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Steampunk Fashion Guide

Steampunk fashion – what is it, how do I get it and do I even want it?

Steampunk is the science fiction of the steam age of yesteryear, re-imagined and re-invented with the advantage of modern hindsight. It draws upon the wealth of historical technology and the scientific fantasies of the Victorian and Edwardian periods, and reinvents modern wonders like computers and gadgets as the people of the age might have envisioned them. For the short version, let's just say Steampunk is Victorian science fiction.

Following in the footsteps of late 19th/early 20th Century authors Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, Steampunk style blends history, science, and imagination into a world of what might have been. So how does this carry into fashion? With one heck of a lot of imagination, that's how.

To get the look of Steampunk, you need to understand the history of the steam age. Sounds thrilling, right? Actually, it is. The steam age was the Victorian and Edwardian era of the late 19th and early 20th Century. Indoor plumbing and technology still mainly a pipe dream (get it?). But with the discovery of the steam engine, science was all the rage and technology started making its way into homes across the nation. The changes in society brought on by steam-driven technology allowed for the unprecedented developments in sciences and products that came to be associated with this era.

The time was full of 'what if's' and 'if only's'. Jules Verne wrote the pioneering works in science fiction such as "Journey to the Center of the Earth" and "Around the World in 80 Days" which piqued interest in the fanciful.

Remember, he was writing about under water, space and air travel before there were any inventions to navigate these areas. This earned him the nickname of the 'father of science fiction'. H.G. Wells followed in his footsteps in the early 20th Century by writing the classic "The Time Machine", introducing the concept of time travel to the science-starved world.

Steampunk thrives on the 'what-if' situations of yesteryear. What if there was a computer in the Victorian Age, what if an airplane pilot found themselves in the Edwardian Era. What if 'such and such' existed back in the day…

Translate that thought into the fashion world, and Steampunk fashion is born. The must-have accessories to get the look of Steampunk include:

Check out some of the photos at Brass Goggles to visualize the idea.

But where in the heck are you going to find Victorian and Edwardian style clothing? We found some great sites that offer historic outfits and accessories. Most outfits start with basic Victorian fashion and make additions and changes from there:

  • Recollections - offers historical clothing for many eras.
  • Steampunk Threads - offers a fusion of Victorian and modern fashion with clothing, accessories, shoes, fans and everything else you can imagine and then some!
  • Emily Way - offers Victorian styled clothing to get your Steampunk ensemble started
  • Clockwork Couture - An extensive collection with a website chock full of personality!
  • Gentleman's Emporium - Offers the most extensive selection for men, with some women's fashions also offered.

So what do you do, buy a Victorian dress and wear aviator goggles? Nope, start with a Victorian outfit and add twists. Try the corset outside the shirt, pantaloons as pants or formal waistcoats paired with jeans. Add technology twists and turns using your imagination. What if they had thigh-high glam boots back then? What if fishnet stockings had been around 100 years ago? The possibilities are endless.

So, is there a how-to guide on getting the Steampunk look? No way, that would be too mainstream, and this fashion is anything but. It's imagination run amok and fantasy meets antique. But start with Victorian clothing and take it from there. For a detailed explanation and history on Steampunk, try Tor.com

So why is it called Steampunk? Back in the 1980's, science fiction author K.W. Jeter used the term to describe an alternate reality where the Victorian era of the late 19th/early 20th Centuries coincided with modern technology.

The collision of the old and new of Steampunk also transfers into interior design, with fanciful techno pieces that bring a vintage cool to rooms. Modern accessories and technology made in the Victorian-era style also moves into the picture

Some of our favorite sites that detail Steampunk interior design are:

  • The Steampunk Home - Hosts some great pictures and information on Steampunk design.
  • The Gatehouse - For all things Steampunk related.
  • The Modern Victorian - You can spend hours on this site browsing and following the links of this Boston-based Steampunk designer.

So how do you Steampunk a home? Victorian homeowners have been doing it for years and probably didn't know it.

  • Turn an old printing bench from the Industrial Age into a kitchen island by adding a granite countertop;
  • Take a cobbler's bench, give it a slight makeover and turn it into a coffee table;
  • Outfit a beat up industrial table as a high tech computer desk.

Steampunk design is certainly gaining in popularity with period homeowners, as it allows modern technology and conveniences to look right at home in Victorian houses. While not technically authentic, it's still recognized by several Historical Societies as being a valid restoration style for historic homes.

Finding a way to modernize or join improbable duos for Steampunk design can be costly though, modernizing a Victorian wood burning stove to a modern, electrical wonder can cost well over $10,000. But other Steampunked furnishings can be much more cost-effective by buying furniture at auction and making modern twists on your own – after all, there really is no standard in play here.

Perhaps it best to take small steps into the wonderful world of Steampunk fashion and design. It's not for everyone, and it's not mainstream…yet. But it can become an addictive way of life once you catch on.

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