How Does One “Do” Steampunk – Getting Started with Steampunk Costuming

Our age of steam and enlightenment has brought luxurious textiles and everyday conveniences to the masses, allowing our Steampunk aficionados at Clockwork Alchemy to adorn themselves in a variety of silks, taffetas, brocades, and delicate laces. Others find appeal in hand-tooled leather, sturdy armor, impeccable tweed, and plenty of brass. This aesthetic is achieved with the refinement and utility which the life of a busy adventurer demands.

You’re wandering the halls of the convention and are suddenly attacked by rogue vampires? Reach for your steam-powered shooter, always at your side thanks to your inscribed leather shoulder holster, and take them down with sacred balsa wood darts, pre-soaked with the handy holy water spritzer on your utility belt. After the battle, reach into a pocket in that same utility belt for a tasty biscuit and soothe your parched, battlecry-weary throat with a fresh cuppa chai, since you have your teacup, saucer, and spoon with you at all times.

The addition of armor, gadgets, belts, bags, weapons, and tools to the most dainty and elegant items in the Victorian genre are the defining elements of the Steampunk aesthetic. Gears, copper, brass, grommets, and chains are the initial calling cards of a typical Steampunk accessory and a great starting point for turning your old Nerf gun into a badass dart shooter, able to take out evil vampires at a thousand paces. Your utility belt could have been a carpenter’s belt at one time, but with a little leather polish and strategically placed brass or copper bits, it becomes a trusted companion on your journeys — a veritable belt of holding — capable of carrying anything you need into battle, or a night on the town. Afraid your skirt might get caught on a vampire’s claw? You’ve nothing to fear, thanks to trusty leather skirt hike chains, attached to your corset — which also doubles as a shield to protect your delicate torso.

The Steampunk aesthetic is both elegant, and utilitarian, and is custom-designed by you and your character’s interests, desires, and goals. You can pattern yourself after a well-known Steampunk character from your favorite video game or novel or film. You can make up a character based on what you love to do or would love to do if you had all the free time and money in the world. You can even create a mashup of your favorite superhero done Steampunk style. Gotham by Gaslight, a DC graphic novel, provides an excellent example of the Batman/Steampunk mashup. If you’re more of a Marvel fan, Clockwork Alchemy boasts our very own Deadpool, seen pouring daily at the Alchemist’s Tea Parlour.

If you’re new to Steampunk fashion and you’re not sure where to start, I’ve got your back. Ladies can build a lovely outfit with a knee-length or longer skirt in a dark solid color, favorite low-heel comfortable boots (with buckles? Even better!), a ruffled blouse, and a wide belt. The addition of goggles, which you can find online or better yet, in the Clockwork Alchemy Artists’ Bazaar, ties this simple outfit together. Nice-to-have additions include thrift store finds like a man’s vest, a square brown leather purse, and old ornate jewelry. A utility belt can be faked with some styles of belt bags. While gears certainly help sell the look, they aren’t always necessary, and gear placement is also important. A few are better than dozens. Should you wish to add gears, grommets, etc., these parts can easily be found at jewelry supply and hardware stores and go great on a bronze spray-painted Nerf gun, or as a lapel pin, added to a hair clip, or attached to a hat.

A gentleman’s outfit starts out with the same items, except they may wish to swap the skirt for trousers or kilt. If ruffles aren’t your thing, go for a tuxedo shirt. A simple cravat can be made from a 4-foot by 1-foot strip of shiny fabric, like a poly satin with a nice paisley print, easily found for cheap at a fabric store. A basic felt hat with a high crown and medium-wide brim is a nice touch and a great place to put your goggles. Don’t forget to stick a feather in your hat for a bit of flair. Should you want to add more utilitarian items like leather armor, bracers, gauntlets, medals, and badges, be sure to check out the Artists’ Bazaar, as well as our Maker’s Market, where you can buy tools, parts, and even a kit to make something you can wear that day. Instructors and kits are standing by.

Interested in sharing ideas and finding creative support for your endeavors? Look no farther than these groups:

Greater Bay Area Costume Guild

GBACG’s online magazine finery is a wonderful place to start your search for Steampunk ideas on a budget. Check out Christopher’s Erickson’s articles on Western Wear, and his Men’s Cheat Sheet for Dickens. Lauren Moyer’s $50 No Sew Dickens Challenge is a great place for ladies to start. I might set the bonnet aside in favor of a thrift store felt hat, feather, and goggles, but otherwise, this is a beautiful and very affordable entry-level outfit. For those with time, advanced sewing skills, and limited space in your steamer trunk, why not consider pulling together a traveling ensemble? Niz Hadid’s traveling ensemble ideas are a delightful mix of Victorian classic styles and make figuring out what to wear so much easier when everything just goes with everything else.

The Sacramento Steampunk Society

The Sacramento Steampunk Society has events throughout the year and a fantastic virtual clubhouse on Facebook with over 3,000 members. Events run the gamut from costume swap meets to art car events like The Obtainium Cup Rally (see some of their work here at Clockwork Alchemy 2020), to monthly meetups, to the height of Steampunk fashion, Top Brass. Every year they choose a different theme and inspire Steampunks to show up in their very best formal wear. Through Facebook, SSS provides you with hundreds of inspirational photos for costumes and links to Steampunk events going on all over the San Francisco Bay Area.

Steam Federation – Bay Area Steampunk Association

Similar to SSS, Steam Federation hosts local area events and advertises events all over Northern California through their Facebook page. Check their photos for even more inspiration such as a tea dueling rifle locked and loaded with life-sustaining refreshment.

So, are you a Captain Nemo or a Sherlock Holmes? Are you an Ada Lovelace or an Amelia Wren? Are you a cowboy, pirate, eccentric scientist, evil genius, entomologist, airship captain, explorer, or denizen of a midnight carnival? If you find yourself drawn to complex creations of leather and lace, gears and gauges, brass and bronze, and the adventurer’s life, you too might be a Steampunk fashionista!

By Sabrina L. Nelson for Clockwork Alchemy



Cover photo by Victoria Borodinova, via