Costume Inspiration

by Chelsey Barnes

I would say that for most costumers, their ideas come from something else–a movie, book, another costumer, a painting…  A year or two ago, shortly after getting into the whole Steampunk thing, a friend of mine sent me a link to someone’s facebook photo album from a party that had a Steampunk Circus theme.  I was immediately hooked and decided my next Steampunk costume would be circus.

The “whos” and “wheres” of the party are long since lost, so I can share pictures of my actual inspiration, but a Google Images search turned up a few pictures that are reminiscent of the details ingrained in my memory.

Artwork appears to be by Glenn Arthur

The underbust corsets, the little hats, the ruffles, the “big top” stripes.  Circus isn’t generally what people think of when they think Steampunk, but I think these images fit well, showing a dark, dystopian side of the circus, which fits well with Steampunk.

Photo: Mizzd-Stock

Should you Google “Steampunk Circus” in images, this delightful lady comes up more often than most.  She’s a little closer to my vision of my Steampunk Circus costume, in that she’s very scamp-like.  How did I come to a more scamp-like vision?  Boredom, mostly.

A coworker and I were doing a menial task one day.  To bide our time, I asked her to make up a story using the idea of Steampunk Circus (after explaining Steampunk to her).  She successfully came up with a better back story than I could ever have dreamed:

Ilana was born into poverty in Chicago, learning the ways of the street at a young age. When she was 6, her mother disappeared–a chapter in her life that remains unanswered to this day. Armed with her skills in pickpocketing and swiping food, she heads out on her own.

One day she finds herself watching some street performers and notices that not only is their ferret act entertaining the crowd, the ferrets are also trained to take valuables from the onlookers. The leader of the performing troupe, Christopher, notices that she is on to them and attempts to punish her. When she outsmarts him, he realizes she would be a natural performer and thief. He takes her in as a daughter and teaches her everything he knows about performing while they build up a legitimate circus. When he dies, he leaves the circus and position of Ringmaster to Ilana.

Ilana continues to run the circus with her mate Emilio, who also grew up in the troupe. When times are tough for the circus, she and Emilio return to the streets with Emilio’s trained ferrets. Emilio’s father was Christopher’s ferret wrangler, and his father before him was a ferret wrangler and so on and so forth. One might say he comes from a long line of ferret wranglers.


Armed with this story and my inspirational images, I will set out to create a look that does both justice.  A look I will eventually chronicle here.

…What to see how it turned out? Click Here


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