Steampunk Costumes 101: A Handy Conference Costuming Guide by Bec McMaster

Convention season is almost here, so now’s the time to start planning your outfits, right? Right. If you’re considering going the steampunk route (one of our personal favorites) Bec McMaster is here to help! Today, she gives us the lowdown on dressing with some Victorian flair, and Bec knows of what she speaks, as her fifth London Steampunk novel (an RT Top Pick!), Of Silk and Steam, is out this week.

What is steampunk? At it’s most basic, it’s a genre/style of historical attributes with sci-fi or punk elements. It could be anything from genre fiction, to a style of music, to clothing, to movies. It is often set during the Victorian era, but it doesn’t strictly have to be a British style. Maybe you’re interested in creating your own Chinese steampunk outfit? An Indian bounty hunter? Or steampunk Wild West style?

Just don’t forget the punk elements of steampunk, AKA that anachronistic edge. Think tattoos, brightly colored hair, dreadlocks or torn stockings, and anachronistic materials, such as using leather for your corset.

So how do we go about it?

1. Decide what type of role you want to play. Do you want to create a character, play with a particular archetype or just add a few gears and some goggles to your outfit?

Some steampunk character ideas: Aviator, adventurer, sky pirate, captain of a dirigible, mechanic, scientist (mad scientist!), femme fatale, a Victorian magician/assistant, detective, aristocrat, assassin, bounty hunter. If you can think of it, you can probably create it.

If you want to take it to the extreme, you can even name your character. Search the internet for a random steampunk name generator for ideas. An example: I could be Captain Lydia Danvers-Barstowe (from a random generator), because I would love to play a lady sky pirate, and those names fit the time period.

Or maybe you want to take a popular character from TV or movies and steampunk them up? Like a steampunk Batman or Catwoman? Or any of the X-Men? Maybe a steampunk Leia? Alice in Wonderland?

You can also look to steampunk-style movies for inspiration: Van Helsing; The League Of Extraordinary Gentleman; Wild, Wild West.


Van Helsing: featuring steampunk-style vampire hunters.

2. Research! Sketch your ideas, or go online and search for the many amazing steampunk images out there. It’s a wide community, and there are some absolutely gorgeous costumes to behold.

3. Get to it. Part of the fun in cos-playing steampunk is the craft involved (sewing, leather-making, etc.), but don’t let that restrict you if you if you can’t sew a stitch to save yourself! You can find complete costumes ready-made online, all you have to do is search. You could even stalk Etsy for some gorgeously hand-crafted pieces (OMG, the hats!). If you go this easier route, you can find some very nicely crafted items that you might not be able to create yourself. But these items don’t come cheap, and you run the risk of someone else having the same costume. Remember, steampunk is strongly about individualism.

Also consider raiding your own closet or your favorite thrift store. You can find some awesome conversation pieces and nobody will have the same outfit. Plus, it could all come together quite cheaply. Of course, this approach can take more time and it may be difficult to find the precise item required.

Perhaps you need only that perfect accessory to complete your look, such as: steampunk-style wings, ray guns, bounty-hunting kit, goggles, altered rifles, jetpacks, masks or even a clockwork parrot to perch on your shoulder. You can craft a lot of these items yourself, with painted cardboard, materials, foam, wire, old handbags or belts, or children’s toys and paint. Check out your local craft or fabric store. You could put together corsets, funky hats, waistcoats, monocles, pocket watches, cravats, gloves, belts or holsters, parasols, jodhpurs, pith helmets, leather boots, Chinese fans, kimonos, chaps, spurs, lace and everything in between!


Some random items from my wardrobe that I could put together. Now all I need are some goggles, lacy gloves and a weapon!

As you can see, the possibilities are endless, so good luck, and I hope to see some gorgeous steampunk cos-players out there!

Bec McMaster

Remember that Of Silk and Steam, the latest in Bec’s London Steampunk series, is out now! And for more otherworldly fun, books and authors, visit our Everything Paranormal page.

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