The best part about making your own costume is that you have total aesthetic control. The greatest benefit to a handmade Halloween is that you are not inhibited by a limited selection (and do not have to weigh those unappealing options--like deciding between a slutty nurse costume or a ladybug for you or your child). It seems like most costumes these days for women fall into 2 categories: hyper-sexual or infantile. This is precisely the kind of social issue that drives the Take Back Halloween project. Take Back Halloween is a blog & website that offers up ideas on how to create costumes for women & girls that are not only imaginative, fun, and yes even macabre but empowering and inspiring. Their costumes are based on real women (a smattering of scientists, queens, explorers, and entrepreneurs) and also strong female figures from world mythologies. I've been a fan of their blog for some time, I find its dedication to positivity and multiculturalism refreshing and I wanted to share it with those of you who are figuring out what you'd like to be this Halloween.
Here are some Victorian women--who you could either emulate or steampunk (I offer a couple of steampunking suggestions for each lady)!
1) Ada Lovelace: Aristocrat Scientist & Daughter of Lord Byron
Steampunk Suggestions: "Nowadays she’s recognized as 'the world’s first computer programmer,'" drawing from this fact you create a cool accessory (a fan, necklace, or pair of earrings perhaps) out of an old computer circuit board or if you feel daring--a masquerade style mask made out of computer parts!
2) Carlota of Mexico: Renowned Beauty & Empress of Mexico
Steampunk Suggestions: Carlota was famous for her jewels and in fact Take Back Halloween points out that "(They’re still famous—one of her diamonds sold at auction in 2010 for 1.7 million dollars.)." Steampunking Carlota would be simple & elegant--painting gears over crystal glass beads (which you would then use to make a pair of dangly earrings) or a pearl necklace with a cog/gear pendant & pearl dangling from the bottom. If you feel particualrly adventurous, you might even create a cog & gear crown for yourself.
3) Emma Goldman: American Anarchist & Activist, nicknamed “Red Emma”
Steampunk Suggestions: Accessorizing to look like Emma Goldman is steampunk enough! It's be easy. Pince-Nez glasses, button up boots, & her fantastic Victorian style hats.
4) Jane Austen: Needs No Introduction! Technically she's not Victorian, but regency costumes are fun too!
Steampunk Suggestions: Why not be Jane Austen, Vampire Hunter or Zombie Killer?! Accessorize with not only a deadly pen but a broadsword or stake!
5) Lise Meitner: Nuclear Physicist who discovered Nuclear Fission
Steampunk Suggestions: To accompany your outfit, grab tubes & bottles and fill them up with various liquids & stick a glow stick inside to give them a radioactive luminescence and goggles are a must (laboratory safety after all!).
6) Lizzie Borden: Murderess (hey, it’s Halloween!)
Steampunk Suggestions: Leg-o-mutton sleeves are a must, blood spattered spats, and an axe!
7) Madam C.J. Walker: Self-Made Millionaire & One of America’s first Female (and Female African American) Entrepeneurs
Steampunk Suggestions: My favorite picture of Madame C.J. is of her driving--such an empowering image of a mobile woman--a force to be reckoned with! I suggest some driving goggles, gloves, and a large opulent hat!
8) Susan B. Anthony: Suffragist Extraordinaire!
Steampunk Suggestions: Keep it simple--wear a Votes for Women sash or bring a sign or soap box to stand on throughout the night!
9) Queen Victoria: I'd recommend that you watch the movie The Young Victoria starring Emily Blunt for good ideas
Steampunk Suggestions: This is another costume that is easy to steampunk--you hardly have to do anything or you could re-interpret Queen Victoria into your own steampunk narrative--how about a robot Queen Victoria? You could draw gears on your skin (particularly at your joints) with henna or face paint and make a huge wind up key out of cardboard and run 2 lengths of ribbon on each side of the cardboard pieces so that you could fasten to your back like a belt!
10) Annie Oakley:Nicknamed "Little Sure Shot," Annie Oakley was a force to be reckoned with. She could hit any target no matter how small and was a part of Buffalo Bill's traveling Wild West Show. Annie designed and sewed all of her own clothes for the show too!
Steampunk Suggestions: A steampunk version of Annie Oakley would be fun and rather simple. You could keep the costume relatively the same, and just create a steampunk blunderbuss or rifle. Other ideas are using steampunk gear buttons, like the kind you can purchase at JoAnn Fabrics, in lieu of traditional wood or brass buttons in her costume.
11) Marie Curie: Who wouldn't want to dress up as the first woman to win a Nobel Prize?! Marie Curie is a famous scientist, best known for discovering radiation/radium. A costume of Curie would also be simple, but there are certainly ways to steampunk it!
Steampunk Suggestions: You could 'punk it up with accessories like a steampunk eyeglass or monocle. Props are key--a couple of old beakers filled with glow in the dark liquids would be really cool. You could also paint your costume with glow in the dark paint for a radioactive Marie Curie. It would make the costume a bit more spooky and macabre since Curie died of radiation poisoning.
12) Queen Liliuokalani: Liliuokalani was the last reigning monarch of Hawaii. According to Take Back Halloween, "She came to the throne in 1891 as a pro-native, pro-woman advocate for her people, and quickly found herself at odds with the American businessmen (sugar barons, pineapple planters) who wanted to annex the islands to the United States."
Steampunk Suggestions: Steampunk through accessories--a steampunk rhinestone necklace and sash!
Good luck brainstorming & creating your Halloween costumes! Check out Take Back Halloween for more ideas!