Colouring up Steampunk Cosplay

Why do people think that dressing in ‘authentic’ Steampunk means your outfits have to conform to the colour range of Victorian-era photographs: black, brown, sepia, cream, and white. The Victorian era saw the invention of new dye and fabric technologies; in fact, this was one of the major marketing forces pushing the Industrialization of the Western World along at a breakneck speed. This was the era where the phenomenon of ‘fashionable’ colours came into its own.

Adding more than a dash of colour to Steampunk cosplay - and doesn't it look brilliant!

Adding more than a dash of colour to Steampunk cosplay – and doesn’t it look brilliant!

Aniline dyes were discovered by accident when William Perkin was trying to synthesize quinine. Perkin discovered mauveine, but other chemists and scientists went on to rapidly discover other dyes like fuchsine and safranine.

Sir William Henry Perkin with his most recognizable discovery: Mauveine.

Image result for Mauveine

Mauveine Dress

Left: Day dress, United States, c. 1830, silk satin patterned with weft floats, dyed with madder or cochineal.  Right: Day dress of piña cloth, United States (fabric from Philippines), 1868-70, pineapple leaf fiber (piña) plain weave dyed with fuchsine; silk pain weave underdress trimmed with silk net. Both from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photographs by Susan Holloway Scott.

The dress on the right was dyed with fuchsine.

1870s Woman's Promenade Dress (LACMA)

A dress dyed with safranine dye … it is unknown how much the colours may have faded. In the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Personally, I prefer the colourful cosplay over the fifty shades of brown. Not everyone agrees.



Filed under Bling, Cosplay, History, Steampunk Cosplay

12 responses to “Colouring up Steampunk Cosplay

  1. Reblogged this on chrispavesic and commented:
    I happen to like both the “fifty brown shades” and the colorful ones.

    • I like a dash of colour in the more sombre outfits. A dash of pink on a navy suit, a splash of red embroidery on a dark brown coat and shirt, even purple and green accessories to freshen a black dress.

      • I love the small touches of color too–especially pink!

      • Pink is such a lovely colour. It is only quite recently that the marketing rule, ‘blue for boys, pink for girls’ became ingrained in Western culture. In the Victorian era, a man could wear pink and still be considered very masculine. It was a very different matter to pin a green carnation on your lapel …

  2. Lime Green! Chartruese! Orange!

    I love the brightness of the Victorian period, and many of my reenactment gowns are in bright colours (because I CAN!), I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to defend having a fire engine red dress (Yes, it IS historically accurate a colour, let me show you a number of my favourite brightly coloured extant gowns!)

    • The Victorian era was closer – colourwise – to the psychedelic Sixties than to any other fashion era. But people look at the black & white photographs and don’t have the knowledge or imagination to ‘see’ the colours.

      • Very true. It is hard to look at those early pictures and understand that the shades of grey represent a full spectrum of colors. The somewhat dour expressions necessitated by the fact that the subjects needed to hold still for so long also reinforces the “somber mood and colors” idea.

      • Even a little research provides a better understanding of the colours that the Victorians wore. They were the same about interior decorating – they often painted their rooms in the most lurid tones. And those grim expressions …getting your photograph taken was expensive, and I’d be feeling a bit grim too. *grins*

  3. Great post! My first Steampunk sewing project was a purple tutu with a bustle and train 🙂

  4. It’s also worth remembering the basic distortions of the photographic process. It’s not just changing color to shades of grey, or sepia. The light-sensitive materials of the early days just couldn’t see some colors of ordinary light. Even those WW1 pictures we see so often recorded reds as much darker grey. Even the most modern of panchromatic films are biased towards blue, and a yellow filter (yellow because not-blue) is needed to show clouds against sky. Good color photography was a hard problem to solve because of this, and the relatively low sensitivity to red light was a reason why Kodachrome had to be a slow-speed film.

    So that picture of your ancestor in a black dress could easily have been one of those very red dyestuffs in reality.

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