I attended GenreCon 2017 in Brisbane last weekend. I went to the Mods and Monsters event dressed as a Steampunk Vampire, since both the vampire genre and the Steampunk genre are inspired by the Victorian era.
Category Archives: Steampunk Cosplay
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.
Helena Bonham Carter is the Corset Cosplay Queen, as she has played many characters in historical movies that have required her to wear the most gorgeous costumes. The 2013 ‘The Lone Ranger’ movie was set in 1869, and so Red Harrington – the character played by Helena Bonham Carter – wears Victorian-era inspired costumes. Red has red hair and wears red clothing; in Australia, we would have nicknamed her ‘Blue’.
Red went through a series of costume changes. Rather than try to break down the accuracy of every costumes, I have chosen two main outfits to discuss. Oh, and we will also discuss the major Steampunk prop of her costumes: the prosthetic leg that was also a gun. This was actually to the most Steampunk gadget in the movie.
As previously mentioned, the movie is set in 1869. Crinolines were the dress-shape of the fashionistas of that era …and Red’s costume is certainly the right shape.
Red’s crinoline is also in the right colour range for the era, and ruffles were a popular way of decorating the skirts of a crinoline. There had been a time when a hoop skirt would be absolutely enormous, but in the late 1860s the worst of these excesses were in the past. In the next few years, crinolines would be replaced by the bustle. Red does not appear to be wearing a hoop, and she should be. (However, she is also well away from the centres of fashion and may have resorted to petticoats instead.)
The little lace jacket that is part of the movie costume appears to be a boudoir jacket being worn as day wear. Above are a range of jackets:
- a boudoir jacket circa 1860;
- 1861 lace jacket over a mourning dress;
- A mantle/caplet from 1888.
As you can see, the boudoir jacket is lacy like the little jacket that is part of Red’s outfit, but the cut of the jacket is more like a modern shrug or a caplet.
Red’s buttoned shoes are spot on for the era.
This second outfit also sports a strange little caplet trimmed with lace, over a dress with at least three visible layers. As you can see, this dress does loosely resemble a high fashion gown from 1870, from the House of Worth in France. The Costume is a mishmash of fabrics and colours compared to the Worth dress, but that can be put down to Red’s flashy tastes. The parasol is spot on for the era.
The closest equivalent period garment with dramatic sleeves I could find was this tartan dress below. However, those style of sleeves turn up again and again in the Victorian era.
It was this clever gadget leg that inspired me to look harder at Helena Bonham Carter’s costumes in ‘The Lone Ranger’. For me, it is the gadgets that really make the Steampunk Aesthetic. As a cosplayer, I would wear a ‘tattooed’white stocking and a modified shoe to mimic this prosthetic leg.
The problem for costumers is that people forget that the Victorian era was lo-o-on-ng. Fashions changed. It is hard to put together an authentic historical outfit, particularly when the accuracy of the outfit hardly matters in a fantasy Western/Steampunk movie. I think Penny Rose did a great job of using Red’s outfits to give the audience a deeper insight into her character. That is inspirational work.
Joan Bergin was the Costume Designer of this stunning outfit from the movie, The Prestige. Scarlett Johansson played Olivia Wenscombe; she looked like a dream come true when wearing the outfit. It has some very classic Victorian features.
The outfit is made from a combination of fabrics in different colours and designs. Stripes were a favourite of the Victorians, and the use of stripes and florals in the outfit is certainly not out of step with the era’s fashions.
The Prestige outfit also combines lace trims and floral embroidery details. This combination was a favourite with Victorian-era fashionistas. Nothing says outrageous femininity like lace and flowers.
The pleated chiffon ruffles trimming the movie costume are also a Victorian-era fashion. It wasn’t unusual for these pleats to be decorated with ribbon or lace.
Note that the pleats aren’t as crisp as in the modern costume. I am putting that down to ageing fabrics.
The main problem with this costume is that The Prestige is set in the early 1900s, and all these fashion trends are from around the 1870s and 1880s. As well, tasteful dresses didn’t have every type of trim thrown onto the one outfit, though it works here due to superb styling by the costume designer. I suspect that the modern fabrics are easier to work with, but I am not a seamstress and can’t make that call.
However, seen as a Steampunk costume for a Steampunk fantasy film, this costume is magnificent. It wouldn’t be hard to add a bit of gadget magic to this ensemble, if a cosplayer decided to recreate this dress.
Samson the blue ringed octopus and his assistant, Jeremiah, for blue ring iron works.
I love illustrations, for books, for graphic novels, and for posters.One of my favourite artists is Brian Kesinger, the famed creator of Otto and Victoria from “Walking your Octopus”. Kesinger is an American illustrator, author and animator, who has worked for Disney. Many of his works have a Steampunk Aesthetic.He even paints with tea! His use of the Steampunk Aesthetic to tell a tale withing his illustrations reflects his deep understanding (and love) of the genre.
Edward Gorey is another artist who favours a Victorian flavour in his illustrations, but his tastes tend to be more Gothic. The late Edward Gorey was an American writer and artist, famed for his illustrated books.
Now, the aesthetics of Gothic Victorian and Steampunk are very closely related, and Gorey is a master of the dark arts. It is his eye for detail that makes his work resonate on so many levels. That, and he can be both macabre and whimsical within the same illustration.
Now, I can’t mention Steampunk illustrators without mentioning Liz Mamont. Like Gorey, Mamont blends a mixture of Gothic horror with a Victorian aesthetic. Like Gorey, her work often has a surreal edge. Her use of line work is superb, and she doesn’t back away from Absurdism in her work.
Unlike Steampunk sculptures, there is no expectation of ‘functionality’ in illustrations. Instead, what makes these illustrations fit into the Steampunk genre is their sense of humour – black or otherwise – and their sense of fun, while remain restricted to a a Victorian-era style and aesthetic.
What makes a piece of art fit into the Steampunk genre?
It isn’t a case of glue some gears onto something and calling it Steampunk, as parodied by Reginald Pikedevant. However, as a relatively new genre, the Steampunk Aesthetic is changing as new creatives are inspired by its quirkiness and historical relevance to our Postmodernistic culture.
Michihiro Matsuoka does ‘glue gears’ onto his resin animals in his sculptures. However, he also reuses old car parts and other discards in his work, and upcycling is right at the centre of Steampunk. I am a fan of his work, and if I ever get rich enough I will most definitely purchase some of his work to decorate my Steampunk Study. His sculptures have life and character as well as a Steampunk aesthetic, and the artist refers to them as his Steampunk Hybrids.
American artist Ernie Abdelmour also prefers to reuse found objects in his art. I adore his whimsical ‘Flying Machine’ series as they incorporate teapots, and tea is such a Steampunk tipple. He also has a fondest for recycling dials and gauges. Abdelmour prefers his ‘gadgets’ (his term) to look like they would work. He prefers creating machines to animals as animals have to be ‘more accurate’. All in all, his ‘it should look functional’ ambition is very Steampunk.
Cassia Harries like to make her little resin animals dress up in Steampunk cosplay, with goggles and gadgets. Her DarkSkies collection features all little animals that have wings and jetbacks, or helicopter blades, and look ready for anything. I was originally drawn to her work by ‘Puff, the Steampunk Dragon’.
On Friday, I went to the Brisbane City’s Vintage Market … called ‘Revive’. The idea was to recycle, up-cycle and/or reuse vintage clothing. Now, this isn’t very different to what Steampunk cosplayers do. I have up-cycled clothing to expand my cosplay wardrobe as a Steampunk Enthusiast.
I have now discovered the Slow Clothing Movement, which I now realise embodies a lot of the same motivations that drew me to Steampunk Cosplay – and this has in turn affected my day-to-day wardrobe. I am now buying more vintage, or recycling some of the clothes I own to suit my current style, but I wasn’t really doing it for ecological reasons. From now on, I will try harder to stick to the Slow Clothing Manifesto.
As part of Steampunk activities, I take part in Steampunk cosplay. This involves me in creating my own costumes and accessories. In the two images above, I converted a 1980’s short-sleeved dress and a second-hand lace shirt into a vest with coattails and the coat’s sleeves into spats. The vest was success, the spats not so much. Below is the outfit, worn to the Steampunk Charity Ball 2014.
I was a much thinner and younger woman when I wore that dress. When I finally accepted that I was never going to fit into it again … ever … I made the decision to make it over rather than throw it away. I went hunting through op shops looking for other fabrics that matched the neutral colours of the strips, and lucked out by finding a lace shirt in the exact same colours. With some creative splicing and sewing, I converted two items of clothing into Steampunk fashion items. I made some new memories, from the satisfaction of completing a project successfully and all the fun I had at the ball.
There can be great memories made by going through old photos and letters. In the future, with most of us living online rather than writing letters or getting photos developed, I wonder if we are cheating our descendants out of the fun they could have going through these old memories.
Of course, I suppose they could go through my online accounts…
But they will have to dredge through a lot of trash to get to the nuggets of treasure.
This is where Steampunk is ahead of the game. It takes old memories and makes new ones. It means that my great-umpteen grandchildren will know what was important to me by seeing that dress turn up in a pile of images. That might even have kept the vest as an heirloom. I certainly hope they never toss away the Steampunk Ghostbusters backpack. That really is an original work of art.
Nothing adds instant Steampunk goodness to an outfit than goggles. They can be as simple or complicated as you like. My first pair of goggles were cheap goggles from a hardware store, painted with a metallic copper paint. Aviator goggles, diving goggles, welding goggles, all of these can be adapted to a Steampunk outfit.
2/ A Snazzy Hat
The Steampunk Aesthetic can work with any sort of top hat or bowler. It can be worn plain, or as decorated as you like. Pith helmets are also good and aviation helmets. The Victorians wore all sorts of hats, so it is easy to find a style that suits.
3/ Gloves and Gauntlets
A pair of gloves or Steampunk gauntlets improve the style of any Steampunk outfit. Again, they can be as plain or ornate as you want. Driving gloves go well with airship pilot cosplay, and lacy gloves complete a feminine outfit with a bustle and a corset. There are tutorials all over the Internet on how to make gauntlets.
Be they thigh-high pirate-style boots or dainty ankle-length boots with buttons, boots indicate you mean business. Modern looking high-heel shoes need not apply…the more straps, buckles and lashes, the better. A pair of spats needn’t go astray, because they can convert a plain pair of shoes into Steampunk footwear.
5/ Belts and Suspenders
It can pretty hard to keep you trousers from sliding off when you have a lot of gadgets and buckles and chains decorating them. Not only are suspenders stylish for both men and women, they also are useful. I hang a Steampunk chatelaine off my belt, and if you want to hand a holster for a parasol or fan off your belt you really do need suspenders.