Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Steampunk Costume Loves by Gail Carriger

I've had a love affair with costuming for as long as I can remember. For me any day of the year could be Halloween. Then I got into historical reenactment, and then I discovered steampunk. As a result, you might describe my steampunk costumes as quite proper, so far as these things go. I'm lucky enough to be able to do several steampunk events a year, but because so many of them require flying I've settled in to four basic outfits that travel well: this means I have something for Friday night, Saturday day, Saturday night, and Sunday day.

Each of my steampunk outfits has its variations and its reasons. Each includes parts that I have made myself and items that I have purchased. Some objects are quite meaningful, others are quite silly, for me that's the beauty of steampunk.

1. The Spoons

The spoons with and without the jacket. (Without photo is by J. Daniel Sawyer)

Why I love it: This was my first steampunk outfit, the spoons corset in particular has become associated with me. I love the whimsy of that particular element, and at the time it was an entirely whimsical choice.

Secret sources: The jacket is a vintage 1940's number that is tacked and turned and trimmed with 1950s copper paperclips (found in a friend's garage) and ribbon.

How I acquired it: The black skirt and taffeta over-skirt are both thrift store scores. Shoes are Via Spigas from Nordstrom Rack. In the bellow image, I am wearing the over-skirt and corset over one of my 1970s vintage evening gowns, because that particular gown travels very well, without wrinkles. The goggles dangling from waist are by Brute Force Studios and are made of tea strainers.

The spoons with an alternate underdress.

Deeper meaning: Because it is the oldest for my steampunk outfits, this one has been modified the most. It has grown along with me and my relationship to the steampunk community. I use it to cater to my love of tea, hence the teaspoons and the tea strainer goggles.

DIY moments: The hat is a straw blank from Ben Franklin's doll section decorated with lace, old watch parts, and a rose made of feathers via the trusty hot glue gun. I'm wearing it with a black pocket belt and a holster for my folding tilting vintage parasol both made from cargo pants. For this outfit I took an old torn lace ready-to-wear sweetheart Dark Garden corset and sewed a ton of brass buttons and beads all over it with the teaspoons at the neckline. This was well before I was an author and had deadline demands, I blog all about it in detail.

The Spoon corset in detail.

Special touches: I carry a little teaspoon on a chain dangling from my pocket belt, which I find endlessly useful. I wear the pen around my neck almost all the time at any convention, as well as an octopus piece of jewelry somewhere.

2. The Teal

Cover of Changeless that inspired the outfit.

Why I love it: It's quick and easy and it travels small, because the skirt is more narrow than puffy.

Deeper meaning: It matches the cover of my second novel, Changeless. Although I've made some adjustments and modifications. It isn't a color I would normally choose but the teal is one of the reasons I love it, it stands out. I use this outfit to emphasize my author activities.

The Teal with and without the jacket.

How I acquired it: I ordered the top and skirt in a custom color from Clockwork Couture. I paired it with my Dark Garden pinstripe pointed Victorian under-bust corset with vest detailing, over a black Max Studio 1920s influenced dress. If you're interested in corsetry I have blog posts all about how to chose them, how to fit them, and how to wear them. I adore corsets, worked for years for a couture company, and a have amassed a vast collection over years.

Secret sources: I had the jacket tailored by my friend Sarah, who is a professional seamstress with the theater. The necklace above is made of hardware store parts. The large flowered parasol is from the online retailer Lace Parasols & Fans. All my corset busk covering buttons came from Rubyblackbird on Etsy.

DIY moments: I milled the hat, it started life as a tiny buckram fedora. I added feathers, old beaded earrings, and big teal buttons using needle and thread. The velvet middle skirt was made by splitting and modifying the bottom part of a thrifted dress. I now wear this outfit with the black pocket belt and a holster for my folding tilting vintage parasol both made from cargo pants.

Special touches: The black octopus necklace was a gift (similar but even cuter, Sea Devil Black Octopus Necklace $18). I found the typewriter key earrings and teal watch necklace in various steampunk dealer's room, and now I can't function at a convention without either. The broaches and pins all over the pocket belt are collected from flea markets and gifts from readers.

3. The Autumn 


Why I love it: I love this outfit because it is so cheerful and because it has no black elements.

Deeper meaning: Secretly this is my favorite steampunk look for two reasons: because the corset is so small it's my most comfortable and because the skirt is so long, I can wear this with flat boots and rest my feet.

How I acquired it: The shirt and skirt were thrift store scores, the skirt was clearly a bridal item, the pickups already sewn in. I pair it with my favorite Dark Garden corset of all time, a small corselette that looks very like a Swiss Waist.

Swiss waist photo from the 1860s

Secret sources: The feathers are from a thrifted wall mask, it was falling apart when I got it. The bird is a fake one from a sewing supply store. The teapot pin was made by Rubyblackbird on Etsy.

DIY moments: The hat blank was from a thrift store, I think it was meant to be a wall decoration which I stripped and redecorated. The pocket belt is made from a cargo skirt, nice to have all those pockets all the time. This one is my favorite.

The back side.

Special touches: The fan dangling from my waist is from Brute Force Studios. I ordered it because the fan becomes key to my main character in the Finishing School Series. Occasionally I'll wear this with an old-fashioned field lens around my neck, reminiscent of my archaeology days.

4. The Fancy


The fancy full version, and casual.

Why I love it: I built this outfit after I immersed myself in the steampunk culture. I wanted something that was more evening for Saturday night events. It was assembled from scratch with steampunk in mind, rather than cobbled together from costume bits I already owned. I bought the fabric and gave it to Dark Garden to make the corset. I wanted something so unique no one else would ever have it.

Secret sources: The two iridescent taffeta skirts came from two different thrift stores at two different times. They are probably both bridal. I also employ tassels once intended for curtains.

DIY moments: I had extra bed ruffles so I used them to make the underskirt fluffy. You can see me wearing just the underskirt in the second image above. The undershirt is dyed with tea to make it less white. Over-skirt is also decorated with trim and ruffles, I used the excess to build out a bit of a bustle at the back. I picked up most of this trim from a major score at a church sale in San Jose back in 1996.

The bed-ruffle underskirt, and many ruffled over-skirt, and the tea died undershirt.
How I acquired it: The corset is a Dark Garden custom with custom fabric, the Alicia style with Princess cross-back straps. It's my favorite over-bust corset designed for bodice wear, and it fits me perfectly, it's so comfortable.

Special touches: The hat is a teeny tiny bucrum which I recovered with more of the corset fabric and decorated with a fake humming bird and feathers from that broken mask. I talk about a number of the accessories for this outfit in a special dedicated blog post.

The hat.

Deeper meaning: This outfit is rather frilly, I don't know if I can find much meaning in frills. I do wear it with my patchwork boots. They are vintage Kenneth Coles, and were possibly the greatest shoe score of my life. My BFF found and bought them for me in High School from Buffalo Exchange on Telegraph in Berkeley for a cool $20. They are patchwork, velvet and brocade, Lord Akeldama would be proud. And, shockingly, they are comfortable! I always think of my best friend when I wear them.

So those are my four favorite steampunk outfits and why I love them. I also have a cream steampunk outfit I bring out for special occasions.

If you'd prefer to be inspired by the past, here's a fun blog post on Steampunk Outfits ~ Timeline of Inspiration. If you are particularly interested in the steampunk aesthetic I have a number of other blogs on the subject.

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

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