The Gentleman's Guide to Alternative Event Uniform
I am frequently asked by gentlemen in the alternative / burner / circus / kink / goth / costume / steampunk community what the basic requirements for their wardrobes are, and how to find them. Dressing appropriately for an event is a good start towards getting laid; it shows you care about the aesthetics and customs of your community.
For women, it’s easy: you need a burlesque outfit, a circus outfit, a fetish outfit, a Victorian outfit, a Regency outfit, a pirate outfit, another fetish outfit, a goth outfit, a flapper outfit, a steampunk outfit, a Baroque/Rococo outfit (with a ship to put in your hair), a Renaissance outfit (cause sometimes you have to go, cause your friends are performing), a Zombie Prom outfit, and a lime green fake-fur coat and pink lamé hotpants for the playa.
Most women I know have all these things handy, as there are some weekends when you have to go from the fetish dinner party to the steampunk ball to the clown sex party, and just change in the car.
For gentlemen, however, the staples are different. Because exotic, period, fabulous or refined gentlemen’s clothing is harder to find, and usually costs quite a bit more, gents must choose carefully. I offer here a list of items that will get the gentleman through a wide spectrum of events without disgrace, remembering that in most cases the gentleman or butch is merely a dark backdrop for the finery of the lady or femme.
Of course, if you go to a serious period event put on by a costume guild, purists will scoff at you no matter how accurately you dress, because your clothes contain zippers or aren’t hand-sewn; the scoffing is part of the event for them. Pay them no mind.
Men’s clothing has changed very little over the last two hundred years, so the Victorian/Regency/1920’s staples are easy: first, you need the type of tailcoat called a morning coat, which is single-breasted and curves away back to its tails. You can get away with a morning coat at steampunk events, Victorian events, Edwardian events, circus events and pretty much anything from the 19th century. They are not cheap; you’ll spend $200+ for sure. But you can totally go ghetto on all the rest of the outfit, and save tons of money.
If you want to level right up, there are the utterly baroque and fabulous coats from Shrine in Los Angeles—tailcoats in black velvet, pirate coats in red brocade, Versailles coats in black tapestry. Not unreasonable at $250-$300. Alternately, you can also get a nice skirted riding coat at DressLikeAPirate.com—or a cute topcoat from the Lip Service Step in Time line. You can get all your Renaissance crap at pretty good prices at DressLikeAPirate, too.
Another place with good Renaissance crap for men is the very well-respected Pendragon Costumes. They do quite beautiful leatherwork, and come around to steampunk conventions with much cooler designs than anything on their kludgey website. And hey—black. leather. breeches. Kinky.
You need a waistcoat to go under your morning coat, and this just means a suit vest; you can pick one up at a thrift shop or from your dad’s closet. Get something in dark grey or black wool, or brocade. If you’re going to a fancy thing, you can sew fancy buttons on it. If you’re going steampunk, you can get these AWESOME cast pewter watch mechanism buttons for $1.98!! (This company also has super-nice steampunk gear cravat pins, gear buttons etc., and a selection of pirate belt buckles, Renaissance cloak clasps, and Viking pendants.)
Another place to get affordable and quite special vests is the etsy store tadaboutique, where vintage clothes are upcycled by detailing them with beautiful machine-embroidered designs of skeleton keys and airships and octopi: Most items are for women, but they do custom work and you can easily request a men's vest with the design of your choice.
Note: while you're at the thrift shop, pick up a crappy suit and pastel button-down shirt to keep in your closet. That way on the day of the Zombie flash mob or Zombie Prom you'll be on time to meet your girlfriend, instead of running around Salvation Army stores.
The Gentleman’s Emporium is a wonderful shopping resource, with an entertaining page of period men’s outfits for a wide variety of personas. My friends have had great success with them, including my friend Jake Von Slatt who was splendidly outfitted for Maker Faire last year in the Emporium’s steampunk styles.
A nice place to check for menswear is J. Peterman. They have these handsome shirts, and sometimes beautiful jackets. Reviews from my housemates, who've bought a lot of clothes from them, are uneven- quality is generally good, but sizing and construction can be a little unpredictable.