I posted before about how to gracefully nudge your old goth wardrobe toward a steampunk sensibility, and this week I’d like to offer a few practical, economical tips for taking the basics to the next level.
First, a disclaimer: I can’t sew. I don’t own a sewing machine, and can’t do anything much more intricate with a needle and thread than tack the occasional hem or replace buttons. So if you hear “steampunk wardrobe customization” and think, “Oh God, someone’s going to go off about making period-correct underpants from a Simplicity pattern,” then fear not.
My tools of choice are simple and cheap. To create the items below the fold, I used (1). a pair of miniature jeweler’s needle-nose pliers (about $4 from a craft store), (2). a tiny hot glue gun (about $5, including glue sticks), and (3). waterproof metallic fabric paint (about $4 a pot).
As I mentioned previously, it’s very easy to repurpose old jewelry for steampunk decoration. All it takes is a relatively steady hand and a pair of pliers like these—and note that their tips are conical, not flat. Flat needlenoses can leave grooves and dings in soft metals. These are better, in my humble opinion.
Use them to pick your old jewelry apart, being careful to save small charms and pendant bits. If your pendants or earrings have metal “loops” at their top (from which to hang), just use the pliers to wiggle the loops back and forth until they break off. Then sand the resulting nubs down with a metal nail file, if you so desire.
Here, you see the remnants of a super-awesome goth choker I bought at Hot Topic years ago, now handily upcycled into an air pirate hat decoration. The hat is a cheap costume piece you can get almost anywhere. It used to have gold braid trim, but a black Sharpie and a little patience took care of that.
This feathery thingy here on the left was created out of stray feathers and old buttons hot-glued together, and handily affixed (via more hot glue) to the back of a small hair clip. This hair clip came from Walgreens, I believe, though you could almost certainly get a stash of them from Claire’s, or any other cheap accessories store. As a point of note, this is a metal clip with “alligator” jaws.
These metal jaws make the “fascinator” ideal for any number of things, because it’s rather tightly sprung and will cling like death to almost anything. Above, you see it affixed to a top hat’s band; but I’ve also worn it (and other things like it) clipped to belts, suspenders, collars, handbags, and even the occasional hairdo.
And now a word on goggles. They’re easy to come by; I have a finely crafted pair that I received as a gift, but I’ve also picked them up at sporting good stores, costume shops, and Archie McPhee. Below on the left, you'll see a pair of cheap plastic welding goggles (I think they were $5) that have been covered with strips of black harness tape (about $1 a roll). I liked the “Frankensteiny” look of the uneven texture and the frayed ends of the tape.
I also liked a tiny “reader’s” magnifying glass that came on a plastic mount. I used the pliers to pry it off the mount—preserving the joint that allowed it to extend and retract—and hot-glued the assembly to the side of the goggles, thereby adding a cool magnifying glass that I can lift up or down.
Or to take another approach, below on the right you'll see a pair of ultra-cheap “ski goggles” I picked up at a costume shop ($6). I wouldn’t paint my toenails while wearing them, much less do something as vigorous as ski … but they were decent starters despite the fact that they had shiny black plastic frames.
I’ve found that a neat and inexpensive way to take the gleam off shiny plastic stuff (of any variety) is with a waterproof fabric paint like this one below ($5 at a fabric store). Look for something that says it’s safe for dry-cleaning, and then you can be reasonably certain you’re dealing with a product that intends to stick around. This one is “antique gold,” and it’s fairly thick and sticky (so far as paints go).
To get the look you see above, I threw down some newspaper and took a small foam brush to the glasses, covering the frames with a hearty coat of this paint. When it dries, it clings like crazy and doesn’t flake off—and it imparts a surface texture that’s not unlike slightly old and imperfect metal. (The skull and the wings are the leftovers of another old necklace, dissected as described above and hot-glued into place.)
When it comes to that finishing touch, I must recommend your friendly neighborhood army surplus store. And I’m not just saying that because I was an army brat myself; I’m saying it because they have killer boots, harnesses, belts, pouches, bags, and jackets at very reasonable prices.
They also have pins and buttons like these—usually for a couple of bucks apiece (or less). I spent about eight dollars on a whole fistful of them last time I was there; these are just some of my favorites. I don’t know why the pin with the Spanish galleon says “Jungle Expert” on it. I just think it’s funny.
Anyway, I hope some of these pointers are moderately helpful at least, and creative cherry bombs at best. So go on. Grab your glue gun, swing those pliers, and get started. The sky’s the limit, Steamcon may be over now, but oh my, I think my best wool top hat could use just one more feather on it …
Cherie Priest is the author of seven novels from Tor books and Subterranean Press, including the award-winning Eden Moore series, Dreadful Skin, and Fathom. Her most recent book, Boneshaker, was released on September 29th by Tor Books.