Improvising Steampunk Fashion, or the Murder of a Perfectly Good Jacket

You wouldn’t believe it from my posts so far, but originally steampunk was meant to be one of the major topics of this blog.  Guess I got carried away with the fun of weird history.  After all, there’s a reason I went to school for six years studying it.

I hate patterns.  They’re tedious.  They also require me to do things like match up curves to other curves that don’t match (like adding sleeves to bodices).  I am the mistress of the straight stitch, but no more.  Hems?  Sure.  Straight seams?  No problem.  More than that?  at the very least, not without complaining

I’m also not interested in spending a lot of money on my steampunk wardrobe.  I do presentations on how to affordably dress for events.  So, over about five hours today, I created two new pieces of costuming.

Go Shopping! Goodwill is Awesome

Goodwill is a steampunk seamstress’s dream.  There’s an amazing selection available for not a lot of money.  Not only does that make your outfit affordable, but you also don’t have to fret over screwing up something expensive.  Do something truly awful to it and you’re still only out about $5.

Also, Goodwill is just an awesome organization in general.  Not only does it provide affordable clothing, but the profits are reinvested into Goodwill programs such as job training.  They also employ those who have difficulty finding employment, such as the mentally challenged.

Avoiding the Corset

I’ve heard several female would-be steampunks lament that they can’t enjoy the hobby because:

  • They can’t afford a corset.  (Corsets with plastic bones, also known as fashion corsets, are actually pretty affordable.  Steel-boned one are more expensive, but I just always wait for a sale at
  • They feel their body type precludes a corset.  (Generally untrue.  Corset sellers commonly have plus-sized corsets, and there’s also the option of a tailor-made corset, although that gets expensive.)
  • A parent wouldn’t let a minor buy one.  (Corsets are, after all, traditionally underwear.)

Corsets are not required.  A lot of us wear them, but we do it because we want to, not because we feel forced to.  Victorian corsets were about limitation and containment.  Steampunk is about expression and choice.  Never wear something you don’t want to wear.

So how do I attractively join and shirt and skirt when I don’t have a corset?  Almost all of my waistbands are elastic and ugly.  I don’t want people to see them.

For me, one answer is a very wide belt given to me by a friend.  It’s certainly workable, but you have to have the right belt.  (Goodwill is a decent source of belts too.)

Costume without Corset, Using Belt
My husband and I at an event. I was just plain tired of corsets, and this was my solution.
BTW, the underskirt, overskirt, blouse, bolero, gloves and bracer set me back about $50 total, $20 of which went into the bracer.


For today’s project, I started with this:

Corset and Jacket project - jacket
Goodwill jacket, costing a whopping $9, which is on the pricey side for Goodwill.

Don’t just stick to your size when shopping.  This jacket was marked XL.  I’ve never worn an XL in my life.  Half of the stuff I get at Goodwill are Mediums.

My first step was to put on the garment and visualize how I want the final product to fit.  Then I cut the jacket in half horizontally just above the button below the breasts.

Corset and Jacket project - Corset

Now, I want this to fit snug, so I’m going to have to take in some fabric in the back.  However, while I’m sizing up other things on my sewing dummy, I cheat:

Chip Clip for Sewing
Chip clip to the rescue!

Now I start pinning how I want to shape the top and bottom hem.  I could have totally left both straight, as displayed two images up, but I’m a glutton for punishment.

Finished Bottom Portion
Featuring an epic belt I never get to use because it doesn’t fit tight enough to hide a waistband.
At this point, I’ve decided the ultimate purpose of this outfit is to feature that belt.

I’ve decided to bring the top hem into an upward point (which is looking rough here) and shaped the bottom hem.

This jacket does have the issue of pocket flaps.  They lay pretty smooth, however, so I’m leaving them in.  It would be a major pain removing them.

I will also eventually replace that top button with something that doesn’t look like plastic.  I will probably keep the bottom button because it’s flat and no one’s going to see it under the belt.

The Bolero

Let’s move on to the top portion of the jacket, which I’m going to turn into a bolero.

Corset and Jacket project - Shaping the Jacket
Think out how you’re going to deal with the labels.  Hemming them is a pain because folding back the fabric has put the inside layer on the outside.

The first side is easy.  The hurdle for the second side is to make it symmetrical.

Corset and Jacket project - Shaping the Jacket, Making it symmetrical
Here I’ve laid the bit cut off of the left side (from our viewpoint) on top of the right side to use as a template.

And…onto the dummy it goes:

Rough shaping of the bolero
On a less busty woman (like my dummy) this might work fine.  However, when I put it on myself (as you should do often), it just doesn’t fit right.  It sort of situates itself on top of my boobs.

To get it to better fit my body, I continue shaping the front by  making the bottom hem considerably shorter in the front and with more curve.  I’ve also entirely removed the bottom lapel and shaped what was left to flow smoothly.  That was a pain-and-a-half, BTW.

Finished project
Finished piece as debuted at Steamtopia, 2014

The final step was to add trim to the hems.  Trim immediately makes something look richer and more finished.     It can also cover up mistakes and rough spots.  Trim varies tremendously in price, but the stuff I used here was $3-$4 per yard.



  1. Great idea – I did the same thing with a jacket, also with Goodwill as a source. Didn’t think of the “stomacher” but then I am a corset girl. You could have remove the welt pocket by just taking off the flap and then use an invisible ladder stitch to close the gap (without catching the lining of course). Honestly, if someone is that close to see the flap pocket they better be buying you dinner!!

    1. Author

      Taking the flap off would not have been easy. The stitching is very strong. There was no good way of plucking it apart. Also, it would still leave a line on each side of the stomacher.

  2. Amazing creativity. You’ve made me rethink a design I am working on. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Holy amazing! *sigh* so much to create, so little time!! Inspiring.

  4. That is awesome! Thank you. I’m filing this post to revisit!

  5. I wish I had seen this blog earlier today. I was just at the goodwill and didn’t even THINK of this. I am totally inspired and WILL try this. I already have a corset, its the bolero part I love!

  6. Wait, couldn’t you just flatten the top half of the jacket on the side and cut both sides to the right shape at the same time for perfectly symmetrical cut?

  7. Awesome! Thank you for sharing!

Leave a Reply