Steampunk costuming versus Steampunk clothing

A woman smiling and wearing Steampunk goggles

Is Steampunk clothing a costume?  YES!

My question for you is: What ISN’T a costume?

Because when I wore a suit to work, I thought of it as a costume. That’s not because I thought wearing a suit made me into some sort of fake person or movie-style corporate drone; I like wearing suits.  But it was still a costume; it was still a set of garments put together to achieve a specific effect.  I mean, Merriam-Webster defines a costume as:

“an outfit worn to create the appearance characteristic of a particular period, person, place, or thing.”

A friend of mine told me, with some annoyance in his voice, that he’d seen “Steampunk Costumes” for sale at a Halloween store.  He felt upset that the culture in which he lived and made music could be “reduced” to a set of accessories which could be purchased for about twenty bucks.

But why should we be upset about that?

When I used to wear the aforementioned suits, I’d get them from a thrift store for about ten dollars apiece – twelves dollars, if I also wanted a tie.  They weren’t as nice as suits that cost, say, $300, and they didn’t fit as well, but they did the job.  Nobody ever called me a fake businessperson because of them*.

Does your Steampunk clothing matter?  Sure, but we get to choose how it matters.  We’re all making Steampunk culture together.  So what do we want it to mean?

I’m going to suggest that we keep doing what we already do, and care about intention and actions more than we care about surface.  Did you get your Steampunk clothes at some mainstream store?  Doesn’t matter to me, if you wear them to participate, to dance with us or drink with us or talk with us, or even, if you’re shy, just to hang out and be one of us.  Did you make your Steampunk clothes?  I’m impressed – I can’t even sew a button!  Did you find your Steampunk clothes at garage sales?  I’ve done some of that – can you give me some tips?  Did you save up and purchase things from some Steampunk artisan?  I’ve done that, too – I can give you recommendations, if you want!

Steampunk clothing?  Steampunk costume?  Honestly, I’m prepared to admire lots of things about someone’s Steampunk getup – whether it’s uniqueness, or how you wear it, or a sense of style, or dash and flair, or originality, or any one of a dozen qualities which can be expressed through attired.  But it’s fairly hard to get me to judge someone negatively for their Steampunk clothes.  I care about what you wear because it’s an extension of you.

Steampunk is what we make of it, and you, in the Steampunk world, are what you make of yourself.  Clothes matter; everything matters.  That’s because you matter.

~Jeff Mach

Jeff Mach Events

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