The Steampunk Movement: Modern, Industrial, and Accessory Filled
By Paige McKirahan
When thinking of ways to accessorize a steampunk look, you first want consider what the term means in order to understand this wild aesthetic as a whole. In short, it is a movement inspired by Victorian England, American’s wild West, and the Industrial Revolution that reimagines modern technologies as more elaborate, creative pieces of fashion, art, and mechanics. Essentially, it puts a classic twist on modern style, combining pieces from previous centuries with industrial motifs. This style of art and dress did not come into circulation until the late ’80s, and it has only grown in popularity since; its presence in literature pushed the movement in to the public eye and from that point, it gained momentum in fashion, film, and music. Now it is more than just a part of science fiction as its fun, DIY characteristics have spread into popular culture. Every good pop culture movement has standout accessories, so read on to see a few of our favorite steampunk pieces and motifs!
Back in a time when canes were less utilitarian, they were typically an indication of the owner’s wealth and overall status. For a period spanning over three centuries, they were an essential part of the wardrobe and it was likely that cane users possessed a variety of canes to be used in a multitude of social settings. Their general use has roots in the male psyche where wielding a stick equates to power. Just think back to classic literature; Black Rod carried a actual rod, Merlin carried a wand, and Moses used a staff to part the sea. When they were introduced in the 1650s, they were considered exotic as they were made with foreign materials like ivory and Malacca wood. As time progressed towards the Victorian age and the Industrial revolution, the middle class became increasingly wealthy and used canes to illustrate that wealth in grandeur. This popular use continued until about the 1940s when everyone almost simultaneously seemed to lay their canes down in pursuit of more simplified accessories. They were mostly used as a walking aid until the steampunk movement picked them up again, giving their gear-oriented ensembles an added level of class!
Though it seems like cufflinks may account for just a small part of an outfit, their aesthetic value and ability to redefine your entire look is what makes them one of the most important accessories of all. The small but mighty accent piece began appearing in the early 1500s when men began using strings to tie their ruffled wristbands together. This continued until the Industrial Revolution, when chains and strings were replaced with rods and clips to closer resemble the modern cufflink of today. Despite the fact that shirt makers have now began to put buttons on sleeves to decrease the need for cufflinks, they are still seen as a luxury item and give one the opportunity to make their clothing truly their own. They give steampunk lovers a great way to incorporate industrial motifs into their elaborate outfits, tying together their retro-modern looks.
Abiding by the steampunk ideals of functionality, creativity, and retro aesthetics, pocket watches capture the essence of the movement with their gear-oriented appearances and chain accents. Originating in around the 16th century, the widespread use of the pocket watch began with the rise of railroading; keeping precise time was crucial for railroad guards and this importance was so prominent that Levi Strauss designed his jeans with a tiny front pocket made exclusively for holding the accessory! Many steampunk aficionados prefer the open face style of watch, which allows the wearer to display the inner workings of the piece. The best watches to invest in are said to be made by Rolex, Movado, Omega, IWC, ad Patek Philipe and are brands coveted by steampunk fashionistas.
Though the hand fan was widely popular in Victorian Eras as a foreign symbol of wealth and class, their origin lies centuries prior in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The piece, which was originally thought be a sacred instrument, was used in religious ceremonies and by royalty. They were also used in China in association with ancient mythical and historical characters. At their conception, they were fixed and remained as so until Chinese culture birthed the folding fan and spread it westward towards Europe. The 17th century then saw an increased use of folding fan, eventually causing fixed fans to become obsolete. They generally featured prints of all kinds, either painted or transferred on, and shifted from biblical tradition to contemporary pastimes. The Impressionist, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco movements highly impacted the design and construction of fans from the 19th to the 20th century and today, the steampunk movement has taken hold of the accessory to complement their Victorian aesthetic.
Similar to the hand fan, gloves found their origins in ancient culture; throughout history, they have been used for both utilitarian and decorative purposes beginning in Greece, China, and Egypt. They did not come into widespread circulation until the 11th century when they finally reached Britain after their conception 100 years prior. Originally, they were confined to soldiers in warfare and their use as a fashion accessory did not commence until the 17th century when style and status-oriented interests surrounding gloves began. Both genders were involved in this practice until the 18th century, when their importance in men’s wardrobes dwindled. With the 19th century, though, their popularity burst for both men and women when social codes developed that called for gloves in public settings. If you were seen out gloveless or were wearing soiled pieces, you would be the target for ridicule and face accusations of poor etiquette. The 20th century saw another shift in use of gloves as the World Wars’ rationing of materials and standardization of design proved highly fashionable gloves to be unnecessary. We saw a brief revival in the 1950s, but it quickly fizzled out by the end of the preceding decade. Steampunk fans love to use gloves in their ensembles, giving their looks a vintage flair with fingerless, lace pieces holding precedence.
Steampunk face masks are very reminiscent of thoses seen at a masked ball, but more industrial in appearance. Many of them feature clock and gear motifs and are typically gold, silver, or black in color. Their style may vary, and their steampunk-ehtusiats wearers use them to tie together their entire outfit and overall personality. The gas mask is a popular style, emulating Victorian London where fumes and smoke were a part of daily life. The masquerade mask starkly contrasts the gas mask aesthetic as it is more fancy and associated with dancing at a grand ball. Eye patches are a viable option and gives wearers the opportunity to play with their story; maybe they are hiding a mechanical eye or some other industrial creation beneath the covering. The plague doctor mask may be the most startling in appearance, with inspiration coming from iconic plague masks used in the 17th and 18th centuries. The accessories were worn by doctors and scientists and are commonly known as bird masks because of their long, beaklike nose piece.
The pocket knife has been in use for centuries from the Roman empire to the Viking era. In the 1600s, they began to become more affordable, widely distributed, and mass produced. Many different styles of knives began being designed for a multitude of purposes ranging from hunting to camping. The simple, folding pocket knife is the most popular in steampunk fashion and they are typically bronze or gold in color with gears featured throughout the piece.
Though these pieces are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to steampunk accessories, we feel like these are major fashion components than can be seen in any steampunk lovers closet. Octopus, spider, skeleton, camo, playing card motifs are also commonly featured in this movement’s fashions with bronze and leather colorings. If you’re trying to prepare a steampunk look for this upcoming Halloween or an impending convention, we’ve got you covered! Click on any of the photos in this post or search our collection for steampunk inspired pieces that are sure to make you feel industrial chic!