Friday, August 15, 2014

Steampunk Shopping at the Military Surplus Store

One of the places you may have been advised to go shopping for steampunk supplies is a military surplus store.  But the truth is that what you may find varies a LOT by the store, your area, and what you are looking for.

This past weekend I made a trip to Galveston, TX and one of my goals was to visit the famous Col. Bubbie's Military Surplus store.  The store claims to have the widest selection of military surplus ANYWHERE.  Unfortunately the Colonel has passed on and the store is closing (I heard probably in late September).  This does mean there is a huge Going Out of Business sale going on.  One of my steampunk friends encouraged me to go while I still can, so I did.

So what kind of items can you find for steampunk in a well-stocked military surplus store?  Well first of all you can find lots and lots of military uniforms.  Col Bubbie's has an amazing supply of uniform pieces from all over the world and all eras.  If you're not concerned with trying to accurately reproduce a certain uniform, a world of possibilities opens.  Combine a Russian jacket with French trousers and a German hat, who cares?  Modern pants, 1950s jacket, Civil War reproduction hat? SURE?  Damn, I love steampunk sometimes.

A nice coat I didn't buy
I had an interesting discussion once with a guy who owned a military surplus business and was vending at a con.  He said they'd been struggling recently because they couldn't get US surplus anymore and their traditional clientele wanted primarily US stuff.  So they were reaching out to costumers and reenactors who don't care mind buying Czech stuff or whatever so long as it looks cool.  Just an interesting side note.

So although a lot of the really good stuff with some age to it was pretty picked over by the time I made it to Col Bubbie's I still got some nice stuff.  Plus there was a ton of nice stuff I didn't get because it I wasn't sure how popular it would be in my specific market.  For example I have a hard time selling coats to people in Texas, and heavy wool military coats would not be flying off my racks most of the year.  But in other places, those might be exactly what you want!  I also was limited by the money I felt I could spend at the time, otherwise, yeah I'd have gotten more.

13 button trousers
So for men's pants, military surplus is a great option.  Even if you only end up with modern cargo pants, they still work fine with steampunk and you can get them at a great price.  But the really cool items are the weird ones.  They had several pairs of real honest-to-bob Johdpurs that I nearly bought except they were very heavy wool and in fairly poor condition.  The pants I couldn't pass up were the 13 button navy trousers.  Still wool, but lighter, and just SO COOL.  I MAY try to take a pattern from these.

It says Made in Germany
I've already mentioned there were tons of military coats.  Hats in pretty much every military style since the Civil War were available.  You can get Garrison caps really cheaply, if you like plain colors.  I picked up an old one that just looked really cool.

One item to definitely look for is leggings/spats/gaiters.  You know, whatever you want to call those things that go over your boots to keep the mud off.  I found three styles at Bubbie's.  Some awesome white vinyl spats that my friend was wearing last time I saw her, but when I got there the only ones left were REALLY dirty and gross.   They had a few of the
Spats with a cat
tall WWII style leggings that my Steampunk Military Spats pattern were based on.  And they had a good number of shorter canvas spats that look to be from the same era.  I bought several of these, and yes, will probably be patterning them as well.

Finally, one thing you can't forget to shop for is pouches.  I love military pouches, whether leather or cloth, and they are so versatile and useful.  Anytime we have these for sale at our booth, they go VERY fast.  So we picked up the coolest ones we could find.  Which meant a lot of these little round leather pouches.  I have no idea what they are, but they are perfect for a steampunk outfit.

Here are a few more pics of things we bought:
A nice pair of sturdy cargo pants

The back of the 13 button pants showing the rear lacing!

A neat bag we bought for fun

Have you done any steampunk shopping at surplus stores?  What was your experience?

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