Steampunk is a re-imagining of an older era (typically the 19 century, such as the British Victorian age, the American Wild West, or vintage sea monsters a la Jules Verne’s novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) that followed a different time where steam engines took off and ruled the world. You can check out the Wikipedia article on steampunk for some very interesting reading on the history and details.
Like many alternate history genres, steampunk is rich in creativity and blends with other genres easily, like sci-fi and horror. Because of this and its popularity with us Geek Gals, it makes a fantastic theme for Halloween parties!
NOTE: The Victorians were obsessed with death and the afterlife, leading to a rise in seances, mediums, and spiritualism. Because of this, we are choosing the Victorian steampunk timeline for our theme as it has more material for research and is easier to source from for party supplies.
All images by Courtney Langdon
Steampunk to me is classic Victorian gothic with lots of mechanical gears and fantastical contraptions added to the mix. Why is this great for us? Because it uses thematic elements that are already easy to find: gothic Halloween design (think old spooky mansions) and mechanical parts. Both of these can be found at most big-box stores like SuperTarget and home improvement stores, which means you can buy cheap Halloween decor and steampunk it with metal pieces from the hardware section’s parts bins. That’s DIY at its finest!
The colors are very traditional because there weren’t a lot of crazy colors back then, so you’re looking for blacks, greys (steel and iron), browns, coppers, and jewel tones, particularly red, burgundy, and deep purple. An exception is the neon-green color of absinthe, a powerful, and also poisonous alcoholic drink. Your materials are anything from velvets, brocades, satins, and black lace to leather — LOTS of leather — and metals of all kinds. Even wood, glass, and feathers have their place in the decorations.
Symbols can be your friend because they help you have a good eye for what to buy and boost an overall feeling of a setting by being that “something I can’t quite put my finger on.” Here are a few for steampunk:
- Steam engines and steam cannons (especially schematic diagrams and pieces)
- Steam-powered locomotives / trains and antique cars
- Blimps / airships
- Mechanical contraptions and prosthetics
- Gears, sprockets, cogwheels
- Top hats / bowler hats and goggles (some prefer gas masks)
- Leather vests and corsets
- Ray guns and watches
- Ravens and crows and rats
- Taxidermy (stuffed animals)
- Skeletons and skulls
- Black and / or metal flowers
In addition to draping the previously mentioned fabrics over your furniture, you can use these smaller touches to fill in the details.
Search the internet for “vintage steam engine” (add “schematics” or “diagrams” at the end), “steam cannons,” and “steampunk airships” for easy print and frame wall pieces. You can also search for “steampunk portrait” for some frame-worthy portraits to hang. Just remember on both to credit the author! A little note at the bottom or to the side of the frame will do the trick, and it makes it look even more museum-quality.
Get your skeletons, crows, ravens, and any other taxidermy like statues and dress them up with goggles, top hats, etc. It also really fits the bill if you can replace parts with mechanical pieces like gears, hinges, and clockwork parts. If replacing is too difficult, try simply attaching the pieces to the outside and / or wrapping some leather around the pieces and limbs to imply it’s a mechanical prosthetic. You can also stick them in large glass jars to resemble specimens.
TIP: It’s actually very easy to make your own tiny top hats out of a 25 cent piece of felt and a little sewing! Cut a circle and then cut a smaller circle. That’s your brim and the top of the hat. Then cut a strip for the column of the hat and sew it all together. You can try glue, but I have not had very good luck with glue and felt; it just doesn’t stick well.
It’s another internet tip, because we love free and easy. Search for “free Halloween printable book covers”, and you’ll get some fun options in a variety of designs. You don’t have to fill a bookcase; just use 2 – 3 in a stack to raise a display with panache. Throw in some mechanical design book covers and you’ve taken it from Victorian to steampunk.
Drink & Food
Drinks will not be difficult for adult parties, as Victorians liked their wines and beers just as much as we do. A neon green punch can stand in for your absinthe drinks, especially if served in fancy glassware. Hot tea, grape juice, or lemonade can substitute for a non-alcoholic choice.
In regards to food, the Victorians who had the money tended to eat a lot of breads, fruits, nuts, and seafood in their diet, YUM. That is a win-win for this type of party, because all of that is easy to get today, too. To up your authenticity factor, display food in cut glass, ceramic, wood, or metal dishes.
It can be more challenging to add the technical element to take your food dishes from Victorian to steampunk, so feel free to get creative and add modern elements like the following:
Cut cookies into the shapes of gears.
You can get pre-made dough in a tube that you slice into circles for baking. Simply add an extra step of cutting a hole out of the middle and using that dough in smaller pieces as tabs added to the outside of the ring. Now you have a gear! You get bonus points if you paint them grey and add some edible grey sugar crystals to give it a metallic look.
Stencil a design onto a cake or a slab of brownies.
If you search the internet for “free steampunk printable stencils,” you will find fun designs from simple gears to birds, skulls, and cameos. Print the one you want, carefully cut out the black parts of the stencil (exacto knives work better than scissors due to the small shapes), and lay it on your dessert. If it’s a dark surface like brownies or chocolate icing, you can use powdered sugar / confectioners sugar sprinkled across the top. If it’s a white surface like vanilla icing, you can use colored sugar crystals for sprinkling instead. Once you’re done sprinkling, make sure you lift the stencil carefully upwards without sliding or tilting it. That will help keep your design intact and not smear it.
Frost your baked goods with gear designs.
This takes a little practice because you’re freehand drawing it, but it is also probably the easiest. For those of you comfortable with candy molds, there are multiple available online for chocolate gears, peppermint gears, candy gears, etc.You just have to do the work setting them!
- The Victorian Era site has parlor games that would be fun for groups of people who like to interact with each other. Some of these sound like they would be hilarious with a close-knit group of friends.
- Gamers are in luck because there are multiple steampunk-themed video games out there, such as Myst, SteamWorld, and Dishonored. Have a contest and award the winner!
- You can also pull in traditional Halloween activities, such as pumpkin carving or decorating a skull, and add in mechanical elements with gears and metal pieces.
Now that you know how to get prepared, have fun with your steampunk party and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!
Featured image credit: Courtney Langdon/Geek Gals