The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Best Steampunk Treasures at Thrift Stores

Thrift and antique stores can be a treasure trove for steampunk enthusiasts looking to build their wardrobe or decorate their home. With some know-how on what to look for, you’re bound to find amazing steampunk fashion pieces, decor items, and unique accessories at affordable prices.

This definitive guide will provide tips on what to look for when thrifting for steampunk, the best places to search, and how to repurpose and modify items to give them that neo-Victorian industrial flair. From goggles and top hats to clocks and vintage luggage, read on for a breakdown of the best steampunk finds waiting to be discovered at thrift stores.

Clothing and Accessories

The thrift store clothing racks can be a treasure trove for steampunk attire.

Here are some of the best items to look out for:

Menswear Essentials

  • Vests and suit jackets – Search for embroidered and detailed vests, tailcoats, and suit jackets. Look for pieces in rich fabrics like velvet, brocade, or corduroy. Black, brown, deep red, and navy blue are classic steampunk colors.
  • Dress shirts – Vintage dress shirts with ruffles, ascots, and jabot collars add a neo-Victorian vibe. White, cream, and striped patterns work well.
  • Top hats – The quintessential steampunk menswear accessory. Look for top hats in felt or beaver fur.
  • Pocket watches – Wind-up pocket watches on long chains are a must for any steampunk gentleman.
  • Gloves – Leather gloves that go past the wrist add sophistication.
  • Cravats, scarves, & ties – Richly patterned neckpieces complete the look.
  • GogglesSteampunk goggles made from leather, brass, and round tinted glass are a signature accessory.

Women’s Wearables

  • Corsets & bustiers – Opt for leather, brocade, or velvet corsets to cinch the waist. Black and deep red are classic colors.
  • Skirts – Look for long, full skirts in fabrics like velvet, satin, or lace. High-low, asymmetric, and tiered styles work well.
  • Blouses – Vintage blouses with puff sleeves, ruffles, keyhole backs, and embellished collars are very steampunk.
  • Hats – Top hats, bowlers, and mini top hats perched on an angle.
  • Goggles – Just like the men, steampunk goggles complete the neo-Victorian adventurer look.
  • Boots – Knee-high leather boots are a staple. Look for buckles, straps, and embellishments.
  • Jewelry – Clock and gear motifs, cameos, pearls, and rings with stones like garnet, ruby, and jet.
  • Lace parasols – For an elegant finishing touch.

Unisex Accessories

  • Gloves – Leather, lace, and elbow length gloves work for men and women.
  • Gears – Hang gears, watch parts, or monocles from necklaces, hats, and lapels.
  • Pocket watches & fobs – Women can rock pocket watches too!
  • Goggles – Go classic round lens style or aviator.
  • Belts & suspenders – Leather and fabric styles with intricate buckles.
  • Cravats & ascots
  • Top hats & bowlers
  • Boots – Over the knee, riding boots, Chelsea boots, oxfords.

Decor and Housewares

Beyond fashion, thrift stores can be a great source for steampunk home decor. Keep an eye out for:

  • Trunks, chests & luggage – Vintage wood and leather luggage makes stylish seating, tables, and storage. Look for pieces with buckles and embellishments.
  • Globes & maps – Mounted vintage world globes and maps make great steampunk decor. Bonus for patina and a worn look.
  • Telescopes, compasses & sextants – Optical instruments like navigational tools, telescopes, and magnifying glasses embrace steampunk’s explorer aesthetic.
  • Books – Look for old leatherbound books, almanacs, and manuals on science, engineering, and machinery.
  • Taxidermy – Small taxidermied animals, insect displays, and skeletons add a Cabinet of Curiosities feel.
  • Mechanical objects – Typewriters, cameras, telephones, adding machines, scales, microscopes, and other scientific objects. Bonus if gold, brass, or wood framed.
  • Lighting – Search for vintage lamps, chandeliers, and sconces with exposed bulbs. Industrial cage pendants also work.
  • Clocks – Wind-up alarm clocks, table clocks, grandfather clocks with exposed inner workings and Roman numerals.
  • Furniture – Ornate wood tables, desks, cabinets, and chairs work well. Look for carved details.
  • Phonographs – Vintage record players with brass horns and wood frames.
  • Frames – Display steampunk art and photos in ornate brass, copper, and wood frames.

Clothing Modifications and Upcycling

One of the best things about thrifting for steampunk is the chance to get creative and modify or upcycle items into something unique. Here are some easy modifications to try:

Adding Gears

Glue watch parts, small gears, sprockets, and other metal pieces onto:

  • Plain black top hats
  • Lapels and collars of suit jackets, vests, and coats
  • Corset busks and shoulder straps
  • Boot heels and toes
  • Headbands and fascinators

Spray Painting

Give items a distressed, vintage look by spray painting with:

  • Metallic copper, bronze, or brass paints
  • Black or brown paint to edge boots, gloves, and goggles

Creating Patina

  • Tea stain or age paper and fabrics by brewing black tea or coffee in a spray bottle. Spritz onto canvases, sheets, or clothing.
  • Rub shoe polish onto metal pieces like picture frames and mechanical objects to darken and age them.

Steampunk Screen Printing

Print your own steampunk designs onto t-shirts, totes, and other items using screen printing kits. Some ideas:

  • Gears, zeppelins, hot air balloons, maps
  • Scientific formulas and typography
  • Silhouettes of penny-farthings, airships, top hats

With some creativity and imagination, even simple thrift store items can be transformed into awesome steampunk treasures. The next time you hit the thrift stores, keep an eye out for items that can be modified into something straight out of neo-Victorian science fiction.

Best Places to Thrift for Steampunk

Not sure where to start? Here are some of the best places to thrift and hunt for steampunk finds:

  • Antique malls – Larger antique malls will have a huge selection of vintage items to sort through.
  • Flea markets – Outdoor flea markets can uncover some real steampunk gems.
  • Estate sales – Look for estate sales in historical or older neighborhoods.
  • Thrift stores – Goodwill, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity ReStore locations. Check the home goods sections.
  • Consignment shops – Higher end and vintage focused consignment shops.
  • eBay & Etsy – Search for steampunk clothing, decor, and supplies online.
  • Garage & yard sales – Drive around neighborhoods on weekends and keep an eye out for sales.

Safety Tips for Modifying Thrift Store Finds

When modifying and repurposing thrift store items, keep these safety tips in mind:

  • Test spray paint or paint in a ventilated area and use a mask.
  • Use hot glue carefully to avoid burns.
  • Seal any paint or decoration on items that will come in contact with skin.
  • Wash and disinfect items before use, especially anything secondhand.
  • Work in a space with good lighting and ventilation.
  • Use tools and equipment properly and safely.

Show Off Your Thrifted Steampunk Style

Once you’ve perfected your thrifted steampunk look, show it off! Here are some ideas:

Thrift and consignment shops really are the perfect place to find affordable raw materials to build your unique steampunk style. Follow these tips on what to look for and how to transform items, and you’ll be fully outfitted on a budget.

Happy thrifting, and may all your steam-powered adventures find you in neo-Victorian style.

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