Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How Steampunk Fashion derives from every other aspect at once

I ran across what seemed to be a simple question about modifying a Neo-Victorian dress to make a Steampunk ensemble for a special Steampunk event by a newcomer to the genre.  They got the information they asked for and an amazing amount more.  In fact this may be one of the most insightful (for the observer) exchanges I've seen in a while as it shows the rainbow of variety in perspectives, defintions, and opinions, then comes back to a sort of commonly accepted center from which to diverge.  Teh thread was on Steampunk Empire, and I agree with one of the posters that their coloction of photographs is one of the best around for steampunk attire, albeit somewhat more elaborate than average, as people tend to post photos there of only their most fancy attire and accoutrement.  In other words they might wear something much simpler if just going out to dance at a club in Steampunk attire or to a more casual social gathering, but others would dress in their finest, regardless.

see below:


My Husband and I are planning to attend the Steampunk Fair in NJ this coming May. We are both starting to work on our costumes now. I already have a skirt which I would like to incorporate into my costume in order to cut down on cost ( as I'm sure many are, we will be costuming on a budget ). The skirt is a bustle style black skirt. Its a bit more gothic-Victorian-esque, but I think I can make it work. My thought was to wear a corset and some sort of jacket or shrug with a hat and steampunk it up with the accessories, but I really don't want to show up looking completely gothic-Victorian with one or two steampunk accessories thrown in. Any advice or links to pics that could be helpful would be really appreciated. Also, what sort of personna or character would go with this type of costume? What sort of costume for men would go well with the type of costume I'm trying to build? My husband and I should match, yes?

Reply by Rev. Nicodemus Styles on September 23, 2010 at 7:52am
My goodness, why do you have to match? Certainly it's nice if you look good together, but your characters are entirely up to you. I think you should just let it happen naturally. Talk to each other about your characters and your relationship, and it should all fall into place. Don't "force" it. Let it happen.

And there are many approached people take toward their garb. Just look through the photos on this site for ideas. You can go strictly Victorian if you like, or with a gothic twist. The beauty of it all is that it is entirely up to you. You don't have to "punk" it up if you'd rather not. My suggestion: don't see steampunk as an obligation -- look at it as the freedom to start with a Victorian look and take it anywhere you want to take it. Even if it is just to keep it where it is. As long as you're happy with it, it will be fine.

Reply by michael helsem on September 23, 2010 at 8:07am
i think the easiest is to add a bit of metal--preferably brass.
if you can't get through an airport security gate, you're probably on the right track.


PS if it's only steel or aluminum, hobby stores nowadays sell very nice paints to make something more golden or coppery; i plan to do that to my old Buick LeSabre's chromework & wire wheels one day--when i am able to clean 24 years' worth of road grime off them!!

Reply by Holly Dane Martins on September 23, 2010 at 9:06am
The way to develop a concept- think of an occupation, social class, and nationality. Let these ideas inform your choices as you let the details and accessories tell your story.

To make it "steampunk", imagine an innovative way to incorporate technology (or speculation about a science or invention) from the Victorian era into your kit. Take it down any road that strikes your fancy- the Victorians were as much into spiritualism and egyptology as they were into industry, electricity and steam. Color ran riot, as chemical dyes were a major innovation.

If you are staring with pieces you already have or think you want to make within your budget, match them up to how those things fit in the 1800's- who wore them and why? Think of small details needed by people to be accessorized and dressed that modern folk have dispensed with. Then run with it.

Reply by Knight Redfeild on September 23, 2010 at 11:48am
wow dear that is a very wide open question- I think that steampunk always has a very strong Neo-VIc bass. All the extra stuff makes it steampunk. Taking part of it to the extreme makes it interesting a high collor, I like stripes or something like that. A pocket watch, I don't like the goggles it makes it to easy, though I have them I usually leave them at home. Straps and buckles, put a couple on the skirt under the bustle.
I find men costume easy... not to find but it is what it looks like - start with the same Neo-Vic basic vest, pants, cravat. I would not suggest he be a worker because of your costume but the same rules apply.
the personna is hard that is really up to you. What you have is just so loose, what do you like to do, remember in the end it is part of you? Do you reseach something in your spare time? figuring that out will help you and your husband with the outfits. Are you planing on being a crew? if you do, do you have a crew? do you want your stories to mesh?
sorry I am not more help
yours. Knight

Reply by GothFae on September 25, 2010 at 8:54am
Hi Bridgette, I wouldn't worry about the amount of black in your costume. Although the "official" Steampunk colors seem to be shades of brown with brass accents any Victorian color scheme will work, and the Victorians wore a great deal of black.

For more design ideas than you can possibly use in a life time use google to get to: flickr Steampunk fashion
and go to the Steampunk fashion pool. Allow plenty of time and set it to slideshow. Have fun!
Remember that there are no rules in costuming for Steampunk because, although based in Victorian style, it is extremely revisionist and not historically correct.
We will be vending costumes, clothing and accessories (in the room vending section) at the Steampunk Worlds Fair in NJ in May, so stop by to say hello.

Reply by Andrew John Craven on September 26, 2010 at 7:29am
To begin with...dont bother with a character pseudonym, stick to your own name. And completely remove 'Costume' from your vocabulary when refering to your SteamPUNK wardrobe and also when refering to other people's 'outfits' at such events and social gatherings.

Ideally your very own personality as well as your interests shines forth from your outfits. With what you can make and what you can accumulate forms your 'residual self', your individuality and makes for good conversation when engaged on the subject of your wears. Having a character name, character status and hence character costume becomes a cliche and narrows your creativity in what you wear. Keep your eye out for stuff that interests you, your knowledge of history, literature, movie and art etc. It creates a broader outlook for you rather than being stuffed in a pot with a fictitious name and of a single fantasy world. The whole point of being a steampunk aside all the other subcultures including Goth is to be yourself, hailing your own adventures in the real world in this day of age. It has always got to be remembered that Steampunk is an art movement born in the 1980's. A sort of backlash of aesthetics with a motive in society in the way we look at fashion, art, object d'art and technology.

I wouldn't worry too much about a prominent goth element to your ensembles. Goth is the grandmother subculture to the steampunk one and there is also such thing as Steamgoth which brings on a sort chiroscuro colour palette to the wardrobe were the steampunk elements find subtlety. Afterall the height of Victorian fashion was prominently black anyway.
Here it has to be said...you can go beyond the Victorian period in look..which ever age inspires you. So far with what you have described you seem to have a good start. I wouldn't worry too much about having a spot on outfit. You do what you can, you get what you can and make do. A good outfit takes time, experience and understanding of how you gradually engage in this subculture. And have fun with it of course.
Another thing that ought to have mention is a matter of invention. Of course its good to see folks getting involved in the making of gadgets and technology to accompany ones ensemble. This is a very important element in Steampunk. I must admit here that I for one have a distinctive military look with what I have spontaneously put together, mainly from ebay. Yet I have not gone so far as to put some eccentric piece of technology other than a pocketwatch to myself. Though I am working on it. I do like to avoid guns as well even though I have a militaristic look these days but its something to be considered if firearms are of your liking.


Reply by Holly Dane Martins on September 26, 2010 at 2:03pm
OTOH, "costume" is the linguistically correct term for all clothing, regardless of era or purpose. Here in the US, usually only hardcore SCAdians insist on the word "garb".

As for club subcultures or fandoms, as opposed to improv performance or cosplay recreations where there is clearly a "character" being presented, many choose alternate persona names to clearly distinguish and protect their private lives from their public activities. Sometimes what happens in a club or a scene isn't something people want to be identified with. That's why no one knows the DJ's real name.

Personally, I create distinct and separate characters, since I'm usually performing as part of a show or group with a plot. SP is no more "me" in my regular life than Star Trek or Halloween haunted house/horror acting- and certainly no less. I approach costume from a theatrical perspective- If the viewer doesn't get who I am and what I'm doing in 30 seconds, it's too obscure. Visual communication to support the idea I'm presenting is my goal.

Some see Steampunk as another Science fiction sub-genre with the space to create completely fictional stories and art set in another time, while others see it as a living, current movement in which to exist today. It's a spectrum, to be selected from in what speaks to you.

Reply by Andrew John Craven on September 26, 2010 at 2:55pm
Fair enough...the spectrum that people choose from etc.
To be frank...the whole idea of hiding ones real life with character names and so on is a lie to one's self. It faces the question, why would you go out to hide the fact that you are steampunk with such a method? Hiding your true self only tells us one thing. That you are not to be trusted in the eyes of etiquette. Of course this is my own perspective and opinion. I wouldn't want to be the joy-killer. But I must lay down what I see with sincerity. As I like to think myself as an honourable person and an open minded one!

Reply by Edward Pearse on September 26, 2010 at 6:06pm
I don't think it's hiding it any more than historical re-enactors hide their "real life" selves while portraying a person from an earlier time period. True, you don't need to adopt a character name but it can help get you into the theme.

I would also vigorously disagree with your origins of steampunk. It was not an ART movement born in the 1980s, it was a literary genre, jokingly named as a parody of cyberpunk, but which had been around for decades before. It's not a backlash against anything.

The 1950s were quite big on Victorian science fiction, though lost out to Westerns and Space Travel. This also means that Goth is NOT the grandmother of the culture. Yes members of that scene are been moving into steampunk, probably because of the shared fascination with Victoriana. That or they've decided they're too old to go clubbing any more.

Reply by Andrew John Craven 17 hours ago
Steampunk is an art movement, it is irrefutable. I said born in the 1980's but not specifying where i.e. literature. Steampunk has developed from that development of cyberpunk writing into object- d'art, technology, visual arts, fashion, music, it is a backlash, it is most certainly a retrospective of aesthetics, challenging the current neo-futurist trend. It does this in the form of Punk subculture that embraces utopian ideals as well as dystopian ideals.
What I am saying is that steampunk is an aesthetical motive now despite its humble beginings. And it does contribute to our future. This is why I challenge the uses of pseudonyms, whether it is viable to do so with all this in mind. Of course I bear in mind the 'Uses of Enchantment', quoting that marvelous book by one extraordinary individual, Bruno Bettelheim. But steampunk does go beyond cosplay.
Now, it is quesationed by some steampunkers who live and breath this movement. They question whether cosplay is actually killing steampunk? Because back alley inventors/engineers are seldom seen that epitomises true steampunk! And that is also irrefutable as the epitomy is elementary in 1980's science fiction writing.
GOTH is the grandmother...that is also irrefutable because GOTH is a literary genre born on Strawberry Hill in the 18th century. And our Punk persepctives in the modern age simply developed it in the aesthetics of music and fashion and art. With regards to that literary interest in the 1950's...that is very much like the early Science Romance writing of Jules Verne and HG Wells etc that are not Steampunk....Steampunk is a perspective in writing...looking back in time from a cyber age...hence cyberpunk. There are differences here that shoulded be noted in these three instances of writing styles in different points of time. The early Science Romancers were writing about the future. Steampunk was writing about the past but going back in time with modern ideas. But the modern ideas of the 1980's and on have contrast to those ideas of the 1950's that are going back in time!

Reply by Edward Pearse 14 hours ago
GOTH is a subculture that is an offshoot of Punk and did not exist before the 1970s. It is primarily a musical subculture. The "Gothic novel" started by Horace Walpole had a veneer of influence over the look of the Goth subculture, but Anne Rice has probably had more influence on the Goth scene than Walpole.

And Verne and Wells have nothing to do with steampunk? Since when? They are possibly the two biggest influences on the genre of all time. Though Clute and Nicholls argued that steampunk owes more to Charles Dickens' vision of London than to Wells. Of course I'd be happy for you to provide a reference showing that Steampunk owes it's origins to Walpole. Yes "Victorian fantasies" have changed in style from their originals to the present but so have Gothic novels. Modern steampunk is very stylistically different from the Scientific Romances of the 19th century. So too is Stephenie Meyer from Bram Stoker. THAT is irrefutable.

Steampunkers who "live and breath the movement" have tickets on themselves. The whole "maker" culture has only had been connected to Steampunk in the last 3-4 years and Lifestylers are no more *real* steampunks than people who wear Star Wars costumes are *real* Jedi.

Reply by Andrew John Craven 4 hours ago
Of course Verne and Wells and their 'Science Romances' has influence, but their perspective in their writing are very different to steampunk writing. They were picturing the future based on currently existing technology and science of the age. As were a steampunk writer pictures the past...two different directions of time, dont you agree...quantum mechanical isnt it and that what contrasts between the Science Romance genre and the Steampunk genre. These writers from the Victorian age has influence and inspires, that goes without question. But Steampunk is a modern idea that those old time writers have never experienced and it goes without question that they will never experience it since they are dead.

Where do you think Anne Rice got her inspiration from? Goth Romance writing has always been prevelant throughout the past two and half centuries and has a major prominence in the history of literature. And its development, developed the way we write novels today...that is why Goth is the grandmother of Steampunk. Because without it, Steampunk would not have been!!!

Look at history old chap..the evidence..and its irrefutable...

Your last paragraph refers to cosplay! Look again at the early cyberpunk and steampunk novels of the 80's and study their content. You will find in those novels, the concepts are of a persons immersion in conceptual worlds. This explores alternatives of mainstream aesthetics. This is art and I speak as an artist. Cosplay is a mere trifle that seems to have been taken for granted. Here Punk does not exist with regards to Punk's original aesthetical ideals i.e. DIY fashion...Cosplay means you are buying off the peg steampunk outfits which defies the individualistic values of Punk subcultures i.e. goth, cyberpunk, steampunk etc. And that steals the creativity in steampunk..infact it sells it out as a consumeristic caper.
I dont expect every steampunker to be a 'maker' of retro-tech machines and gadgetry. But its a punk movement nontheless and its main motive is the making of machines as those books show to us!

Reply by Edward Pearse 1 hour ago
My final word on this topic:

Steampunk is not a punk subculture. The "punk" was a purely tongue-in-cheek reference to finding a marketing genre. Punk is an anti-establishment subculture, frankly quite the opposite of steampunk which allows for people to become Lords, Ladies and military officers. There's nothing rebellious about becoming part of the nobility (unless perhaps you're an American).

And while I personally make the distinction between Cosplay and Costuming, your comment "Cosplay means you are buying off the peg steampunk outfits" really shows your ignorance. I've been a costumer for 35 years. I've never bought one *off the peg*. It's true that some people do, but most costumers make their own.

Obviously we have very different understandings of what steampunk is and where it's come from and despite your claim that your ideas are irrefutable, they are refutable quite easily. Either that or you don't understand what irrefutable means either.

Reply by GothFae 11 hours ago
IMHO; re steampunk rules and roots
Steampunk is now a growing cultural phenomenon and as with any trend, the arguing of the "real" roots, though interesting, becomes a moot point. A cultural movement becomes what it is at the current moment and as much as many would like to control it and keep it in its original "pure" state that train has long since left the station.

I discovered Steampunk a few years ago while doing online research for Gothic fashion. The word kept coming up so I googled it and got about 200 "hits". I just googled it now and got 27million. I had googled it last week and got only 26 million. Anything growing by a million internet hits a week cannot really be controlled by any "rules".

When I explain Steampunk to someone, and I am a true missionary of Steam, I usually start with:
"It is a view of the future as seen through Victorian eyes based on the technology known to them at that time. It is the futuristic vision of HG Wells and Jules Vern and more recently it is apparent in both the old tv series "Wild, Wild West" and the recent movie of that name. It is "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and the current movie of Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Junior. I go on to say that both the classic literary and current cinematic examples mentioned, as well as contemporary Steampunk literature, generally contain the idea that technology is a double edged sword; that it can be used equally for good and evil, an idea that is also very prevalent in our cultural view of technology today. I point out that the Victorians view of future science and technology was in many ways much like our own; that we have come to realize that, like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein monster, what appears at first to be a positive scientific idea, can rapidly become dangerous and uncontrollable."
Of course at that point either their eyes have glazed over or they are eager for more info.

That all being said, for most of the now most likely millions of lovers of Steampunk culture the original question and premise of this discussion is the most important. It has become a time-travelers/role players paradise with massive opportunities to dress up and invent. It was estimated that (and I was there so I can verify that this is true) at least 98 percent of the attendees at last spring's Steamunk Worlds Fair" in NJ came in costume. I can testify that many of them changed outfits (and sometimes personas) several times during each day of the 3 day event (in true Victorian fashion) and had an even more elaborate outfit for the night-time activities.
Steampunk, like Gothic culture before it, has become all about your costume, (or outfit, or garb: a rose by any other name). However, an interesting thing has happened In the case of Steampunk fashion versus Gothic fashion; "who" and "what" you are (and by extension what you can make,be that guns or short stories) is as, if not more, important at any Steampunk event than what one is wearing, ie. ones persona is important.
In that way, it seems evident to me, whatever its original roots were, that Steampunk as it is "practiced" today has much more in common with re-enactors, LARP and the SCA than with any literary basis. The literary and cinematic aspects have remained important in that they keep the original Victorian based philosophy alive and help ground us in the visual, be that retro-futuristic computers or Victorian ghost busting equipment or a spectacular neo-Victorian ladies hat.

No comments:

Post a Comment