A woman types on a steampunk computer/typewriter at a Massachusetts steampunk festival in May 2012.
At a Comic-Con panel Wednesday, Dina Kampmeyer (who also goes by “Lady Steam” and organizes events for steampunk enthusiasts) defined steampunk as a genre set on “an alternate earth featuring Victorian technology.” That means steampunk authors like panelists Gail Carriger (The Parasol Protectorate Series) and Kaja Foglio (Girl Genius) do a lot of research for their work — Baedeker’s Victorian-era travel guides are a favorite — but they also take a lot of liberties. The Victorians didn’t have walking, talking robots, for instance, but such an invention wouldn’t be out of place in a steampunk book or show. Retro-futuristic technology, however, isn’t the only think steampunk has to offer — asked what drew them to it in the first place, more than one panelist said “the clothes.” Because steampunk isn’t just about comic books, novels, and webseries. It’s also a style lots of women (and some men) like to adopt. Below, some key lessons about steampunk’s Victorian-inspired style.
1. There are a few conventions, but originality is key.
Key features include goggles, beards for guys (and sometimes artistic mustachios), and corsets for women. Dressing up is a big part of steampunk’s appeal for creators and fans alike. Panelist Anina Bennettt, co-author of the steampunk graphic novel Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel, told BuzzFeed Shift that Steampunk style, “gives you a new way to do costuming where you don’t have to necessarily dress up as somebody else’s character. A lot of it is about creating your own character and your own world. And it’s a cliche, but a lot of women are really into clothing.”
Steampunk enthusiast Linda Marcil at the panel Thursday.
2. Fear not the corset.
Carriger, who was a professional corsetier before she turned to writing, said “if you have large boobs, corsets are more comfortable than a bra” (and was met with a chorus of yeses from the panel’s largely female audience). The trick, she explained, is to get one that fits correctly — it shouldn’t prevent you from breathing or sitting. And don’t wrap the laces around your waist, which damages the corset.
Of course, corsets can also be sexy. Panelist Robin Blackburn of the webseries The League of S.T.E.A.M. said she liked wearing one because “it gives me a waist.” And Kampmeyer told BuzzFeed Shift after the panel that “as a modern woman of size, I feel beautiful in steampunk clothes. It doesn’t happen too often in modern clothes.” She also noted that in the real Victorian era, women “were second-class citizens. But the steampunk aspect of it allows us to be strong, powerful women.” So while Victorian women didn’t often get the opportunity to be scientists or world travelers, women in steampunk can imagine a world where they could do those things while still embracing a Victorian aesthetic.
Dina Kampmeyer, aka “Lady Steam.”
3. Use accessories to add authenticity to your outfit.
Steampunk enthusiasts can add Victorian verisimilitude with reticules, hats, and complicated eyewear. And they can celebrate the genre’s fusion of past, present, and future by putting their high-tech information devices (iPads, iPhones) in Victorian-esque cases.
Steampunk enthusiast Jamie Metz on Thursday, with her steampunk iPad.
4. If steampunk style doesn’t work for your real life, go virtual.
One audience member said that while she didn’t dress up in steampunk garb, her Second Life avatar did. The online virtual world has a number of steampunk-inspired environments, including Port Kasra, “a steampunk city set in the Florida Keys during the 1880s” and Mieville, “a steampunk area spread over eight full regions, each named after a popular Victorian novelist.” Those who want to dress their avatars in steampunk style can check out a variety of clothing textures and templates, like this “lacy steampunk” variety.
A screenshot from Port Kasra, a steampunk-inspired city in Second Life.
5. You can infuse your look with steampunk flavor with wares from everywhere from Etsy to Alexander McQueen.
The steampunk subculture is gaining in mainstream popularity, in large part due to the appeal of its aesthetic. Several panelists mentioned the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies as a mainstream appropriation of steampunk style. And Disney has started incorporating steampunk into its merchandise (fans have followed suit with their own Disney steampunk art). Steampunk jewelry and accessories are popular on Etsy and Pinterest, and the movement shares stylistic elements with the work of designers like Alexander McQueen and Balenciaga’s Nicolas Ghesquiere.
Watch a quick episode of steampunk series The League of S.T.E.A.M. below.