Steampunk fashion is based on Victorian and Edwardian styles, but with an industrial twist. Brass gears, rivets and fittings, brown leather, and vertical stripes abound. Designer Jake von Slatt described the look to the “New York Times” as “the intersection of technology and romance.” Anachronisms and fictional elements are mixed and matched with eclectic abandon in steampunk style. It would be perfectly acceptable, for example, for a woman to wear a baby-t with a bustle skirt and goggles, or a corset with pantaloons and riding boots. The style’s palette ranges from browns and neutrals to deep, bold color choices. It tends to have many layers and little skin exposure–although a hint cleavage is sometimes present, high necklines are the rule. Likewise, legs will be covered in stockings, often in colorful solids or stripes.
Corsets weren’t introduced in the Victorian era, but the narrow-waisted silhouette they provide is a hallmark of the time. Custom corsets are very expensive, formal items, but off-the-rack waist cinchers are more affordable and widely available. Velvet, cotton, and pinstripe corsets have a particularly steampunk air. In modern times, the corset is outerwear and, in steampunk contexts, will often be worn over a blouse or shift. A short bolero jacket or shrug could also be worn over the corset.
The bustle skirt, with its padded backside, provides the other half of the distinctive Victorian woman’s silhouette. Bustle skirts can be either full circles or a straight pencil style, and there are also many variations. A modern version involves a miniskirt with a gathered lace backpiece attached.
Menswear and Military
Women’s steampunk style is very open to borrowing fashion elements from the men’s department. Vests and waistcoats can go over a ruffled blouse. Instead of a skirt, jodhpurs or trousers may be worn. A men’s coat and tails may be worn over the bustle. Top hats, boots, and pocketwatches are all acceptable touches.
Military coats and jackets also perform unisex duty in steampunk contexts. Look for braids, epaulettes, and structured lines. Military surplus is also a good source for fittings and accessories.
After goggles and gears, the tiny ladies’ hat may be the most recognizable steampunk accessory. Victorian hats were quite ornate and adorned with feathers, flowers, beads, and lace. Steampunk additions might include a variety of brass fittings.
Top hats, either full-size or mini, fit well with this style, and can also be elaborated upon with feather, buckles, and other fittings. Old-fashioned leather helmets are unisex.
Lace-up ankle or knee boots evoke vintage style without looking dowdy, and just about any style with buttons and buckles works in this context. Stacked heels tend to work better than stilettos for this look; flats and mid-height heels are also fine.
Steampunk jewelry is elaborate and creative, often incorporating watch parts, clock faces, keys, brass fittings and buttons into earrings and necklaces and pins. Vintage jewelry is popular too, such as cameo pendants. Rings tend to be heavy and ornate.
Other accessories can include belts, canes, eyeglasses and parasols. Gloves are popular and add a touch of elegance. Handbags can range from rucksack to ornate clutches and reticules.
References and ResourcesNew York Times: Steampunk Moves Between 2 Worlds
Minnesota Public Radio: Neo-Victorian Fashion
ResourcesSteampunk Fashion: Steampunk Resources
Amazon Drygoods: Victorian Catalog
Threadbanger: How To Make A Steampunk Outfit