Posts Tagged ‘steampunk fashion’

Okay, so it’s a horrible pun. But really, if you’re looking at the historical development over time of the bustle, could you resist? The fact remains that one of the classic elements of refined lady steampunk wear is the bustle. But what people seem to forget is that the bustle wasn’t always part of Victorian fashion and actually changed in style during the course of the Queen’s reign. If you’re going to use a bustle you might want to know exactly what decade (or in some cases as little as five year span) your character is from.

In the early Victorian era, women’s dresses didn’t even sport bustles. From the period of 1837 to 1860, skirts were still the wide-hooped variety you’d see in the costuming of the movie Gone With the Wind. It wasn’t actually until between 1865 that skirts, though still wide with extra crinolines, thank you, started sporting extra fullness toward the back, with an overskirt pulled back over an underskirt.

US patent 131840 circa 1872

Closer to 1870, this had developed into a padding placed beneath the skirt to accentuate that fullness toward the rear. From 1870 to 1875 you begin to see skirts of enormous volumes of fabric (like those designed by Worth) that is in cascades, and bunches, drapes, folds and dragging trains, augmented by a low-placed bustle (that actually would have hit about at the back of your knees – oh joy) to provide fullness to the fabric arrangement.

Dimity bustle of 1881

By 1875 to 1880 the skirting becomes more fitted to the form and nearly cylindrical in the front, yet still gathered in trains toward the back, with low fitted bustles that are more padding to augment the long-curved bodices in fashion. Ruching, pleats, full draping of fabric is still in vogue as are slightly smaller trains.

From the height of the bustle's glory

In 1880 to 1885 the bustle begins to emerge as more of a necessity as the gowns, nearly now all floor length unless you happen to be dragging about a train for an evening gown), sport even more of the overskirt gathered to the back in ever elaborate arrangements, which are so heavy that they drag the skirt down without proper support. The look of a shelf off the back of your bum is at it’s height and bustles come in any number of arrangements from collapsible wire cages, to ruffled, many layer long bustles meant to run the length of the skirt and be secured about the waist.

While still part of fashion, the bustle begins to shrink a bit in 1890 to 1895, probably in response to the enormous ballooning of the tops of ladies’ sleeves (in what’s called the Gibson girl or mutton sleeve look). The skirts still have also widened out a bit into more of a bell shape and are not so confining as they were in the 1875-1880 period, leaving room to wear a bustle without it being too evident, yet allowing it to make the waist, which is nipped in, look smaller. And really, by about 1893, the bustle has been reduced to just a pad.

A variety of mesh bustle designs

In 1895 to 1900, the sleeves shrink back down, big hats take center stage and the bustle is more of a remnant designed to add fullness, as the silhouette slopes forward in a changing corset style which also forces the rear to stick out.

The bustle still remains a fashion item up until about 1905, in the Edwardian period, when waistlines and the silhouette begin to meld together into a more tubular type skirting.

Like fashion, bustles were an evolving item. Knowing just how much to put behind you, and how to make it look, can peg you character from early to late Victorian. So, how much bustle will you be sporting?

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The fabulous Lolita Donna, aka Donna Ricci, proprietress of Clockwork Couture has come to my rescue and put together an amazing post about building a Steampunk wardrobe from the ground up.

Building a Steampunk from the grubby ground up

Creating a Steampunk ensemble requires imagination, ingenuity and creativity. The New Victorian movement is rarely portrayed accurately in movies in the true style of genre. To say that it “Damns the factory but celebrates the machine” is one of the most accurate quotes stemming from the budding subculture. Aristocrats are not fine lords and ladies but rather ship captains, yard bosses and storekeeps. This is the working class Victorian. Creators, inventors, metal smiths, dressmakers, musicians and explorers are the celebrities of the time and with that comes a more practical ensemble.

Figure out who you identify or can lose yourself in. After that, you must create the wardrobe to support it.

Thrift stores can be a great source to find sacrificial items to be altered. Many a prom dress was reinvented into a Victorian Steampunk gown. Do a little research before going in so you can keep an eye out for what makes sense.

If you want to do a period recreation, consignment shops and ebay can be a great source for authentic late 1800’s that is still very wearable. Beware that storage and sun are factors in how well a garment can withstand a soiree. Showcase it knowing that it may be a one shot deal and have a backup (or at the last great underclothes) should it fall away during the night’s revelry.

You can also either commission or buy off the rack at one of the online Steampunk Clothing stores opening up. A helpful salesperson can even guide you to get pieces that support your ideal self.

For ladies, you can never go wrong with a swag-front bustled skirt, ruffle-front blouse, granny boots and great little hat. Do remember your foundation when dressing, utilizing a corset to get the hourglass silhouette of the time. An underbust corset helps create that look while giving you more “breathing room”. Literally.

For men, a true gent can never be without coat and tails and a proper topper. Men’s clothing largely hasn’t changed over the years too terribly much. A pair of dress slacks and shirt will go well under a well tailored frock coat or tuxedo jacket. A bowler or top hat complete a dapper look. Spectacles or a dangling monocle distinguish a literary man from the uneducated worker and a cravat or ascot can cover up an unsightly or non period button up shirt. Don’t be afraid to show some frill. The Victorian gent was the first metrosexual.

Some pointers: Like a towel, a Steamer can never go wrong if he knows where his goggles are. It’s much like a passport, you should have a pair because you just never know what adventure awaits you today. Flights on dirigibles were as common as train rides in our alternate history, and one really does not fancy a bug in the eye.

Every subculture has had it’s ”symbol” as it were. The punks wore anarchy symbols stitched, painted or drawn on clothing and jewelry and the Goths had the ankh. Steampunks unite under the cog to show their avid love for invention, mechanics and time travel. Never be afraid or ashamed to don one.

Not unafraid of social qualms, Steampunk-styled ladies are NOT afraid to show their well fashioned corsets on the OUTSIDE. Cinch up a well curved waist over a skirt and show off 2” of backlacing. I dare you.

Being a celebration of technology, adventure, hopefulness and travel. It’s not uncommon to see the everyday tinkerer strapped into a homebrewed invention or altered object. Perhaps you could make a better pocketwatch or tietack. Perhaps they are both the same thing?

Because many period images were in sepia, many Steampunks have fancied themselves in browns and blacks. Partner that with the working class appreciation, and they tend to shun the acid dyes of the Victorians. This is not to say it’s not allowed, just know with Steampunk, brown is the new black.

Movies to watch for inspiration: Wild, Wild West starring Wil Smith and Kevin Kline, Steamboy (animated), The Prestige, Sherlock Holmes and Firefly. Recommended sounds: The Unextraordinary Gentleman, Tin Hat Trio, Emelie Autumn, and Rasputina.

With your help, we can create a night of Neo-Victorian opulence. A new Utopia with elaborate dress, impeccable manners, renewed chivalry and undeniable kindness. I hope to see you at the celebration.

Yours truly,

Captain Donna Ricci of the S.S. Clockwork Caravel


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Austin Lane Crothers, 46th Governor of Maryland sporting his top hat

Leave it to a hatter to cause a social stir, which explains a lot to me about why this piece of clothing so epitomizes the spirit of steampunk.

In January 1797, the man, named Hetherington, caused an upheaval in the streets of London by wearing his tall stove-pipe top hat as he ambled down the street. He drew a crowd and was eventually stopped by the police (by the collar no less) and was given a court summons for disturbing the public peace.

The officer present at the scene described the offence as follows: “Hetherington had such a tall and shiny construction on his head that it must have terrified nervous people. The sight of this construction was so overstated that various women fainted, children began to cry and dogs started to bark. One child broke his arm among all the jostling.”

Hetherington’s top hat literally made front page news. The London Times wrote “Hetherington’s hat points to a significant advance in the transformation of dress. Sooner or later, everyone will accept this headwear. We believe that both the court and the police made a mistake here.”

And was the reporter in the Times ever right. While Hetherington wasn’t the first to create the top hat (that honor goes to George Dunner a hatter from Middlesex in 1793), it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Eventually the top hat would come to be equated not only with the industrial revolution itself as ordinary captains of industry became the millionaires, but also the upper echelons of society.

At first they were used by the military. From 1803 to 1812 the Jaegers in the Imperial Russian Army used them as part of their uniform (but then dropped them in favor of Litwka Shako along with the other units of foot soldiers). (Cheeky nod here to the Jaegerkin of the steampunk comic Girl Genius…)

By 1830 even the working class man had a top hat usually made of felted rabbit fur. Those of the upper classes were crafted from felted beaver fur, beginning a huge upswing in the beaver fur trapping trade in North America. Those made as part of the uniform of policemen and postmen were created from black oilcloth to be suitable for outdoor wear in rain.

Beaver fur eventually gave way to silk for the upper classes. The black top silk hat was crafted from cheesecloth, linen, flannel and shellac. A skilled milliner, using various types of flat-irons, “baked” the shellac into the linen around a five-piece wooden hat block and covered with black silk plush, which came mostly from France. So expensive was the silk, that only the master tradesman (foreman) was permitted to cut it.

The hat was finished with a 2½ to 3 cm wide cloth hatband, which was later replaced by one of ribbed silk. For decades (nearly a whole century) the top hat was to go through several permutations. During this early Victorian time – i.e. approximately 1830 – top hats were extremely tall, some even reaching nearly eight inches high. The period of 1840-1850 saw the glory years of the top hat where it reached it’s tallest height. Prince Albert took the top hat from being a mere fashion statement to a symbol of urban respectability by donning the top hat in 1850.

Later in the Victorian era, from 1837 to 1901, the height was reduced to between six and six and a half inches. Around 1890, the top hat also received a larger crown, so appearing more tailored or ‘nipped in’. From around 1920, top hats were around five inches tall. That still applies today.

The spring loaded Gibus, or opera hat top hat that could be pressed flat by hand for easy storage, then popped back into shape, was invented by a Frenchman name Antoine Gibus in 1812 and patented in 1837.

The gray top hat has been used for wedding ceremonies since 1960 and actually comes from the Ascot horse races. It is around five inches in height and is made from wool felt. Today felt top hats are still made.

Custom top hats for steampunk fans vary from leather to felt, silk to vinyl and come in such an array of shapes, sizes, textures and styles that it’s as unique as the individual wearing it.

Fortunately for us, the top hat isn’t dead. It’s just found a new form of popularity among fans in a new generation.

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I’d like to welcome back Donna Ricci, Proprietress, of Steampunk Clothier, Clockwork Couture, purveyor of the cutest boots in town as Steampunkapalooza continues.

Have you entered our superfab contest yet? It runs through April 11 and gives you a chance to win a $150 GC to buy their amazing stuff.


What defines a “real” Steampunker? “Real” Steamers don’t just haphazardly stick cogs and gears all over things and call it Steampunk, right? “Real” steamers know Steampunk is much more than just slapping some craft store cogs on their clothes, right?

Yes and no.

Steampunk, like so many other movements, can be crazy elaborate. It’s not uncommon to see people giving over their whole lives to the style. With it’s combination of the classic and the contemporary, Steampunk has an unusually broad appeal and feels less threatening than some other aesthetics. This is both wonderful and worrying: people of all stripes can easily be Steamers. On the other hand…people of all stripes can easily be Steamers. It’s almost too easy – hang a spare part on a chain around your neck and suddenly you’re Steampunk. For puritans of the style, it’s tempting to feel insulted. You’ve put hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars into perfecting your gadgets, devices, and look, and then some poseur comes along, glues a gear to his hat, and voila – Steampunk.

The question I find myself asking is: so what?

Back in the day, what was a simple, tell-tale sign you were looking at a daytime Goth in casual black tank and jeans? She had an Ankh on. It was like a calling card. Yup, just that symbol alone told me she was one of my own. No secret handshake needed.

Before that, Punks had the anarchy symbol. Historically, just about every member driven society has created a symbol of membership, from the Knights Templar to the Masons. It makes introductions easier and says to everyone else who gets it “hey, I know you!” even if we’ve never actually met. I knew instantly we shared at least some values and gears and cogs have become that secret symbol for Steampunks, which is why I find it puzzling that so many get upset about seeing a gear or cog on a piece. Let’s face it – the line between historical reenactment and Steampunk can be a fine one. Fact is, if I walked into Dickens Faire or a Civil War re-enactors party, I wouldn’t know a Steamer from anyone else if they weren’t of the gadget having variety.

The gear embodies the Steampunk spirit as well as it’s style. It’s true that Steampunk is about technology, advancement, travel and wonderful inventions. Just about every mechanical piece with movement from the Victorian age uses a gear or a cog in it’s inner workings. But let’s not forget that Steampunk culture is about more than objects – it’s also about people and a sense of adventure and innovation. Whether one lives and breathes it, or simply hot glues an old test tube to a lunch box, there’s room for everybody. Here at Clockwork Couture, we’re amazed and delighted at the variety of people who want to take part, from hardcore devotees to suburban housewives.

So there it is, my permission. You have it. When a new piece of jewelry you have just put together, or bag or wrist cuff looks like it’s missing one detail, you have my blessing to slap a gear on it. Honest.

Now about those goggles on your top hat…


Thank you so much for joining us, Donna.  She’ll be back again on Friday.

It’s also not to late to win a signed print by artist Jasmine Becket-Griffith.

Author Jana Oliver will be joining us on Thursday, April 8th. On Saturday, April 10th we’ll be joined by The Royal Ladies’ & Gentle-mens’ Experimental Madness Society’s represented by Joseph CR Vourteque IV. On Sunday, April 11th TotusMel will be dropping by.

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Today’s visiting Lolita is Donna Ricci, Proprietress, of the super fabulous Steampunk Clothier Clockwork Couture.

Not only do they have amazing clothing (and boots to squee over), but they have a wide variety of accessories (can anyone say octopus parasol?) and men’s stuff. You can win some of their loot for yourself by entering our contest which runs through April 11.

Let’s give visiting Lolita Donna a big steampunkapalooza welcome!


Remember the scene with Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny finding a cave heaped high with gold and jewels? Daffy jumps up squealing, “Mine! Mine! Mine! Back! Back! Back! Down! Down! Down! Mine all mine!” That’s how I feel about getting a week to commandeer this blog. Happy, excited and eager to tell everyone about my entrée into the wonderful world of Steampunk. (And with no Bugs Bunny to get in my way.) Not unlike the newly converted, I’m ready to spread the word of how…well… connected the world of Steampunk is and should be.

I wasn’t always into connections.

I started in the world of Goth…

Long Beach, CA  1996

Long Beach, CA 1996

From the moment I heard of Steampunk 6 years ago, I didn’t entirely know what it was. Partly due to a poor explanation, partly due to my own lack of imagination, I didn’t connect to it. The singular thing I loved most about Gothic fashion was the Victorian aspect–once I found out about Steampunk my world popped open. Not only could I have color, I could have 19th century style and a computer too! This my friends was a match made in heaven. Never were more surrendering words spoken as I shed my funereal garb and set forth for the brave new world…

my wedding at the Magic Castle, Hollywood, CA September 2003my wedding at the Magic Castle, Hollywood, CA September 2003

You might think I’m a “subculture hopper” or “bandwagon jumper”, but the fact is, I had just actually been wandering around in Steampunk waters for more than 20 years. Now with bright eyes, eager wallet and a whole lot of inspiration, I knew the first thing on the agenda was:


The original attraction began with the clothes. A girl can only acquire so many black garments before she realizes that she’s hit a sartorial wall. I mean, black is slimming and all, but I needed a lift. And blood red? Not everyone can carry it off. I wanted color back in my life. Moving from goth to Steampunk was like Dorothy landing in Oz, going from monochrome to big, bustling Technicolor.


The SteamFashion community on Live Journal is still my biggest source for new virtual pals, inspiration, places to shop and a testing ground to show off mine. There are  specific yahoo groups for my area, other Live Journal communities, Tribes and Facebook fan pages to find other Steamers. Because everyone from Grandmothers to teens can appreciate the style and beauty of the Victorian era, you can find new comrades of all ages.


This I found, was the easiest part. Years of live-action roleplaying (get your mind out of the gutters), Comic Con, wacky friends and board games all has taught me that having a great persona and even more open-minded attitude is the keys to enjoying this  new sub-culture.


This can be hard when something is both new, and attaining rules for itself. Luckily, I’m secretly an immature, gay, black, punk-rock boy stuck inside this pale waif vessel, and nothing gives me more joy than saying “F*ck the rules”. Giving myself the freedom to ignore everyone else’s expectations makes having fun a whole lot easier.

I have since felt myself warmly welcomed into the Steampunk community. I now define myself as within that- happy to be among such like-minded people. The gentility, chivalry and friendliness I have encountered with these new friends has indeed immersed me in a new happy place, and frankly Auntie Em, I’m glad I’m not in Kansas anymore.

I hope we’ll stick together this week to see what my brain comes up with for you, and in turn, would love to hear from you as well. donna@clockworkcouture.com

Remember, have fun.

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On day two of Steampunkapalooza I am honored to introduce to you Truls Stokka, the owner of a fabulous clothing company called DraculaClothing http://draculaclothing.com/! Their clothing is amazingly well made and gorgeous! Their prices are also very reasonable and they are so nice! I highly recommend visiting them for your corset needs!

 Lolita Elizabeth: First off I want to thank you, Truls for gracing our blog with your presence and indulging me with a few questions! We are so happy to have you here with us at Steamed! to celebrate our one year anniversary!

 Truls Stokka: Thank you for having me here, I love your blog.

LE: Lets start at the very beginning as they say, how old were you when you first developed a love for alternative fashion? And when did steampunk enter into the picture?DraculaClothing

 TS: My first encounter with alternative fashion was when I watched, Bram Stokers Dracula when I was 16 (1992) and The Crow two years later. I hadn’t heard about goth at that time, but in 1995 I started going to Gotham Nights in Oslo, I have always preferred the Victorian aristocrat side of the Goth culture, but I guess the first time I heard the word steampunk was 4 or 5 years ago.

 LE: Was it your love of alternative clothing that drove you to start DraculaClothing? And what sparked the idea to start sharing your fabulous clothing with all of us?

 TS: What made me start DraculaClothing was two events. I had a trip to India in ’98 where I met some amazing tailors that created some suits and coats for me from some drawings I made, the quality and price was unlike anything I had seen before and I thought about opening a shop for suits, but for some reason I didn’t.

 Then about three years ago I was walking around in Camden planning to buy some clothing, I was less than impressed with the design and quality of nearly everything I saw and the prices where horrible, so I decided that I would make a shop that would sell quality clothes at a reasonable price.

 LE: Well I am sure I am not the only speaking here when I say that I am so glad you started DraculaClothing! Do you create all your clothing designs? What inspires you when come up with designs?DraculaClothing

 TS: Ida and I make most of the designs ourself, we had a few other people who have made 1 or 2 corsets, but it is mainly us. The Victorian and Edwardian age is the number one inspiration although I try to do some new version of it, like the male V-shaper that is a mixture between a traditional vest and a male corset or corsets that have panels that hides the busk like Steampunk Officer Underbust.

LE: I personally love to blend the goth style with steampunk, do you like to mix and match the two styles or do you keep them separate?

TS: I love to mix all kinds of styles, the Goth Lolita scene has a lot of interesting elements, the Rococo age had some extraordinary outfits, if I want to design something masculine I always look at military officer uniforms, and even modern designers like Alexander McQueen (very sad that he died) have some interesting elements. I am working to create some steampunk outfits that look steampunk by themselves. Most of the steampunk outfits I have seen are steampunk because of the accessories, and the clothing itself is mostly victorian.

LE: Being a lover of all things Vampire I have to ask, why the name Dracula Clothing? Are you a fan of Vampires or just Dracula in specific?DraculaClothing

TS: Bram Stokers Dracula is a masterpiece for me, and when I think about that movie I think about elegant clothing aristocrat lifestyle and Winona Ryder;), and I wanted a name people would remember that was available.

 LE: Well who didn’t love Winona Ryder in Bram Stokers Dracula? She had such a fabulous wardrobe! If you ever decide to recreate the red dress she wore in that movie let me know! What first pulled you into the steampunk subculture?

TS: Difficult question, I don’t think I have been pulled into a steampunk subculture, I have been in a goth subculture and some of them have started dressing steampunk occasionally. I would love to go to some steampunk parties in the US though (feel free to invite me) 

LE: Have you heard of this gathering known as Steamcon in Seattle, WA? You could set up a booth there! And it is a totally fun steampunk party all weekend! Ok, last question! Any tips for us corset wears out there? I have yet to be able to lace my own corset tightly by myself, should I practice yoga to become more limber or does it generally require an extra set of hands?

TS: Ida is the expert in that area, she manages to lace herself up easily, I think we have to make a video of that and post it in our blog.

LE: I would adore you forever if you made that video! Might save me from dislocating my shoulder! Thank you so much for joining us! I speak from personal experience when I say your clothing is lovely! I adore the steampunk princess corset I got from you!

TS: Thank you!

 I hope you enjoyed this lovely chat with Truls Stokka owner of DraculaClothing! Stay tuned for more exciting guests as our Steampunkapalooza marches on!


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Hot topic steampunk jacketIs it a good thing that steampunk is popping up in so many very mainstream places? I found the jacket and the timepiece ring at Hot Topic which for hosting a plethora of goth/alternate clothing is beyond mainstream! I am a little on the fence about this topic, because I feel that steampunk is a very D.I.Y. subculture and feel it takes away from it when you can just go into a store and procure an entire “steampunk” outfit. On the flip side though, for those with limited time or are less than crafty this provides them with a way to enjoy steampunk fashion. I have seen it pop up everywhere, from store window displays to magazines to commercials all very mainstream places and so many more people have at least heard of steampunk. It is also catching on with the teen crowd. I do have to say as an author I am kind of stoked, because well when I contract my steampunk book I will have that many more readers. But after attending Steamcon 2009 and seeing the amazing effort people put into the wardrobe and how they adopted the mannerisms and feel of the steampunk subculture so well, I can’t help but wonder what this fabulous and amazing subculture is going to morph into as more and more people take it on. It has reached so far into mainstream that the lovely half-naked angel with the amazing wings is actually a model strutting her stuff at the Victoria’s Secret fashion show! For the record I want her whole outfit, wings included! I suppose what it really boils down to is we should be glad that so many people are able to find some joy in steampunk and we know that those of us with the love of steampunk firmly rooted in our hearts will still be standing after the fad has faded. And yes I will always be glad that this has informed so many people what steampunk is….it will make marketing so much easier! 🙂 So what are your thoughts, is it good, bad or ugly that steampunk has come barreling into the mainstream on a steam-powered locomotive? ~Elizabeth

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