Steampunk the Aesthetic
More on fashion at the Free the Princess blog.
Gail On Steampunk Fashion
What defines Steampunk Fashion to you? How do (or did) you see fashion defining the Steampunk movement?
Steampunk fashion tends to be an amalgamation of Victorian fashion with metallic industrial detailing (usually brass) and modern Gothic overtones. I've defined it in the past as the lovechild of Hot Topic and a BBC costume drama. I do believe that the attire of steampunk is relevant to the movement as a whole. It's one of the things that sets steampunk apart from other SFF subgenres. The fashion melds an aesthetic with creativity and community. Some people are more into the literature and others craftsmanship, but most at least nod in the fashion direction with a vest, or a pair of goggles, or a newsboy cap.
Where should one begin, with the Character or with the Clothing?
I began with the clothing, but that's because I'm not much of an actor and I really enjoy the style. I like separates and small details, like jewelry, that I can mix with everyday garb. Starting with a character might work better for those who are planning on attending a convention, or aren't inveterate shoppers.
What do you see as the relationship between Character and Costume?
This relationship often emerges in the kinetic or mechanical aspect of a costume. Someone will come up with a motorized arm, or a mad scientist self-folding kit, and suddenly a character will emerge from that one detail. It's important not to become too carried away by character when in the planning stage. I've known people who look endlessly for the perfect piece of costuming, yet they could have something wonderful if they were more flexible. As much as the clothing should adapt to your character, it is possible for the character to adapt to a new clothing discovery as well.
What is your best advice for someone just getting started with steampunk fashion and characterization?
Be open to the possibilities. One of my most commented upon pieces is a corset I tore apart and covered in buttons and brass spoons. Yes, spoons. People love to see the silly and unexpected. Shop in a different area of the thrift store. For example, the bric-a-brac section often has bendable bits of metal. Buttons can be changed, pockets can be added, sleeves removed. Try to train your mind to see what a piece of clothing could be, rather than what it is. Also keep your eyes open at places like Target and Kohls. Steampunk turns up unexpectedly.
I also suggest watching a period drama from the time period you are interested in, and then extrapolating. If you're fascinated by the Austen dandy driving a high flyer, how would that character dress if he were driving an ornithopter? How would the engineer of a train differ from the engineer in a dirigible? How about Gaskell's doctor who has to treat steam burns instead of cholera? If the lady is cross-dressing, why is she doing so? Is she riding the latest and greatest steam powered bicycle? What would she have to carry about her person if she were?
Lastly, there are certainly elements not well represented yet in the steampunk world: minors, maids, footmen, drivers, hostlers, postmen, sailors, clerks, foreign dignitaries, cooks. Yet if we imagine a Victorian world where steam power dominates, these people are its cogs.
Beyond the perhaps de rigeur goggles, what item or items, if any, do you see as quintessentially "Steampunk"?
Some kind of hat or hair ornament is pretty common, anything from an embellish band to a tiny top hat or a massive modified eyepiece. Vests, corsets, kilted up skirts, knickerbockers, and boots tend to abound. Deconstructed clocks, gears, leather bands, metal buttons, and military detailing are common as well. The color template leans in favor of brass and brown, although goth wear is still there with its black and silver. I enjoy costumes that adopt the Victorian delight in bright colors and the expansion of British trade that brought with it vibrant Indian muslins and patterned Chinese silks, but they remain comparatively rare.
What resources can you recommend to readers wanting to become more involved with the fashion side of Steampunk?
The steampunk fashion group on flickr has over a thousand images that will certainly inspire. Just going on to Google Images and typing in "steampunk fashion" yields up some amazing results. And in spring of 2008 Ralph Lauren put some seriously great turn of the century style pieces down the runway.
Gail on Vintage Fashion
You always wear amazing clothes during events, how is the look important in your author life?
I think it's very important for a professional to dress well in her business sphere. Most of the time I never meet my readers, so when I have that opportunity I want to show them that I respect them by dressing well. More specifically, my look is recognizable in a convention setting. Walking the halls at San Diego Comic Con I had a reader spot me and know who I was, even among all the cosplay and other madness. That's a win so far as I am concerned.
Concerning your clothes: what do you like the most? What are your favorite brands, shops and creators?
I'm particularly proud of my corset collection. It's the work of many years and several of mine are couture custom pieces from Dark Garden. I have a long black 1970s teared gown I adore and various 1950s cocktail dresses from retired brands like I. Magnin. Lately, I've taken to ordering fully customized retro pieces from eShakti. I collect shoes as well, but not vintage. Mostly, I'm a bargain hunter, but I think it's very important to walk comfortably but beautifully, so leather shoes are my biggest investment. Via Spiga, Miz Mooz, and Sofft are my current favorite brands (sadly Fluevogs, Irregular Choice, and Chelsey Crew don't fit me).
How do you find such great vintage stuff?
I search thrift stores as well as specialty shops and I'm not hung up on size tags, cuts, or color ~ I'll try on anything. I know I can tailor/repair things myself if necessary. I shop for vintage whenever I can, even while traveling. This allows me to add special pieces (like scarves and gloves) to my collection as memories of places I've visited. I've been doing this for over 20 years. I still have a few accessorizes from my high school thrifting years. For example, while I was in England recently I visited Real McCoy in Exeter and found a wonderful teal velvet dress for my Waistcoats & Weaponry book launch (I like to dress to match my covers). I use an app called Stylebook to keep track of everything in my closet, so I don't over buy. Also, I keep with me a running list of holes in my wardrobe that I'm trying to fill. So far as jewelry is concerned, I don't buy "real," I think it's a waste of money. I have a number of metal allergies so even if I find a vintage piece I love I often can't wear it. In any given outfit my jewelry, shoes, underpinnings, and stockings are likely to be modern while everything else is vintage.