Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Steampunk Inspiration ~ The 1880s with Gail Carriger

The 1880s is my single favorite time period in historical clothing. I chose to set my books before and after this time period for political and historical reasons, but some day I may write a story or two set in the 1880s just because I love the fashion so much. 

1888 Coat  1888  Antique Dress
How much do I want to do a replica of this for a crosplay Sherlock Holmes? So much.

The 1880s is a time period characterized by layers of sumptuous fabrics, attention to detail with continued military influences, form fitting cuts, and a marvelous synchronicity of color. Remind you steampunkers of something?

  Carriage Ensemble  1882  The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1

The industrial revolution and the expanded empire (and what essentially was the imperialistic beginnings of globalization) gave the Victorians access to amazing fabrics from all around the world, cheap machine made lace and buttons, and a plethora of new style options. Fashion houses were really beginning to carve out names for themselves and at the same time lesser shops could afford to replicate their designs for the middle classes. All of these things had their roots earlier in fashion history, but the 1880s saw them all conflate together. Tied to the more fitted silhouette and experimentation with asymmetry, you end up with a period in fashion history that I just adore.

1880 Day Dress  c.1880  United States  Drexel University

This one above would be so easy to steampunk thrift for. An over-sized jacket or robe, cut back and crossed over a corset. The rest of the fabric used for the front drape or panels. Underskirt as close as possible to the corset fabric and ta da!

1881  Whitaker Auctions

Plaid was all over the runways for fall 2014, so expect to see it in high street shops now, and then in the thrift stores this summer. The above could be made out of a men's plaid bathrobe, just tailor and cut asymmetrical. Look at all the superfluous buttons, it's steampunk already. Find an 80s velvet prom dress for underneath, and then tailor it, remove the sleeves, add a ton of fringe. This would be so easy to replicate.

1883 Charles Fredrick Worth, 1883  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I like this because it is a great example of what to do when the top part of a dress is too small. A chronic problem for yours truly and her ridiculous Rack. It's basically finding some kind of top bit that does go over the Rack, then a sash or a Swiss waist, then build the rest of the dress around that. It doesn't all have to match, frankly. Also I do love the bold fabric.

1886  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I chose this one because of the piecey nature of the top section. That collar could come from one thing, the lace from another, and the trim from somewhere else. And then all the bows! It could totally be made from a bunch of different fabrics all in the same color profile.

1884-1886  France  Les Arts Decoratifs

I have a bit of a thing about heavy velvet trim. I just love it. No clue why. Perhaps because it has a sumptuous ermine feel.

Afternoon Dress
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Here are just a few other images that I love from this time period. So decadent.

Skating Ensemble
Augusta Auctions

Augusta Auctions
Cape  1880  The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Jacket  1883  The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Jacket  1880s  Augusta Auctions

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


  1. I have to admit that I am highly entertained by you referencing your 'ridiculous Rack' on your Retro Rack blogspot. Great blog, by the way.

  2. Do you by chance have the original link for the 1880 Day dress in the third photo down? I'm looking for other angles so I can commission someone to make it for me.

    1. It's likely via OMG That Dress. She runs and archive. If you plug int eh date you shoudl get it. Or you can do a google image search of the title I put bellow the dress that should call it up. Or go to the site names in the image.


If you are using LJ to comment, it may not work.