Steampunk fashion is a style inspired by the steam-powered technology of the late 19th century Victorian era. It incorporates historical elements like corsets, top hats, and military uniforms with anachronistic and post-apocalyptic technology like goggles, gears, and gas masks. Steampunk fashion is widely recognized for its distinct juxtaposition of historical and fantastical elements. This definitive guide will explore the history, key elements, and different styles of steampunk fashion. We’ll also provide tips for creating your own steampunk outfit and list popular events to show it off. Read on to learn everything you need to know about this retina-captivating style.
- History of Steampunk Fashion
- Key Elements of Steampunk Style
- Different Styles of Steampunk Fashion
- Tips for Creating Your Own Steampunk Outfit
- Popular Steampunk Events to Attend
- Creative Steampunk Names for Women
- Creative Steampunk Business Names
- Origins of Steampunk Literature and Aesthetic
History of Steampunk Fashion
The steampunk aesthetic first emerged in the science fiction works of the late 1960s and 70s by authors like Michael Moorcock and Harry Harrison. It was used to describe futuristic stories influenced by 19th century romanticism.
The term “steampunk” was coined in 1987 by author K.W. Jeter as a reference to the advanced steam-powered technology featured in their stories. The fashion aspect of the movement didn’t pick up steam until the 1990s when it was influenced by movies like Wild Wild West and The City of Lost Children.
Steampunk fashion gained even more popularity in the 2000s through exposure to books, films, art, music, and especially costume design for live-action role playing games.
Its distinct retro-futuristic look captivated fashionistas, cosplayers, and DIY enthusiasts who continue to incorporate steampunk elements into their personal styles today.
Key Elements of Steampunk Style
There are several key components that make up the quintessential steampunk look.
Here are the main aspects that define steampunk fashion:
Victorian Era Clothing
The Victorian era spanning 1837 to 1901 serves as the major historical inspiration for steampunk style. Typical Victorian fashion includes:
- Top hats
- Puffy sleeves
- Bowler hats
- Pocket watches
Women often wear old-fashioned dresses with hoop skirts, frilly parasols, and lace gloves. Men don 18th century attire like breeches, tall boots, and frock coats.
These Victorian-style garments form the base of many steampunk outfits.
No steampunk outfit is complete without ornamental accessories influenced by steam-powered machinery. Common steampunk accessories include:
- Goggles – Often worn on top of hats or as glasses
- Gas masks – Reminiscent of early breathing apparatuses
- Gear monocles
- Pocket watches
- Tool belts – Styled after Batman’s utility belt
- Gloves – Made of fabric, fishnet, or leather
- Jewelry – Featuring gears, chains, sprockets, keys
These accessories showcase the unique retro-futuristic twist that steampunk is known for. They transform ordinary Victorian clothing into something straight out of a Jules Verne novel.
Fabrics and Textures
Steampunk style uses fabrics and textures that mimic the materials used during the Industrial Revolution. Popular options include:
Distressed pieces with a worn, weathered look are also common in steampunk fashion. Items may be purposefully tattered or given an aged appearance using coloring techniques like tea staining.
The more rugged, salvaged, and post-apocalyptic it looks, the more “steampunk” it becomes.
The color palette for steampunk clothing draws directly from the Victorian era. Steampunk style commonly incorporates:
- Dark Greens
- Deep Blues
- Brass and Gold Metallics
Rich, neutral, and earthy tones evoke the smog-filled skies and dingy factories of the Industrial Revolution. Pops of gold and brass add a hint of glamour.
While vibrant colors do exist in steampunk fashion, they are best used as accents against the darker backdrop.
Different Styles of Steampunk Fashion
While Victorian inspirations and retro-futuristic flair tie all steampunk fashion together, there are several distinctive styles within the broader genre:
Traditional Victorian Steampunk
This style stays closest to the historical Victorian fashion of the late 1800s. Outfits consist of tailored waistcoats, frock coats, top hats, and elegant walking suits for men, along with corseted gowns, petticoats, parasols, and extravagant hats for women.
The only steampunk elements are subtle like pocket watches and magnifying glasses.
Neo-Victorian steampunk incorporates modern updates to 19th century styles. Corsets may use colorful PVC in place of traditional fabrics.
Mini skirt dresses parody Victorian silhouettes. Hair often features vivid colors like electric blue or purple. This playful mix of old and new creates a distinct neo-Victorian vibe.
Post-apocalyptic steampunk pushes the retro-futuristic envelope further. Outfits appear rugged, distressed, and cobbled together from found items.
Lots of leather, canvas, welding goggles, gas masks, and tool belts create a dystopian look. Weapons like guns and knives add to the dangerous vibe.
Fantasy steampunk seamlessly blends historical Victorian fashion with fictional elements. Clothing may incorporate mythical references like dragons, fairies, or elves.
Some outfits display intricate metal wings or cosplay as steampunk versions of fictional characters.
The fantasy twist provides ample room for creative expression.
Western steampunk fuses the American Old West with steampunk’s signature flair. Clothing draws inspiration from cowboys and outlaws of the late 1800s.
Denim, leather, cowboy hats, and gun holsters create a Wild West vibe. Steampunk elements like goggles, watch chains, and gadgets add to the distinctive look.
Military steampunk focuses on the uniforms and technology of 19th century warfare. Jackets styled after military dress coats add old-school flare.
Helmets, goggles, body armor, and functional weapon accessories recreate the battle-ready fashions of the past. The bold militaristic look attracts many steampunk fans.
This Japanese street fashion combines influences from Victorian doll-like dresses and steampunk accessories. The “Lolita” comes through in the lace headdresses, elegant parasols, frilly petticoats, cute sock garters, and porcelain doll makeup.
Steampunk skews darker with black gowns, spikes, and combat boots for a striking fusion.
Tips for Creating Your Own Steampunk Outfit
Ready to sport your own steampunk style? Here are some tips for creating an eye-catching steampunk outfit:
- Start with a base of Victorian inspired clothing like a frock coat, vest, ruffled blouse, or corseted gown
- Add steampunk accents like goggles, pocket watches, monocles, gloves, or tool belts
- Incorporate components from old machinery like gears, sprockets, valves, and meters
- Mix fabrics like leather, lace, denim, and velvet
- Distress items for a worn, weathered aesthetic
- Accentuate fabrics with brass grommets, buckles, shoulder armor, or weapon holsters
- Use an earthy color palette of browns, blacks, burgundies, and metallics
- Top with a hat like a top hat, bowler, tricorn or aviator cap
- Finish with striking makeup like dark lips or smokey eyes
With these tips, you can easily transform modern clothing into retro-futuristic steampunk wear for your next convention, party, or photoshoot.
Don’t be afraid to get creative and make it your own!
Popular Steampunk Events to Attend
Once you’ve perfected your look, you’ll want to show it off! Here are some of the most popular steampunk events around the world where you can mingle with fellow fashionistas:
Steampunk World’s Fair (New Jersey)
This annual 4-day convention draws thousands of steampunk fans for music, art, performances, panels, and nonstop parties. With the most vibrant steampunk costume contests and an enormous vendor hall, it’s a prime opportunity to flaunt your style.
Great British Steampunk Festival (Lincolnshire, UK)
This 3-day extravaganza in August showcases steampunk music, exhibitions, aircraft, automobiles, costumes, and more. The friendly atmosphere provides a joyous setting for appreciating fellow enthusiasts’ creativity and artistry up-close.
Steampunk NZ Festival (Oamaru, New Zealand)
During June, this scenic coastal town transforms into a steampunk paradise. The festival spans several days filled with live entertainment, lectures, music, exclusive balls, costume contests, shopping, and elaborate personas.
Paris Métropolis (France)
For 5 days in May, displays of creative ingenuity take over Paris during this festival. The city comes alive with fashion shows, concerts, exhibitions, gatherings, and wonderfully dressed characters. Paris becomes a steampunk lover’s playground.
San Diego Comic-Con International (California)
At this world-famous July comic book convention, over 130,000 attendees flock to the San Diego Convention Center in costume each year. Steampunk has a strong presence at Comic-Con, making it a prime venue for outfit inspiration.
Attending a major steampunk event allows you to fully immerse yourself in the aesthetic and community. It’s the perfect place to express your fashion sense while admiring fellow enthusiasts’ amazing creativity.
Creative Steampunk Names for Women
Adopting a steampunk persona starts with choosing the perfect name. Here are some creative steampunk names for women:
- Lady Clankette Stargazer
- Calista Steamheart
- Captain Violet Volta
- Isabella Currentset
- Lady Pistonia Nightshade
- Madam Celeste Verne
- Amelia Cogsworth
- Josephine Steamhaus
- Lady Victoria Boiler
- Winifred Sprocketswitch
- Ruby Steamroll
- Doctor Willow Zeppelin
- Miss Annabelle Stemnuge
- Contessa Priscilla Boilervalve
- Professor Lilith Steamwheel
Every steampunk woman needs an exquisite title and surname connected to technology, travel, science, or industry. Go ahead and harness your inner pioneer spirit with a name that sparks adventure!
Creative Steampunk Business Names
Steampunk style isn’t just for outfits – it can influence business names too! Here are creative steampunk-inspired names for companies:
- Cog & Sprocket Robotics
- Steam City Courier
- The Ironclad Armory
- Verne Transport Company
- Volton Engineering Works
- Clockwork Coffee Company
- The Copper Cafe
- The Weathered Leather Bookshop
- Airship Emporium
- The Brass Goggles Inn
- The Rusty Nail Pub
- The Foggy Goggle Restaurant
- Lady Lovelace Computing
- Bygone Foundry & Metalworks
Channeling steampunk retrofuturism into your business name generates instant intrigue. A touch of Victorian flair adds a sense of distinction and style. Put on your monocle and get ready to launch your zeppelin business!
Origins of Steampunk Literature and Aesthetic
Steampunk originated in the science fiction works of the 1960s and 70s but its aesthetic inspirations draw directly from 19th century industrial technologies. Here are the origins of steampunk:
Victorian Era Technology
The steampunk visual aesthetic grew out of the advanced mechanical inventions that emerged during the Victorian era of 1837 to 1901. These include:
- Steam-powered transport – Steam locomotives, paddlewheel boats, dirigible airships
- Clockwork mechanisms – Elaborate tower clocks, programmable looms
- Electrical experiments – Telegraphs, tesla coils, vacuum tubes, early light bulbs
- Industrial machines – Factories with belts, pulleys, and hydraulic equipment
Science Fiction Influences
The term “steampunk” was coined in the 1980s but the genre emerged in 1960s-70s fiction. Key influences include:
- The Difference Engine (William Gibson & Bruce Sterling, 1990) – Alternate history sci-fi with advanced Victorian computing
- Infernal Devices (K.W. Jeter, 1987) – Early use of the term “steampunk”
- The Steam Man of the Prairies (Edward S. Ellis, 1868) – Early fictional steam-powered robot
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Jules Verne, 1870) – Victorian science fiction by the “Father of Steampunk”
- The Time Machine (H.G. Wells, 1895) – Seminal time travel sci-fi from the Victorian era
- Wild Wild West (TV show 1965-1969) – Fictional steampunk inventions and gadgets
Steampunk also draws inspiration from the gritty, gothic vibe of Victorian industrialization. Key influences include:
- Charles Dickens novels – Urban poverty and class divides in Victorian England
- Bram Stoker’s Dracula – Gothic horror in Victorian times
- Jack the Ripper – Murder mysteries in dangerous Victorian cities
- Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – Science experiment Gone wrong
- Industrial pollution – Smoggy skies from coal burning factories
By combining science fiction with Victorian history and gothic tones, steampunk created a distinctive retrofuturistic aesthetic.
Today it continues to capture imaginations worldwide.