Interview: ‘Anatomy Of Steampunk’ Author Offers Advice For Steampunk Fashion Beginners [Featured]

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Purse: Ali Fateh; Model: Aamina Sheikh; Photo/makeup/styling: Maram & Aabroo.

Steampunk is a unique, growing area of fashion that invokes images of a world where steam-powered technology rules and 19th century style mixes with goggles and gadgets. It has appeared regularly in creative cosplays and convention fashion, but the world of steampunk goes well beyond this and can seem so vast that it could be intimidating for beginners to figure out where to jump in.

Luckily a new book released last fall by writer and editor Katherine Gleason can help. Anatomy of Steampunk: The Fashion of Victorian Futurism includes interviews with steampunk fashionistas and groups along with over 200 color photos that, according to Gleason, will help develop and educate the reader on the steampunk aesthetic. Beginners, steampunk veterans, and anyone interested in fashion will find something to catch their eye in this impressive book.

Discover more beautiful photos, along with Gleason’s inspiration and tips for steampunk beginners after the break.

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Necklace: Muses Well; Dress: Rubenesque Latex; Hair and makeup: Pick Your Poison by Shauna LeMay; Model: Leah Siren; Photo: Dana Lane Photography.

Gleason has been interested in style for a long time but her interest in steampunk developed while working on another fashion book, Alexander McQueen: Evolution. While writing it Gleason was thinking a lot about art history, Victorian and Edwardian silhouettes, and designers reusing styles from earlier eras like McQueen did.

“Many of McQueen’s shows make direct reference to art movements or trends from the past. I was particularly taken with the show called No. 13. In many ways, it’s an intense and beautiful piece of theater or performance art. It also references the Arts and Crafts movement from the nineteenth century,” she told Fashionably Geek. “So, I was rereading a bunch of stuff about Arts and Crafts and was thinking about how that movement can be seen as a reaction to industrialization. And how people then were thinking about machines and technology and our relationship to them. Just as we are now.”

Once the book was finished Gleason continued thinking about these issues and how Victorian looks creep into contemporary fashion, with the neo-Victorian side of steampunk in particular catching her eye. So when the editorial team for her McQueen book expressed interest in a book about steampunk Gleason wanted to write it.

“The clothes had me fascinated, plus I was drawn to the conversations that steampunks are having about technology and our relationship to it, about aesthetics, about our existence as consumers in a throw away society. I also really admire the enormous creativity of all the steampunks that I’ve met. That energy, that creative energy and seeing how people channel and express it in their own way, that was a huge inspiration,” she said.

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Clothing: Black Garden and Lady Ardzesz; Model: Agnieszka Koseatra Juros; Photographer: Tomasz Wnetrzak.

Anatomy of Steampunk is separated into five sections, going from formal dress to casual: Fine and Formal, Stage Crafted, Adventure Wear, Work Gear, and Street Style. Gleason said the book naturally fell into these sections and that it was an amazing experience speaking with all the designers, creators, and steampunk personalities. She felt included and comfortable when she attended her first steampunk events and everyone she spoke with in the community was generous and helpful.

“The entire steampunk community is part of this book, whether your image appears within the covers or not. Anatomy of Steampunk honors all the individuals who’ve contributed to the steampunk movement and its great wave of creativity, fellowship, and fun,” she said.

It’s an atmosphere that seems open and welcoming to newcomers, so anyone interested in becoming active in the steampunk fashion community should not feel too intimidated to get involved. According to Gleason, the way her book helps readers understand and develop their steampunk aesthetic will be important as they come up with their own look. She advised beginners to start by doing their research.

“I would not rush to buy stuff. Look at a lot of images. See which aspects of steampunk most attract you. What draws your eye? What looks like fun? Do you want to be an adventurer? A lady who hosts fancy teas? An airship pirate? A mad scientist? The leader of a gang of street urchins? These are all rather distinct looks,” Gleason told Fashionably Geek. “Which one feels like you? Or the you that you want to be? Are you coming from a European tradition? Asian? African? American? You may want to consider your background as part of your look, too.”

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Pendant: Won Park; Photo: Won Park.

Once you’ve done that you should take a look at your closet and try things on, testing combinations of what you have and what you can accessorize with. Then Gleason said to consider what you can make to fit your look. She thinks DIY and crafting are important to steampunk, which is why there are 10 DIY projects included in her book.

“One way to counter the commercial trends of fast fashion and throw away goods, is to make things yourself. Bringing back the home made and the handmade re-infuses the act of getting dressed with art, and dressing really is an art. Make something for yourself, cherish it, and wear it. Little home made touches can make you and your outfit feel special. Wearing an item that you have made or modded yourself, instead of some throw-away thing that you pick up at the mall and will chuck next week, can be really empowering. Plus, handmade items make great conversation pieces.”

Gleason went on to say that even those beginners who don’t have any crafting skills should seek out opportunities to learn. Through tutorials online and directions in books like hers, there are many places to get help and ideas.

“I love to hear a bunch of steampunks talking about how they make things—both the nuts and bolts, often literally!—and where they found the inspiration,” she said.

While steampunk also has a number of interesting styles within it including Victorian, western, and multicultural, beginners don’t have to worry about any of these styles being too hard to comprehend. Gleason hasn’t noticed any version of steampunk that people don’t particularly understand. Through all these different aspects of the fashion, beginners will notice elements that identify it all as steampunk.

“I think historically based clothing is key, and, just to be clear, we are not talking historical accuracy here. It’s a riff on history, and it can be a comment on the past and its mores, too. How many Victorian ladies would parade around wearing a corset over their dress? In a way, in steampunk you can see both a flaunting of sexuality in the use of the corset and a modesty—long skirts and covered ankles. To me, there are elements of both romance and grit, plus adventure. There are contradictions, and there is a sense of playfulness and fun.”

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Models: The Uprising of the Gin Rebellion—Nick Picard, Catherine Barson, and Jason Bush; Clothing and accessories: handmade by the band members; Top hat: Danny Ashby, Outland Armour; Corset: Orchard Corset; Photo: RBC Image.

There can seemingly be no end to the ways new steampunk fashionistas can get involved and express themselves. The community is always working on new styles and variations. Gleason said one thing happening right now that is exciting in steampunk fashion is the way the style is being created all over the world with local traditions incorporated in it.

“While the idea of steampunk may have started with characters and looks from a alternate-history version of Victorian London, now there are steampunk styles based on nineteenth century Chinese, Japanese, Russian, and American Indian dress, just to name a few looks I have seen,” she said.

Any beginner looking for a guide amid all the options though can surely find it in the pages of Gleason’s book.

You can find Anatomy of Steampunk: The Fashion of Victorian Futurism online at IndieBound, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, and at bookstores across the country.

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