Need help figuring out a steampunk-y-ish sorta costume thing.
March 21, 2013 6:36 PM   Subscribe

I am not at all into the steampunk scene. But for the fun of it, I'm going to this in a couple of months. A friend of mine has been to it regularly, and has persuaded me to join her for the evening. So I need to figure out a costume. I'd like to keep total spend under $100-$150, if at all possible.

Here are the important things about me:

1. I'm a girl. Terrific rack, but kind of a rectangle overall. So I usually go for stuff that defines my waist, and definitely prefer open-necked, v-necked tops. In other words, a giant NO to turtle necks or crew necks.
2. Dress size is between 18 and a 22, depending on manufacturer.
3. I'm ok with heels, better if they're boots.
4. I'm fairly comfortable with my body, so moderately saucy is fine, but skanky / trashy / trying too hard is not.
5. Fairly pale complexion, dark hair, medium length, blue-green eyes.
6. I live in the western suburbs of Philadelphia. Going down to Philadelphia is fine; I may be going to NY in a month, so that might be doable for resources as well.

There are some lovely things and a specific section over at Hips And Curves, but I feel like everything is mostly for behind-closed-doors adventures or gorgeous but expensive steel-boned corsets. I get the general feel of steampunk, but the thought of doing it up, and doing it well so I don't look like a complete n00b, is a bit overwhelming, especially since I need larger sizes. Style me, Metafilter!
posted by shiu mai baby to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Since it sounds like you're starting from a blank slate, it might make more sense to imagine a character or theme vocation that appeals to you at some level (eg. "If Rosie the Riveter was from a 19th Century war of aerial navies") and then figure out what items that costume would entail, rather than approaching it from the other direction of figuring out what clothes fit the theme and which ones will look good together.

(You don't need to play-act your character - the reason I suggest thinking of a character idea or backstory is simply to give you direction in assembling your outfit, and hopefully it also lends the end result a more cohesive and natural look).
posted by anonymisc at 7:31 PM on March 21, 2013

Steampunk + defines your waist = you want a waistcoat. I think you're already a good 60% of the way there if you have one. Make sure you get one that is made for a woman.
posted by capricorn at 7:44 PM on March 21, 2013

I was going to give the same advice as anonymisc here.. to pick a theme and try to work on that.

if I want to try dressing in a style that i'm unfamiliar with and don't want to spend scads of money emulating unless I'm sure, I like to try a toned down version of that style. so you're participating, but maybe not so you're trying to do an entire victorian ensemble on the cheap.

for instance, I think THIS is really cute. generally steampunkish (though your event seems a little more.. victorian lady than steampunk to me possibly?) but not fancy or very hard to put together. her top/dress seems like it could be altered from a large sweater.. accessories would probably be pretty easy from etsy. riding boots, over the knee socks, some brass accessories, you'd be pretty on-scene.

also cute and not too crazy


super sexy if you think you could craft up a belt thing (I believe in you!)
posted by euphoria066 at 7:44 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have been looking for steampunk costume resources on the Internet, and a lot of them claim you can find suitable clothing in a thrift store. I honestly can't say I have had *any* luck at that so far, though, but maybe my location isn't good for it. If you or a friend have any skills with crafting, that might be a better bet. I actually went to a steampunk store last weekend and...things are expensive. Like buying one skirt was your entire budget. It's a really pricey style to do in costume. You may want to try to do some kind of aviator/wearing pants style, as that is probably cheaper except for the hat. And there are plenty of cheapass costumes to be bought online, apparently, though they may not impress the diehards at your event.

Anyway, here's my list of stuff I've been looking at, for what it's worth.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:06 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

A trip to your local large run-of-the-mill thrift store and a stop at the surplus store will give you so many steampunky options for almost no money. You can probably press ordinary items from your closet into service as well.

Contrasting masculine and feminine from these basic food groups:
Machine parts
Military surplus
Sex. Most easily handled by adding a dash of goth.

So maybe a wide belt plus cinched at your real waist (a leather lifting belt works great) and military utility belts as butch as you can rig up, plus the skirt part of a tweedy suit a size too small for the office, fishnets, a sleek tank top. An assortment of gears or springs or washers or whatever looks nifty can be sewn to a shrug or to arm warmers made from socks, or whatever.
posted by desuetude at 9:06 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, the Facebooks have informal buy/sell costume garb groups, they're often invite only but open to anyone who requests. There's a lot of crossover between Renaissance Faire, steampunk, goth, and faerie folks.
posted by desuetude at 9:13 PM on March 21, 2013

I agree that you need to pick your theme 1st. You can go white or dark, decide how much leather, etc. It will be summer. I've bought stuff at Goodwill just for the fabric(just bought a large royal blue suede skirt for the suede). You will often find formalwear that has a lot of nice satin or brocade. I see a lot of lacy white tops & skirts, which could be layered well. One of those bustiers under a jacket or cinched blouse would be sexy but not trashy. You can get a pair of goggles here and tart them up.
posted by theora55 at 7:58 AM on March 22, 2013

I'd wear a long skirt or a dress in a neutral color or black. You can get a cheap maxi dress or skirt at places like Old Navy or Target if you don't have one. It does not need to be an authentic victorian dress. Wear something you like.

By all means wear boots that you already have! Boots are great!

Then I would blow the budget on a great crazy victorian hat. People will look at your head a lot.

Also, gloves and a fan.

There's some good steampunk outfit inspiration here
posted by steinwald at 8:11 AM on March 22, 2013

Thank you so much for the answers so far, they are terrific.

One thing I've been kicking around is the idea of doing steampunk but with some sort of spin, and it occurred to me that I have a really gorgeous peacock-colored sari, which has a 4" wide gold band along the hem. Is it completely insane to want to find a corset or something similar to wear over that? Is steampunk sari even feasible? The fabric is just stunning, and it would be really outside of the usual stuff of bustles and pick-up skirts, and whatnot.

posted by shiu mai baby at 12:01 PM on March 22, 2013

Why has nobody mentioned ebay? So much cheaper. Lots of selection. Even plus-sized.

I agree you should do an a sexy tight leather waistcoat with maybe some sort of flowy open-necked peasant blouse and a skirt, and some fun accessories... that's what I would do.

Steampunk with a sari... now that I have a hard time envisioning, but I think it could be done. It could look sloppy really easily though. Oh, could you wear it just as a skirt? I think a sari skirt with a tight military-sexy corset/waistcoat/jacket in a neutral color up-top could be hot.
posted by celtalitha at 1:04 PM on March 22, 2013

Another thought - unless you really want to do this again frequently, I'd go with using items you have, or borrow, or get from a thrift store/really cheap for most of it, and maybe one or two really gorgeous accessory pieces that you would be most likely to love and keep. I.e. if you would like a lovely corset, spend the money on the best hottest corset you can find, and keep everything else kind of simple. Etcetera. What I wouldn't do, is buy a bunch of semi-ok seperates that you'll never wear again or that you won't love.
posted by celtalitha at 1:15 PM on March 22, 2013

Oh man, just wear the sari as is! Steampunk is chockful of colonial underpinnings and India's pretty much the hotbed of so much of that. Accessorize like crazy in the theme - maybe industrial/clockwork style henna up your arms, lots of brassy jewelry...
posted by sawdustbear at 1:20 PM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

With your budget, what do you already have that you can use? You like boots, do you own any now? What styles are they?

Do you want to buy something you can just put on and wear? Modify clothing purchased new, comb thrift stores, modify something you already own? Sew costume pieces from scratch? Make some steampunk jewelry pieces to add to plainer clothing?

I don't know what color peacock is, but looking at the pictures on that site it seems like you could wear the sari and matching full face makeup and be done with it, without even having to steampunk up your outfit at all.
posted by yohko at 4:30 PM on March 22, 2013

Gotta have goggles
posted by empty vessel at 8:23 AM on March 29, 2013

Oh hell yes you can do steampunk with a sari, if you've got stuff that looks neat put together. Look, this is quirky fantasy dress-up, and no-one is pretending otherwise. Rock out and enjoy being goofy with your imagination.
posted by desuetude at 11:45 PM on March 29, 2013

Oh, and practically speaking: Victorian starting point. England was in India at the time. Mix and match between the two freely.

Then imagine that mechanical devices (watches, weapons, etc.) are magically imbued with the promise of their future technological counterparts, and thus the components are displayed decoratively as desired.

As for shopping, the scene seems to tend toward either scrawny or voluptuous. It's the size 8-12 ladies who are SOL for costume-trade.
posted by desuetude at 12:05 AM on March 30, 2013

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