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Color in Steampunk

Ladies and gentlemen,

Recently I have noticed some people who have developed the mistaken impression that steampunk cannot have color (that it must be some kind of monochrome, like grayscale or brown), which has led to their second-guessing their wonderful, colorful, truly steampunk creations and outfits. I would like to take this moment to reassure everyone that this is not, in fact, the case. Steampunk is not brown, or black, or white, or gray, or any other single tone. It can sometimes be misleading given that most of the photographic and film references for the 19th and early 20th centuries are either in sepia tone or grayscale, but in fact the Victorians and Edwardians were color-loving people. Women's clothing especially was very colorful, and while men's clothing grew more somber as the decade progressed, they still found ways to keep things interesting. And of course, in a steampunk setting, access to more vibrant chemical dyes, machine-woven patterned fabric and international trade all make it possible (indeed, likely) for a "steampunk outfit" to be more colorful, more vibrant, more intricate or highly decorated than even a period Victorian outfit.

Because of the largely monochromatic status of photography during this age, paintings and colored drawings are generally the easiest way to get a feel for the color of clothing, and these make remarkable references.

-G. D. Falksen


( 66 comments — Leave a comment )
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Feb. 18th, 2010 05:20 am (UTC)
I can only say YES!! THIS!!!

I have no idea why "too colourful" is ever a worry when it comes to steampunk stuff.
Feb. 18th, 2010 08:50 pm (UTC)
It's quite true. "Too colorful" is never a problem in steampunk, but sometimes people second guess themselves in that regard and so I prefer to periodically reassure people that they're doing it right and that they have more options rather than fewer.
(no subject) - full_metal_ox - Feb. 18th, 2010 11:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 18th, 2010 05:23 am (UTC)
Well said sir! Colour! It's the way forward.
Feb. 18th, 2010 08:53 pm (UTC)
Thank you sir! Keeping up the colours, what!
Feb. 18th, 2010 05:26 am (UTC)
Oh ! That floral-patterned ballgown makes my heart go pitter-pat. Thank you for this post!
Feb. 18th, 2010 05:34 am (UTC)
Lovely pictures! Where did you find them all?
Feb. 18th, 2010 05:10 pm (UTC)
Looks like a lot are from wikimedia commons. It's a fantastic source for public domain images (ie, you can do whatever you want with them, including make huge profits!)

Feb. 18th, 2010 03:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for these images any time I hear someone apologise for being too colourful I always have the urge to hug them before reassuring them it's untrue.

I've always loved the image of Ingres Princess Albert de Broglie for a slightly morbid reason, I used to have a class with a large print and on first glance it always looked as though she was leaning against a headless body rather than a chair.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - tibialmusician - Feb. 18th, 2010 05:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 18th, 2010 05:50 am (UTC)
I adore the blue frilly dresssss
Feb. 18th, 2010 05:59 am (UTC)
Quite an astonishing selection, sir! I rather appreciate the bustled gowns in kimono silk...alot <3
Feb. 19th, 2010 12:57 am (UTC)
There's actually a whole set of those somewhere out there. They're quite magnificent. I'd love to see someone reproduce one of those gowns.
Feb. 18th, 2010 06:17 am (UTC)
I would like one of each of the gowns and the coats, please. That includes the gentlemen's clothings.
Feb. 18th, 2010 06:59 am (UTC)
Fabulous selection of photos and wonderful examples of color!
I don't understand why people would think color and steampunk do not mix. Photos in the 1800s may have been sepia but the people behind them were certainly not. ;)
Feb. 18th, 2010 07:14 am (UTC)
i imagine part of the reason for lack of colour (in Great Britain anyway) is that a large percentage of the community are/were Goths, thus favouring blacks/browns, etc.
Feb. 18th, 2010 02:31 pm (UTC)
There is a heavy influx of goth everywhere adding to monoscale colour schemes (Victoriana, go figure), not just GB.

I suspect a lot of the brown focus comes from the sepia-toned photos, the emphasis on leather because of the "mad scientist" and durability angle, and the looks of brown with brass and wood.

During the Victorian age, wood and brass were simply there. For steampunk, they become an important part of the aesthetic. And, it's easier to base your outfit colours on the wood and brass colours than to complement them with something brighter.
(no subject) - athenaprime - Feb. 18th, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 18th, 2010 07:23 am (UTC)
I love stripes, myself.

(no subject) - puzzleoflight - Feb. 18th, 2010 02:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 18th, 2010 08:26 am (UTC)
YES! THIS! Thank you! ^o^/ I have always been a fan of colorful. Color preference varies from person to person of course, but I'm willing to bet that a number of Victorians in the past loved themselves some colors as well =D

Feb. 18th, 2010 08:44 am (UTC)
Wow, what a visual feast! I definitely agree that colour shouldn't be dismissed in Steampunk, since the Victorians loved it. At the moment I don't have an actual physical outfit (it just lives in my head, and in drawings for now!), but in my head I've always wanted it to be colourful. Particularly green, teal or blue. Maybe combined with browns or blacks, but definitely with at least one vibrant colour.

For some reason I had it in my head that Steampunk was so brown/grey/black because it was often based on military uniforms. But actually, they were often quite colourful too. The bright red regency uniforms immediately spring to mind!
Feb. 19th, 2010 01:03 am (UTC)
It's true. Uniforms were often among the most colorful and elaborate clothing styles. It wasn't until the early 20th century that most military groups began shifting to drab colors, and even then there was reluctance. The French marched into the First World War wearing bright red and blue, and when they reluctantly "drabbed things up" it was with just a much paler shade of blue.
Feb. 18th, 2010 08:52 am (UTC)
I keep meaning to post pictures of my Great Great Great Gran's wedding dress from 1839 - it's unfortunately faded to grey (vegetable dyes) but was originally a brilliant blue, based on the remaining colour in the embroidered wire trim and some colour bleeding in sweat stains.* (She had a small corseted waist, but was also well under 5 foot so it was in proportion to her height.)

* My Mum would point out that they're actually from perspiration, as sweat is a dreadful word.
Feb. 18th, 2010 07:03 pm (UTC)
I saw a ball gown at a museum once that was described as "flame-colored" - it probably was under gaslight, but under modern florescent lighting it could be more properly described as "safety orange"!
Feb. 18th, 2010 08:56 am (UTC)
Wonderful pictures. And yes, it can't be stressed enough that colorfulness does not need to be limited to one's character's background.
Personally, I'm making an outfit for the World Steam Expo that will be shades of purple with red trim.
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