Steampunk in the mysterious sub-continent of India

Once I got started working on my purple and gold sari fabric bustle I started thinking about designing a costume that was not unlike Dragonfly Designs by Alisa‘s Steampunk Geisha costume. Something that would combine something multicultural, along with the Victorian steampunk aesthetic. While I’m sure that I can (and will) wear the bustle without the remainder of an Indian-inspired costume, I also thought it would be interesting to explore further. My one problem (and it’s a doozy) I’m not really all that interested or experienced with Indian fashion.

So… time for research!


Photo From McKay Savage's flicker roll

I’m pretty comfortable with a monochromatic colour scheme.  Give me a  colour and I’ll find shades and tints and be happy.  I’ll find analogous colours that go with it… blue, blue-green, green… ahhh lovely.  One of the first things I noticed looking at Google images of Indian costume…. Colour.

There are colours that are brighter than I really would generally wear.. (though as I write this I am wearing a black cardigan with a black pair of yoga pants and a reasonably bright pink top (not as bright as the pink in the above photo though…), and MORE colours than I would ever wear together.  Like the above photo.. orange and pink… blue, pink and green, pink and lime… so much colour!   I did notice a number of monochromatic colour schemes though, but I do think that for this to really feel like something inspired by the fashion of India, colour is a really big factor.


Photo from Amazing India

Again, this is something very different than what I’m normally accustomed to.  I generally wear small prints, or solids.  A few stripes and plaids perhaps, but nothing too bold.  The above photo is actually a fairly tame use of pattern compared to some of the other things I saw… but.. more colour!


From Fashion Clothing Today

Accessories, trim, and other bling seems to be really important to the look as well.  The top photo shows the women wearing multiple bracelets, rings, and anklets -and other reference photos I came across showed the same thing.  This Lehenga might be for a wedding, and thus really bling-ed out.. but I think that this is also something I could consider in the costume.


One other thing that I think really is iconic, is the scarf or veil.  Almost always sheer or semi-sheer, almost always colourful, sometimes decorated (and sometimes not), but I think that a head-scarf or shawl-scarf will be an important part of this outfit as well…so then comes how to wear it in an interesting way?

Why reinvent the wheel?

So in my research I also wanted to see what people were already doing, blending Indian and Steampunk together.

The first two I found on the Brass Goggles forums, posted by an individual with the handle “Stella Gaslight” (click for the forum thread)

From the Brass Goggles Forum, photo from user Stella Gaslight


From the Brass Goggles Forum, photo from user Stella Gaslight

These are really just using sari fabrics in otherwise Victorian/Steampunk costumes.  Still a really nice use of the fabrics, and not unlike my gold and purple sari fabric bustle.

The band Sunday Driver often apparently dresses in a blend of Steampunk and Indian – though I find that it looks more Indian, even though it might sound Steampunk.

Photo from the Sunday Driver Facebook page.

Flickr user GothPanda also posted a photo in her photo stream of a pair of Indian-inspired Steampunk costumes.  I like the one on the left better – a choli top (or rather, a short-sleeved, tightly fitted black top with a round neckline), an underbust corset, a long full skirt, a draped scarf (pageant-style), a bustle, and a belt over the corset and scarf.

Polyvore Steampunk

The above is a Polyvore collection called Bollywood Steampunk created by a user named Pirate Buddah.  This seems to sum up a lot of the different ideas out there, from the embroidered slippers to the henna decorated hands.  It’s not dead on for what I have in mind, but it’s another good inspirational image. (Or, collection of images, as the case may be…)

Other discussions

Although I didn’t get a lot of clear direction, it was interesting to see some other discussions about an Indian interpretation of Steampunk.

I think that the notion of blending Steampunk (which to me always seems inherently Victorian, and British) with Indian fashion seems to make sense. There was strong British influence on the Indian people (as colonial ruling class does) and likewise there was a romantic notion of India in Britain (as seen in the old post cards of ‘belly dancers’ and adventurers).  From the Tor website, I found this (copied directly from G.D. Falksen’s article The world is not enough…but it is such a perfect place to start :

“The Indian subcontinent is especially viable for explorations into steampunk in part because of its cosmopolitan nature and in part because of its position as a key portion of the British Empire. Its role as a British colony makes it a natural recipient of Europeanized steampunk, but this should not undermine India’s own unique voice in the genre. Remove the British from the equation (perhaps by a dramatically more successful Indian Rebellion in 1857) and a wholly indigenous adaptation of technology becomes possible. However, it must be remembered that India has a long history of absorbing and blending diverse ideas, belief systems and sciences, and there is no reason to think that it would not give a unique look and feel to its steampunk even while subjected to colonial rule.”

How about Captian Nemo?  From Wikipedia:

“Captain Nemo, also known as Prince Dakkar, is a fictional character featured in Jules Verne’s novels Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) and The Mysterious Island (1874).  Nemo, one of the most famous antiheroes in fiction, is a mysterious figure. The son of an Indian Raja, he is a scientific genius who roams the depths of the sea in his submarine, the Nautilus, which was built on a deserted island. Nemo tries to project a stern, controlled confidence, but he is driven by a thirst for vengeance and a hatred of imperialism (particularly the British Empire) and wracked by remorse over the deaths of his crew members and even by the deaths of enemy sailors.”


So… I think that I might need a bit more research, or time to sit down and think about some of the ideas that have come up.  Perhaps a chance to look at some Victorian costume along with some Indian costume and see where there might be overlapping ideas… (like the yellow and orange suit waaaay up at the top of the page, and it’s similarity to Victorian bathing costumes for instance… )  Maybe time to get sketching!


My title ‘mysterious sub-continent of India’ is straight out of a comment Raj made on the Big Bang Theory while trying to woo some gal. I thought it was cute.  I have no idea if India is mysterious or not.  I also know that there are some that don’t like summarizing all of the religions, cultures, classes, and histories of the people who are in the geographical area all as being “Indian” (just like someone in Vancouver’s East Side likely lives a very different life than someone in rural northern Quebec or in a fishing-centric village on the East Coast) but I’m rolling with it… because being so separated from that culture myself, its a good place to START.

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