There’s a lot of discussion about whether or not Steampunk dress is “costume”, and I have a firm opinion, which is: I don’t care. If someone wants to dress in a Steampunk manner for fun, for fashion, as a lifestyle choice, as an identity, or because it makes them feel good, I say: “Go for it!” And I’ll tell you how.
Want to know how to dress like a Steampunk?
Get some goggles.
Does that sound like a cliche? Does that sound too easy? Here’s the deal: It’s only as cliche’d as what you choose to do with it. Steampunk is not a Game of Goggles; it’s not a place where you gain respect by having the fanciest or most expensive stuff, nor lose respect by having the simplest and most inexpensive. You gain respect based on who you are and what you do.
I know – that sounds like a fantasy, right? It’s not because Steampunks are better than other people – it’s not because Steampunks don’t judge by appearance or money or fashion; all humans do that, to some extent. It’s because you can’t “win” Steampunk. You can’t say “My Steampunk is better than everyone else’s” – I mean, you can, but then other people won’t want to play with you.
Steampunk grew up in the age of the Internet, when it’s incredibly easy to mock things or criticize. But it lives at gatherings, dinners, festivals, conventions, concerts, and shows – social spaces where you see each other, face to face. Internet trolling happens because it’s faceless and anonymous and easy and you don’t have to deal with consequences. But some of the greatest fun and greatest fulfillment happens in person, and that means that we share our work and discuss things on the Internet, knowing we’ll probably meet up, or have friends who meet up, someday.
And that makes us accountable. It means our choices matter.
And so, given the choice to be nice or not, we choose nice because it’s how we want to be treated ourselves.
So seriously, for costuming: Just start off with some goggles. Buy ’em, make ’em, facepaint ’em on – it doesn’t matter. The goggles just open the door; the best Steampunk costumes are the ones worn by our friends, because friends make us happier than even the shiniest of shiny things.
Oh, and top hats. Top hats are also pretty cool.
Jeff Mach runs Jeff Mach Events, which in turn runs the world’s largest Steampunk event, The Steampunk World’s Fair; the peculiar Faerie festival Glimmerdark, and co-runs Dark Side Of The Con (with VampireFreaks). He’s on Twitter @steamworldsfair.