique metals contributes to the vintage industrial look. Brass gears, watches, Weaponry, and goggles are common steampunk elements.

- **Leather** - Leather clothing like bustiers, corsets, hats, and long coats appear frequently in steampunk fashion. The material has a weathered, vintage look that fits the retro style.

- **Corsets** - Tight-laced corsets and bustiers characterize many steampunk women's outfits, emphasizing an hourglass figure. They represent restrained Victorian elegance mixed with a rugged, adventurous spirit.

- **Top hats** - These formal 19th-century hats are often essential accessories in steampunk men's fashion. Top hats signal refinement and sophistication.

## Prominent Figures

Several iconic designers and style icons have influenced steampunk fashion over the years. Here are some of the most prominent figures in steampunk style:

### **Jake von Slatt**

Jake von Slatt is one of the most well-known names in the steampunk community. He is a maker and fabricator specializing in handcrafted brass gadgets and steampunk props. His work combines Victorian aesthetics with modern technology and materials like brass, leather, and wood. Von Slatt has created many iconic steampunk accessories like goggles, ray guns, and jewelry that have influenced the genre's look.

### **Abney Park**

The steampunk band Abney Park is credited with popularizing steampunk music and fashion. Lead singer Robert Brown often performs in aviator goggles, leather corsets, and military-style jackets adorned with cogs, gears, and clock parts. Their post-apocalyptic style has set the tone for many steampunk wardrobes.

### **Kato**

The influential Japanese fashion designer Kato is renowned for his neo-Victorian couture and extravagant take on steampunk. His designs feature bustles, corsets, tall boots, and stylized militaristic embellishments rendered in leather, lace, and brass. Kato's high-fashion creations evoke both the romanticism and gritty industrialism of steampunk.

### **Steampunk Couture Designers**

Several mainstream fashion houses and couture designers have incorporated steampunk elements in their clothing lines. These include Prada, John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Versace, and Christian Dior. Their abundant use of cogs, goggles, and Victorian-inspired silhouettes has brought steampunk fashion into more mainstream awareness.

### **League of STEAMPunk**

This group originated as a costume club in Northern California that specialized in elaborate steampunk attire. They quickly gained notoriety for their whimsical remixing of Victorian, Weird West, and post-apocalyptic looks crafted from modified antiques, leatherwork, and repurposed materials. The League's DIY spirit is influential in the larger steampunk community.

## Steampunk Communities

The steampunk movement has developed thriving communities both online and in the physical world. For many, steampunk is not just a fashion statement but a way of life and creative self-expression. Fans connect at conventions, meetups, and online forums to celebrate their shared love of retrofuturism and Victorian style.

Some major gatherings for steampunk enthusiasts include:

- Steampunk World's Fair - One of the largest conventions held annually in New Jersey since 2011. Attracts thousands of participants who get into character in Victorian science fiction attire. Features music, art, panels, workshops, vendors, and entertainment.

- Asylum Steampunk Convivial - An annual 3-day festival in Lincoln, England, launched in 2009. Highlights include live music, interactive performances, fashion shows, art exhibits, comedy, lectures, and contests.

- Steamcon - Founded in 2009, Steamcon is the largest steampunk convention on the West Coast of the U.S. Held annually in Seattle, it draws creative minds to participate in panel discussions, musical performances, interactive storytelling, and a fashion show.

- Anachronism Artpop - This arts and music festival in Atlanta, Georgia, highlights steampunk and other creative genres like dieselpunk and deco punk. Launched in 2010, it provides a venue for artists, authors, and musicians.

Online forums like Brass Goggles Forum, Steampunk Empire, and Steampunk Plaza enable members to connect, get advice, showcase creations, and plan gatherings. Social media groups also help fans share their passion for steampunk style. Through these thriving communities, steampunk continues to evolve as an imaginative subculture.

## Steampunk in Pop Culture

Steampunk aesthetics and themes have become increasingly popular in pop culture over the past couple of decades. Here are some of the most notable examples across different media:

### Movies

- The steampunk classic *The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen* (2003), starring Sean Connery, is set in an alternate Victorian era and features various literary characters using retrofuturistic technology.

- *Steamboy* (2004) is a Japanese steampunk adventure animated film directed by Katsuhiro Otomo set in Victorian England.

- *Hugo* (2011), directed by Martin Scorsese, though not entirely steampunk, contains many steampunk influences and elements.

### Books

- The *Leviathan* trilogy by Scott Westerfeld is a popular young adult book series set in an alternate World War I era with steam-powered machines.

- China Miéville's *Perdido Street Station* (2000) and *Iron Council* (2004) incorporate science fiction and steampunk elements.

- Cherie Priest's *Boneshaker* (2009) and *Ganymede* (2011) novels feature an alternate 19th-century Seattle protected by massive walls from a zombie plague.

### Video Games

- The *Thief* series, especially *Thief: The Dark Project* (1998) and *Thief II* (2000) are considered pioneering steampunk video games set in a medieval fantasy world rapidly being taken over by technology.

- *Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura* (2001) is a roleplaying game blending magic and steam-powered tech in a unique fantasy setting.

- *Final Fantasy VI* (1994) contains several steampunk-inspired locations, most notably the Magitek Research Facility.

### Music

- Abney Park is one of the most influential steampunk bands, starting in the 1990s, incorporating industrial dance beats and post-apocalyptic themes.

- The album *The Gates of Lodore* (2001) by Jonny Nexus has strong folk music influences fused with quintessential Victorian steampunk subject matter.

- Dr. Steel is a steampunk musician who portrays the character of an eccentric mad scientist bent on world domination through his army of robot toys.

### Art

- Sculptor and modelmaker Pierre Matter has created many stunning steampunk art pieces incorporating found objects from old watches, cameras, typewriters, and more.

- Graphic artists like Juan Ortiz, James Ng, and Eric Poulton have produced iconic steampunk illustrations.

- Photographers like Philip Farber capture fantastical steampunk characters and scenes through creative costumes, set design, and photo manipulation.

The retro-Victorian sci-fi aesthetic of steampunk has permeated various facets of pop culture and continues to capture the imagination. More and more examples emerge each year across visual and performing arts, showing steampunk is far from just a fad.

## Steampunk DIY

Steampunk fashion is known for elaborate, whimsical outfits incorporating Victorian-era styles with futuristic technology elements. For those looking to create their steampunk attire, here are some tips and tutorials:

### Accessorize with Goggles

Goggles are a quintessential steampunk accessory. Find an old pair of safety goggles or aviator glasses and customize them by adding cogs, clock parts, or leather trim—distress the lenses with sandpaper or brass spray paint for an antique look.

### Make a Corset or Bustier

Corsets and bustiers are common in steampunk dress. Embellish a plain corset with cogs, chains, buckles, and other embellishments. Or create your own by cutting leather or PVC and adding boning and hardware. Make sure to leave room for movement and breathing.

### Craft Armor Pieces

Create steampunk-style armor using leather, PVC, foam, or upholstery vinyl. Cut geometric shapes and distress them before attaching straps. Rivets, buckles, and chainmail add industrial flair. Shoulder, wrist, and shin armor work for male and female outfits.

### Add a Dramatic Coat

Start with a long duster, trench, or frock coat as a canvas. Look for exciting textures like wool, brocade, or velvet. Then embellish with buttons, chains, cording, or embroidery in metallic colors. Pay attention to high-collar necklines, structured shoulders, and asymmetrical closures.

### Incorporate Technology

Add futuristic techs like LED lights, old cell phones, or calculator parts. Attach them to goggles, jewelry, or clothing using glue or simple circuits. Ensure any electronics are secure and batteries are removable for washing and safety.

### Layer Leather Belts and Holsters

Leather belts with bullet casings or old-timey tools make handy holsters. Layer thin leather belts over coats and corsets in contrasting colors. Hardware like rivets and buckles add interest while cinching in the waist.

### Make Steam-inspired Jewelry

Create cogs, sprockets, and gears from polymer clay, Sculpey, or shrink plastic. Use jump rings to connect them to necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. Or use watch parts and found objects to make elaborate pendants—Patina with acrylic paints or rub and buff.

### Distress and Texture Fabrics

Add interest by distressing and texturing fabrics. Use sandpaper, brass spray paint, bleach, and other substances to create a weathered look on cotton, linen, burlap, and leather. Tea dyeing gives a vintage sepia effect.

With supplies from thrift stores and hardware shops, you can easily craft your steampunk props and accessories. The key is letting your imagination run wild as you incorporate industrial and Victorian elements into unique fashion statements.

## Criticisms and Controversies

Some critiques and controversies have emerged regarding certain aspects of steampunk culture. A significant concern is the potential for cultural appropriation and romanticizing colonialism.

Since steampunk draws inspiration from the Victorian era, critics argue it risks glossing over the oppression and imperialism of that period. The Victorian age saw the height of colonialism, which led to exploitation, racism, and violence. Some believe steampunk does not adequately acknowledge those harmful impacts. There are concerns that non-Western cultures may be exoticized or appropriated for fashion without regard for their origins.

Additionally, as steampunk originated among white creators, there are issues with representation and inclusion. The cast of characters and stories have centered on white protagonists without diverse perspectives. This could promote the erasure of marginalized groups and normalize colonial narratives.

To address these valid criticisms, some propose that steampunk must actively evolve to include diverse voices, settings, and stories. The genre offers opportunities to re-imagine history and technology inclusive of all cultures. However, that requires recognizing past harms, uplifting minority creators, and subverting outdated colonial attitudes; a more progressive, socially conscious steampunk may emerge as advocates push for more excellent representation and sensitivity.

There are signs of positive change, but steampunk still has work to do regarding cultural respect and progressive values. Handled carefully, it could become a genre promoting inclusion, creativity, and equality.

## Steampunk Style Today

Steampunk fashion continues to evolve and thrive as a niche aesthetic in the modern era. While not mainstream, the steampunk style has a devoted following among various subcultures and enthusiasts. Critical aspects of the look remain staples in the steampunk community:

- Vintage and antique clothing: corsets, waistcoats, top hats, dresses
- Goggles, clocks, keys and mechanical embellishments
- Earth tones like brown, copper, bronze paired with cream and black
- Fabrics like tweed, velvet, leather, lace

The handmade, DIY essence of steampunk fashion is still going strong. Followers lovingly craft intricate costumes from found items and discarded materials. Accessorizing outfits with gears, watches, and gizmos is part of the creative expression.

Steampunk style continues to evolve beyond its Victorian-industrial roots. Popular variations fuse with tech wear, safari, or naval looks. There's increased representation of diverse backgrounds, too. Purists debate these modern twists, but many view them as a sign of steampunk's ongoing cultural impact.

Steampunk fashion will likely remain a niche but innovative scene. More mainstream influence could grow through video games, events like Comic Con, and talented designers experimenting with retro-futurist looks. However it evolves, the essence of the steampunk style lies in its spirit of imagination, craftsmanship, and community. For its avid followers, it's both an aesthetic and a way of life.

## Conclusion

Steampunk fashion has come a long way since its origins in the 1980s. Key points we've covered:

- Steampunk arose as a subculture influenced by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery, science fiction, and alternate history.

- Distinct steampunk style features Victorian-era clothing and futuristic technology like goggles, gears, and clockwork mechanisms. Standard accessories include corsets, top hats, aviator caps, and mechanical wings.

- Though initially an obscure literary genre, steampunk grew into a vibrant subculture with its music, art, DIY crafts, conventions, and fashion.

- Popular steampunk fictional works, costumes, and designers have increased mainstream visibility. Steampunk elements can be seen in movies, video games, amusement parks, and ready-to-wear clothing.

- For many, steampunk is an ongoing creative outlet for Do-It-Yourself crafting and self-expression through fashion. Its retro-futuristic aesthetics continue to inspire new generations.

While some dismiss steampunk as a fad, it has shown remarkable staying power as an influential subculture and fashion trend for over 30 years. With its focus on imagination, ingenuity, and finding new life in old objects, steampunk continues to capture the imagination of creative spirits worldwide. Steampunk fashionistas do not simply follow fleeting trends - through bold style statements; they forge their path between the past and the future.
  by Marama Martin

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