How To: Create a Steampunk Persona

Create a Steampunk Persona

How to Create a Steampunk Persona

Before I really get into this article, it's important to note that you do not need a Steampunk persona (or "steamsona") in order to be a Steampunk, or wear Steampunk clothes. Some people like to pretend to be a different person when dressed up in Steampunk clothing, but that is entirely optional, and only to be done if it appeals to you. That said, even if you aren't actually acting as your character, it may still be helpful to have one in mind when putting together an outfit. Personally, I've found that it really helps with outfit cohesion.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let's dive right into it.

Choosing a Persona

Steampunk personas should really resonate with you in some way, or else you'll find that you may start to run short on inspiration, or get tired of working on it before you finish. Steampunk, along with costuming of most varieties, is a labor of love. If you don't love it, you'll just end up hating yourself.

So how do you choose a persona that resonates with you? I can't really say exactly how, but usually you know it when you see it. I'll list a few typical archetypes and then give you the tools to create your own. In Steampunk, most characters are based around what they do, so that's what we'll look at.

The Pirate

Pretty much everyone knows what a pirate is, and in Steampunk the pirate is used most often aboard an airship, hence the common trope of the airship pirate. Airship pirates usually have outfits that have been cobbled together from things they've "picked up" (aka "stolen") here and there, and their personalities range from the good-hearted rogue to the malicious scoundrel.

Photo by Anima89

Likely gadgets for a pirate would be things like goggles, vision-enhancing things (telescope, periscope), navigation things (compass, sextant), short guns, and other small hand-to-hand weapons (despite the huge hammer in the above picture).

The Adventurer

An adventurer is generally a person of means who has decided to go "adventuring". Their outfits tend to be more coordinated than the pirate, and may be more reminiscent of formalwear. Gentlemen may wear a tie or cravat, and women may wear a corset and/or bustle with a shorter skirt.

Adventurers usually have a spirit of, well, adventure, and want to explore the world and get into trouble. Typical gadgets for an adventurer would be a weapon of any variety, some type of body armor, pouches for holding things, communication devices, and maybe a cane or parasol.

The Scientist

A scientist is someone who Does Science in capital letters. Their outfit may be reminiscent of a lab coat, and may also include goggles, gloves, glasses, and other words that start with 'g'.

Photo of/by Rob Flickenger

Scientists may lack social skills, and like to pursue knowledge through experimentation.

Photo from John C. Wright

They can be the typical "mad scientist", or the more sober research scientist. Gadgets that a scientist might have include things like vision-enhancing microscopes, Tesla coils (like the Tesla gun above), recording equipment, safety equipment, etc.

The Aristocrat

Aristocrats generally live a life of leisure and can do whatever they like. As such, they can either be selfish or philanthropic, mean or nice. Their clothes are Nice with a capital N, and are always formal. For the ladies, fancy corsets (over or under the clothes, depending), lace, and hats that are either too big or too small.

Photo from John C. Wright

For the gentlemen, coats and vests are required, as are nice shoes (never neglect the shoes!).

Photo of/by Kit Stølen

Above all, aristocratic outfits are either very tasteful, or are very deliberately over-the-top. The middle ground will just make them look sloppy. Aristocrats may not even carry gadgets, because they don't need them. However, they can wear goggles, jewelry (for men and women), hats, spats, and other refined things.

The Ragamuffin

Ragamuffins have dirty jobs, and are in many ways characterized by the dirt or soot that's all over them and colors their clothes. They may not even have a job at all, and might be street urchins, beggars, and the like. Their clothes are often either patchwork or scavenged, as are their gadgets.

Photo of/by Crackitus Potts

This is one of the few types of characters that can look disjointed in terms of outfits, because the dirtiness will tie everything together, visually. These characters can literally wear or carry anything, so long as it looks used and broken-down!

And More...

The above examples are just that: examples. You can see more here, but there are many variations of the above, and the most important thing to remember is that you can pick and choose, and make your own. I'd start with a profession, like mechanic, doctor, miner, captain, spy, factory worker, or even odd things like banker, blacksmith, janitor, or mortician, and then go from there. Think of the tools that someone of your chosen profession might use, and then think of ways to Steampunk them. Alternately, think of tools they don't use, but which might make their jobs easier.

Personality

Your persona's specific personality is largely up to you, as pretty much any profession can encompass people of a variety of alignments. If you really need help coming up with personality traits, I suggest you check out this list of NPC traits, or even this trait generator (refresh the page for new traits). This PDF even includes a list of physical traits for you to play around with. Obviously you can't easily make yourself taller or shorter, but you can wear wigs to change your hair length, and use makeup to make yourself appear older, younger, thinner, fatter, etc.

I'll be honest, most Steampunks don't bother to change their inherent physical appearance for the sake of their characters, but some do! If you really want to try being an entirely different person, by all means, go ahead!

The Wrap-Up

Having a Steampunk persona is about creating a complete, cohesive picture of a different person. Try to be consistent, too, without dropping in and out of character too often. Think about what your character would say or do in certain circumstances, and then consider why they would say or do that thing.

It may sound complicated, but once you learn how to do it, it can easily become second-nature. I recommend starting small and "feeling out" a character before you start making huge time and money investments in clothing and props, because you may find that certain characters just don't "flow" naturally from you, and it can make you lose interest in being them.

Above all, it should be fun! Having a good time is the most important goal!

If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section!

10 Comments

why do the majority of female steampunk outfits seem,for lack of a better word,slutty? i mean,showing a little leg or a little cleavage,i can understand. but,when all you wear is a small metal covered bra,and chainmail skirt,as in the first picture,that just puts down all of the Victorian sensiblities that you are trying to come across. eventhe photo you use for the Aristocat female is a little too showy for me. also,if you are going to the costume,then do it righ. avoid using too many modern items,such as modern heeled boots,and shoes. i am a costumer,and history lover. those plirates in teh first foto:why is the chick in black wearing all modern stuff? doesn't seem very Victorian to me...

You raise an excellent point!

First of all, you have to understand that the selection bias is at work, here. When trying to find pictures for this article, I was specifically looking for good-looking photos (not to be confused with good-looking people) that are in focus, have good lighting, etc. Attractive people are more likely to spend time doing photo shoots with real photographers rather than just taking snaps at a convention or in their bedroom, and likewise, attractive people are more likely to wear, well," slutty" clothing because that's what society teaches them that they should look like. That said, I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with that, except insofar as both sexes aren't treated equally.

Second, Steampunk isn't really about the Victorian era. It's vaguely based on the Victorian era, but in reality, the aesthetic, movement, and genre are in many ways reactions to the present rather than the past. If you're interested in reading more about that, you can peruse this post and this post, which I wrote to sort of address that very point.

While there is certainly room in Steampunk for historical accuracy, it may help to think of Steampunk as less of a love note to history, and more as a mugging. ;)

This is very late in coming as I have just found this blog and am new to steampunk. But I think you bring up a very valid point. Almost all the photos I've seen when I google "steampunk ladies" are thin, young girls with their boobs practically hanging out of their costume. I saw one and thought if she so much as sneezed she would fall right out of her top! From what I've read so far, it would seem to me that if you're going to portray some kind lady with Victorian principles then why dress like a common floozy? Unless you're playing that part, I do not see the need for a costume like that.

I do understand that most of this is not based on historical fact, at least do a little research. Develop your costume around your character. IMHO, I believe your character says a lot about who you are in "real life", even though it's sort of "make believe". Do yourself a favor and show some class. Unless you are a burlesque dancer or neighborhood "floozy", then don't dress like one.

I loved this article. I am getting ready for Steamcon next year, and was having a lot of trouble designing a costume that felt well put together. I love so many things, everything I was thinking of felt so patch worky.

Although acting like a whole different person isn't really my thing, I think starting with a profession and going from there is just the ticket!

While Hostij Beatle does make a good point, Steampunk is not an actual historical era. It is a genre. As such it is really under the interpretation of the costumer. What works for one person, may not work for another. Also, depending on the profession you are trying to portray, slutty might work very well.

I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Having read this article, you may also like this one and this one, which are both sort of the spiritual sequels to this article.

Let me know if they help, and if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask! =)

Thank you for another excellent article. I 've been working on a persona that may be considered as a cross between post-apocalyptic, wild-wild west, explorer and late Edwardian era. A prospector, with a decided twist. The gold and gem fields beckon.

I have a question what are the steampunk store in Montréal....

Awesome, I would say you have a great taste. :)

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