Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Steampunk fashion via an Examination of Cosplay

The subject of this month’s RPG Bloggers Carnival is that of Steampunk and Klockwerks. This good ole genre has been the topic of a lot of conversation in role-play, anime, movies, and a huge hit in the cosplay department. My first forays into the world of Steampunk came from the movie Steamboy, as was mentioned in one of the previous blogs in the Carnival. After that, my involvement in both selling, professionally painting, and modeling Warjacks for Warmachine led me to the Iron Kingdoms setting, and the rest was history. I’ve gathered here my thoughts on various integral elements of steam punk and how you can fit them into your game. I have also provided some of my own Steampunk related homebrew stuff for Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition.

In this part 1 of my series on Steampunk, i'll be taking a look at cosplay around the net and giving some commentaries on how that reflects on the Steampunk genre.

Steampunk Fashion
Some of my friends are ardent Steampunk cosplayers and have been professionally photographed at the Anime Expo in southern California as well as other conventions (they have been trying to get me to do it for years, but I’m a bit too shy for that). The images that exist in the steam-punk genre for inspiration are nearly endless. Try google searching steam-punk cosplay on the internet and see what images come up… I’ll wait… ok, you found them. There are tons! Steampunk fashion and Steampunk culture are a huge rage, especially out here in Japan, where it is going strong, despite its origins in jolly old England (funny how western concepts tend to cross over into Japan).

If you look at Steampunk cosplay, you can really see a lot of what constitutes steam punk fashion. Here are some of my observations, maybe yours will be different.

19th Century Eat Your Heart out!
When it comes to Steampunk fashion, the basics often get overlooked. Steampunk guys are often seen wearing what accounts for today’s business dress: Suit Jackets, white, collared button up shirts, vests, pinstripes, black leather boots, black leather gloves. If you look back to 19th century fashion and pictures of true gentlemen, cover that with dirt, and then add in some brass, you’re golden! I like watching remakes of Dickenson books and looking at the clothes, or if you’re interested in something a bit more fun, try watching the movie “Sweeny Todd,” the new one with Captain Jack. That is a great place to get a look at period clothing.
The same can really be said for women, look at period clothing from movies like this and you’ll get all kinds of info: corsets, big billowing dresses, dark colors, leather, tight pants. For women’s fashion, taking a bit from the gothic department, dirtying it up, and taking some of the depression and sense of self-hate out of it, you have a pretty good starting point for what women’s Steampunk fashion looks like.
The basics however are definitely not what makes Steampunk, nor from just period clothes can you possibly see Steampunk in your head. This brings me to the main point of Steampunk fashion…

Accessorize, Accessorize, Accessorize!
When it comes to Steampunk, you can never have too many accessories, and rarely is something to gaudy, as long as it looks and feels mechanical. Hats are one of the least mechanical looking things that you can see in Steampunk fashion, but they are almost always a necessity. Big top hats seem to be all the rage in this made up timeline of history, but they were a pretty big part of that era’s fashion. Top hats are great for guys or gals, and if you tilt one of the side of your head, you look cool and sassy. Big top hats on guys are always a good thing, little ones for girls can be great too. Steampunk Abraham Lincoln is a really popular image that floats around the internet; aim for that size hat. News boy hats are also a good thing. The newspaper, which was getting its start in the era of steam power, was probably the starting point for these (or at least for the name).
Watches are a big part of Steampunk (and consequently the other half to the Carnial this month… kind of). Clocks, specifically the wind up ones with lots of gears are a big part of Steampunk fashion. The pocket watch, the wrist watch, either can become an integral part of a proper Steampunk getup. The more exposed gears the better; this proves that you are really hardcore into the mechanic business.
Eyewear is also a big part of Steampunk fashion. Glasses with multiple lenses to see things that are up close and far away are a major player in a proper Steampunk outfit. I can kind of imagine why… all the time spent in the workshop building and messing with your contraption, reading that newspaper that you just got hot off the presses, and years spent without anything but candlelight before that wonderful invention of the light bulb are all reasons why people from the Steampunk era might have bad eyesight. Goggles are another big part of Steampunk fashion, probably for similar reasons with glasses; you have to keep the grease and sparks out of your eyes somehow and if that steam builds up and blows up in your face you’re going to want to have something keeping those retinas of yours in tact. Remember, as per the above, the more exposed gears, valves, levers, gauges the better.
Big Leather Boots. Not much to say there. The more big the more better. Depending on how far you go into the Steampunk genre, and how high powered you want to be, adding mechanical elements to things like boots, that might not serve a purpose in today’s society can be a good idea. The streets back then were filthy remember, steam powered automatic boot cleaners could be a nifty contraption.
Jewelry which features gears and moving parts is also a very good thing, to quote Martha Stewart, who I have always believed to be half steam powered machine anyways.
Belts, while not always seen up close, are a big part of Steampunk fashion in an important way. Belts are where you keep your tools! As well as all your other miniature goodies. Think batman with less sleekness and more bolts. Leather tool belts make for good mechanics, leather belts with lots of pouches make for good adventurers, but hey, in Steampunk, those are pretty much interchangeable character concepts in all honesty.
Piercings, while not necessarily a big part of the Steam side of things, are a big part of the Punk! Any and all. Go wild, but remember to stick to the good old rules of gears and springs. Earrings with dangly gears, great, earrings that have gears dangling attached to springs, better.

All in all, Steampunk fashion loves to add in as much mechanical goodness as possible, keeping things brass or bronze, and using rivets, nuts, bolts, screws, gears, levers, gauges, tubes, and springs in places that to the normal human eye would serve no readily visible purpose… but to a Steampunker, everything has an explanation.

Statting Out your dirty new Steampunk wardrobe
There doesn’t need to be a very complicated process for changing the way Steampunk genre clothes and accessories work vs. how standard fantasy versions work. It really just gets down to the fluff, what something looks like, how something works, etc. The only significant difference is that these are not magically controlled or created and so the price may vary as well as how that items interacts with effects that stop magic. It really comes down to personal taste and preference how you want to reflavor an item for a Steampunk world. This, I will leave up to personal discretion.

This ends part 1 of my look at Steampunk, maybe you're thinking that i forgot something above.. like WEAPONS! Well, that is coming in part 2.

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