Bram Stoker’s Dracula may not seem like a Steampunk movie on first viewing. But any movie with Doctor Abraham Van Helsing should be automatically slotted into the Steampunk genre, because he uses modern technology to fight vampires, such as electric lamps which could be attached to a prospective victim to act as a deterrent. He is also one of the original ‘mad scientists’ of the literary world – not the action figure portrayed in some movies and comics. (However, Carl from 2002 movie Van Helsing has my undying admiration for his gadgetry.)
Dress designs for the movie were by Eiko Ishioka. There were many gorgeous dresses in this film, but my personal favourite is the green walking dress worn by Mina , played by Winona Ryder, the original Manic Pixie Girl. Dracula was written and set in the 1890s. It is the dress Mina is wearing when she first encounters Dracula.
Since Dracula was published in 1897, we can use that as the benchmark time period for the movie costume. The most striking feature of the dress is the clever use of pleats to add ornamental details; the fabric is folded like Origami. The multiple waterfall folds of the bustle creates contrasting diamonds of colour. The unusual dag hemline of the white blouse is accentuated with more pleats. Are these features historically accurate?
The above dresses are replicas garments based on historical designs from the late 1800s. Waterfall pleats were certainly used in the Victorian era, and the multiple pleats on the green walking costume is quite likely to have been used in reality. The Victorians were never shy about ornamentation. I was unable to find evidence of a Victorian-era blouse with a similar dag hemline, which isn’t to say there weren’t any.
As you can see from the two examples above, the silhouette of the green walking dress resembles the 1886 fashions, with the larger emphasis on the bustle. However, the silhouette does lean towards the more slender skirt of the 1898 illustration, and certainly conforms to the jacket-with-blouse combination. The hat on the right in the 1898 illustration also resembles Mina’s hat in style and size, even if the decorations aren’t a match.
Both the walking dresses above are from 1890. As you can see, there is a flourish of embroidery on the lapels and cuffs of the jackets. The dress on the right is even a similar green to Mina’s green walking dress.
Overall, I would say that Eiko Ishioka’s creation fits right into the era of the movie. Since we can ‘modernise’ Mina’s character with Steampunk gadgets, feel free to give her a cross bow with a stake for a quarrel, or a sunlight raygun.