I think, perhaps, the most pressing matter on many a southern steampunk's mind is how to wear steampunk stylishly in the often wilting summer weather. Assuming that steampunk style takes an obvious cue from Victorian-era fashion, this supposes multiple layers and plenty of coverage. We of the modern world are so used to tank tops and flip flops, that the idea of piling on the clothing when its nearly a hundred degrees outside can seem more than a little daunting. There are some sneaky (and not so sneaky) ways to get the right look, however, and not die of heatstroke in the process. Starting with some period-specific tricks that can be appropriated for steampunk style, I'm first going to take the easy route; fabric.
What your wardrobe is made out of matters. Aside from being genre-appropriate, fabrics like linen, seersucker or gauze are made from natural materials and have light, loose weaves, which allow air to circulate. While that wool frock coat may look smashing, it may be difficult to wear for long periods of time in the hot, hot sun. If your charming ruffled blouse is made of polyester (or any number of other synthetic fabrics) it won't allow air to pass through its tightly-woven plastic-coated fibers and may begin to feel more like a frilly sauna. Pay attention to labels if you buy your clothing, or make sure you know the fabric content of any fabrics you are purchasing if you sew your own. Natural fabrics are almost always best, but those that are specifically designed to be worn in warm weather will trump even the finest silk or brocade. There's a reason southern gentlemen are known for their seersucker suits, after all.
Second, accessorize. Hats are very popular in steampunk style for obvious reasons, and while some can make you warmer by not allowing heat to escape the top of you head, others will help keep you cool due to the shade they provide. This is, of course, slightly easier for women, who may choose to wear broad-brimmed straw hats--try a mosquito netting veil for an even more useful look--but gentlemen have many options taken from the wild (wild?) west. The stetson is a versatile and popular style, as is the gamblers' hat, and there is the less western, more “English” straw boater. Finally, the pinnacle of all hats, the pith helmet, is not only enviably stylish, but has been designed specifically to be worn in sweltering conditions. Personally, I think everyone should own one.
Both sexes may also keep cool beneath the shade of an umbrella or parasol, and you inventor types may even find a way to create a portable, steam-powered fan. Until then, however, there is one very important thing to consider when trying to design your steampunk wardrobe with a southern summer in mind; anachronism.
Steampunk may take much of its aesthetic from a Victorian mode of dress, but don't forget that we're exploring a Victorian era that never was. That means anachronistic clothing is not only possible, but encouraged when in the spirit of the genre. That ruffled blouse I mentioned earlier (though yours is cotton, of course)? Wouldn't it be much cooler and give your outfit a bit of an edge if it were sleeveless? Heavy skirts dragging you down? Make them shorter or bustle them above the knee. Trousers? They can be substituted with knickerbockers or bloomers.
The key to creating your summer steampunk wardrobe is to think outside the box. A proper Victorian woman probably wouldn't wear a sleeveless chemise and bloomers in public, but your airship pirate just might. Long skirts tend to tangle in an airship's rigging anyway.
So, I've given you a few things to think about when choosing a steampunk wardrobe that can be worn in the south during the summer. To recap, look for loosely woven natural fabrics which breathe well, make your own shade with the help of hats and parasols, and don't get too caught up in trying to emulate Victorian fashion. We're not reenactors, after all. Or, if we are, we're celebrating a time period that never was, and whose aesthetics, like speed limits, are suggestions rather than hard and fast rules.
((I realize I may spark some controversy with that last line. Keep an eye on this blog for my next post about personal aesthetic and the steampunk style, which may clear up a few leaped-to conclusions.
Why? What did you think I meant?))