by Michael Pryor on 27 April 2012
And after reading Steampunk why wouldn’t people want to dress up in Steampunk fashion? After all, well-crafted, traditional garments made with care have a certain allure, and when one adds the overlay of techno-wizardry that is so much part of the Steampunk ethos, then a playful, distinctive way of life is on show.
Modern Steampunk truly began as a literary sub-genre in the early 1980s. With a late twentieth century knowingness, Steampunk writers concocted Fantasy or Science Fiction stories with a Victorian (or Edwardian) ethos, creating giddy, baroque adventures where the manners, morals and fashions of a bygone era were enlivened by elements of the fantastic. Drawing on writers such as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and A. Conan Doyle, these stories were redolent of an era of richness, style and excellent tailoring. It was no wonder that many readers were inspired to adopt Steampunk fashion in real life.
Steampunk fashion is, in some ways, a delightful coming together of historical recreationists and Science Fiction ‘cosplayers’ – those who love to dress up as their favourite characters from books, TV and movies. The recreationists bring their zeal for authentic period detail, while the cosplayers bring their imaginations. The result can be both elegant and bizarre, tasteful and whimsical, classy and eye-popping.
In short, Steampunk fashion is high Victorian or Edwardian style, with touches of the scientific, technological or mechanical. If one can imagine a Victorian gentleman dressed in frock coat and top hat, high wing collar and well-knotted tie – but sporting a pair of brass magnifying goggles – then one is fairly and squarely in Steampunk territory.
For women, essential Steampunkery begins with long dresses – naturally. Large, showy hats are also excellent, especially when they’re adorned with feathers or half a florist’s worth of flowers. While bustles might be accurate for Victorian fashion, they’re a tad awkward and take some getting accustomed to, but can be worth the effort. Fabrics are rich and lustrous – heavy velvets and brocades are sine qua non. For a more outré effect, corsets can be stunning. Gloves are perfect, too, for adding that touch of correct Victorian detail. Top all of this with a gorgeous fob watch and chain or a glittering metal choker which looks as if it is capable of lending superhuman strength, and one is ready for a night of Steampunk revelry.
For men, the aforementioned top hat is the perfect signal of the era, but don’t overlook a well kept bowler, boater or homburg. Headgear tends to announce that a gent with retro-style has entered the room and has done it with style. Tail coats, frock coats and waistcoats are also perfect signifiers, with gorgeous brocade or embroidery lending a touch of the raffish to the right waistcoat wearer. A silver-headed walking stick and kid gloves add to the refined elegance of such an outfit, and it’s the little things like this that make a difference. An alternative is a complete set of tweeds (Norfolk jacket, plus fours, boots, cap, cape, shooting stick) declares that one is a no nonsense outdoors sort of chap who still wants to look good. Clamp an armature of brass struts and silver wire to one arm and the entire Steampunk effect is complete.
Accessories? Brass goggles have almost become a steampunk cliché, but they do shout Steampunk like few other additions. Brass is the metal of choice for Steampunk aficionados, and goggles announce that the wearer is a person of action, perhaps commanding a fearsome submersible vessel or simply capable of careering through the streets of London in charge of a well-sprung barouche. Other accessories include mechanical contrivances that emphasise clockwork, gears, springs, and joints, but all should be splendidly elegant, with plenty of polish.
Outside the standard Victorian wear for ladies and gentlemen, though, we have many, many variants. The Intrepid Explorer, for instance, has supporters from both sexes. Start with a pith helmet, attach a brass telescope or binoculars to one’s belt, think khaki and imagine pressing through darkest jungles or making one’s way through the North-West Frontier. The Intrepid Explorer look is both stylish and hard-wearing.
The Imperial Military look is a great favourite, too, and it allows one all the undeniable appeal of a person in uniform, especially with the gaudiest of epaulettes and gold braid. For men, extra points are awarded for extravagant facial hair. The natural Steampunk accessories for those sporting the Imperial Military look are weapons. For most effect, they should bristle with levers, knobs and pipes. Something that combines the brassiness of a tuba with the firepower of a small cannon is perfect.
And then there’s the Dashing Aviator, those heroic souls who pilot flying machines ranging from dirigibles to bird-shaped ornithopters. Just because one take one’s life into one’s hands every time one heads into the wild blue yonder, doesn’t mean one can’t look good while doing it. Again, start with the headgear. A leather aviator helmet is essential and should be coupled with brass goggles for maximum effect. A long linen or canvas coat over sturdy outdoor clothes – tweeds, of course – and a long white scarf to flap in the breeze tops off this jaunty ensemble.
The Gentleman/Lady Inventor is the choice for those with of an intellectual bent. A white laboratory coat over a formal outfit festooned with belts for tools and implements is enough to create the right impression, but those who are seeking to go that extra mile – and who isn’t? – will look at ocular accoutrements that swivel, flip and twist to help focus the infernal genius that lies behind those glittering eyes.
I must present a warning: Steampunk is sprawling and inclusive. The suggestions above are but a small part of what is available to anyone wishing to join the ranks of Steampunks. Variations on the above are more than welcome – the more imaginative the better. As for anyone who wishes to dress in a more modern style, there’s a whole sub-culture that allows garments that might have been considered shocking. Bohemians of both sexes dressed in outlandish and provocative ways that add titillation and a hint of scandal. Capital stuff!
Australia has some fine purveyors of Steampunk fashion. See Clockwork Butterfly for some dazzling examples: http://www.clockworkbutterfly.net
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Michael Pryor has published more than twenty-five fantasy books and over forty short stories, from literary fiction to science fiction to slapstick humour. Michael has been shortlisted six times for the Aurealis Awards, has been nominated for a Ditmar award, and six of his books have been CBCA Notable Books, including three books in the Laws of Magic series. Michael's most recent books include The Chronicles of Krangor series for younger readers, The Laws of Magic series and The Extraordinaires series for older readers, as well as 10 Futures, a collection of interlinked stories imagining what our next 100 years might be like.