Re: Steampunk Dos and Don’ts

I, Clothesmonaut, self-appointed Commissar of Fashion, must bring my riding crop down hard on the well-intentioned, but wayward lads and lasses mangling the Steampunk fashion aesthetic. An eclectic collection of costume pieces put together in a slap-dash manner and accessorized with a couple of brass gew-gaws does not a Steampunk ensemble make, people.

In particular, the following do offend the eye:

Don’ts for Men

  • Don’t wear a vest that’s too short. Your vest should completely cover your gut with no gap between the bottom of the vest and the top of your pants. Otherwise, it just looks sloppy. If you don’t have a long enough vest, you have two options: 1) untuck your shirt and wear your vest over the top for a more deconstructed look. (The younger you are, the better this works.) or 2) lose the vest altogether and go for a more informal, working man look.
  • If you are going to wear a pocket watch and fob in the classic chain-across-the stomach fashion, make sure that the watch is tucked securely into your vest pocket (hence the term “pocket watch”). A loose chain with the watch hanging down in front of your groin is just unattractive.
  • If you are very tall, don’t wear anything that emphasizes your height unless you want to look like some out-sized, dancing skeleton. That means stay away from vertical stripes and one color outfits. Instead break up your silhouette visually with as many horizontal elements as possible–straps, belts, bandoliers, short-waisted jackets, contrasting colors, etc.

Don’ts for Women

  • Balance your silhouette. Dresses, particularly ones from the first half of the Victorian period, tend to be very poofy and/or detailed above the waist and need a wide, A-line skirt to keep from looking top-heavy. If you are going with a tubular-style skirt such as a Victorian bustle or Edwardian number, remember that your top will need to be pared down and made more vertical.
  • If you aren’t young, leggy, and thin, stay away from mini-skirts. A floor-length skirt or pants will be much more flattering.  If you must show your legs, wear stockings and garters or go with lacy knickers. Remember, chunky, pasty white thighs are not sexy in any genre.
  • If you don’t have a defined waist (that is, a waist that is substantially smaller than your hips), you can’t wear a waist cincher. A cincher on a waist-less person is just an unflattering band of fabric around your middle.
  • A Victorian-style corset, particularly the underbust kind, is made for people with an hour glass figure who have the same amount of sand on the top as on the bottom. If you are pear-shaped or large-busted, this look is not for you. You will either appear unbalanced or your breasts will seem to float in space like two UFOs. Go for an over-the-bust corset or better yet, a fitted bodice.

Keep the following rules of thumb in mind:


  • All of your accessories should serve a purpose and appear to be functional. Don’t carry rayguns or flight helmets just to carry them. They should go with the rest of your ensemble.
  • The period that Steampunk is based on is Victorian/Edwardian (19th/early 20th century), not the Medieval/Renaissance and not the 18th century. If you want to incorporate that doublet or pirate tricorn into your outfit, you will need to “periodize” it–that is, interpret it through a Victorian/Edwardian lens. Look for pictures of Victorians/Edwardians in masquerade dress for help.
  • If you’re not sure how to incorporate anachronistic elements into costume, follow this handy rule of thumb: change only ONE thing. That is, there should be only one “out there” part of your costume (hair is a good place to start, for example) and the rest should be period.
  • Don’t be afraid to use non-Western clothing from the Victorian/Edwardian era as a basis for your costume. History–and alternate history–wasn’t just happening in Western Europe, you know.
  • Be aware of class and era differences. Formal Steampunk costumes are usually based on upper or middle class ensembles. Informal Steampunk outfits are generally variations on a working class look. Remember to keep the details specific to the era that you favor. For example, boots, pants (especially plaid), a loose, river boatman-type shirt, a soft cravat tied in a bow under the collar, and a top hat say “Victorian”. Boots, pants, a tank-style undershirt (or a collarless shirt, especially a striped one), suspenders, and a bowler hat say “Edwardian”.
  • If you are short of funds and/or need versatile costume pieces, stick to men’s wear. Male costume has changed very little over the past hundred years so you get can a variety of looks just by varying your neck and head gear.  Women dressing as men is perfectly period (think George Sand) and works even better for Steampunk.
  • Your entire costume, no matter how odd or edgy, should work as a whole. If you want to show off, your custom-made rocket pack, for example, the rest of your ensemble should say “aviator”. If you want to look as if you’ve just strolled off of Jules Verne’s “Nautilus”, your clothes should say “ship’s captain” or “seaman”. There’s no substitute for doing your homework.

Re: Halloween 2008 Wrap-Up

Halloween, the costumers’ bestest holiday of all, has come to an end and now it’s time to highlight some of the most original and innovative costumes that appeared during the 2008 season. I’ve mixed in some photos from the July 2008 ComicCon because I thought they would have made great Halloween costumes.


Cruella DeVille by saucy dragonfly (Flickr)

Saucy Dragonfly made this inspired Cruella DeVille costume by banding together a number of Dalmatian beany babies and then fastening them to her Dalmatian-print stole. Definitely the hostess with the mostess.


Lego Guys from the 2008 ComicCon held in San Diego, CA.

Click here to check out some more great costumes from 2008 ComicCon which was held in San Diego, CA. Although there are some very elaborate and detailed costumes, the best ones, in my opinion, consist of a simple concept well-executed. Much like these Lego Guys seen above.


Rock me, Sexy Jesus T-shirt wearers (Hamlet 2). 2008 ComicCon, San Diego, CA. Taken by San Diego Shooter on (Flickr)

Never underestimate the power of a bad wig and a snappy slogan T-shirt to make a great group costume.


Sarah Palin by mjkmjk (Flickr)

When the presidential election is held so close to Halloween, political costumes are certain to be popular. The one above, however, is definitely THE most disturbing Sarah Palin costume I have ever seen.


War hero McCain taken by jmtimages in Austin, TX (Flickr)

Nice combination of political mask and sailor suit, playing on McCain’s service as a Naval aviator.


Zombie Sarah Palin by alicia rae (Flickr)

Rumors of in-fighting between the McCain-Palin camps failed to convey the full horror of the experience. Extra points here for innovative use of plastic McCain mask. Can’t go wrong with zombies, I always say.


Shrek & Fiona, 2008 ComicCon, San Diego, CA

Nicely done re-creation of Shrek and Fiona from the animated movies of the same name. The key to doing a well-done movie costume is to choose a character whose body type most closely resembles your own. Extra points here for comfort. Both of these outfits look like they would by easy to wear during a long day at the convention.


Chainsaw Guy, 2008 ComicCon, San Diego, CA

Wear this costume and you will ALWAYS get to the front of the line.


Tie Fighter Guys, 2008 ComicCon, San Diego, CA

A couple of cardboard panels, hoodies, and blue jeans. Sheer genius!

Some costumes are so impressive that they deserve a web page all to themselves. Click here to see Ninkybink’s mini-skirted Marie Antoinette costume on Craftster.


I was particularly impressed by the shoes.

If you’re a fan of Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” urban fantasy series, you’ll want to take a look at Jim’s first Halloween costume contest winners here. A word of warning: you need to have read the books in order to totally appreciate the costumes.