Are goggles a necessary part of a steampunk costume? In a word, yes.
Steampunk is a genre of speculative fiction which usually reimagines the Victorian era in terms of inventions powered by steam: Think Wild, Wild West. As the genre has grown, it has also expanded to outer space (like in Firefly), alternate universes (remember Disney’s Treasure Planet), and just about anywhere else you can think of.
While plenty of effort has been put into steampunk film and literature, this re-imagining has been done primarily by costuming enthusiasts who have created an entire aesthetic around the idea, gravitating toward luxurious fabrics, leather and copper accessories, and finally goggles.
Because they make sense in the steampunk world being imagined.
Flight is an extremely popular motif within steampunk, and if your flying in the late 19th century, your going to need aviator goggles. A natural extension of flight, steampunk societies are often imaged to take place within the age of exploration. When entering the unknown, it only makes sense to protect your eyes. A bonus for many costume enthusiasts: steampunk goggles can be a good way to incorporate prescription lenses into a costume.
Perhaps most obvious and most important, the biggest reason to wear goggles is that they are the easiest way to signal your character’s steampunk origins.
Inexpensive, easy to DIY, and a well recognized symbol, unless you’ve got millions to spend on a costume, adding goggles is the easiest way to steampunk your look.
So what are steampunk goggles made of? There are three basic materials: brass, copper, and leather.
An important element of steampunk culture is rejecting industrial-era design in favor of materials which a craftsman might have used in the Victorian era. Both because of their aesthetic value and their relative ease to work with, brass, copper, and leather become natural choices for steampunk goggles, or really, any part of your costume.
However, if your anything like me, traditional Victorian metalworking isn’t part of your day-to-day routine and you aren’t all that interested in wearing goggles made out of solid leather and brass. Solution? Fake it.
There are a lot of options when it comes to the leather part of your goggles. If you want to be authentic, you can just go straight for the real-deal. Its fairly easy to come-by, and of all the goggle materials, probably the easiest for an amateur to work with. You can buy it already turned into straps, cut up an old belt or jacket, or buy it by the sheet to use in your goggles. If your looking for a vegan option, there are multiple options for painting alternative fabrics like cotton to look like leather, as well as vegan-leather-look-alikes at the fabric store available for purchase. Paper bags and old purses are other great alternatives to leather and multiple tutorials for using them can be found on the internet.
If you get creative, there are lots of ways you can use brass wire, tubes, and fittings found at your local harware store. However, these can quickly get heavy and expensive and you’ll probably be limited to what supplies you can find in the plumbing department. A better option for the beginner might be brass paint, either spray or acrylic, to use over the top of whatever material you find easiest to work with to give it a copper look. Another great alternative is polymer clay which is now made to look like metal. Easy to work with and light-weight, polymer clay is perfect for begginers to use to create the embellishments for their goggles. Of course, if your looking for steampunk gears and gadgets already made, the jewelry section of most craft stores should have plenty of brass look-alikes to choose from.
Copper comes in many of the same forms as brass but is more commonly used giving you a lot more options when it comes to materials. Copper tubing, wiring, and sheeting can be found at both harware and craft stores but it is uber expensive in the current market making it advantagous to look for alternative options. Vintage copper jewelry abounds and can often be retrofited to fill your steampunk goggle needs, however, it too can be expensive and it can feel like murder destroying an already beautiful vintage piece. Fortunately, because copper is so popular there are many DIY options available. Copper paint and polymer clay both exists and work just like brass, and brass jewelry making supplies should be available at any craft store. Another great option is copper sulfate (a Victorian-age chemical) can be applied to tin like the kind on an altoid can to give it a copper-like patina. My personal favorite is copper leaf, very thin sheets of copper, can be applied to the surface to give your goggles both a copper feel and look without the weight and price.
Chances are, if your looking into steampunk goggles, your already feeling pretty inspired. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you know where to begin with your project. Have no fear, youtube is here!
Even if you are an experience DIY’er, it would be a mistake not to check out some videos before delving into the goggle making process. If someone else has a faster, better, or cheaper way of doing it, you’ll want to know.
Where do you start your binge? This video for Easy Steampunk Goggles outght to be a good beginning:
You know you need goggles, you know what materials to use, and you know how to make them... still not ready? Well, all that is left is a little inspiration. Half the fun of steampunk is using your own imagination, the other half is checking out what others were able to do with theirs. So take a little time before you start your project to check out these awesome DIY Steampunk costume ideas and let them inspire you! I’ll give you a minute to check them out... inspired yet? Good! Now go forth and create new worlds! And don’t forget the goggles!
See also: How to Make a Steampunk Costume