Steampunk Fashion : From Confusing To Extreme


These are my opinions alone!  Please do not consider these guidelines for steampunk or any other fashion genre.  This is merely my thoughts and I encourage everyone to follow their own instincts and do what they love no matter whose opinion!  Thank you!

I have been told by many a steampunk enthusiast that I am not really “steampunk”.  This may actually be true since I don’t don a futuristic ray gun while sporting a corset laced with gears and electrical wiring while simultaneously trying to operate on my underwater apparatus being used to launch an expedition to Atlantis!( this is an actual true stempunk enthusiast I am referring to.  No I did not make it up and no I am not making fun of steampunk in general…::sigh:: These were my my first lessons in stempunk and I don’t expect others to fully understand) But other than that I really do appreciate the aspects that create the aesthetic designs for steampunk and dieselpunk.  However, I am rather mystified at Steampunk fashion in itself.  With all due respect, since I don’t believe in harping on anyone’s point of view, a few examples that I have seen seem a bit more costume-like and not quite based in realism.  Again, I don’t consider this to be wrong…just a bit odd.

There are some people who do the steampunk look really, really well.  They mesh a beautiful pantaloons outfit with a lacy top and a gorgeous gossamer hat and completely own the look.  But then…I have seen things that are sometimes better left unsaid.  It’s like they read an article on steampunk and threw every element they could into an outfit and…well, the results were less than appealing.

Now my opinion when it comes to anyone dressing themselves is each to their own.  Hopefully your parents taught you how to dress yourself long ago therefore what you wear is your own tastes so in that you should be proud..that you can at least dress yourself that is!  This is not an article of right or wrong.  This is an article about steampunk fashion extremes!

When I say extreme I mean to say the outlandishly spectacular attention to detail a good deal of turn of the century science fiction lovers put into every garment they choose to wear, sell, or showcase for artist reasons.  Please do not forget that steampunk is as much an art as it is a genre!

That being said, some fashions turn out to be a Fragonard while others turn out like a two year olds wall art which are just scribbles with a sharpie marker as high as their little arms can reach (thank you nephews)!  But we’ll start small and work our way up to that point.  Right now, let’s try to explore the murky waters of steampunk fashion.

The Subtle

This is by far the most common level of steampunk out there.  It only showcases a few gear, mechanical, or Victorian styles in maybe a t-shirt design or a graphic somewhere in the ensemble.  This is just a step down from my type which is just a wee bit more than subtle.  Subtle is for the passerby.  The guy (or girl) who saw something steampunk on the internet but didn’t know what it was or what to call it yet loved it enough to like it.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this style at all!  Each to there own.  If you are a major steampunk player please do not track these people down and harass them…that would be both prejudice and illegal!

Design Elements:

  1. Graphic T with some sort of steampunk influence
  2. Maybe a piece of clockwork jewelry or store bought costume pieces
  3. On a fancy night night wear a simple corset with slacks

The Convention (Phase 1)

You read right.  Not conventional…convention!  Believe it or not, this is not extreme stylizing.  I mean to say, even though it can get pretty ostentatious, it is still costume like.  This is for people who once in a while (or every weekend if they enjoy it) will get “gussied” up in their favorite fictional character (ie Captain Nemo, Phileas Fogg…) or just deck out in some really over the top looking steampunked angel wings while wearing a Victorian corset on top of leather pants with kitten skulls dangling like tuna in a Tokyo sushi house from their handmade laser gun holster.

This is by far not a crime punishable by bludgeoning in the town square with mallets and any kind of magic staff that should be readily available in most type conventions!  But again…each to their own.  If that is what you call steampunk (though I am not into it) than more power to you.  Not literally…you get no magical powers with convention style steampunk… or any other style for that matter!

Design Elements:

  1. Anything goes!  Gothic lolita skirts designed around fictional characters.
  2. Small top hats with influence on lace.
  3. Some sort of theme is carried out.  Vampirism is popular with dark colors and a very macabre make-up display.  Yet others such as princess and Alice in Wonderland ( a powerful theme in steampunk!) are highly respected.
  4. Mixing RPG with steampunk…mostly Final Fantasy

The Convention (Phase 2)

This is a bit less tweeked out that Phase 1 in that these are the people who sell you steampunk!  These people tone it down to almost subtle style and look just fashionably normal.  They will wear a corset but with a nice pair of slacks and suspenders (I do love suspenders!) and they stand around observing, photo taking, and playing voyeurism with the pretty bright young things (in my case, male pretty things).  They give you steampunk that is just enough steampunk but not too wild.  These are the people that appreciate the aesthetic quality and design possibilities of steampunk and twist it to their own makings and might even combine it with other designs.  I, for example, mix it with rock and roll, Victorian (which is not a large leap off the cliff), and a bunch of designs from before 1945.  You say it doesn’t work…don’t judge until you see it!

Design Elements:

  1. Keeping it simple and professional!
  2. Maybe don a full sized top hat with a small goggles for proper effect.
  3. Influence on gears and mechanical works including custom made jewelry and other little trinkets.
  4. The key is to look steampunk but not so much that you could be accused of being a pirate…unless you like that sort of thing!
  5. Try to stay as close to “original” as you can!

Taking Convention to the Street

I’m not a big fan of street wear to be honest.  But this is a new breed of it.  When the convention lights dim, the accordions and steam-powered guitars are put away, and the machines are powered down… the petticoats come out to play!  Some people are bolder than others I must say!  This is just one step above extreme everyone!  These are people who can walk the walk yet might not be able to talk to the talk….so to speak.  They lead very normal lives with the added eccentric bonus of their own style!  These types identify steampunk very well, they read the literature, they’ve seen the art but they only dress the part to the extreme instead of actually living in steampunk.  Again, I find this type brave and adventurous yet one of the eccentric types.

Design Elements:

  1. The same as convention phase 1 only it’s outside of the convention!
  2. Fairy wings and video game crossover seems to be the norm.
  3. There are lasers involved…I think…
  4. Face masks.  I haven’t understood this yet but give me time!

The Extreme

This is it!  The main steampunk style aficionado, the creme dela creme, the example of all steamdom…the extreme!  These creators live, breathe, and work steampunk and I have a very high regard for these people.  These enthusiasts create some of the most beautiful works in so many antique mediums and in so many clever designs that I don’t have the strength to praise them enough!  These are innovators!  Have you ever typed in “steampunk” in google and gotten a tricked out laptop complete with brass fittings and typewriter keys?  Thank an extreme!

These are the ones who design their clothes with appropriate materials (wool and velvet, silk and satin) and either design from Victorian fashion or invent their own.  There is also another level of extreme where people build from real gears and machines steampunk inspired mechanical arms that appear so cyborg and sci-fi that the look of it alone is art!

Design Elements:

  1. Full on!  Whatever you thought about with Steampunk…they thought of it first!
  2. Be very authentic!  I saw one which they had on old boiler refurbished for actual use in their home!
  3. Dirigible!  I do love dirigibles!
  4. Classic Victorian garb with steampunk flare.  Think of Sherlock Holmes living in today’s world without the microchip, plastic, or TV!
  5. Absolutely all steampunk influences are used here!

One thing is for sure about all these types of style: they make steampunk…well, steampunk!  Even though I believe there is a right and a wrong way to do things I believe more in the idea that everyone has the right to live, eat, and wear however and whatever they desire!  Steampunk is interpretive as is almost every other style out there.  If you have the inclination to step outside your flat wearing argyle socks and an 19th century safari expedition hat…by all means do so!  Steampunk is a form of expression so express!


I am very sure there are other facets to steampunk clothing that I have not pointed out yet.  Please understand that separating steampunk, even these few here, was very difficult and I tried to be as fair as possible.  If you would like other posts on this, tell me what types of steampunk you find pleasing and I will definitely investigate!

Thanks to all who encouraged me to edit my posting to meet appropriate standards!


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