You can absolutely DIY thrift store steampunk costumes if you keep an eye out for unique pieces and things you can re-purpose! The amazing thing about steampunk style it that it more often than not takes pieces that are trash and turns them into treasure. When working out our steampunk costumes for Halloween, we found this to be true many times over!
Every year, the whole family gets in on a trunk or treat display. Sadly, last year was 2020, and our regular trunk or treat didn’t happen, so we set up some steampunk fabulousness right in our driveway. All of us got costumed up, even my long suffering husband. Thrift store shopping was my main source for all our costume supplies, and I’m letting you know how we did pulled together our thrift store steampunk ness below, costume by costume. I’ll even give you a peek at our candy delivery system, lovingly dubbed “steam punkin'” at the end of the post.
Women’s Thrift Store Steampunk Costumes
You can easily pick up 75% of a steam punk costume at the thrift store. For either sex, really, but here’s what to look for in a feminine outfit.
Moody Long Skirts
Think Victorian-era colors in a black, brown, maroon and dark green color palette. If it’s sort of moody, it’ll probably work. For our costumes, I lucked into a long, to the floor black skirt that was a bit formal for me. For my daughter, I got a calf-length brown swingy skirt. It’s probably a bit more modern that it should be, but it worked really well with the overall costume. Apologies for not having better pics, here, I really failed to capture the costumes for tutorials in the moment!
With the really long skirts, you can play with them a bit. Try bustling up one or both sides of the skirt with pins and a ribbon so you show a bit of leg…or just leave it to the floor!
Interesting Curtains with Valances
Sounds crazy, right? Hear me out. I really really wanted a bustle for my skirt. I looked around on Amazon for one that was already made (like this), but they were pretty expensive.
The exact same look was pulled off with a pair of curtains on a ribbon I tied around my waist. Just for reference, these curtains are the shape the ones I used for my bustle started out looking like.
I used a dress form dummy to pin up the bustle, but you can use a willing friend! I folded the long part of the curtain under several times then sewed in a quick stitch or two to keep the material in place and secure. The valance part went around the sides to meet up to the middle part of the back, and the bunched material made a perfect bustle in the split. And it only cost me $3!
Goes to show it’s always worth looking at materials in a different way to get the job done.
Can you wear pants for your feminine costume? Absolutely. Think slim fitting, leggings are great. Stripes and those same muted colors are great! Pants will look amazing when you layer a great pair of boots over them.
Peasant blouses and Lace Collars
In that nice palette of moody colors, search the racks for peasant blouses and tops with lacy collars or lacy sleeves. Something with a really high neck would be great, too! Think Victorian era if you’re looking for a little inspiration.
Corsets are big in steampunk costumes, which was the one big purchase we made on Amazon. You can find one that is good costume quality for about $30-$35. When we were hunting for our thrift store shirts, we kept what was going to be seen out the top of the corset in mind!
PROTIP: LEATHER. Something you should really really be on the lookout for at the thrift store when you’re looking for a steampunk costume are nice leather belts. Layer them up or make bandoliers or weapon holders out of them. Nice leather as a raw material can be expensive to come by, so spending a buck or two for a pre-cut strip is pretty fantastic!
Leather belts are an amazing polishing touch for steampunk costumes. The costumes really are all about the little interesting details. A well-placed belt will totally tie the entire outfit together. I layered one wide thick belt around my waist–there was the intent to make a little bag to hang from it, but I never quite got there. My daughter started out with two belts, one of which I had embellished a bit, but by the time it came for pictures, she had thrown pieces of her costume to the wind.
Admittedly, steampunk hats are going to be a hard thing to just find in the thrift store. There is also that whole used hat issue that might feel a little weird. BUT, for the last two years, our local Goodwill stores have had stacks of steampunk hats that were brand new with the tags to purchase. Could you DIY this? Yes, but for twelve bucks it wasn’t worth it to me to spend the time and sourcing of materials.
Of course, Amazon is always a good source for steampunk hats, but I spotted a few that were more affordable recently at Party City and even Walmart during Halloween if you have one near you.
As I mentioned before, a good steampunk outfit is all about the little details, so you’ll want to accessorize. Goodwill happened to have a few cheap pieces of jewelry that worked out for my outfit and cut down my crafting time, but you could just as easily pick up a few cogs from the craft (or hardware) store and glue them to a ribbon to make a choker. Leather cording around chunks of leather or lace makes great cuffs quick and easy. If you’re into spending a bit on accessories, here are a few I thought were really cool, but I’d spent my budget by the time I got to this part:
- Pagoda parasol
- Steampunk wings
- Hand bracelet –add a few steampunk cogs!
- Steampunk leather gloves
- Potion bottle with leather straps
- Lace wristlets
- Pocket watch
- Lace fingerless gloves
- Leather bracers
- Waist bag packs –great if you’re wearing pants!
- Bracelet with vials
- Clock purse
- Steampunk Copper Cuff
For her accessory, my daughter begged for me to make her a jet pack about two days before Halloween. So I did…out of EVA foam and loosely based on the pattern from Lost Wax. She put it on for this photo…and then didn’t wear it the rest of the evening. ((Sigh.)) What she DID carry was a lace fan I found at Goodwill for $2, but if you aren’t lucky enough to happen across one, there is always Amazon.
Men’s Thrift Store Steampunk Costume
If you google “steampunk costume” you are going to come up with a millon and five takes on them. For my husband, I was just hunting for something he’d be comfortable wearing. What to look for in men’s clothing:
- Pinstripe pants
- Striped shirts in dark colors
- Suit vests
- Leather belts
- Leather gloves to be modified
Not terrible hard or complicated to find. Again, use those moody colors and lots of stripes. I didn’t find a vest in my hunting that worked with his size or outfit, so I bought a double breasted vest on Amazon. The goal one one big ($30) purchase per costume, and we were able to pull that off with all the other great finds.
Men’s Steampunk Hat
For the steampunk hat he’s wearing…we’ve had the black top hat for a few years. I made him dress up like a snowman for a Christmas card and have had it since. He’s seriously the most tolerant husband on the planet. I picked up a set of steampunk goggles (a steampunk costuming must) to put around the rim and added a found (free) seagull feather.
To gain his dress-up cooperation, my dear husband did have one request. That I make him a booze bandolier. I have no idea how to even tell you to make one of your own…it was much trial and error to get something that worked the way I wanted it to. It was made from stitched together pieces of leather and few of those $2 belts from the thrift store. As a bonus, I made a leather beer holster to add to his side belt. He was pretty happy to sport his costume for the evening and we certainly got a good laugh out of it.
If you’re not crazy into this level of DIY, check out the list of accessories I linked to above.
Another accessory that’s really popular in steampunk costumes are nerf guns that have been modified to insane steampunk weapons. There is a bit of imagination involved as to what the weapons actually do (shoot a sleep ray?), but it has nothing to do with bullet. Which makes it fun. Here’s a tutorial that shows you how to do this kind of nerf gun modification, but there are many many other examples if you look around.
DIY Steampunk Plague Doctor Costume
My son’s request to be a steampunk plague doctor for Halloween spurned my adventure into steampunk. The more I learned, the more amazing stuff I found and new ways of creating things. EVA foam was a brilliant discovery. It’s the stuff yoga mats and craft foam are made of. It’s not precisely thrift store, but a lot of trash to treasure was involved in the costume’s making…and quite frankly, the mechanical looking EVA foam pieces are what you’re going to notice first about the kid’s outfit.
But aside from the EVA foam piece, everything else came from the thrift!
The Mechanical Steampunk Shoulder Armor
After watching a ton of tutorials on working with EVA foam, I stumbled on the costume artist Lost Wax. His patterns are totally worth a few dollars, and I used the steampunk shoulder armor to make the shoulder piece and plague doctor mask. Here’s what’s so cool about it:
I Literally used a yoga mat I had, junk I found around the house, a glue gun and a few found items from the thrift store, like the leather belt that buckles the shoulder piece in place. You can absolutely find those foam exercise tiles and yoga mats at Goodwill to start your raw EVA foam materials for making one of these steampunk pieces. This is how ours started…
The funniest thing I think I used on the costume was a bag of googly eyes from the dollar store. They make perfect rivets with a little paint. And it makes a fun little noise when you jostle the costume and all the eyeballs roll around.
There are lots…and lots…and LOTS of pieces to cut out for these patterns. I transferred the pattern pieces over to my Cricut machine to have most of work done for me. Luckily, 2mm craft foam goes through the Cricut Maker like a dream!
After the shoulder was assembled, we went on to paint! EVA foam needs to be sealed up with a coat of acrylic paint – black in this case – before the finishing work can be done. I did find the Liquitex brand and FX paint from Plaid to be best for this. Check out the Lost Wax YouTube channel for more details on painting EVA foam. He is really brilliant, and I’m still learning! But I feel this was not a terrible effort for my first try.
Tubes of bronze, silver and pewter paint were used to rub into the shoulder piece to make it look like metal. It was a tons of finger painting to get the right look. The armor is super lightweight and since it’s not a full covering, not that hot to wear here in Florida.
The plague doctor mask was made the same way as the armor–but with craft foam this time.
In full disclosure, I did have more than my fair share of glue gun burns making this project. The EVA foam material is brilliant in what it can do, but there is an art to the assembly that takes a bit to master.
PROTIP: If you’re making a project that requires a lot of hot glue, use a silpat underneath to catch wayward drips. It’s especially necessary to use one when doing a project with EVA foam that might require pressing material and glue to the table to get seams right!
Thrifted Plague Doctor Pieces
So what other steampunk things did I get from the thrift store? The clothes, shoes and hat.
I took a black vest that had been long-outgrown and was destined for Goodwill and added a few leather buckle details. (And yes, I did learn leather tooling as part of this adventure!) The vest was worn without a shirt underneath so it was just fine that it was a wee bit too small. A pair of too-big pinstripe pants were tucked into combat boots that both also came from the thrift store. If you can’t find a vest at the second hand store, here’s where we got ours on Amazon.
Around Halloween, our local Goodwill had all sorts of costume things out, and I picked up a foam flat hat to alter. Now, I could have made an entire hat as a DIY with a Lost Wax pattern, but at this point in time, I was getting a bit tired after four costumes and a steampunk trunk or treat set…so I added a few things to the already formed hat to make it steampunk, painted it, and called it a day!
We layered his look up with a few belts…he wanted lots of other steampunk accessories, but he was trick or treating with this costume, so I tried to keep what he had in his hand simple.
I used a plastic pumpkin I picked up at Goodwill (you can also get at Walmart) and steampunked it. This plastic is kind of slick, so I’d recommend sanding it a bit first before gluing thing on and painting. And then really let the paint cure between coats. Couldn’t think of a more perfect accessory for a steampunk Halloween costume!
Steampunk Decorations: The Steam Punkin’
This guy probably deserves a whole blog post of his own, but we’re going to tuck him into the end of this post anyway. In 2020, delivering candy to tricker treaters was a perceived challenge because of the whole distancing thing. Steam Punkin’ was our solution.
I built him out of exercise mats and cardboard boxes. Found some wires at the thrift store for all that tubing you see coming in and out. I used the techniques I learned making all the Lost Wax patterns to make something of my own–Steam Punkin’ was a huge hit! The large pipe out of his mouth extended to the back of his head. The candy was put in the back of his head and shot out the pipe in his mouth to the trick or treaters. They ALL wanted their candy delivered this way!
Here’s a quick look at the process photos here so you’ll believe he was actually made out of junk. There’s a mason Jar lid and some plastic curlers in there for effect. I picked up a pack of remote control press lights on amazon to make him light up. I had planned to put them under the counter when we were done with Halloween…but forgot! This was such a one-off make it up as I go project, there will never be a tutorial, but I will tell you it was wickedly fun to go crazy creating this with stuff I found around the house.
As fun as it was to make this was not a quick project–he took me a week to build! And my house was in utter chaos for the duration.
Steampunkers are really involved with time and time travel, so I thought a clock would be appropriate in our decor. I didn’t finish out my grand plans for my set, so I sort of just made it part of Steam Pumpkin. The steampunk clock started life as a large $5 clock I got at the thrift store. It was the last piece I made so I just used up bits of and pieces of what was left from making everything else. It fit in perfectly!
Steampunk Wrap Up
Looking through all these photos of thrift store finds made into steampunk costumes, it’s easy to see how they’re completely doable on a budget. See what’s available, then make what you find work with your costume goal! Shoot me a photo of your creations–would love to see them!