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Trends: Penny Dreadfully Steampunk

Oct 16, 2007

by Vanessa Bertozzi handmade and vintage goods

We’ve been noticing an array of elegant old-timeyn-ess on Etsy. It’s hard to put your finger on it exactly—there is such a variety of items on Etsy—but it’s an amalgamation of the Gothic and the Neo-Victorian, the glitter and the grime.  When scrolling through the listings on Etsy, certain traits start to speak to us.  Sometimes we catch a whiff of something subcultural going on.

Many of you are no doubt saying to yourselves, Duh, STEAMPUNK! Haven’t you heard? But for those of you who didn’t already know, the Etsy Costume Contest is your perfect opportunity to masquerade in the subculture.

Manoela, one of our summer interns, found Bell‘s shop and admired her jewelry made of clock parts. When we noticed she was using the keyword "steampunk," we got curious. We asked Bell what it’s all about.


Steampunk is a small subculture that is just starting to find its place in the world. It is a bit of an offshoot from the neo-Victorian movement, but focusing more on machinery, gears, and gadgets of the emerging industrial revolution. Also a lot of steampunks have a strong interest in the literature of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Mary Shelly. Kind of like Cyber-punk but an alternate older reality that runs on steam as its main power source. The electricity wars between Tesla and Edison are also a small part.

I only just recently found out there was a term for my love of the Old World tinkerer aesthetic and since then I have been hunting everywhere for others like me. On Etsy I have found a few items that could be interpreted as steampunk. 

Here’s a random list of steampunkish things:

  • Airships
  • Goggles
  • Pocket watches
  • Gears and Cogs
  • Wilson safety glasses
  • Neo Victorian Dress
  • Trains (steam)
  • Brass and Copper
  • Mad Scientists
  • Literature Late 1800’s early 1900’s
  • Old fashion style laser guns
  • Monocles
  • Tesla
  • Unusual inventions

There’s another thread that connects steampunk with the DIYers: in order to create such a look, you have to make it yourself. When Etsy went to the Maker Faire in May, we saw many a "mad inventor" type fully immersed in the steampunk aesthetic. And it’s not just the look; it’s also the lifestyle. Steampunk embraces a kind of engineer’s mentality—a tinkerer’s inventiveness.  It’s not always manifested through building a brass flying machines powered by a mini steam furnace, it’s also expresses through the detailed and curious clusterings in jewelry and clothing.  Steampunk fashion often has weird little doodads and hooks and functioning parts—but always with that anachronistic, Victorian look.  Michelle, an Etsy Labs admin, has her eye on the Neo-Victorian trend. 

The ultimate Halloween costume would be like the (mythical) ultimate bridesmaid’s dress—something that you’ll want to wear again in your normal life. And while I still haven’t found a use for any of the lilac monstrosities from the Big Box Bridal Shoppe, I could wear these little numbers over and over…

Here’s to a steampunk-inspired Halloween costumes in the Costume Contest

Further Resources:
A great resource for finding out more about steampunk is Brass Goggles.

Wikipedia’s entry on Steampunk.

Make Magazine refers us to the Boston Globe article

More steampunk photos on flickr. 


  • peelapom

    peelapom said 9 years ago

    I am in love with BoringSidney's hats. I just need to figure out where to wear some!

  • blurdom

    blurdom said 9 years ago

    Oh my god...this stuff is amazing. Thanks for writing about steampunk fashion!

  • tangerined

    tangerined said 9 years ago

    I absolutely love steampunk, great article guys.

  • Vanessa Admin

    Vanessa said 9 years ago

    Hey thanks! I wonder what other subcultural trends are waiting to be discovered in the treasure trove that is Etsy...Any ideas?

  • theoleanderblack

    theoleanderblack said 9 years ago

    I love love love this article. I had never heard of this term, but it kind of clarifies this look, which is becoming such a huge inspiration for me. It's one of those things - you can't explain it, but you know it when you see it. Thanks for a great article!

  • exoskeletoncabaret

    exoskeletoncabaret said 9 years ago

    Thanks for the props! I was so excited to see my photos on one of my favorite blogs! :D

  • EnfinLaVoila

    EnfinLaVoila said 9 years ago

    This is amazing! Without realizing it i'm making steampunk cards for months now! (including rocco-style bad hairday cards :-) Thank you for opening my eyes in this very intersting article!

  • BoringSidney

    BoringSidney said 9 years ago

    I am so pleased to see more Steampunk, when I first started doing it here on etsy there were only a very few of us! We have grown!! Hurray Steampunk!!

  • Steampunkadelic

    Steampunkadelic said 9 years ago

    Hoorah for Steampunk! It's so nice to have a name for the things we're making, and for the Aesthetic!

  • elegantmusings

    elegantmusings said 9 years ago

    I love the Steampunk look! Thanks for featuring it! ;)

  • OpulentOddities

    OpulentOddities said 9 years ago

    Wonderful article!

  • darklingwoods

    darklingwoods said 9 years ago

    *boogles* wow! great article I had no idea there was a movement, and I'm gobsmacked at the realization that a character I recently created is rather"steampunk" I'm drawn to this look from turn of the century fairy tales and the grittier feel it gives characters I'm not into labels but the goth term I suppose has become outdated or maybe splintered into hybrids anyway this one seems quite smart. thanks for the great article and keeping this bird up to date :)

  • mygoodness

    mygoodness said 9 years ago

    Ahhhhh, so that's what that's about. I was wondering! I knew it wasn't just recycling antique shoppe objects that artists were doing. But I wasn't sure what the common thread was, exactly. Thanks for trend-spotting, Etsy!

  • Corpseknit

    Corpseknit said 9 years ago

    I had no idea that this style has grown into its own label. Thank you so much for sharing this! I finally have an improved term to describe my style!

  • redheart13

    redheart13 said 8 years ago

    One word: Macabre. Love it all.

  • LushPunk

    LushPunk said 8 years ago

    I ♥ louiseblack and boringsidney!!

  • lsad

    lsad said 8 years ago

    Thanks for the inspiration. I need to get back to making the victorian jet bead cape I started. It looks like a spider web over your shoulders I'm psyched to get back to it.

  • TheDamnNation

    TheDamnNation said 8 years ago

    oh these are so lovely!

  • 19Moons

    19Moons said 8 years ago

    A great Steampunk collection here with a Gothic twist! I am glad to be immersed in this genre with my eco-friendly designs. For more great finds search "steamteam" on Etsy :)

  • orphelia

    orphelia said 8 years ago

    I love steampunk - great pictures

  • mysticpieces

    mysticpieces said 7 years ago

    Steampunk is a fabulous genre with intricate parts and pieces. I'm so thrilled Etsy is recognizing it!

  • VelveteenHabbit

    VelveteenHabbit said 7 years ago

    I love steamvictorianpunkgoth! I collect my favorite things (old, found, wierd, broken) and alchem-ize into a new creation. I want to imagine their stories-memorialize them so we don't forget "what was" I may coin a new word to describe this feeling...romalgicia! Great collection!!

  • steampunkjewelry

    steampunkjewelry said 7 years ago

    LouiseBlack...that is amazing!

  • gilstrapdesigns

    gilstrapdesigns said 7 years ago

    Loving it!

  • wensaccessories

    wensaccessories said 7 years ago

    Love the corset very much

  • OnyaCox

    OnyaCox said 7 years ago


  • dodara123

    dodara123 said 7 years ago

  • dodara123

    dodara123 said 7 years ago

    I love the picture. Please check my new listings if you like romantic...weird fashion.

  • Irishcolleen01

    Irishcolleen01 said 6 years ago

    This is great! Come check out my shop at take a look at the Vintage American Optical Eye Glasses that are there. They are perfect and from the 50s & 60s.

  • LondonParticulars

    LondonParticulars said 6 years ago

    I love that corset!

  • buffy0811

    buffy0811 said 6 years ago

  • Helpfulkittydolls

    Helpfulkittydolls said 5 years ago

    Its funny the name of your artical as I have been with a Steampunk Burlesque group for just as many years if not a little longer than when this was writen and we are called the Penny Jar. All members are named Penny. And yes we have a Penny Dreadful. We also have Penny Archade and our founder is Penny Farthing. I am Penny Forthought. Once I have my store up and running I will have steampunk dolls and also steampunk doll clothes for BJDs. I have seen a few of the items you listed in person. Nice stuff.

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