During the Victorian era, pale skin was valued because it meant you were wealthy and not a poor worker, toiling in the hot sun. Bright makeup was expected only of painted ladies like actresses and prostitutes. Many women did sneak some makeup to attempt the “natural look,” but that usually meant the tiniest bit of rouge on the cheeks and a little powder to absorb oil. SCANDALOUS!
If your character is an upper class Victorian woman and you’re going the historically accurate route, use pale pressed powder to make your complexion as white as possible. Choose blush in a natural rosy tone to add slight color to your cheeks, but don’t use enough to make it obvious (unless you’re cosplaying as a Victorian prostitute). As for lip color, Victorian women were advised to bite their lips before entering a room. While a long day of lip biting sounds super fun, I’d advise you to embrace your inner hussy and just use a natural color lip balm instead.
Grease, dirt and soot marks around goggles add character to engineer, mechanic, pilot, coal miner, factory worker, and dieselpunk costumes. Explosion effects around goggles look great on Steampunk mad scientists. This is a great look for both men and women, and it’s so easy to pull off! No makeup experience necessary.
Put on your goggles, then use a damp cosmetics sponge to apply dark brown or black powder eye shadow all around the edges of the goggles, making sure you get a nice clean line where they meet your skin. Creamy eyeshadows or eyeliner pencils will create a similar effect. Greasepaint (found here and in Halloween costume shops) works well too. You can even use fine coffee grounds!
Take off the goggles and continue to fan the color outward across your face. Smearing some vaseline on top of the makeup makes it look greasy and more realistic.
This is another super easy, unisex makeup idea for Steampunks. Clear eyelash glue and a handful of gears from Amazon (copper, bronze, or a mix of metals) or your local craft store are all you need to pull off this look.
You’re not even limited to gears! I love the creativity of this man, who has decorated his goatee with various metal trinkets including an octopus and a spinning propeller. For weightier objects you’ll need something stronger than eyelash glue. Spirit gum will get the job done, but it can be pretty painful to take off without spirit gum remover, so do yourself a favor and buy both in a set. To find the right embellishments, check out the jewelry making aisle of your local craft store. You’ll find all kinds of tiny metal things from skeleton keys to Victorian filigrees, clocks, delicate butterflies, anchors, ship wheels, compasses, wings and more! You can also find all of these things on Amazon. Here’s a link to all the good steampunk jewelry embellishments.
If you can draw a straight line, you should be able to handle a Clockpunk makeup theme. Use black liquid eyeliner, pencil eyeliner, or a thin makeup or paintbrush dipped in black greasepaint. You can draw two small clock hands near your eye, or expand across your whole face. If that goes well, try adding some roman numerals.
But what if you can’t draw a straight line? Get out that glue, baby! Eyelash glue or spirit gum some actual clock hands to your face and BOOM! It’s time to party! Buy some small clock hands here, or in the ‘clock hand’ department of Amazon(seriously), or if you’re hurting for time (haha), rip apart every clock in your house.
STENCIL YOUR SKIN
Treat your face like a big empty wall, and DIY that sucker with stencils! A nice thing about face stenciling is that you have the option of using several different kinds of makeup. If you have an airbrush machine, you can use liquid face paint for bright, high pigmented color. You can also use a cream makeup or alcohol activated professional makeup palette, or even everyday high pigmented powder makeup.
First you’ll need a stencil. Hot Wingz stencils are made specifically for the face. Each side of the stencil creates a different effect as you rotate it, while a blocking paddle can block out the inner shapes so you can isolate the one you want.
Actually, you can use any kind of flexible stencil, like the ones used for crafting or cake decorating, but it can sometimes be hard to find small enough ones for the face.
Use masking tape to cover any shapes you don’t want included. If you’re using a cream makeup, hold the stencil firm against your skin and blot on the color with a makeup sponge using a quick, stippling motion. If you’re using powder, dab it onto your skin with a brush or damp sponge– dab up and down, never rub side to side which will push the color under the stencil. Remove the stencil and you’re done! In the above right photo, bright shades of orange and rust makeup have been applied to the model before the stencil is used. It may look like the gear shapes are just her skin showing through, but this is an effect that was cleverly achieved using a makeup color that matched the model’s skintone. If you see other photos of the model closer up, the stenciled color is slightly more bronze and shimmery than her normal skin color. To do this, apply a bright color makeup as your base, then hold the stencil against your skin and apply makeup that matches your natural skin color. Remove the stencil and marvel at how clever you are.
Here’s a great example of a true negative space stenciled look:
This person was trying to copy the same look we saw earlier, but the negative space in this example actually is the model’s skin. To create this look, place small gear stickers on your face, neck and chest. These can be hard to find, but check the sticker section of your local craft store for anything cool and steampunk shaped. Here’s a set, though some of the gears might be too big to use on your face. Next you can apply color over your stickers using either an airbrush, or makeup sponges with cream or powered makeup. Remove the stickers and you’re done!
If you can’t find stickers, you’ll have to do what I suspect this makeup artist did: use real metal gears and cogs, press them against your skin (you’ll need to tilt your face horizontally so they don’t fall off–this is where it helps to have a friend assist), then airbrush the color over them. Dabbing on color with a makeup sponge will probably knock them off, but you can always give it a try. You could also try adding a little eyelash glue to the back of the gears and wait until the glue has almost dried completely (so you won’t end up with glue stuck to your skin), then press the gears onto your skin and dab makeup over them. Peel the gears off, and hopefully you’re not left with a face full of glue (if you try this, leave me a comment below about how it went).
So what do you do when Victorian makeup is too boring, dirty goggle marks aren’t appropriate for your character, you’re uptight about using gears without a purpose, and you can’t draw a straight line to save your life?
Slap a mask on it! Preferably a mask that lets you see and speak comfortably without constantly removing it to hold a conversation. These adhesive lace masks and decorative tattoos by LacedAndWaisted can be worn over a full face of makeup (you trollop) and will stay in place for hours. They’re a little gothic, a little sexy, a little romantic. They can also be reused over and over and work great under a pair of eyeglasses.
When all else fails, keep them focused on your eyes with these Steampunk contact lenses. No one will even notice your makeup (or lack of) while they’re trying to check the time in your eyeball.
If none of these options work for you, do what the majority of men and women during the Victorian era did–NOTHING! They were big fans of healthy skin, so if you’ve got it, flaunt it! As for me, I’ll be over here painting my face like a prostitute…it’s my character.
When it comes to Steampunk cosplay, making up your character is half the fun! What did they do for a living? What was their social standing? Creating a background helps you think of ways to add interesting details and personality to your costume. Take inspiration from the photos and ideas here, but add unique details that fit your own Steampunk character.
Find some more inspiration in the Steampunk Makeup Gallery below: