Building the Ultimate Steampunk Outfit from the Grubby Ground Up

This Saturday LACMA Muse is holding its annual Muse ‘til Midnight event, which will include live music, open bar, a mustache contest (you heard me), and viewings of Manly Pursuits and Catherine Opie. Taking its inspiration from the Eakins exhibition, the theme of the night is a throwback to an earlier, more industrial age. That’s why many of us on the Muse team were outfitted in Steampunk attire by the clothiers at Clockwork Couture. We talked to Clockwork’s Captain Donna Ricci to give us (and you) some pointers on making the perfect Steampunk outfit.

Can you describe the inspiration for the Steampunk aesthetic?
To say that Steampunk “Damns the factory but celebrates the machine” is one of the most accurate quotes stemming from the budding subculture. Inspiration for the look comes from the working-class Victorian: not fine lords and ladies but rather ship captains, yard bosses, storekeeps, metal smiths, dressmakers—and with that comes a more practical ensemble.

Something about that working-class angle comes across in the colors of a lot of Steampunk outfits—they’re not wildly colorful.
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.

How would one go about creating the Steampunk look?
Creating a Steampunk ensemble requires imagination, ingenuity, and creativity. 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.

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. 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 an 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.

It seems like a lot of the Steampunk look is in the accessories.
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.

Thadeus Dowad, Muse Intern

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