Friday, April 19, 2013

Steampunk Outfits ~ Timeline of Inspiration from Gail Carriger

Here are some inspirational images, Fashionable Reader, from the past to, perhaps, guide one's creation of a Steampunk look.

 18th century lat Riding Coats The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Have a dress that fits on top but not the bottom? Turn the bottom into the peplum of a riding style jacket like those pictured above.

 1760s  Nasjonalmuseet for Kunst, Arketektur, og Design; 1775-1793 Court Suit The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 A great thing to do with ornate robes, dressing gowns, oversized jackets, or even shirt dresses is to cut them back and decorate them into tail coats.  I made the jacket of this dress from a brown velvet dressing gown of my late grandmother's.

 Jewell models it for me.

 1855-1865  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Godeys Dec 1872
"White velveteen jacket. This is a tight jacket, without sleeves, of white velveteen with silk; it is made with revers, and trimmed with blue cords and blue knob buttons not he shoulders and under the arms. A bow of blue cord with ends and tassels ornaments the front."

 1872 Godeys Sept 1872 
"Overwaist of blue silk, trimmed with black lace; it is to be worn over a black silk dress, and is very dressy and pretty."

 1879 Wedding Dress; and velvet 1887-1889  both The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I love the treatment of the buttons on the jacket part in both these outfits. Note the open front of the velvet one? This technique, a tapestry of some other kind of panel insert up the front with buttons down both sides, might be used to over-make a thrifted jacket that doesn't meet in the middle over the Rack. Just a thought.

1885-1886  The Goldstein Museum of Design; 1888 Afternoon Dress Charles Fredrick Worth, 1888  The Metropolitan Museum of Ar

Brown and cream and burgundy and cream are both elegant yet underused color pallets. In the first gown above, I could see a steampunk version made from a dress or robe several sizes too big.

 Boy’s Jacket and Vest  1870-1875  The FIDM Museum

 1888-1892  Augusta Auctions; 1890-1893  The Goldstein Museum of Design

 1890s Petticoat; 1893 Underskirt  both The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Pretty petticoats are fun, I like to make mine very elaborate under my dresses. My brown and cream outfit (pictured on Jewell above) goes from day to evening by removing the satin overdress and velvet jacket, putting busk cover buttons on the corset and adding a little lace shrug. The evening outfit therefore becomes all cream lace and brocade. I'll be wearing it at Nova Albion, so hopefully I'll remember to take photos of the transformation.

1894 Augusta Auctions

I chose this because of the slashing on the sides of the skirt and the counter sleeve. This is a great example of how two thrifted dresses might be combined to form one (larger) finished item.

Girl’s Dress  1876  The Los Angeles County Museum of Art

 1895  The Museum at FIT; 1896 Ensemble  The Philadelphia Museum of Art

And these show how trim can make a relatively plain base look period. The first two also are  examples of how an added hem, cuffs, and collar can made a gown longer enough if you thrifted something too short.

1899  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Military elements were popular in riding jackets and they are a great way to bring a masculine edge of a steampunk outfit. Easy to do, too, just lay on a whole bunch of cord and start stitching.

 1900 Dinner Dress  Jean-Philippe Worth  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Again, note the manipulation of the jacket? With larger assets up top, utilizing a jacket that is too small by paneling in ornate inserts along the front, to simulate a waistcoat, is a great away to stretch to compensate for the Rack. Also you can get these long lean lines down the front which are very slimming. The above dress carried the line all the way down the front with a single gore and embroidery detail. 

 1907  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

On the other hand taking a jacket that is oversized and tailoring it down with added decoration is an alternate option. Nip in like crazy and then cover up any mistakes in tailoring by adding belt and other embellishments and large buttons. Bonus for using a pocket flat as a collar. Be sure to check out the menswear section of any thrift store, men's jackets often come in very steampunk fabrics and can often be fitted down to the female figure.

Another thing to take from the above image is the fact that the skirt is a different shade, but tied back to the jacket by using matched buttons. So simple! Such an easy way to bring an outfit together.

1918 Military Uniform  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Retro Rack is also on facebook where I post additional images and fashion thoughts.


  1. Thank you--this is really helpful to see the "primary source" fashions!

  2. How delightful- so many beautiful clothes!

  3. Love the possibilities!

    I see details here and there that I would love to incorporate into something I might pull together.


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