From Conventions to Curators: Period Steampunk Fashions
June 25, 2012
A.K.A. My Museum Shopping List!
(If you read my blog regularly, this first part may sound familiar…)
Steampunk is a modern fashion movements that reinvents certain aspects and fashion facets of Victorian culture, putting a twist on the old style. Seeing beautiful fashions revived in new ways makes me excited, both as a historian and as an avid fan of dressing up! I am, however, terribly picky and pragmatic and I like to be able to make that if I’m going to invest in a dress, I’ll be able to wear it as much as possible–museum-wise and convention-wise.
In my years of costume-image collecting, I’ve discovered that there are hundreds of extant, real Victorian gowns that look modern enough they could have been made yesterday!
Here’s just a brief overview of Steampunk for those of you who aren’t familiar with the style. Steampunk is an alternate reality where Victorians developed advanced technologies revolving around steam-power and clockwork– think Jules Verne or H.G. Wells— though the movement has begun to develop a more futuristic, post-apocalyptic theme. That’s a really brief overview just so you get the fundamentals. Steampunk, like any fashion movement, has infinite variations! Steampunk can range from bionic men dressed as Abraham Lincoln (a favorite!) and ladies in clockwork fairy wings all the way to straight-laced aristocrats in impeccably detailed 1890s evening attire.
The hallmarks of steampunk fashion are:
Favorite time period: 1660-1750 (for fancy watches) and 1870-1910
Dusters, vests, and military Jackets
Utility belts, pouches, and satchels
Edwardian “active wear” like pantaloons, riding jackets, etc.
Hats, especially top hats (often tiny)
Flying things and travel
Gears, clocks/watches, and keys everywhere
Gadgets, gizmos, and props galore
Goggles and tinted glasses
Heavy ornamentation and layers
Often used colors include brown, burgundy, and army green
Often used materials include leather, brass, and a mix of structured/draped fabrics
Period Fashions and Accessories with Steampunk Flair!
Bicycling Suit, circa 1896
Accordion, circa 1860
(Not really a fashion, but imagine how awesome you would be if you took an accordion to Steamcon!)
Evening Dress, circa 1893
Straw Top Hat, circa 1820
Riding Ensemble, circa 1896
Carpetbag, circa 1860
Bonnet, circa 1887
(Complete with spiked studs along the rim!)
Pelisse, circa 1820
Wool Boots, circa 1860-1869
Day Dress, circa 1881
(I love the “gauntlets”)
Motoring Goggles, circa 1910
Dinner Dress, circa 1894
Steampunk’s other major theme is clockwork and watches, especially ornate ones. The wildly detailed watches are more of a hallmark of the 17th and 18th centuries rather than the 19th century, when the majority of the Steampunk mythos takes place. 19th century watches are rather plain comparatively. I just pretend that I invented a time machine, went back to 18th century Switzerland, and stole all their watches!
Antique Steampunk Watches
Watch, circa 1660-1670
Watch, circa 1710
Snuff Box with Watch, circa 1766-1772
Watch, circa 1753
Watch Mechanism, circa 1750-1760
Watch, Fob, and Chain, circa 1786
Steampunk is unbelievably fun to costume! You can be a pirate, a queen, a mad scientist, Darth Vader, a robot, or just a regular citizen that happens to carry around a oscilloscope laser cannon tucked quietly in your garter! The best part? You can be as historically accurate or inaccurate as you like and no one will bat an eye.
Corset, circa 1890
A perfect hourglass!
Just in case the size is shocking, keep in mind that this corset was probably made for a teenage girl and some folks are naturally thin! :)