Greetings, Steampunk Enthusiasts and the Steampunk-Curious!
Now that I’ve gotten the hello out of the way, I promise to avoid abusing the word “Steampunk” in this post.
My favorite genre is fraught with the aesthetic of times bygone, but with the typical tinge of sepia that comes from fashion photos once black and white now aged. The irony in our brass, brown and black style is that the Victorians had a particular obsession with unique patterns and colors. The synthesis of dyes was becoming easier with industrialization, and the Victorians just had a general flare for style.
You can read the history of dyes in depth if you want, but suffice it to say that in the late 1850s, some great accidental discoveries by William Henry Perkin created a myriad of new color availabilities in clothing. Reds! Blues! Fuschia! Mauve! All kinds of brilliant eyesores!
And they didn’t restrain themselves to beautiful clothing. The Victorians also enjoyed bright, colorful, patterned home decor.
Thanks to Queen Victoria, the white wedding dress became popular in this era. Previously white was considered a mourning color, but she threw that tradition (like many others) to the wind. Now black was considered an austere and serious color, reserved for men with little imagination.
Add to their adoration of color their adoration of paisley, stripes, brocades, and fine embroidery, and you have a whirlwind of options to flaunt. This Age of Steam article has more on the subject. Naturally, I don’t expect you to go out and nerfpunk. However, here are a few interesting ideas to spice up or color your attire.
If you’re just starting out, try shopping your local secondhand or thrift shops for 1970s shirts and blouses–especially the silk women’s blouses. They tend to have flamboyant collars and come in bright gaudy colors that would have thrilled the Victorians. I also acquired my favorite pair of glorious maroon pants (in proper carpetbag paisley) by shopping in a 70s men’s section. The 70s era has some throwbacks to the Victorian aesthetic that looked terrible in context, but great when added to a modified Steampunk costume.
There I go, using that word again.
If you want to be more punk than Steam, try painting your accessories and pick clothing colors to match. Also, keep in mind that while brass is lovely, the Victorians were obsessed with aluminum. Consider jewelry or paint tones that look like that alloy we all know so well.
Remember, you don’t have to stick to Victorian England! The Americans out west had a tendency to mismatch because the only fashion they received were castoffs from their cousins in England–this includes wearing stripes and paisleys together.
When people incorporate the reality of fashion with the surreality of science, that’s when Steampunk happens. Have fun, get your hands dirty, and stay fancy!