Thrift stores! As a Steampunk, they can be your best friend, but it's easy to make a tragic mistake. This hands-on guide will help you navigate the murky waters of successful thrifting in order to find the hidden gems that will make your Steampunk outfit complete!
Presumably everyone knows what a thrift store is, but you may have trouble finding the good ones in your city. Most big cities (and some small ones) have at least a Salvation Army and/or a Goodwill, though many cities will also have countless small, independent thrift stores.
The best way to find them is to use the yellow pages or Yelp for "thrift store" or "second-hand shop", though I also recommend just asking around. Your local Steampunks may be able to refer you to the better ones, or alternately the employees at one store will likely know many others.
Before we move on to the actual clothes that I found, let's talk strategy.
Thrifting is almost an art form, and there are definitely right and wrong ways to do it.
First, and most importantly, never let anything you intend to purchase out of arms' reach. I've seen fights break out in thrift stores over things that someone walked away from, and I'm not even kidding. It's brutal and totally merciless out there in the world of thrift-store shopping.
Second, many thrift stores will have a day of the week when clothes are half-off. Take advantage of this. Thrift-store clothes are already cheap, but it's awesome to walk out of a store carrying a huge bundle of clothes that you paid $10 for. Plus, when things are that cheap, it's not a huge deal if one or more items don't work out.
Third, shop often. Thrift stores are totally luck-of-the-draw, so there's never any guarantee that you'll find something you need. A few days before a convention is not the right time to go thrifting, because you will never find what you're looking for when you need it. It's one of those things, like Murphy's law. You always find what you want when you aren't really looking for it.
Okay, now on to the clothes!
I'm going to break this guide down into two sections: bad clothes and good clothes. I've put the "bad" section first because it's the most important. It's massively time-consuming to evaluate every single item in a thrift store, so what you need to do is learn how to dismiss things that don't work. Thrift stores are full of crazy stuff, like this... cow pitcher?
Don't get distracted! Stay on target!
First lesson: Just because it's brown, that doesn't mean it's Steampunk. Take this jacket, for instance.
It's brown corduroy, but is way too modern and boring to make part of a good Steampunk outfit. Pass this guy over immediately.
This women's jacket below might tempt some people because of its vaguely military look, but the shoulders are too broad and it will look exactly like what it is: a women's suit jacket from the 1980's.
The jacket below walks the fine, fine line between what is and isn't Steampunk. You might be attracted to the cool designs and Steampunk-y look to this jacket, but don't be fooled!
The jacket is full of all kinds of details that scream 1970.
Lesson two: the 1970's are not Steampunk. Note how the fabric is almost knitted, and the buttons are suns.
This jacket is aaaaalmost Steampunk, but it just has too much of the 1970s in it. Wearing this would make you look more like a hippie than you may be comfortable with.
These are suit pants. Many men wear pants like this with their Steampunk outfits, and they just don't look very good. Why?
Because they're pleated. Many modern men's dress pants have pleats, and they just look terrible for Steampunk. Personally, I think they look terrible in general, but your mileage may vary. Still, just look at how awful these look when hanging. They don't look much better on.
These pants below are a real shame.
They're a shame because the fabric is amazing, and I love it, but they're pleated and would look awful. The pleats make the pants look like they're from the 1980's rather than the 1880's. If you see a pair of pants with pleats, just immediately skip them.
To some, this denim jumpsuit below may have some Steampunk characteristics, but just don't do it!
They're way too modern and urban, and would end up conflicting with the rest of your Steampunk outfit.
Okay, ready to move on to the good stuff? Well, I am!
The good clothes are hard to find, and when you do find them, more often than not they don't fit. If you find something you love and it just barely doesn't fit, too bad. Leave it and move on. You don't want to waste time and energy on something that will make you look awful!
So, here are some things that are either inherently pretty Steampunk, or could easily be used in a Steampunk outfit.
In contrast to the above denim jumpsuit, here's a pair of overalls that would easily work for Steampunk. They're corduroy, and are an old style.
Note the cool pocket on the front bib, and the buttons on the sides.
A Steampunk mechanic or engineer could easily wear this.
Look at this awesome women's jacket below.
The standing collar is very Victorian, as are the lines of the jacket.
Even the back has nice details that would look right at home in a Steampunk or Victorian outfit.
Now, this is a satisfactory pair of men's pants. Note the flat front, with no pleats.
It has metal catches at the waist instead of buttons, but that doesn't matter because if someone can see the waistband of your pants, in all likelihood you're doing it wrong. Men would almost always have a waistcoat (a vest) buttoned over their pants.
These are awesome pants, because they're flat front and also made of wool! Or some synthetic equivalent. They look really luxurious in person!
The best part? Look where they're from!
Yeah, that's right... the Gap! Hey, nothing wrong with that. Steampunk is all about pulling things together from surprising sources!
Speaking of surprising sources, check out these green pants with a black stripe running down the legs.
These pants must have originally been for a marching band or something, but they would happily live a second life as Steampunk pants!
Speaking of second lives, I have no idea where these hideous shorts came from, but they would also be happy to live a second life as Steampunk underwear!
The more I stare at those stripes, the more they try to steal my soul from out of my eyes.
Speaking of stripes, check out this jacket. While it isn't Steampunk per se, it absolutely reeks of the Edwardian era. Pair it with a straw hat, and you've got yourself an outfit!
The Edwardian era is a little late for normal Steampunk, but it will fit in just fine if you do it properly.
This jacket below, my find of the day, is also too late for Steampunk. This is a reproduction World War II greatcoat, such as Captain Jack Harkness wears in "Doctor Who". While it's a little late for Steampunk, it would make an excellent Dieselpunk piece!
I'm proud of it, so you'll just have to deal with a few pictures of it. It's made of real wool, and it's darn heavy! Also, it was only $20. A little expensive for a thrift store, but well worth it!
Now, here's a dress that walks the line between Steampunk and not, and could come down on either side of the fence depending on how you wear it.
If you wear it as a dress, it will be too modern. However, a modern dress might actually make good Steampunk underwear! Victorian women wore shifts under their dresses, and it's hard to find a good shift today, so why not substitute a light cotton dress like this? If the top of it peeks out, that'll be okay, too!
This blouse below is pretty much a perfect Steampunk top.
Look at all the lace and detailing, as well as the standing collar that was so popular at the time!
Phew! That was a lot of clothing!
However, this guide doesn't stop here... There's more than just clothes at thrift stores, and you can sometimes even use it as a one-stop shop!
Yup, shoes. Most of the shoes you find will almost certainly be totally useless, but every now and then you'll find a good pair.
Gentlemen, you in particular are often guilty of buying the wrong pair of shoes. Here's a handy comparison between the right shoes (pictured on left below) and the wrong pair (pictured on right below).
The left pair might be more uncomfortable, but we all make sacrifices for fashion!
Women usually fare better at the thrift store than men do, especially in the shoe department. Any of these shoes will work just fine for Steampunk outfits:
I also found this pair, which may not scream Steampunk, but they're so preeeetty....
They would work great for the right outfit. I loves them!
The two belts below are another good/bad comparison. The belt on the left below might stand out to a Steampunk since it's olive-colored and has cream-colored lace, but that style of belt is way too modern, and would be far more at home in a Dieselpunk outfit.
In contrast, the simple black belt with brass buckle is a perfect accessory for a Steampunk outfit! Belts easily add a little extra zest to your outfit, especially when you aren't using them to keep your pants up.
What! We're not done yet?
Thrift stores also carry a wide variety of, well, junk. Some of that junk can be used for making Steampunk props!
This particular thrift store, a Salvation Army, conveniently separated its metal items by the type of metal, so the brass objects are all together!
Sure, it's a lot of useless junk. However, look at this:
Hidden in the back are a few candlesticks! Brass candlesticks make excellent gun barrels for your Steampunk weapons, and you can get them for super cheap at the thrift store.
There's usually also an assortment of plastic toys and sporting equipment that you can potentially make something out of.
Thrift stores are just such a great resource for the Steampunk who doesn't want to spend a lot of money, so take what you've learned here, and go apply it!
Every trip to the thrift store is a surprise and an adventure... You never know what amazing thing you'll find!