Springingtiger's Blog

The Cost of Steampunk


I have of late written several blogs on topics related to Steampunk and, because I think it’s possible to have too much of a good thing (I don’t really), this will be the last for a while.

I wrote yesterday of the Glasgow Ubiquitous E Steampunk Society‘s attendance at Glasgow’s Westend Festival. As the Skycaptain (club chair Stephen Taylor) and I chatted about the good turnout, he remarked that what puts some people off Steampunk is the perceived cost.

The truth is that while putting together a Steampunk outfit can be costly, it need not be. You can buy custom made pieces that are expensive, but better still you can customise things picked up cheaply or for free and give them the steampunk look.

In terms of putting together an outfit Steampunk is all about creating an impression, you could call it the impressionism of the cosplay community. Whereas both cosplay and to a greater extent reenactment require a degree of accuracy in their details the Steampunk is looking for an overall visual effect. It is possible to create a Steampunk outfit for pennies if you are prepared to put in some effort. Indeed by making careful purchases of items that can be worn in different ways you can very quickly have several outfits.

In the Glasgow Ubiquitous E Steampunk Society we have started a series of ‘Walking Workshops’ to introduce members to the joys of charity shops. To buy a Regency tailcoat may set you back over a £100.00 online even on Ebay. It is perfectly possible to pick up a frock-coat for under £10. The point is not to be fixated upon an idea, but to be able to see the possibilities and potential of a piece.

My brother was in Florida where he saw a ‘Steampunk Top Hat’ I leather for over $400.00. Needless to say he didn’t buy it. Far better to buy an ordinary top hat and customise it. One of our members picked one up for £8.00 is a charity shop. What next, add cogs feathers, clock-faces or whatever until it looks cool, and dont forget the goggles.

There is little real point in buying packs of ‘clock parts’ on the internet as the pieces are small and the packs rarely have any decent cogs or gears, although they are useful for adding details. You may be better advised to take an old CLOCKWORK clock apart for its bits. However please don’t destroy a working clock or one that can be restored, that would wrong except when it’s an ugly brute and a working mechanism may be integrated into something else, I haven’t tried it, but I have a few ideas.

Goggles are almost a defining feature of Steampunk. You can buy expensive metal goggles, but if you buy cheap plastic ones you can customise them with paint and machine parts to look seriously hardcore. A multi pack of several plastic goggles can be bought to cut costs further then you paint them to match all your outfits.

Leather is cool. Leather belts can be very cheap in charity shops; thin ones can replace the elastic on goggles, thicker ones can become hat bands or all sorts of straps. Leather hole punches and riveting or eyelet sets are not expensive, I think I bought mine in Lidl, I know that’s where I got my glue gun. Sheets of leather can be costly, but old leather garments can be cut up and canibalised. There is no reason why you shouldn’t take a battered top hat and glue overlapping leather patches all over its outer surfaces then take a glue gun and create mock rivets on the edges of the patches, it will cost a lot less than $400.00!

The internet is a great source of Steampunk expertise. You Tube has tutorials on how to make or customise just about anything. Lost Wax has a good selection of tutorials on making Steampunk items out of foam sheets, but to get the best out of them you need to buy their patterns, however once you have a pattern the number of times you can use it is unlimited.

It’s A Trap is another source of steampunkery with tutorials and also short films. In the UK we don’t carry firearms so Steampunks sooner or later customise Nerf guns or waterpistols to make them look like something that might have seen service in the Valley. Just type ‘steampunk nerf guns’ into the You Tube search box to start building your armoury. Personally I am building a BFG out of a brass doorbell chime and plywood.

The internet is also a source for sewing patterns if you really must have a custom piece. You’ll pay around £10.00 or £12.00 for a pattern you can use again and again, add in the cost of a visit to Remnant Kings and you’ll still be making a huge saving over buying something ready made. No use to me, I can’t sew. If you can sew you could make a bob or two taking commissions from your Steampunk friends! Everytime you use a pattern its cost as a portion of the cost of what you make reduces, si it is an investment.

By mixing and matching your pieces a variety of different outfits can be produced. For example a military jacket might be worn buttoned with a Sam Browne belt and pith helmet to produce a military effect. Worn unbuttoned with a waistcoat and cap and you’ve got an officer of HM Mercantile Airship Service. Because you’re not doing re-enactment there is no requirement for historical accuracy so there is no reason not to wear your puttees with modern khaki combat trousers, they will still provide a suitably old fashioned military look. The best thing you can do as you build up a collection of pieces is to play with them to try different effects. In the right combination modern jackets and trousers can appear to belong to an alternative historical time line. A change of hat can completely change an outfit; puttees, khaki trousers and olive green jacket with a pith helmet look military, but if you were to swap the helmet for a soft hat and pin up one side of the brim you would gave the look of an Irish revolutionary soldier from 1916. I suppose to some extent a uniform is a uniform so the final effects depend on the extras you add, medals, badges, lanyards, outrageous looking guns or prosphetics.

As the Skycaptain says there is no right or wrong, there again he says goggles are not compulsory and whoever heard of a Steampunk without goggles?


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