From Conventions to Curators: Period Steampunk Fashions

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!

Steampunk

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
Bustles
Corsets
Dusters, vests, and military Jackets
Utility belts, pouches, and satchels
Edwardian “active wear” like pantaloons, riding jackets, etc.
Hats, especially top hats (often tiny)
Big boots
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.

Bonus:

AWESOME CORSET!

Corset, circa 1890

A perfect hourglass!

29″-19″-29″

(Bust-Waist-Hips)

(71-48-71 cm)

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! :)

Historic Color Combos: Black and Yellow

Black and Yellow Clothing

Court Coat, circa 1750-90

Evening Dress, circa 1818

British Silk Dress, circa 1836

Evening Dress, circa 1867

Fancy Dress (for a Costume Ball), circa 1880

Corset, circa 1880

Corset, circa 1890

Black and Yellow Accessories

Purse, 18th century

Mourning Ring, circa 1820

Fan, circa 1870

Stockings, circa 1882

Brooch, circa 1880

Gloves, circa 1920

The wild combination of yellow and back wasn’t always just for bumblebees! The pairing sprung from the luxurious combination of black and gold, a favorite for centuries. Substituting brilliant saffron for the more subdued glimmer of gold turns ordinary evening gowns into graphic, comic-book heroine style outfits! The effect is undeniably seductive and bold, traits that helped boost the combination’s prevalence during the late Victorian period, a time of can-cans, night life, and high hopes! Lighter, less shocking colors replaced such brash combinations around 1900. The color combo became rather unfashionable until the late 1960s and 1970s when mod and disco lovers picked it up.

Click here to discover more Historical Color Combos!

As with all my articles, all of the images in this article are either linked to larger versions, articles explaining them, or other fact-filled sites to help you explore, so please feel free to check them out!

Modernizing the Past: Lady Gaga vs. Queen Victoria

Love her or hate her, Lady Gaga is undeniably a force in the fashion world, but that doesn’t mean her fashion sense stands completely alone. Here’s the singer taking a fashion cue from another member of fashion royalty: Queen Victoria!

Lady Gaga

vs.

Queen Victoria

Updated with modern cascades of crystals and some gigantic black shades, Mother Monster struts her stuff in a surprisingly period-appropriate, 1860s-inspired custom Chanel gown at the opening of her Workshop at Barneys in New York. Her look is a great example of how important accessories are to creating an outfit. Notice the slightly bustled train, pearl chains, gloves, poofy petticoats, and a pair of enormous matching gold and stone cuff bracelets: hallmarks of the Victorian age updated for 2010s!

Though they are entirely on separate ends of the taste scale– Lady Gaga is brash and trendy while Queen Victoria was refined– both indulge in ornate, rich accessories. Pitting their fashion choices against each other directly would be a bit unfair since they are entirely different in personality, occupation, and (most importantly) time period, but this one time, Lady Gaga gives the storied queen of England a slight fashion nod, providing a great example of how historic trends can be revived with a few modern tweaks!

~HAPPY NEW YEAR!~