Thursday, July 19, 2012

steampunk style

Steampunk has gotten quite a bit of attention on the blog (see posts), but the focus has always been on the fiction. While steampunk is at heart a literary subgenre,1 for many it is first and foremost a design aesthetic. And one of the things steampunk aficionados like to do most is dress up to attend steampunk-themed events.

Items characteristic of steampunk fashion are under-bust corsets and goggles adorned with decorative metal elements. Individuals beginning to craft costumes are often admonished to begin with a items that are historically accurate to the period and then add shiny and creative details. Steampunk costumes often require a trips to both the local thrift and hardware stores before they are complete.

When I think of steampunk style, the word that often comes to mind is a made-up one, reproaesthetical. In Megan McCafferty's Bumped, reproaesthetical is a slang term meaning "having good genes" or "worthy of breeding with".  Obviously, that's not what I mean, but if one imagines the combination relying on historical reproduction (or the use of replicas) rather than sexual, my use of reproaesthetical likely begins to make more sense.

Steampunk style is a riff on historical style.  Historical reproductions (and authentic period items) can serve as a foundation, becoming steampunk with the addition of anachronistic decorative elements.  They can also inspire something completely new as illustrated by the images below (click on them for a bigger version of the images).
A friend's reproduction Victorian sewing box and tools

First, we have a portable 19th century sewing kit. Vintage implements (a delicately hand stitched pin cushion, threads both in the skeins and on thread winders, a silver-covered steel thimble in porcelain case, a pair of sharp metal scissors, and a variety of fancy needle cases made of bone and wood) are contained within a varnished wood case that is padded to protect its more fragile contents and set with a mirror that was used to reflect light onto stitchwork--an important feature in the perpetually dark, candle- or gas-lit world of the nineteenth-century.

Steampunk bracer constructed by R.H Mardigan Enterprises

The above is a streamlined steampunk version of the same tools. A workaday wooden needle case, brass thimble, miniature pincushion,2 fancy brass scissors, and wooden spools of thread are mounted on a leather wrist guard. This "Tailor’s Assistant" is a compact solution that utilizes the "latest" Victorian technology (wooden spools were first introduced in the 1840s) to make a forearm-mounted sewing kit both stylish and practical.
  1. Historical science fiction set often (though not exclusively) in Victorian London.
  2. The tomato-shaped pincushion dates to the Victorian era when tomatoes were placed on the mantle of a new home to guarantee prosperity. Tomato stand-ins (red-fabric stuffed with wool or sawdust) were needed when the fruit was out of season. While tomatoes would be discarded when they started to spoil, the fabric substitutes were retained and put to use for pin storage. (Why are pincushions frequently made to resemble tomatoes?)


  1. I'm so tempted to get a steampunk dress...just have to start going to more conventions so I have somewhere to wear it.

  2. I'm in the process of pulling together some steampunk looks. There's a big steampunk convention kind of near us, but I've been reticent to go sans costume b/c it's one of those conventions where 95% of the people are dressed up.

  3. Great photos - terrific accessories!

  4. Thanks. I love seeing your comments on the blog, One More Stitch.