We have quite an active steampunk group in our locality, we have fortnightly meetings in local pubs which are well attended. Sometimes we get messages from newcomers on social media saying they’d like to come but don’t have any steampunk clothes.
Well first off, you don't need them to attend a meeting or an event, certainly not the ones organised by us. We don't expect everyone who's interested to turn up looking like the best dressed steampunk in the world.
Some folk are just curious to find out what we get up to, other’s are really interested but don't have the nerve to wear anything that will draw attention to them. Either way you won't be ridiculed for coming in your everyday clothes.
With the pub meetings not everyone has the time to get dressed up, they may have to come straight from work. As far as events go we're happy to see you show an interest. Some long term attendees wear the minimum of steampunk dress, maybe just a nice waistcoat with a watch and chain, or a suitable hat that they feel comfortable in.
It has to be said that many of the ladies make a supreme effort and they do look fabulous. Though some of the male peacocks among us won't be outdone.
It's surprising how often a couple may become involved in steampunk mainly because one of them is very interested and makes an effort with clothes and accessories while the other is a little reluctant and often stands to one side during group photos. That often doesn't last and it's not long before the reluctant one is telling you how many waistcoats or hats they now own. Not surprising because it's fun. It is nice to be well dressed in good clothes. It's also nice to be repeatedly complimented by members of the public on how splendid you look. Let's face it most people look frightful on a daily basis.
So what should you wear? The short answer is something you feel comfortable in, you can get plenty of inspiration from browsing the internet. It probably won't be long before you find something that inspires you.
The best way to do steampunk clothes on a budget is by visiting Charity/thrift shops. Pound shops/Dollar stores, in fact all discount stores. Wedding outfitters can be a great source for cheap frock coats, waistcoats and top hats. You can probably snag some bargains on Ebay. If you can sew or you know someone who can than second-hand curtains/drapes are a good cheap source of fabric.
It's the accessories that set us apart from the Victorian re-enactors. The brass goggles of course, a good steampunk cane, maybe a ray gun.Many of these can be upcycled toys again often from charity shops.
I recently decided that I wanted an outfit which was more "Steampunk" and not so obviously Victorian in style. I saw a painting which inspired me. I started to make a pattern for a flying helmet but my wonderful children bought me one for my birthday. The leather jacket was another Ebay bargain cost £10. I already had the old pair of cargo pants, my old brown boots and the equestrian gaiters also from Ebay £12. I added an old leather belt which I could use for attaching a small leather bag and a bottle holder, the small lamp was from a charity shop. The gun and cane I made myself.
So you can do it on the cheap, keep an open mind, look at things with a fresh eye. It's not "what is that" it's "what can that be made into".