Last weekend marked the 2013 Steampunk World’s Fair, held at the Radisson and Embassy Suites hotels in Piscataway, NJ. Steampunk, for those of you scratching your heads, is a sub-genre of mad-science fiction centering on steam-powered machinery from the 19th century. It draws much of its inspiration from authors like H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, and its influences are present in literature, television and film, and video games. Many of its devotees consider it a culture and a lifestyle, evident at this year’s festival, which drew more than 4000 guests—making it the biggest event of its kind in history.
Highlights of the year included numerous vendors, performances, meet-and-greets, and games and activities (including an art auction and dance lessons)—and, of course, creative and innovative steampunk fashions, which cleverly marry style and function. The goal of many steampunk followers is to create a unique and eye-catching outfit that incorporates useful tools or appliances. The organizers of the World’s Fair emphasized that there is no right or wrong way to appreciate steampunk, and that guests could wear whatever made them comfortable—and, in many cases, that meant going all out!
One of the most popular pieces for women was a steampunk staple: the corset, paired with anything from a long, flowing skirt to a shorter, fuller tutu—often in much bolder, wilder colors than you’d typically see on a prima ballerina. They accentuated these ensembles with striking, one-of-a-kind headpieces, like fascinators in coordinating colors and materials.
Men’s fashions included jackets and vests, fancy top hats, and an array of gadgets designed to assist them in their adventures in this era (much of steampunk fiction is set in a reimagined, post-apocalyptic version of the Victorian era or the American Wild West).
Men and women alike incorporated protective body armor, statement jewelry (especially watches), replica weapons (including bows and crossbows swords, and even Nerf guns!), and utilitarian goggles—another steampunk essential. They also showed off comical cartoon mustaches on sticks, which have made their way into mainstream culture in the last year. Some attendees sported wigs in bright and unusual colors, while others added animal ears to their ensembles. Mismatched patterns, traditionally a fashion faux pas, were another major “Do.”
Steampunk enthusiasts hoping to expand their wardrobes browsed a diverse selection of vendors at the Fair, who sold handmade vintage jewelry (including beautiful cameo brooches), hats, accessories, and gizmos, and clothing, from leather corsets to souvenir T-shirts. Guests looking for inspiration found it at a fashion show held on Sunday afternoon.
Has all this made you want to grab your very own pair of goggles or other novelty items and dive into steampunk culture? Or are you just interested in learning more? Next year’s Steampunk World’s Fair is scheduled for May 16, 17, and 18, 2014 and promises to be even bigger and more exciting. Mark your calendar—and get ready to travel to this fascinating fantasy era. Be sure to dress the part!