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  • Writer's pictureKL Forslund

Dressing the Part

According to legend, one of the guys from ZZ Top gets his beard from Danny’s Kix and Trix. They’re a costume shop, just down the road from my house. He does it because everybody recognizes him with his natural beard, so this let him shave it and be somebody else. What’s that got to do with Steampunk? Today we’re talking about transforming yourself, and ZZ Top gives us the theme “‘Cause every girl crazy ‘bout a sharp dressed man.”

The Parts List

When you are raised by wolves in Minnesota, the finer points of dress are often overlooked. Wolves don’t care if your fur is sticking up funny, much to the chagrin of my wife. This also means a general lack of knowledge of dressing well, which is what a gentleman would know, steampunk or otherwise. It’s time to fill in the blanks.

Oxfords not Brogue

The Kingsman movie said it tongue in cheek, but the first lesson is “that’s what those are called.’ A pair of Oxford shoes is distinctive, timeless and works well for a formal outfit. Get a good fit, you’ll be wearing these all day. Take care of them, and they’ll serve you well for a variety of functions.

Button Down Shirt

Nowadays we think of this as a formal button down shirt, but back in the 1800s, this was an undershirt and going out with just this shirt on would be scandalous. You can start with a basic dress shirt and most people won’t know the difference, or dig into period styles. One thing we don’t realize from photos of the time, is that color had just hit the market. Dandies, fops and well heeled men came in a rainbow of colors.

Trousers, a Pant by Any Other Name

If you’ve got the budget, you can buy a full suit and be done. They’ll match and that’ll be boring. Or you can buy a pair of dress pants, and focus on the other stuff and nobody’ll notice your pants. That’s a beginner strategy for costume making in general. Keep legs simple while you work on the rest.

Getting Vested in a Waistcoat

What we call a vest nowadays is a waistcoat. A gentleman might be caught half-dead without his coat, but he better be dead and in bed without hist waistcoat if seen by anybody. Choosing a sharp fabric or pattern here will make a statement, regardless of the other pieces. Hang a pocket watch with chain on it, and you’ll look the part.

A Coat to Finish

The hard part about getting started in Steampunk was learning what things were called. Like a hat, everybody wore a coat. But modern suit coats aren’t the same. Two prominent coat styles of the 1800s were the frock coat and morning coat. A man in one of those will look distinctive.

Accessories and Detailing

A good tip I learned from Drew Hayen, a Steampunk costuming presenter at Comicpalooza, is to look for ways to make your outfit stand out as different from modern dress. A modern dress shirt will work for a steampunk outfit, but flip the collar up, and use a larger fabric as a necktie, that billows out and fills the space above the waistcoat. Now you look distinct from a man in a suit. I’ve had dress shirts altered for older style collars. In fact period shirts, didn’t have collars, they used plastic or paper collars. To hold those pants up, use suspenders, not a belt. Add cufflinks, a tie, a tie pin are all ways to add flair, not just as decoration, but including steampunk elements like gears and such. Subtle, without having to replace you entire arm with a gun.

Wrap it up

I’ve gone over the standard pieces of a gentleman’s outfit. The persona you might make could be less formal, but still use some of this stuff. You can hunt at thrift stores, find patterns or buy it online. Whatever fits your budget. When you get all the pieces, put them on, stand in front of a mirror. Finish cinching up that tie and your back will straighten and you’ll look like a million bucks. I guarantee it.

Read more of my Steampunk Gentleman series at


As always, I did the work of looking stuff up so all you have to do is click. Note, these links are not endorsements, just sites where you can learn more or see where I got my information.

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