I have been evaluating the progress of my RWSW, and have noticed that the pseudo-Steampunk looks I am drawn to the most are on the dressier side--skirts and tights, lace-up boots with a Victorian heel, corset and hairpieces. My biggest challenge, as I attempt to sllloooowwwlllyyy build my RWSW, is finding clothing pieces I can just throw on for my everyday activities, without having to think about assembling an outfit. I'm finding it fairly easy to get the looks I want for Sundays when I have reasons to gussie-up, but I'm finding it much harder to marry my ideal Steampunk Wardrobe with my Real World.
So I'm trying to evaluate the clothes I love to live in, and see if I can subtly "S'punk" them.
Current, less-than-ideal wardrobe staple #1 is the soft, practical, cotton knit top--with preferably 3/4 sleeves. If you are ever needing well-made, well-fitting and well-wearing tees, made here in the USA to boot, I urge you to consider Three Dots. Their British tee is amazing--so flattering. But they are very basic tops, not in themselves contributing anything even vaguely steampunk to my outfits. And I'm thinking on the everyday days, when I don't feel like wearing that corset belt or anything more quintessentially Steampunk--but also less comfortable when mommying and whipping up dinner at 6:45 p.m. and spending as much time as possible clothes hunting on the internet--I need a selection of casual, comfy tops that themselves contribute even a hint of steampunky flair.
Now, I realize that there is a great selection out there--on Etsy in particular--for the basic Steampunk T-shirt. You know what I mean--a solid-color tee with a large old-fashioned printed hot-air balloon or octopus or clockworks. I find most of them. . . meh. First of all, subtle they are not. Second, they are often in tee shapes and colors that I think would look better on men than on women. Metrosexual Steampunk? Not my thing. Third, they are all completely modern in look, and only Steampunk by their employment of iconic Steampunk images. They seem like shirts for trendy, pure-blood Etsy types (the whole mustache phenomenon, anyone?) who don't really know what Steampunk is except it is cool. Or for Steampunk geeks who are more into the ideas and motifs of Steampunk than they are into celebrating the look itself.
I am much more drawn to the suggestion of the genre, and enjoy trying to find clothes that have the feel of it--neo-Victorian in shape, design, and pattern, but with a nod to Steampunk in certain colors, or metals, or accessories. It's like I used to tell my students when I taught college writing--don't tell me what you mean; show me.
There's a certain style of top that was very popular a few years back, but which I don't really see anyone wear anymore, and certainly not on fashion-forward women. And for the life of me I can't figure out why not--these tops are so romantic and attractive. Since all the clothes currently available for sale at the mall (neon? really?!) are so completely hideous this year, and not the least bit compatible with pseudo-Steampunk, it is clear contemporary fashion trends don't know squat about real style. I am glad this style of top is considered unfashionable; hopefully this means I will have less competition for them on eBay.
Since I don't have a name for this style, let me show you what I mean:
Skinny Minnie makes the most lovely tops, and some of them even have fabulously steampunky designs, like this one with the hot air balloon! But let's look at the other ways this top is so good for a psuedo-Steampunk wardrobe: antique-y colors, in this case lovely--and naturally Steamy--neutral browns and creams, with a hint of blue for interest; also lovely feeling of distress in the pattern; and best of all, Victorian-esque script and floral illustrations.
Now, not all of this style of top are compatible with Steampunk--often the styles and colors and metallic embellishments lean into other distinct genres, usually western, biker, and new-age/tribal. Definitely avoid those--but if you are unsure if such a top is even remotely steampunky, try to look at it in the abstract, going with the feel of it. If the colors and textures and images remind you of browned Victorian postcards, or tiny glass goblets of Absinthe in brooding libraries, or faded tintypes of the London Exposition--the top should be compatible, if not fabulous with in a RWSW.
Personally, I really like soft pinks with the traditional Steampunk colors of brown, copper, cream, black, olive, etc. It's such a feminine and old-fashioned color--and this top has that lovely bonus Penny-Farthing for extra steamy suggestion.
Another lovely vintage hot-air balloon design--and this one with even more rusty tones then the first.
This one one definitely works more on suggestion than actual thematic elements--I just love all that winding floral and distressed/antique pattern.
The gorgeous pattern on this one is practically creepy--why do I imagine it as echoing some Victorian nightmare? What did happen in Paris that summer, that keeps coming back to haunt your dreams?
This is a much safer image, but with such lovely "distressing." Have I mentioned I enjoy the distressing? Now if only that were a tea cup instead of a coffee cup. . . (but then we would not have the charming hand-grinder in the lower front, which I particularly like).
Another black and white print--this one makes me think of faded photographic negatives.
This one is also nice rusty brown tones, although the overall effect leans a tad towards the tribal. But the design on the front is definitely not--and the image there is worthy of Miss Havisham's musty fantasies.
I find it so appropriate that the favorite cities to feature in these tops are also those beloved to well-bred and traveled Victorians. My favorite shapes on these tops have fairly high necklines, definite shoulders, and semi-fitted waists; these are the most suggestive of the feminine form celebrated in neo-Victorian clothing.
So darkly pretty!
This one makes a blend of fabrics as well as patterns--I esp. enjoy the black lace panels against the more innocent blue, pink and floral ones.
Here's an example of one that strays into Western territory--but for a girl already working a prairie or cowgirl flair, this one in particular is still very Steampunk compatible.
Another good thing about these styles--sometimes they come in junior sizes (at least Skinny Minnie does) so that you can look for such pieces for your own Mini-Minnie.