Steampunks: Welcome or Unwelcome?

In the steampunk documentary, Vintage Tomorrows, photographer Libby Bulloff says “When you walk down the street in a top hat and spats, you are causing a riot. You’re making a statement.”

What that intended statement is will be different for each of us, and it may be quite different from what any audience may hear for themselves. Some people will be interested and intrigued, some will perceive it all to be an amusing oddity, and some will give a “What the…?” reaction.


Lindsay Dowd by MI Geek Scene

At conventions and the smaller regional and local events, we wear what we wear for the event, to embrace the festive spirit, and honestly, to look totally awesome. Those event spaces can also be safe spaces for our attire as we are among like minded people, and usually among accepting venue staff.

Sometime, however, we aren’t always among other who might enjoy the fun nature of steampunk. Several years ago, I commented on how the front desk staff of the St Anthony Wyndham made it quite clear they didn’t want us nor the convention there. Their attitude showed in every thing they did with the attending people. Aetherfest is sadly over, at least for now, and one can only hope that the hotel’s front desk staff has changed over and provides better customer service.


Diana Vick, co-organizer of Steamcon

Another public event where steampunks weren’t made to feel welcome was in 2014 when security at the Westfield Plaza Mall in Carlsbad ejected a group of steampunks for “wearing apparel that disguises, obscures or conceals the face”. The mall operators never really made a public statement about it and while the situation made the news for a while, it died out as such news stories do.

In August 2016, Sarah Chrisman blogged about her and her husband’s experience at Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC, Canada. In a nutshell, Sarah felt rudely denied admission to the park because of their everyday-wear, 1800s period style of garments. Apparently, there was sufficient feedback sent to Butchart Garden’s PR department, that they issued a public response. In summary, they said “No period outfits.”


Jaymee Goh, Silver Goggles blog

Regardless of the accuracy of Sarah’s account, or the brevity of Butchart’s response, the bottom line is that if you are in your finest steampunk-wear, you’ll be denied entry to the gardens. And Disney, and several theme parks, and some museums.

When in doubt, call ahead to see if there will be any problems.

Thankfully, these stories in the media seem like exceptions more than commonplace occurrences. From my own experiences, the vast majority of people like seeing steampunks and our attire. Some pay compliments, some want to get a picture with us, some want to chat and learn more.


Eric Larson, Teslacon, as Lord Bobbins

The hotel staff at the Madison Marriott West, home of the Teslacon convention, even get into the spirit of the weekend by adding some steampunk items to their workday attire.

When I fly around the country, I’ve taken to wearing at least a vest and dress pants, if not always a steampunk coat (even with those air vents, it gets HOT on the plane!), and my experience on almost every airline is that I feel treated with friendlier, if not better, service.

Lastly, I’ve been in full steampunk attire outside of the actual convention space – restaurants, stores, parks, etc – and while most people might have glanced my way but didn’t say anything one way or another, some people did pass along friendly compliments or inquired about what the outfit and event was all about. There was one time at Steamcon in Seattle, where a gentleman had follwed a group of steampunks back into the hotel, asked about what was going on, and wound up purchasing a ticket for the day.


Dr. Mike Perschon, Steampunk Scholar blog

What has been your experience?

Has your corset or top hat caused a riot in the streets?

Was there pandemonium and breathlessness caused by your polite mannerisms?

Did you find yourself surrounded by new fans and Facebook friends?


Share your stories below, and keep being awesome!


Published in: on August 17, 2016 at 8:55 pm  Comments (9)  
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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. In the past decade or so of wearing steampunk apparel in many different places, I have almost never encountered hostility. There was the occasional sideways glance and frown, but more often than not, folks want to know why we are dressed up. They are usually friendly and curious. The only downside can be the photo ops. I feel like a theme park character sometimes, but honestly, it is so flattering.

  2. While my own style leans to the punk side of things, and the nine to five stiffs on the train do stare at my goggles, no one has ever asked me to leave a venue, or behaved rudely. Compliments and honest questions are what I have been met with during interactions in all these years.

  3. We usually get compliments, people think it is cool or want to know more. I’ve even been asked to do a talk for one group. It’s enjoyable to have steampunk events. There are rarely issues.
    Another reason I love living in Adelaide.

  4. I have only had lovely experiences. Tee and I were doing an event in Shepherdstown, WV—not exactly the home of steampunk—and we got plenty of compliments and kindly inquiries on the street. Some of the folks definately had just come from the farm and yet they were fascinated by our top hats and parasols.

  5. There are places our local group has gone that really enjoyed having us. Now when I’m at the Dallas World Aquarium in civvies they always ask when the steampunks are coming back.

    And I love that the staff at the Teslacon Marriott gets to dress for the con. Some seem to really enjoy it and that’s kinda the point, right?

  6. My friends were on that carousel ride, and were all harmless-looking middle-aged or older people wearing modest gear, no weapons, and to my recollection, no masks or even goggles on the face. Some have the round sunglasses which are goggle-ish but that’s about it. My experience in San Diego, wearing any form of cosplay, is if I am away from an event, I get the side eye from Muggles. Sometimes I will get a “what are you dressed like that for?” question that is usually friendly, though perhaps occasionally dubious (such as when it’s demonstrably too hot to wear this stuff!). In 2014, on a timed scavenger hunt in London, we were stopped often to be asked about it and have our photos taken, which we kind of handled in shifts as we tried to stay on target, but everyone was generally nice there too. If a Muggle wanders into the middle of one of our events (picnic, convention, or the like) they are generally very interested and not hostile. I presume the hostile ones just stay away. We are fortunate!

  7. I’m more of a pirate garb wearer than Steampunk, although some elements will be making there way into my convention garb when I launch my upcoming Steampunk adventure serial, “The Adventures of Pigg and Woolfe.” I rarely wear my garb outside of conventions, because my spouse does NOT like drawing attention of any kind.
    That being said, I understand why venues such as Disney, Universal, or other theme parks do not allow guests in with any period garb or other costuming. It is a legal matter. A garbed guest might be mistaken for an employee, and if their behavior is in any way offensive, the park could be sued.

  8. As a dyed in the wool geeky costume enthusiast, I’ve been causing a stir all my life. Attending school in a frock coat and knee breeches or going to work in extravagant hand made jewelry, has always just been who I am. I regard my Straight Clothes as the costume. I get a mix of snubs and compliments but mostly people want to know where they can buy something similar. I am very lucky to work in the convention scene with my kindred spirits now.

  9. In general, we have found wearing Steampunk clothing elicits positive reactions.
    We, luckily, have never had a problem at a con or at hotels due to our Steampunk gear. To the contrary, we usually get more attention and better service. For example, the one time we got to stay at Hotel Galvez and Spa in Galveston for Dickens on the Strand (and subsequent visits when we couldn’t stay but dropped by to visit), the staff loved us and considered us a useful addition since they are a historic hotel. Even mundane hotels have appreciated us and set off long discussions with hotel staff.
    One of the Ghost Airship Allegory’s functions is to do Field Trips to different places as a group dressed in our Steampunk finery (the most recent was when we visited North Texas Irish Festival (NTIF) in garb). This means we’re all dressed outside of a con, and have received very positive reactions. When we did Afternoon Tea at The Adolphus the marketing manager came out and asked if she could take pictures (it’s another historic hotel).
    We also will go to dinner or run errands before and after still garbed. Always fun to walk through Central Market in full Steampunk regalia and answer questions.
    When we go to Teslacon Fans ever year we end up carrying some accoutrements on the plane (especially hats and cane) which has generated interested conversations from TSA, American Airlines staff, and fellow travelers. We normally don’t wear Steampunk gear to fly in because it is bulky, hot, and not conducive for a seat in Economy.

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