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Women With Weapons - Comicpalooza 2013

Women With Weapons – Comicpalooza 2013

Whether your costume or your characters attire is a Steampunk ghost, pirate, vampire, mechanic, world explorer, airship crew member, a proper Victorian lady or something altogether different, I wanted to share helpful pointers from panels at Comicpalooza, this past Memorial weekend.

Since I’m a Lolita at Steamed, let’s start with Lolita fashion.

 Steam Lolitas - The Cup Cake Girls - Comicpalooza 2013

Steam Lolitas – The Cupcake Girls – Comicpalooza 2013

When developing a steampunk persona and the costuming for it, you may find yourself building a lot of drama and hardship to your characterization. However, Lolita personas are lighter, let’s just have fun, let’s  have a tea party. For that reason many women are attracted to Steampunk/Lolita fashion crossovers.  For a good start to Lolita fashion, take a nice white blouse, add a frilly petticoat and a skirt trimmed in lace.  Goodwill, Salvation army, and local thrift stores are excellent places to get accessories and props to build a costume.

A Cup Cake girl with the Steam Lolita panel

A Cup Cake girl with the Steam Lolita panel

Whether you’re a Lolita blending steampunk into your costume, a steampunk persona mixing Lolita concepts into your outfit or working with a straight stempunk characterization for your attire, one thing to keep in mind is well fitted garments flatter any figure. Garments that are too large are as bad as clothing that’s too small. Regarding corsets, use those with steel bones, avoid the plastic ones as they bend when it’s hot, and become lumpy. Queen size women should ensure their corsets fall a bit longer in  front. Corsets should close to about 4″ all the way for a comfortable, even fit. It’s less expensive to invest in a custom fitted corset, than buying a dozen inexpensive ones that don’t look or feel quite right.

Lady Blue - Comicpalooza 2013

Lady Blue – Comicpalooza 2013

Don’t foreget bustles, they add a lot to an outfit. They don’t make your butt look big; they make your skirt look full. Certain silhouettes require a bustle to fill out your skirt and add a polished, proportional look to your dress.

Steampunk Sweethearts - Comicpalooza 2013

Steampunk Sweethearts – Comicpalooza 2013

Other than a corset, the most expensive part of your costume may well be your shoes. Granny boots are always popular for steampnk. Consider investing in a good pair of Doc Martins that appeal to your steampunk self. For dancing at a a Steampunkb all you will need something more feminine. Cherries Jubilee is a great source for source for Steampunk shoes, her emeblishmens are amazing.

Regarding menswear, a man’s waistcoat or vest  needs to be long, such as one purchased from a big and tall store,

Shiny As A Copper Penney
Shiny As A Copper Penney

so it covers the shirt to the top of the trousers. That prevent the tummy from bulging under the vest. Pants should be worn at the waistline, around the belly button, not beneath it. Most men will find suspenders work best. Men should keep spats in mind, to add a touch of completion and pizazz to their outfit.

Steampunk Poision Ivy

Steampunk Poision Ivy

For both men and women, stemapunk costumes should look complete, from head to toe, for example don’t wear tennis shoes with a period dress. Also, though accessories are key to a Steampunk look, don’t’ go overboard, keep to the less is more fashion philosophy.

Lolita Alice and the Mad Hatter

Lolita Alice and the Mad Hatter

For examples and ideas, I’ve included a few photos I snapped at Comicpalooza in Houston Texas. So have fun and enjoy creating your or your characters’ Steampunk costumes.

Maeve Alpin is the author of four Steampunk/Romances: To Love A London Ghost, Conquistadors In Outer Space, As Timeless As Stone, and As Timeless As Magic.

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Charles Dickens and his wonderful books with strong fleshed out characters, exposing serious social issues, influence authors to this day. Also,  A Christmas Carol still influences Christmas celebrations. Most families include A Christmas Carol in their holiday tradition by reading from the book out loud or attending a play of it or watching one of the film versions on TV.

In Galveston Texas they go one step further, bringing the images in Dickens’ book alive in the annual Christmas festival, Dickens On The Strand. The 2012 Dickens On The Strand is even more special than usual as this year marks Charles Dickens  200th, Birthday, he was born February 7, 1812.

Here’s a merry ode to the festivities, just imagine Glen Campbell singing it to the tune of Galveston.

Galveston, Oh Galveston

Galveston, Oh Galveston

I still hear carolers singing

I still hear carolers singing

I still hear the bells ringing

I still hear the bells ringing

I dream of old fashioned fun

I dream of old fashioned fun
In Galveston

In Galveston

Galveston, Oh Galveston

Galveston, Oh Galveston

I still hear the children laughing

I still hear the children laughing
Still see the gentlemen so dapper and dashing

Still see the gentlemen, dapper and dashing

Still recall Queen Victoria waving to everyone

Still recall Victoria waving to everyone

As her carriage rolls down the strand

As her carriage rolls down the strand

In Galveston

In Galveston

Galveston, Oh Galveston

Galveston, Oh Galveston

reenactment of a civil war camp

reenactment of a civil war camp

With period nurses in white uniforms

With period nurses in white uniforms

See me hold a civil war replica gun

I held a civil war replica gun

At Galveston

At Galveston

At Galveston

At Galveston

Steampunk is recognized at this Victorian celebration with steampunk square, a steampunk costume contest, a steampunk street ball, and steampunk attendees and airship crews march in the Pickwick’s Lantern-light parade. It’s fun for the whole family and I had a blast. And the food and the shopping was incredible.

For additional steampunk photos taken at Dickens on the Strand, click here

Here’s another Christmas treat, for S. J. Drum’s A Very Steampunk Christmas, click here

May your Christmas be a steamy one, even if you didn’t make it to Galveston.

DSCN0034

Maeve Alpin 

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As the Steamed airship lands in Phoenix, Arizona, I go to greet my two guest. They step across the gaping space between the dock and airship to board, with a graceful, fluid glide. Both are dancers of

Diosa with sword & Katara in top hat

the Osiris Belly Dancing Company, Diosa, the director and her co-dancer, Katara.

I show them into the parlor where they ease onto the cushioned hand carved settee with lion head legs and claw feet. I sit across from them in a chemille upholstered arm chair.

“Welcome aboard Steamed. It’s so good to have you.” I lean toward Diosa as she sets her sword on the marble top coffee table.  “I love your dance company’s name, Osiris. Of course he’s the Egyptian god of the dead. Also, George Mann wrote a well known Steampunk novel titled The Osiris Ritual.  Why did you chose the name Osirus?”

Diosa flashed a bright smile. “I chose the name Osiris as a result of a series of my own personal experiences through belly dance. Enthralled by dancing with double veils, I later aspired to dance with seven veils, attributed to the myth of the “Dance of the Seven Veils”. After researching the history of Inanna and Ishtar and their descents into the underworld, I thought it fitting to use Osiris, also known as the keeper of the underworld. The name became a symbolic transformation of spirituality, where a dancer could abandon inhibitions and masculinity, empowering her feminine expression, as if to shed the facades created to hide her true self.”

“How intriguing.” The engine purrs and the china teacups on the coffee table rattle as the airship lifts off. I rub my lips together as I think of my next question. “On your website you say the Osiris Dance Company has its roots in Egyptian Cabaret. As I and some of our readers may be unfamiliar with the term, can you tell me more about what that means?

Diosa with the Osiris Dance Company

Diosa with the Osiris Dance Company

Diosa nods. “Our roots are bound to a more refined style with ballet and jazz influences with arm positions and traveling movements. Body movements are smaller, intricate muscular movements lending to a more intimate venue like night clubs or in this day and age, at coffee shops. Costumes also tend to be more intricate with a two piece sequined, beaded, and rhinestone bra and belt. The music style may have more dramatic orchestral elements with lavish musical styles.” 

I poured  Diosa a cup of steaming tea. “How old were you when you started belly dancing?”

Disoa picked up both cup and saucer, holding them in her lap.  “I began belly dancing when I was 28. I was entranced by the majestic and fluid belly dancers at the Aladdin in Las Vegas with their glitzy costumes and the wonderful live music.”

I brimmed Katara’s porcelain teacup full. “What drew you to this beautiful, exotic genre of dance?”

Katara took a sip of tea. ” I took my first belly dance class at the beginning of my senior year of high school – I was seventeen. It was  the embodiment of grace, beauty, sensuality and womanhood. So I found a studio, and my first teacher – who happened to be Diosa!”

I picked up my own teacup, took a hot, refreshing sip, then shifted my gaze onto Katara. “Tell me, When did you first fall in love with belly dancing?” I dropped a cube of sugar into the teacup. “Also , when did you first fall in love with Steampunk?”

Katara set her teacup  on the marble table top and leaned back against the red settee. “I first saw belly dancing when I watched one of our local belly dance legends, Yasmina’s, public access show once as a little girl. I was fascinated! Then, I saw another local legend, Jasmine, perform in a cultural week at my high school and decided I had to find classes in the dance style. Steampunk, I first found several years ago. I was completely intrigued with the way Steampunk blended historical fashions with modern designs. And it gave me an excuse to break out the corsets and bustles.”

Leaning forward I picked up a sliver spoon and stirred my tea as I asked Diosa, “What intrigues you about Steampunk? Why did you decided to blend it into your belly dancing performances?”

“Our group is always intrigued by doing something new and off the beaten path. We’ve done marionette pieces, Alice in Wonderland, and tough girl themes. We trained so much in traditional styles, that I think we all just wanted to do something completely different. ” Diosa picked up the teapot and poured more of the steaming brew into her gold rimmed china cup. “When we started dancing at Comicon, we were actually thrown into the Steampunk genre when we were invited to perform at the Steampunk Ball. I consider our dance style to be belly dance fusion, but we blend steampunk into our costuming for those specific venues.”

Katara leaned forward to pick up her teacup.  “Personally, alternate histories always fascinated me, and the way Steampunk blends science fiction with Victorian themes intrigues me.” She took a dainty sip of her tea. “But, really, it’s the opportunity to play with historical fashions and blend them into something interesting and modern. As far as adding it into my dancing, it seemed a natural progression. A new way to tell interesting stories with dance and some really fun costumes.”

I shifted my back against the soft, cushioned  arm chair  “Why do you think steampunk and belly dancing blend together so well?”

Diosa with fan

Diosa with fan

With a flick of her wrist, Diosa snapped her fan out and fluttered it in front of her face. “Steampunk and belly dancing blend together so well because they both thrive from innovation, whether it’s creative choreographies or outrageous costumes.”

Katara with fan

Katara with fan

Katara set her teacup down and flicked her fan open as well. “Belly dancing has always been seen as an exotic, mysterious art form.  I believe that speaks to steampunk – it allows a blend of ethnic and intrigue that melds well with the mixing of sci-fi and history that makes up so much of steampunk. And it brings in a new kind of cultural interest – which was a big part of victorian life.”

I grab my own fan from the coffee table and open it with a flick of my wrist as I ask Diosa, “What are some major challenges of choreographing Steampunk Belly dancing performances?”

“Like any choreography, picking the right music and costuming are a couple of the major challenges. The music is my muse, so if I find an inspiring song, the choreography comes pretty easily.”

Katara of Osiris Belly Dancing Company

Katara rests her fan on her lap. “A major challenge is to bring elements of the steampunk world into a middle eastern artform. Personally, I’ve always leaned toward a more fusion style that blends the traditional dance with different styles (anything from theatrical to jazz to modern), so it wasn’t -too- much of a stretch for me, but being able to embrace that science fiction/period element was definitely a challenge.”

I fluttered my fan and leaned back, fixing my gaze on Diosa. “What Steampunk bands, in addition to Abney Park, do you  think play music which fuses well with belly dancing?”

Diosa set her fan beside her sword on the marble table top. “Music reminiscent of the time period can lend itself to that specific style, especially when blended with the theatrics and costuming. I’ve seen dancers perform to music I considered fusion, though their costuming style was steampunk. I haven’t really figured out what categorizes a band or music as being ‘steampunk’ other than the fact that they specifically note themselves as such or the artists are wearing steampunk apparel.”

Katara brought her teacup to her red lips and took a slow sip. “Well, Abney Park is one of my favorites. I also have performed to a Professor Elemental piece or two. A good many of the steampunk bands utilize instruments that are good for dancing to. Beats Antique is fabulous, as well, it’s a band that is a ‘belly dance band’ that works great with steampunk.”

I point my fan at Diosa. “Do you have a favorite steampunk song for belly dancing?”

Diosa rest her hands in her lap. “I don’t necessarily have a favorite steampunk song, but I would lean more towards songs by Beats Antique, Bass Nectar, or Beirut. I love the ‘carni’ influences as well as the fusion of dub-step.”

Katara - comicon

Katara – comicon

Katara set her teacup on her porcelain saucer with a soft clang. “I love dancing to Hans Zimmer’s “Discombobulate” from the first ‘Sherlock Holmes’ soundtrack. I’ve done a really fun ‘Hyde’ piece to it.”

“A Hyde piece sounds amazing.” I dropped my fan onto my lap and grasped the carved arms of the chair as the airship rocked slightly.  “You have performed at the Wild Wild West Steampunk convention and Comicon. What differences have you found in belly dancing at those types of steampunk/sci-fi/fantasy cons rather than other venues?”

Diosa answers first.  “We have found styles vary and interpretations of the dance is very different. We have observed some burlesque styles that lend to more of a strip tease, where others are theatrical and humorous. Some groups still hold true to their own traditional styles, whether it be tribal or cabaret, but I have not observed a specific style that would be considered ‘steampunk belly dance’.”

Katara adds, “The biggest difference, to me, tends to come from the audience. It’s refreshing to have a group of people who are new to belly dance reacting to the performance  as well as appreciating that someone could blend something like that with what they themselves love: steampunk.”

I snap my fan shut and lean back as I nod at Diosa.  “What do you like most about performing at steampunk/sci-fi/fantasy cons?”

Diosa tilts her head. “What I love most about performing at these different venues is the invitation to create from an entire fantasy world, whether it be super heroes, manga characters, cult television show favorites, or even our own made up characters.”

Katara reaches up to adjust her top hat.  “I love being able to take belly dance and make something new with it. Being able to combine this beautiful art form with a style I already enjoy, be that steampunk, pure sci-fi, or fantasy, is great for me. And being able to share it with the community that completely embraces it is amazing.”

I lean back in my chair, relaxing and enjoying the company of my guest. “What do you think is the status of Steampunk belly dancing in the United States? Is it growing, changing?”

“From what I have seen, it is a small light in a world of dancing.” Katara spreads her hands as she speaks. “The belly dance community is aware enough of Steampunk to love it, but may not have quite ‘gotten it’ yet. It is definitely finding its niche though, and starting to get a following. An example: about a year ago I performed in a belly dance show completely themed ‘Steampunk’, people loved it, and the community really came out for it.”

Diosa

Diosa

Having picked up my teacup and drinked the last of my tea, I set it on the table. “I have to say the steampunk costumes of the Osiris Dance company are perhaps the best I’ve seen. Exquisite. Who makes the costumes for your dancers?”

Diosa smiles as she answers. “Both Katara and I create our own costumes. Sometimes we’ll make our own individual costumes or design/make costumes for the troupe. I made the ‘western-influenced’ costume pictured here, though I’ve made Domba-inspired tribal costumes made with tassels and kutchies for our troupe. Katara also designed and created her ‘Victorian-influenced’ costume posted in this interview. She is also a professional seamstress and takes on the bulk of our costuming, such as our marionette doll pieces (I love my ruffles!).”

Katara flashed a broad smile. “First – thank you! Because, I actually make a good percentage of them. My ‘real job’ is as a professional costumer, so it just made sense for me to help the troupe out in that sense. Diosa also does a lot of the work, making a lot of her costume pieces. So, we have almost complete control of our designs.”

I leaned forward in my chair, toward Diosa. “Did you find choosing dance as a career a hard or easy choice?”

I was a hobbyist at first, but eventually it lead to dancing full-time. Dancing inspired me to get my Associate’s in Exercise Science, as well as certification as a personal trainer. It’s not an easy career, as dance becomes hard on the body, just like any athlete. You need to be knowledgeable in muscle work, nutrition, history, and aware of new styles and moves. You constantly need to be on your A-game. When you are dancing upwards of 15 to 30 hours a week, your body can easily become overworked and more prone to injury. I danced full time for over a year, and as much as I love the dance, I was exhausted. I believe awareness of the dance and culture here in Arizona is sparse, so paying venues are difficult to find. Presently, I am a full-time school teacher, but I continue to perform in my spare time, and I also find joy in teaching belly dance 2-3 times a week.”

Katara nodded. “It sort of crept up on me. Granted, it’s not my only career, but considering how much of my life ended up being dedicated to dance, it just made sense.”

Katara & Diosa - comicon

Katara & Diosa – comicon

I laced my fingers together. “What advice can you give to anyone interested in becoming a professional belly dancer?”

Diosa cocked her head. “Be consistent—find a local teacher you can study with weekly and progress your training by attending master teacher workshops and/or online videos. Do your research—is this career for you? Can you support yourself financially in your area? Dance, dance, dance—find venues you can perform at to get your name out into the community and connect with your audiences. Abandonment—get rid of all your inhibitions. Your audience can clearly see if you’re embarrassed, fearful, or preoccupied. Let loose in your dance! Teach—there’s no better way to improve your own technique than to teach others.”

Katara tilted her head toward me. “Take every class you can find. All kinds of styles – every kind will help your overall dance ability. And take every opportunity to perform you can find. Get as comfortable in front of an audience as possible and learn how to perform to them. Your technique is important, but if you can’t connect to the audience, you’ll lose them.”

I see the teacups are rattling on the coffee tale. I know what that means, the airship is landing. I have time for one last question. “What future aspirations do you have for the Osiris dance company?”

Diosa inclined her head toward me. “I would love to continue challenging ourselves with choreography and storytelling. We have learned a lot working with each other all these years, from staging to personal space, I hope one day we can specialize a class teaching duos our choreography and how to dance with each other.”

Katara tilted her head in a nod. “I want to keep improving and creating some of the most interesting performances around. I really love the more theatrical pieces Diosa and I have been coming up with lately. It’s the sort of thing I’ve always wanted to do! And I do hope to compete out of state again.”

Well maybe I can squeeze in one more question as I clutch both arms of my chair for the airship landing. “Speaking of competitions, what dance competitions or live performances do you have coming up, when and where?”

Diosa grasps hold of the arm and back of the settee, bracing for the shakiness of the landing. “Our upcoming performances are the Tucson Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention on March 8th and the Phoenix Comicon Labyrinth Masquerade Ball on May 24th.”

The ship has landed so we say our good byes. Diosa picks up her sword and fan and dances off the airship along with Katara, but you can visit them anytime at their website. Please comment or ask questions below.

Maeve Alpin

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Drumroll, please…

Here is the cover for Moonlight and Mechanicals, a Gaslight Chronicles novel, coming October 22 from Carina Press.

Image

Now those readers familiar with the Gaslight Chronicles might wonder why Wink, who hates corsets with a passion, is not only wearing one of the infernal devices, but isn’t wearing anything else over it. While a lady who works with machines for a living might be seen in coveralls, she’s still too much of a lady to ever appear in public in her undergarments.

This, I think illustrates one of the problems with the label steampunk. In an alternate history world, there’s always the question of just HOW alternate everything is. In the Gaslight Chronicles, technology and certain social mores are more advanced than they really were in the 1850s, but fashion and most of society is fairly authentic. However, I believe for marketing purposes, the publisher has decided to use a more contemporary steampunk vision on the recent covers. I’m truly curious to see if this works. So any thoughts on this from the readership? Do you like to see your steampunk characters in Victorian ruffles, or modern daring? Something in between? I’d love to know how people feel about this.

In other news, I’ve sent off the manuscript for the fifth Gaslight story, Cards and Caravans which is scheduled for next March. Now I have to tear my brain out of this steampunk world and into another, to finish a partial manuscript for my agent. It’s always interesting and sometimes awkward to switch gears (pun intended) and remember what version of reality you’re righting. This new project is later than the Gaslight books, although so far the rules of the reality are pretty similar. With everything you tweak in a world, you have to think about what has changed in technology, and how that might have changed the people in the world. It’s a new challenge, and I think those are always exciting. So onward and upward…

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Today we welcome amazing YA writer Lia Habel. 

Lia Habel was born in Jamestown, NY, and has lived there the majority of her life. Her first book, Dearly, Departed, is a sweeping tale of zombie-living romance set in a cyber-Victorian/steampunk future. When Dearly, Departed sold, Lia was swimming in debt incurred from her studies and years of un- and underemployment, with only a few dollars to her name. Miss Habel enjoys attending anachronistic and steampunk events, watching zombie movies (she has watched over a hundred of them), commissioning ball gowns, and collecting Victorian and Edwardian books. She is incredibly grateful for the opportunities she has recently been given.

Being a neo-Victorian/steampunk clothes horse 101

by Lia Habel

Being asked to write about steampunk always terrifies me, because I hardly consider myself an authority on the subject. In fact, my personal vision of steampunk is far from pure, as I tend to mash it up with cyberpunk, dieselpunk, and as many pretty, sparkly things as I think I can get away with. Rules never suit me, even in a subculture made for breaking rules – which is why, when I attend steampunk events, I tend to dress like a little Victorian princess rather than an airship captain or mad engineer-by-day-burlesque-dancer-by-night. I have the greatest respect for airship captains and mad engineers-by-day-burlesque-dancers-by-night, but I like being that pop of sugary sweet pastel in the middle of the room, the one who maybe looks out of place. Philosophically, you need the lady to define the plight of the urchin, and vice versa.

But let’s leave philosophy behind. Let’s talk about clothes. Today I want to speak to the fantastic teenagers I’ve met at the schools I’ve visited, the ones who come up to me afterward and whisper, “I need to dress like this.” Okay, darlings. This is what you do. This is Lia’s 101 level class on being a neo-Victorian/steampunk clothes horse. The first two suggestions will be very broad, everything else gossip.

1.     Experiment. Don’t box yourself into one style right off the bat. If you have the opportunity and the inclination, try wearing something Elegant Gothic Lolita-esque and adorable, try dressing like a dandy (I don’t care if you’re male or female – tuxedos are sexy), try being a construct or automaton, try playing a dark and alluring Victorian cabaret singer. Playing dress-up is the best way to figure out which styles speak to you, what works for your budget, and what sartorial direction you want to wander off in first. And keep in mind that you can go back to the drawing board at any time, and have more than one style of dress!

2.    Figure out who you want to become. I once heard an academic talk about something called “performative language,” which is basically the idea that certain types of language act like magic spells, forcing something to become true through sheer power of words alone – for instance, saying, “I do” at the altar. It is “when saying something is doing something” (J.L. Austin – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Performativity). In steampunk the same holds true, for you can adopt any persona you like simply by saying it is so. Declare yourself a duke? Then I shall refer to you as, “Your Grace.” Want to be the head of some dark, esoteric cult? Fine, end the world, just don’t proselytize at my hotel room door. So you’re a young lady enrolled in the local boarding school? Is it true what they say about your literature professor, Mr. Brown? Everything can be done, and everything in a spirit of play. The whole wide world is open to you.

3.     EXPOSE! Visually wander through steampunk and Victorian fashion blogs and sites. I love doing this, as it gives me ideas for accessorizes to scout out, color combinations to try, and holes in my wardrobe I need to fill. Some of my favorite sites are http://treselegant.tumblr.com/, http://oldrags.tumblr.com/, and http://my-ear-trumpet.tumblr.com/. And if you can, visit a Victorian costume museum. They’re like candy shops full of delicious things you can never taste, but they’re a great way to educate yourself.

4.     MAKE! Alas, I used to make much more than I now do, but I’m very glad that I at least attempted a few outfits and suites of accessories. Making your own items gives you a sense of accomplishment and allows you to build a wardrobe that’s perfectly suited to your needs. Whether it’s by knitting, embroidering, welding, or sewing, there’s certainly some craft out there you can undertake. (And half the fun of thrift-store shopping and dumpster diving is repurposing the items!) If nothing else, maintaining a large steampunk wardrobe requires knowing how to properly repair and clean various garments. A few hours from now I’ll be sewing a torn petticoat by hand, for instance, and I see engineers fiddling with their mechanical arms and lighted top hats constantly at events, performing small repairs and adjustments.

5.    SHOP! I know some decry the fact that one can buy a suitable steampunk wardrobe, now, rather than being forced to make one – but I love it. I love knowing that my money goes to amazing artisans and seamstresses and designers, people who love the same things I do. I’m not the least bit ashamed. Now, certainly the best way I know of to expose yourself to these fantastic sources of frippery is to attend steampunk events with dealer rooms – normally there’s quite a good selection of corsets, hats, and accessories, which when added to a blouse and skirt will get you instantly on your way. Etsy.com is also a fantastic resource, and many steampunk brands with separate websites also maintain an Etsy presence, so you’re sure to find them. Etsy is also great for finding seamstresses willing to undertake custom projects, which is how I found the designer/seamstress to fill my first custom gown order. All in all, just talk to people – that’s the surest way to find what you want or learn how to build what you want to build.

“All right! We shall shop! What should we look for and what should we do with it?” My humble tips:

    – Corset and boots first. A good corset and a good pair of boots will form the foundation of any wardrobe. Try heavyred.com, clockworkcouture.com, corset-story.com, or fairygothmother.co.uk. For your first corset, I would recommend one in a color and material that can be worn on top of other items as your first layer of clothing. And be sure to get steel boning! Plastic looks cheap, will break, and won’t do anything for your figure.

    – Don’t try to find accessories for a gown after you’ve purchased the gown – you’ll end up scrambling and looking either too cute by half or hastily thrown together. I prefer my ensembles to build organically by purchasing what I like when I see it, regardless of whether it will go with anything I currently own. After a few months or a year, when I suddenly realize that I have an awful lot of navy blue items, that’s when I start searching for a navy blue dress to go with them. Suites of matching items can also usually be paired with a neutral-colored dress, thus freshening it up. So, my big hint: LIKE IT? BUY IT.

   –  Be sure you have the space and conditions to store your items. A lot of my gowns are heirloom-quality material, and I treat them as such. I store them in acid-free paper and boxes, or wrap them up with acid-free linen in storage. When I dry clean them, I insist that even the smallest items be dry cleaned to wedding gown preservation standards. (And then I dance for twelve hours in them, but at least I try to make up for it.)

     – What can you get cheaply? Long skirts, stockings, suitable-looking blouses (either from thrift stores or modern stores), some accessories (hit up craft store sales for fake flowers, ribbons that can be made into sashes and chokers, and interesting buttons to liven up plain jackets – and be sure to check out the wedding section for pretty white trims, usually insanely cheap), gloves and jewelry trinkets (believe it or not, some of my favorite gloves came from Hot Topic and Claire’s – you’d never know it to look at them).

    –  What should you TRY to get as cheaply as possible? Gloves, fans, and handkerchiefs. These are invariably lost, ruined, or stolen by shy, pining would-be suitors* after one long evening – I use my satin opera gloves once, usually. (*This has never happened.)

    – What should you spend the most money on? Your corsets (my favorite corset cost me $300, and I’ve had it for about 6 years now), your really high-class ball gowns (from places like Azrael’s Accomplice – http://www.azacclothingcouture.com/), your good black top hat, and your shoes (support! And buy them large enough to wear socks in).

      – What are some items no one ever thinks to buy but which are versatile or really punchy? Dickies/collars/sleeves – basically detachable shirt pieces that you can tie or pin into any dress you like in order to change up the style or fill in an area you’d rather be filled. Civil War shops are great for these, as they were a staple of 1860s wardrobes. Sashes and belts are a fantastic way to change up an outfit or cover an elastic skirt waistband (try Premier Designs Historic Clothing for the latter – http://www.premierclothing.com/Extra/21-home-page/). 

Now! Go forth and explore! And if you find a shop that’s really remarkable, point it out to me, will you?

~Lia Habel

http://liahabel.com/

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Hello darlings.

Yes, I’ve been away far too long. But Lolita Theresa has been working dilligently on a new steampunk novel for you. In the meantime, since you know how much I adore research, I thought I’d take you on a little trip into fashion.

I’ve always found it fascinating how our society and what’s happening in it can directly impact the way we dress. Today we’re going to look at the changing silhouette of the Victorian era as a mirror of the times. (Courtesy of http://lady-of-crow.deviantart.com/art/Victorian-Silhouettes-83666275 which provided the original artwork.)


In 1837, Victoria ascends to the throne. She’s young, only 18, and beautiful and the silhouette of the time reflects that ingénue-like frame. Times are changing, there’s research happening about dinosaurs in the Pleistocene epoch, Samuel Morse has exhibited his electric telegraph at the College of the City in New York, and there’s a Gag Law in place passed by the U.S. Congress suppressing the debate on slavery.

By 1842, Victoria would have been, 23, and trying to appear very grown up. The skirts are widening (as are the hips and bust line after bearing two children), and do so even more in 1847 when she would have already had five children.

In 1852, at the age of 33, Victoria is truly on her way to showing the world that the English are a world power. They control India, Tasmania, Australia, parts of Canada. Notice the amount (and expense) of ruffles and added lace in the silhouettes of both 1852 and 1857.

However by 1862 the silhouette changes drastically to more simple lines. Victoria’s beloved husband Albert died in December 1861. As Victoria grows older and more critical of the behavior of her wild son Prince Edward, you can almost see the stricture and behavioral mores of the Victorian era changing in 1867 as the skirts grow increasingly more tight and confining until 1882.

Know what surprised me most? Check out the difference between the first image 1837 and the third to last image of 1892. Not much difference is there? Ever hear how at the end we start thinking about the beginning. Makes me wonder if the same was happening with Queen Victoria. Or perhaps, like all fashion, they just started recycling things, and she just happened to be old enough for what was old to become new again *resurgence of 1980’s fashions, cough, cough*.

Notice that by 1902 the silhouette has become so relaxed there’s barely even a bustline anymore. It looks almost worn out and tired. Since Victoria died in 1901, I can see why. (Well that and Edward, who succeeded her, did tend to be a pretty relaxed sort of guy.)

These images also illustrates why it’s so critical to make sure you know precisely which decade (or in many cases which five year period) you are discussing in your steampunk writing. Sure you don’t have to be accurate all the time (as rayguns and dirigibles aren’t exactly accurate either), but if you put an enormous bustle fit for 1887 in your 1847 set book, you really ought to be able to explain why.

Next time you are writing a scene, ask yourself, what do you read into the changing clothing trends and how can it more aptly reflect your characters?

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It’s book Monday!  For those new to Steamed, Book Monday is an occasional feature where I talk about a (usually) Steampunk book I really enjoy and think you will, too. 

The Vespertine

by Saundra Mitchell

Review copy provided by Harcourt Children’s Books

The Vespertine isn’t Steampunk, it’s a Victorian historical.  I was attracted to it because it’s about Amelia, who goes to Baltimore for ball season in Baltimore in 1889 in order to make a good match.  I *adore* balls and fluffy Victorian dresses.  But this isn’t some light, fluffy story.  No, the balls and dresses simply set the stage for a  lush historical tale of longing, social games, forbidden love, and just a hint of magic. 

Magic?

Yes, I just used the “m” word.

I wasn’t expecting a paranormal element, but for me it added so much depth to the story.  Amelia starts getting dreamlike, and sometimes disturbing, visions at sunset.  At first, these visions skyrocket her popularity, as she only has months to meet the right people to make the right match.  But soon her visions start coming true, and when the darkest things she sees happen, there’s no turning back and could ruin everything she’s come to Baltimore to achieve.

The Victorians did love their visions and esoteric mysteries so this paranormal element meshes very well, making it really (to me) a historical with paranormal elements rather than a full-on Victorian fantasy or even Gaslamp…though the mysterious Nathaniel bring it awfully close to Gaslamp territory (and I do love me a good Gaslamp). 

Ah, Nathaniel.

Who doesn’t love a good story about forbidden love? 

Amelia meets Nathaniel at a party.  But Nathaniel isn’t there to make a good match, like she is.  He is an artist who hires himself out at a “fourteenth”, so there’s never an unlucky thirteen  guests.  Nathaniel and Amelia are instantly attracted, and of course, a poor artists isn’t the type of guy she was sent to find to marry in Baltimore.  But this isn’t as typical of a story-line as you might think.  There relationship is complicated, and even though the attraction is there from the start, they have to work  to develop it, making the relationship portions of the story very fresh and intriguing. 

Amelia is a great character, not an insipid Victorian socialite, but a rather plucky, independent girl who’s sent alone to her cousin’s to experience the wonders of the big city and the decadence of ball season, wonders she’s never seen before, which lends to some great moments.  Imagine what it might be like to see a big city for the first time, or go to your very first ball wearing a ridiculously beautiful, extravagant gown by the lkes you’d only seen before in magazines? 

Then imagine discovering you have abilities that could, if exploited right, help your social standing, brining you into contact with all the “right” girls?

And what about falling in love? 

Or the fear that one wrong step, like even being in the same room alone with a man, could lead to your ruin?

Or that the man you love is not one you could marry?

The whole tale is richly woven, textured, and decadent, like a really good chocolate truffle.  The tale very lyrical  and I devoured most of it in one sitting. 

There are no automatons or rayguns, and fans of action packed stories may find it oddly quite (but not boring, her attention to detail and compelling story see to that).  Overall, this is a very compelling read. 

And the end.

Oh yes. 

The end will take your breath away.

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Before we welcome today’s “Visiting Lolita” we have some winners to announce–because who doesn’t like winning stuff.  First up, we have the winner of the bag ‘o books and swag from RT.

Michelle Black

Next we have the $10 GC to Barnes and Noble or Amazon (your choice) courtesy of Steampunk Author Crista McHugh.

Matthew Delman

Congrats!  Please email me at suzannelazear (@) hotmail to claim your prize.  Also, if you comment on Crista McHugh, Marie Harte, Christine Bell, or Cindy Spencer Pape’s posts you’re entered to win a Carina Press Prize pack–but it ends May 8, 2011, so hurry up.  You can also win a copy of Kady Cross’ “The Girl in the Steel Corset”.  Elizabeth Darvill, aka “Lolita Elizabeth” is also giving away some of her books

Today we welcome Sue McDonald, who writes about Victorian fashion in many places, including for Recollections a historical clothing company.  In addition to having beautiful Victorian gear, they also have a Steampunk line, Steampunk Threads.   We will be giving away a pocket watch from Steampunk Threads to one lucky commenter. 

Sue McDonald has always had an interest in all things vintage and often dresses in Victorian attire, and in addition to writing and acting in short melodramas that take place in the 1800’s, she does “living history” presentations. Her adopted persona, Fannie Bashford is based upon the wife of Charles Bashford, who figured prominently in early Prescott history.   Doing the research to ensure that her costumes were period-correct gave rise to the urge to share that information. She started by creating two costume guides for re-enactors and continues to write  about Victorian clothing and customs. She has also written several “how to” pieces, like “How to make a Victorian-style purse”. Sue also writes articles for The Wild West Gazette, and The Bustledress Marketplace.  Sue also has been writing articles and copy for Recollections. This assignment has also led her into doing research and writing articles about Steampunk attire, which is heavily influenced by Victorian style from the 1800’s.

The Victorian Heart of Steampunk Fashion

By Sue McDonald

For starters, let me say that I have been an aficionado of Steampunk since before the name was coined. I still recall watching the original CBS series Wild Wild West when I was in high school, and am now a bit horrified to discover the series aired in the mid-sixties! The character of Artemis Gordon and all of his fabulous gadgets was endlessly fascinating. I have also been a life-long fan of science fiction, so fabulous machines like those created by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells have always seemed like a reasonable possibility. It is therefore thrilling to see an entire sub-culture now moving into the spotlight of “mainstream culture” here and abroad. More recently I have become fascinated with – and immersed in – re-enactment dressing, circa the late 1800’s, which puts my current love of clothing squarely in the Victorian age. All of which leads me into this dialog about the influence of Victorian dressing upon Steampunk fashion.

It is no surprise that Victorian style would be front-and-center when you consider that Steampunk has its roots firmly embedded in a collection of science fiction books generated in the 60’s and 70’s by several authors who all used Victorian England as their setting for the stories. Just as the currently-popular Indiana Jones movies re-create a World War II setting, with the attendant clothing styles and ever-present “Axis of Evil”, the solidly Victorian backdrop of this special genre of writers set the stage – so to speak – for an alternate world that carries with it all of the romance we attribute to the Victorians, coupled with new possibilities for adventure and discovery.

And the clothes! Let’s face it ladies and gents, dressing in Victorian attire does transport us to a time when women were ever-so-feminine in their corsets, bustles, frills, and petticoats. Gentlemen are somehow at once more masculine and more chivalrous in their frock coats, gloves, and silk hats. I believe the simple act of putting these garments on changes our brain chemistry so that we become somehow altered from just a few hours before when we were wearing jeans and tee shirts.  But the hallmark of Steampunk fashion is the ways in which the basic Victorian style has been expanded to include the various forms of equipage that might have been conceived by a Victorian mind. Victorians were fascinated by every new invention, and were always quick to adopt the “most modern” technology at their disposal. I have to believe they would heartily approve of ladies and gents who are equally prepared for a dirigible ride, a journey to the center of the earth, or a gala ball. One can hardly raise an eyebrow at a pair of brass goggles equipped with an eye loupe for examining a heretofore-undiscovered find, or a clockwork-mechanical arm which endows its wearer with special powers.

From previous blogs I have seen that putting together a Steampunk outfit is at once challenging and exciting. On the one hand each outfit is supposed to be unique to the individual. Mass-production is contrary to the Steampunk sense of uniqueness. On the other hand Victorian clothing cannot be obtained from the local mall. In addition most of us do not have the skills or the inclination to find vintage patterns from which to fashion our garments. Having them custom-made is usually beyond our pocketbooks – having invested most of our money in the afore-mentioned accessories. However, there are ways to obtain suitable garments and make them your own. There are on-line shops that specialize in Victorian-styled clothing, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Steampunk Threads  and Recollections. Both sites present clothing that is solidly in the Victorian style. There are also pattern companies who have thankfully re-drafted many Victorian patterns to fit modern bodies. They have also improved greatly on the instructions that come with a vintage pattern. My personal favorite is Truly Victorian. This site has the added bonus of specifying when each pattern was popular, so if you are shooting for an outfit for a particular timeframe, you can make it happen.

In closing, I would leave you with a piece of advice that I have found invaluable when dressing in period attire. That would be to go online and browse as many Victorian sites as you can, paying careful attention to the clothing shape and details. (By Victorian, I mean mid-to late 1800’s sites – people tend to call a large variety of things “Victorian” when in fact, they are modern items that perhaps have a Victorian influence.) Be sure to note things like ladies’ hats and jewelry, and men’s accessories; like watch fobs and how they wear their jackets – for example the bottom button of the vest is always left unbuttoned, but a shirt is always buttoned clear to the top. Soon, you will develop a ‘feel’ for what is a correct look. This will help you when you are making your own wardrobe selections, so you can avoid beginner’s mistakes.

~Sue McDonald

What’s your favorite aspect of Steampunk fashion?   I have to say, I write Steampunk for the hats (and tiaras…maybe the boots). 

Steampunk Threads is graciously giving away this really great pocket watch to one lucky poster.  North American only please.

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I am happy to say that Steampunk was everywhere at the recent Romantic Times Booklovers Convention, which was held in Los Angeles, April 6-10, 2011.  Yes, I am finally just getting around to writing about it.  Do you know how much time Steampunkapalooza takes?   

RT was amazing, I’d never been to one before and had a few reservations.  There were several Steampunk panels — I was on one Steampunk panel and one about writing historical fantasy (with Gail Carriger, squee).  One of the publishing houses, Samhain, had a Steampunk high tea. 

Then, of course, there was the Steampunk Social that I was in charge of along with Kady Cross, Kassy Taylor, Deb Schneider, and Seleste deLaney.

I volunteered to make about 250 cakepops for the social–because you all know I’m a huge slacker and have nothing else to do than spend 10 hours baking.  Per hotel rules, every cakepop had  to be individually wrapped, too.  Good thing I was local and didn’t have to fly them in my suitcase. 

I’d also picked up all the clothes from the fashion show from Clockwork Couture, who graciously lent us all the beautiful fashions our models wore.  RT involved a lot of me schlepping things from my car to Kady’s room, since I had the clothes, the cakepops, the centerpieces, the fans, several door prizes, and a lot of things for the swag bags.  Kady also volunteers her room for us to put all 100 of the swag bags together.  (Did you know we work very, very hard to put these socials together?)

Also, I was in full Steampunk dress most of the time.   Since Leanna Renee Hieber couldn’t make it I even wore (nearly) all black one day in honor of her, since usually she’s the one in black and I’m the one in pink. 

The social itself went really well.  Close to 100 people gathered for Steampunk swag, cake and tea, a fashion show, a costume contest, and lots of door-prizes. 

But you really want to see gratuitous pictures of Steampunk clothing, not hear me babble about party planning. 

Here’s Kady Cross, the Steampunk track captain. 

And here’s the fab Kassy Taylor. 

Here’s Deb Schneider, along with the winner of our costume contest (the one in the sash).  She *made* her costume on a treadle sewing machine.  Wow.

I don’t have a close up of Seleste deLaney.  (Seleste, why don’t I have a picture of you?).

Since this was tea and cake, I wore pink and a large hat for the occasion.  Not that I need a reason to wear a large hat. 

The fashion show was a smashing success and everyone loved the pretties from Clockwork Couture

Here’s Beth and Erin (same dress, different color). 

Here’s Erin and Zoe Archer.

Here’s Marcella. (I love this dress.)

And, for some reason I don’t have  a close up of Kristen Painter.  (Can you tell my camera died, so I had to gather pictures.  Thanks to everyone who I begged, borrowed, and stole pictures from.)

We had several people come to the social in costume, so we had a costume contest.   Here’s me getting the crowd to help us pick a winner.  Can anyone identify these lovely ladies?  We never got their names. 

Over all, the social was a smashing success.  Despite the hard work, I’d plan another one of these in an instant.  Here’s everyone in costume (except for Kristen. She’s somehow escaped all of my pictures.  Anyone have any pics of her in costume?)

Do you have a favorite outfit?  A favorite flavor of cakepop?  A random comment on Steampunk or Steampunk fashion?  I have one more bag of swag and books from RT, including the *very last* swag bag left over from the party.  I’ll give it to one lucky commenter.  Contest closes April 30 at 11:59 PM PST.

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Today we welcome author G.D. Falksen to Steampunkapalooza.

G. D. Falksen is an author, historian and man about town.  His adventure serials “An Unfortunate Engagement” and “The Mask of Tezcatlipoca” are appearing in Steampunk Tales.  His short story “In The Footsteps of Giants” appears in the Footprints anthology from Hadley Rille Books and“The Strange Case of Mr. Salad Monday” has been recently reprinted in Steampunk Reloaded, edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer (it originally appeared on Tor.com). 

The Iron Bustle: Writing Strong Female Characters in Steampunk

 by G.D. Falksen

One of the greatest challenges any author faces is writing strong, believable, and engaging characters. All of these are difficult on their own, but together they are especially challenging. Making a character with visible strengths is the easiest part; making one that is also complex and realistic is much more difficult. Female characters especially are at risk of being under-developed, even by modern authors; often, a “strong” female character is either strong only so long as a male lead is not around to be upstaged by her, or she is reduced to a one-dimensional cliché that lacks depth and complexity. In steampunk fiction, influenced as it is by the Victorian era, this becomes even more problematic.

The “straw woman” problem has been around for ages, and it is one that we all know perfectly well. It begins with a female character who is tough, witty, confident, skilled, and self-reliant…right up to the point where her strength and independence are at risk of overshadowing an important male character. Then she collapses, loses confidence, or just cannot overcome the challenge she has in front of her. This is a dreadful betrayal, and in steampunk fiction it is arguably even worse. If a steampunk story’s setting is effectively a science-fiction version of the historical 19th century (as the majority are), then it is quite probable that a conventionally “strong” female character (read: outspoken, aggressive, skilled in combat, etc) will have been forced to fight against societal opposition to achieve such a goal. For such a person to suddenly fold in a confrontation without good reason is absurd.

The other great risk that female characters face is that they will be given the opposite mistreatment: unrealistic perfection. This is more insidious than the straw woman problem, because on the surface it can be mistaken for something positive (and the perpetrator may well have good intentions behind it). In this instance, a female character is unreasonably good at everything. She is the best fighter, the smartest person, flawless, constantly witty, and universally desired; and consequently is unlike any real person who could possibly exist. And like the “perfect man” protagonists of many pulp adventure stories (who are at best an enjoyable fantasy), the “perfect woman” is likely to alienate anyone who approaches the story looking for a person rather than a fantasy. Worse, such a character type actually undermines women in literature by presenting the only “positive” female figure as someone who no one could ever be like.

Both of these problems also fail to take into account that what makes a strong character (female or otherwise) is not combat ability, aggression, outspokenness, or other such traits that are often focused on in adventure, fantasy and science fiction. Rather, a strong character is one that is complex, with both flaws and strengths, has the ability to adapt to an unfamiliar situation, and the confidence and courage to carry when faced with a problem. A strong female steampunk character may certainly command an airship, build a fantastic machine, fight an army, or rule a country; but none of these things make her a strong character. She is a strong character because she has the self-assurance and determination to have done these things, and is able to use her skills to do what needs to be done even when they may not be the perfect tools for the job. In the 19th century, as in today’s world, there were women who possessed or surpassed the courage and tenacity of male soldiers, even though they were not soldiers themselves. Throughout history, women have ruled families, business, and countries, without ever once raising a sword or riding into battle. And on the other hand, women have fought on the battlefield for what they believed in since long before the topic of an integrated military was ever broached. This is what makes a female character strong, just as it makes a male character strong. Strength comes not from what a person can accomplish when it is easy for them, but from what they can accomplish when circumstances are against them.

To give an example of how I interpret the concept of a strong female character, I would like to discuss two characters from my serial “An Unfortunate Engagement”, which first began in Steampunk Magazine and which is currently ongoing in Steampunk Tales. The first character is the narrator and protagonist, Alexandra Westminster. Alex is a young Englishwoman of quiet habits and intellectual inclinations, who is thrown into a world of intrigue quite outside her range of experience when she encounters a plot to start a Europe-wide war. While Alex is sent into combat over the course of the story, she is not a soldier. Nothing in her background has prepared for her that, and while she endeavors to do her best, it would be unrealistic for her to beat every adversary she encounters through force of arms. Instead, she uses her intelligence, wit, resourcefulness and courage (things that are fundamental aspects of her character) to overcome the obstacles that she encounters. She stares down armed Bavarians to free a kidnapped friend; she repels ruffians intent on doing her harm; she leads a small revolution to free a camp of prison laborers; and she does it all using the skills that she possesses to their fullest, even when they are not the ideal tools for the job. Alex is not perfect: she is impetuous, overly inclined to trust in the decency and civility of others, and is driven by a deep moral earnestness that sends her rushing off into danger, but she adapts to these character flaws so that they help shape her, but not define her.

The second character is one of the primary antagonists, the Bavarian secret agent Angelika. Unlike Alex, Angelika is very well versed in combat, and she openly commands soldiers and leads them into battle. But this is not what makes her a strong character; as with Alex, her strength comes from being able to identify the skills she has available to her and to use them to accomplish the tasks ahead of her. She is not well-liked by the men around her because her behavior does not conform to societal norms in the Edwardian era, but she perseveres in spite of this because she knows who she is and what she intends to do in her life. She can be extremely manipulative and treacherous, the resulting combination of her espionage background, political mind, and society’s refusal to afford her the privilege of “masculine” aggressiveness. As with Alex, Angelika’s skills are merely a set of tools for her to use. Her strength comes not from them but from her ability and willingness to use them as necessary in a given situation, and her refusal to give up simply because she faces a challenge. Her flaws are not failings that detract from her, but yet another set of traits that help present her as a person.

One can find numerous archetypes for female characters as well as male ones in steampunk fiction, but ultimately these are all window dressing. They help shape the character as she is presented to the audience, but they do not define her. A character, in any genre, is defined by a core personality, just like a real person is. The strongest characters are those with complex and engaging core personalities who refuse to allow circumstances to diminish the core that makes them who they are.

–G.D. Falksen

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If you’ve never been to a steampunk con, let me say, you’re missing something. It is emersion into the culture at it’s finest. Where do I even begin?

Just look at that arm!

How about Friday? Friday early I arrived at the location of SteamCon II, which was held between the SeaTac Marriot and SeaTac Hilton. (For those of you not familiar with the Seattle area, that’s right across from the Seattle airport, which means it’s great for people flying in, but not so fun to walk between the two up the hill and down the hill depending on which activity or workshop you were interested in.) The registration lines looped around a bit like Disneyland, and people in the pre-registered line were all in costume, and so were most of those who were coming in to register that day for the event. Unlike other conferences and conventions I’ve been to, the costuming is a huge part of the experience. There’s eye-candy everywhere.

Fabulously Dressed Ladies in Workshop

They gave us a newspaper-like program heaped with so many different workshops and events it was likely to make your top-hat spin. What a glorious array! Everything from steampunk modding and how real gun fights work to magic and steampunk, and chats with the likes of James Blaylock (one

Tuesday Lolita Theresa Meyers with James Blaylock

of the founding fathers of the genre), Cherie Priest, Gail Carriger, Jay Lake, Nick Valentino and the intrepid inventor Jake Von Slatt, and a set of Steampunk ghost-busting enthusiasts from The League of S.T.E.A.M.

Member of The League of S.T.E.A.M.

There was a Grand Mercantile with a huge array of things to be purchased – feathers, leathers, hats and tea, corsets, books and jewelry (oh, good grief, does that actually rhyme?) You could find numerous opportunities to practice your acting skills in live action role-playing events (LARP), or game away in the various game rooms. (I attempted to sit in on a card and dice game of The Good, The Bad and The Munchkin, and having never played any sort of Munchkin was still horribly newbie and lost despite the best efforts of my fellow players at the end of an hour. Thank you to those of you who were so gracious and patient.)

The devine Cherie Priest on her way to a workshop

Friday also presented us with the First Annual Airship Awards, where lovely little airship statuettes were presented for the best in written, auditory, visual and community support of the genre. (Winners and finalists in each can be found at the SteamCon II website if you are curious.) They had a lovely dinner, and big screen flashing various images of the finalist. A few funny speeches and a lot of fun talk around the tables with fellow steampunk enthusiasts.

Saturday saw more workshops and the hosting of a most memorable afternoon tea and fashion show. The designers had some absolutely stunning clothes (which I believe there might be pictures of at the SteamCon website shortly).

A good doggone answer to What is Steampunk?

Due to an unforeseen series of most fortunate events, I was invited to fill in for an author who had to cancel at the last moment, so I spoke on three different panels and gave a reading. May I say, if you ever get the opportunity to go to a workshop by Jay Lake, do so. He is a veritable fount of one-liners that are both groan-worthy and very humorous at the same time.

That is a HUGE hand, mister.

We talked about what is steampunk, dissecting the genre, as it were, and after an hour came to the conclusion that it’s as much time period and aesthetic as it is a particular feeling to the work which is based in the gilded age where excess reigned supreme and exploration was rather mandatory, vs. diesel-punk which has roots more firmly grounded in the dystopian elements of the great depression and world war, where scarcity rules the day and invention is out of necessity to use and reuse whatever one had on hand to survive.

A Teapot handbag! How brilliant!

I went to workshops on ghost hunting in the Victorian era, steam cowboys and one about Hoaxes perpetuated by newspapers of the time by the likes of writers such as Samuel Clemens and Edgar Allen Poe, who apparently made a decent enough showing of it to have their tales of airships being spotted over the city, and animals escaping zoos in the midst of busy down-town cities very popular – and gasp, news of the day. In fact, I found it most fascinating that fictional tales were often intermingled with actual news items in such prestigious publications at The Boston Globe, and not much was done to distinguish between the two. (Wait, how is that so different than today’s reporting?)

L to R Nick Valentino, Tues. Lolita Theresa and Wed. Lolita Elizabeth

I digress. I went shopping in the grand mercantile and purchased a new corset, some tea and some Christmas presents. I had fun lunch with fellow Lolita Elizabeth Darvill. Late in the day I gave a reading from my Weird West set steampunk The Hunter, which doesn’t even come out until late 2011. I let the audience choose, from two sections, action or spicy. They unanimously picked the spicy version. Unfortunately, we’d spent so much time chit-chatting to start that we barely even got into the spicy bit before my half hour was up.

They actually move up and down!

I also took time to visit the art gallery. Wow! Such creativity. (I didn’t know if we were actually allowed to take pictures, so I opted not to.) There were three-dimensional sculptures, prints, clothing, jewelry and more.

Saturday night was the esteemed Outlaw Concert featuring three different bands, including the well-known steampunk stylings of Abney Park. There were people crowded, spinning, dipping and doing what suspiciously looked to me like the Tango out on the dance floor in front of the stage. We were admonished at the beginning of the concert not to leap upon the stage due to the damaging of equipment in the past from such behaviors. While I had to leave early (because I was driving back and forth from home each day rather than staying at the hotel) apparently the high enthusiasm kept up until 3:30 Sunday morning.

Lovely use of top hat and corset!

Which made giving a workshop at 9:00 am Sunday morning a bit of let down. A few hardy souls trickled in to hear about Steampunk Young Adult books, but by far, I think people were likely still dealing with the affects of the concert the night before. I was part of another talk later in the day about Character vs. Setting which was better attended.

I also went to a workshop about the history of steam propulsion that was incredible. Who knew the first hybrid steam/electric car was actually introduced in 1903 and the Prius in 2003? Makes you wonder what the auto industry has actually be working on in the last 100 years, doesn’t it?

Hey, Zombies! Mad Scientist with Brain Pack over here!

My overall impression is that steampunk cons are a meeting of the mind, the creative, social and intellectual (not to mention the dancing portion of one’s anatomy). If you really want to have a good time, prepared to bring comfortable shoes and costumes. Not just one costume, but at least one for each day, and possibly a forth for dancing or going to fancier dinners and events. And don’t be shy about being a mad scientist with a backpack brain on one day and an aeronaut hottie with brown bolero-length bomber jacket and brown leather and wool trimmed hot pants on another, and a high-society vixen with an outrageous top hat and bustle on the third. Everything goes as long as it relates back to the genre. And the array of hats is very impressive. One person at a workshop put it best, “I’ve discovered something about steampunk, there is no such thing as excess. One can never have too much of anything.”

No such thing as excess, I tell you!

Be prepared to shop for those things you’ll find it difficult to get elsewhere. Have business cards so you can share with fellow steampunk fans, and for the love of all that’s decent, if you are going to give a workshop, at least provide some type of handout to go with your brilliant Powerpoint so people will have something to take with them. There’s just too much information to store it all under one’s top hat and I found myself scribbling like a jibbering idiot to keep up.

All in all it was a fantastic event, so worthy in fact, that I’ve already pre-registered for next year! There’s steampunk conventions aplenty out there. If you are interested in the genre, think you want to write in it or would just like something fun and crazy to do for a weekend go to one! And of course this isn’t ALL the pictures…if you are looking for more check out the SteamCon II album over at www.facebook.com/TheresaMeyersAuthor or go www.steamcon.org and check out their gallery.

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Okay, so it’s a horrible pun. But really, if you’re looking at the historical development over time of the bustle, could you resist? The fact remains that one of the classic elements of refined lady steampunk wear is the bustle. But what people seem to forget is that the bustle wasn’t always part of Victorian fashion and actually changed in style during the course of the Queen’s reign. If you’re going to use a bustle you might want to know exactly what decade (or in some cases as little as five year span) your character is from.

In the early Victorian era, women’s dresses didn’t even sport bustles. From the period of 1837 to 1860, skirts were still the wide-hooped variety you’d see in the costuming of the movie Gone With the Wind. It wasn’t actually until between 1865 that skirts, though still wide with extra crinolines, thank you, started sporting extra fullness toward the back, with an overskirt pulled back over an underskirt.

US patent 131840 circa 1872

Closer to 1870, this had developed into a padding placed beneath the skirt to accentuate that fullness toward the rear. From 1870 to 1875 you begin to see skirts of enormous volumes of fabric (like those designed by Worth) that is in cascades, and bunches, drapes, folds and dragging trains, augmented by a low-placed bustle (that actually would have hit about at the back of your knees – oh joy) to provide fullness to the fabric arrangement.

Dimity bustle of 1881

By 1875 to 1880 the skirting becomes more fitted to the form and nearly cylindrical in the front, yet still gathered in trains toward the back, with low fitted bustles that are more padding to augment the long-curved bodices in fashion. Ruching, pleats, full draping of fabric is still in vogue as are slightly smaller trains.

From the height of the bustle's glory

In 1880 to 1885 the bustle begins to emerge as more of a necessity as the gowns, nearly now all floor length unless you happen to be dragging about a train for an evening gown), sport even more of the overskirt gathered to the back in ever elaborate arrangements, which are so heavy that they drag the skirt down without proper support. The look of a shelf off the back of your bum is at it’s height and bustles come in any number of arrangements from collapsible wire cages, to ruffled, many layer long bustles meant to run the length of the skirt and be secured about the waist.

While still part of fashion, the bustle begins to shrink a bit in 1890 to 1895, probably in response to the enormous ballooning of the tops of ladies’ sleeves (in what’s called the Gibson girl or mutton sleeve look). The skirts still have also widened out a bit into more of a bell shape and are not so confining as they were in the 1875-1880 period, leaving room to wear a bustle without it being too evident, yet allowing it to make the waist, which is nipped in, look smaller. And really, by about 1893, the bustle has been reduced to just a pad.

A variety of mesh bustle designs

In 1895 to 1900, the sleeves shrink back down, big hats take center stage and the bustle is more of a remnant designed to add fullness, as the silhouette slopes forward in a changing corset style which also forces the rear to stick out.

The bustle still remains a fashion item up until about 1905, in the Edwardian period, when waistlines and the silhouette begin to meld together into a more tubular type skirting.

Like fashion, bustles were an evolving item. Knowing just how much to put behind you, and how to make it look, can peg you character from early to late Victorian. So, how much bustle will you be sporting?

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