What Is Steampunk Style Clothing for a Woman?

by Bonny Brown Jones
Actress Helena Bonham Carter could be the poster celebrity for steampunk style.

Actress Helena Bonham Carter could be the poster celebrity for steampunk style.

If you're a fan of steampunk -- the literary genre that mixes Victorian nostalgia with sci-fi gadgetry -- you're familiar with its idiosyncratic style. If not, prepare to join the crowds as you time travel back to the future. Steampunk style, according to fashion forecasters, is chugging toward the mainstream. Justin Bieber, for one, made a steampunk-style Christmas video, and there's even a YouTube Gangnam parody, "Steampunk Style." Can't get much more mainstream than that. So what belongs in your closet as you get on board with the trend?

Victorian Futurism

Steampunk became a sci-fi genre in the 1970s and acquired its name in 1987. It combines "a Victorian aesthetic and a punk-rock attitude," according to a description in Abe Books. It's a 19th-century alternate world that has "adopted technologies that combine past and future -- think ‘steam-powered, gear-driven time machine’." It's made its way into gadget-driven movies such as "The Wild Wild West" and "Sherlock Holmes," and in January 2013, IBM predicted -- appropriately enough, based on technology such as Twitter and other social media sites -- that steampunk was prepared to take the retail industry by storm.

Steampunk Style

At festivals and costumed events, steampunk fans adapt an otherworldly mix of Victorian London and "Mad Max." Women might wear jewel-toned or black, 19th-century velvet or lace gowns, hats with veils, gloves and boots. Another look is burlesque, with corsets and low necklines. Aviator goggles and pocket watches are staples. Hair can be upswept and elaborate. It helps to imagine a gaslit, foggy 19th-century London for a sepia-tone palette. One pundit said in Britain's "The Independent" that it's as if goths had discovered brown instead of black.

On the Runway

Since 2010, designers have been paving the way for the steampunk invasion by incorporating Victorian and Edwardian designs into runway shows -- John Galliano for Christian Dior, Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, and Prada among them. Louis Vuitton went full steam ahead as models arrived on the runway from a steam train, dressed in "Downton Abbey" style with porters carrying their Vuitton bags, a foggy London town set in the background.

Retail to Real Life

To channel a bit of steampunk future past in your own wardrobe, think elegant, elaborate patterns such as floral gold on black or dark-toned brocades. Instead of goggles, giant, round glasses or sunglasses are a fun touch. Booties are a natural -- some designers have even tried patterns that simulate spats, a steampunk favorite, or button-up styles that also have zippers for practicality. For a celebrity role model, you can't beat actress Helena Bonham Carter, "The Independent" says. Her upswept do, black gowns and vintage touches evoke both past and future. As far as steampunk trend-watching, however, who knows -- time travel never happens as expected.

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About the Author

Bonny Brown Jones has been a writer, columnist, copy editor and senior copy editor for newspapers that have included the "Orlando Sentinel," "Miami Herald" and "Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch." Jones has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Ohio State University.

Photo Credits

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