September 16, 2010

Steampunk Thursday #7 - Steampunk on a Budget

It's easy to let your costuming costs balloon out of control.  You see a must-have replica prop or a really lush fabric, and before you know it, you spent more on your costume than your prom dress (hey, back in my day, prom dresses were expensive).  You can control it though, and it is absolutely possible to create a suitable costume on a budget.  With steampunk, it's definitely possible to scavenge your costume or use a few shortcuts to save money.

Before you start reviewing the ideas below, think about the type of costume you want and set a budget.  You can create essentially the same costume for $50 or $500.  Compare it to the basic and deluxe versions you find of costumes in a bag at the Halloween store.  The $500 version of your costume would have nicer fabrics, real props as opposed to modded ones, extra-awesome goggles, etc.  The $50 version would have the base version of everything.  If you want to go toward the low end, plan the costume so that you can build it up and add elements later.

In my opinion, you can focus on one thing or another with a budget - either the actual clothes portion of the costume or a stupendous prop (like a kicking steampunk backpack) that will overshadow your clothes.  Alternatively, you can do little bit of both.  The below tips mostly apply to that option.

The Clothes
- If you can, sew away.  If you stick to economy fabrics, I don't think the affordability of sewing can be beat.  You can find plenty of period patterns on eBay and all over the internet.

- Bargain bins, clearance sales, yard sales, and secondhand are your friends.  If you are not patient enough to dig through this stuff, maybe you can bribe a friend into doing it.  Some folks love that sort of treasure hunt.

- You will be surprised at the amount of Victorian-esque clothing you can find in the usual places like eBay.  Look for Gunne Sax Victorian to see some great blouses and dresses.

Skirt made from a curtain
 - Repurpose.  For example, you could use a curtain or a sheet and safety pins to improvise a bustle skirt.  Try pinning up any long skirt you have, it gives it a different look.  For a men's costume, dig around to see if you have any vests left from a dance or wedding and add a pocket watch on a chain.

Accessories & Props
- The craft store is your friend.  Browse the aisles with the word steampunk in your head or maybe some images of a costume you want to emulate.  Some ideas: feathers glued onto a barrette for a fantastic hair piece, scrap leather for some gauntlets, leather laces for purse straps, ribbon and safety pins for an improvised ascot, large buttons to sew onto some knit socks to make spats, etc.  While you're there, buy a hot glue gun if you don't have one.  If you do have one, buy refills.  They go fast.

- Reference the above statement about secondhand.  I found a lace parasol, a cane, and a great leather jacket for less than $10 total at a church yard sale by pure chance.

- Check out stores like Charlotte Russe, Sidecca, & Forever 21 (brick and mortar or online) for things like gloves and belts.  I've also found great gloves in the wedding section of Michael's.

These tips are just the beginning, but I hope it's enough to get you started.  Please share your tips or success stories for budget costuming!


  1. Wohoo; costuming not leading to bankruptcy FTW!

  2. most people will give you broken watches. you can repurpose the sprockets into jewelry.

  3. Forever 21 has had some vaguely steampunky pieces this past season. I bought one of their victorian-ish tops and changed the buttons. Under my leather underbust rig, it looks just right. for cheap!

  4. Mary - right?! Now, I need to practice this more myself.

    Budd - Great tip!!

    Eventide - I can usually find something there to finish up a costume; especially on the clearance racks.

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