Notes from a Panel
The following is taken from the notes I scratched down during the “Everyday Steampunk” panel at Teslacon 2011. I didn’t catch the names of the panelists, but all the content here originated from them and discussions with the audience. I don’t claim credit for the ideas herein.
I attended the panel because I love the idea of steampunk, above and beyond just the clothing. Unfortunately, I was so interested in the panel that a lot of this post will seem rambling and unfocused–it really displays its scribbled-notes heritage. So much so that I almost deleted the post rather than submit it. Still, it was fun, and hopefully you find a nugget of interesting information herein.
Steampunk >= Clothing
The first thing most people think of when they hear “steampunk” is attire. People identify steampunk with the dress–corsets and tophats, vests and monocles. Moreso, “steampunk” is associated with the more extreme articles of costuming, such as mechanical arms or ray guns and metal wings.
In the everyday world, Steampunk clothing shouldn’t be costuming … it should be about expressing who you are and what you love in a way that is comfortable and real. It should be YOU, rather than your airship mechanic who lost her arm in the war.
There is a difference between an outfit and a costume. Costumes are a gimmick or a character. Garb is something you wear every day all day, while a costume is something you want to get out of in ten minutes. These aren’t costumes, they’re outfits.
You don’t have to be steampunk hardcore. You can use small things to enhance your wardrobe and steampunk it up a bit.
- Vests (even with jeans). Vests are great because you can wear them over t-shirts or other shirts. Vests also give you a place to put things and often contain useful pockets. Men don’t carry purses (in general) and a vest is a great place to store things.
- functional handkerchiefs
- Bracer instead of a belt
- Pocket watches are a GREAT addition. Looks a little classier to whip out a pocket watch to check the time than to pull out a cellphone (and people are less likely to wonder if you’re actually checking email or tweeting if you do it in public).
- Striped socks
- Gentlemen’s gloves are great for the wintertime, and you can use them as a liner for a larger glove.
- Hats are an easy accessory that adds a LOT to an outfit
- Eyewear can be a simple, useful item that totally adjusts the style and look of an outfit
Where To Get Steampunk Clothing
Sources of steampunky clothing can be:
- Army navy surplus
- blonde swan
- steam punk cons
- vintage stores
- Actual steampunk clothing vendors (often the most expensive method)
Never feel weird about modifying antiques. You’re not destroying a valuable piece of history if you’re bringing it back into use. There’s nothing wrong with fixing up antiques to make them useful.
For example, one of the panelists modified an oil lamp to be lit via LED. That’s cool, clean, and very energy efficient, but still looks very antiquey and cool.
Use what you have–that’s a steampunk core philosophy.
For some people, steampunk is a lifestyle. You can bring it into your everyday life to make it more personal and more personality. There are a lot of people who, upon learning about steampunk, feel less like they’re converting to a new lifestyle, and more like they have ALWAYS been steampunk, they just never had a word for it before.
It’s all about knowing where o go and,earn how things work. A big part of the steampunk lifestyle is figuring out how things work.
When things are broken, figure out how to fix them. Steampunk very much has a DIY ethos. There is a willingness to fix, find, and learn things.
Convenience – Now vs Then
These days, convenience has trumped all sorts of things. Most people don’t know how the things inside their house function.
Steampunk believes you should have a connection to the things you live around and the things in your life.
Back in the day, there was a pride in ownership. You couldn’t just go out and buy things as easily as you can today. Items had craftsmanship to them and were things to pass on through generations.
Today is seeing a huge issue with disposable furniture going into landfills. It’s becoming an environmental issue.
There are a lot of things from your everyday life that can translate into your everyday life.
Stop Throwing Things Away
People these days tend to forget that you can fix things like clothing.
People will just throw away perfectly good clothes. It’s just no longer part of our society to try and make your wardrobe last as long as possible.
As a result, you can often buy an entire suit for three dollars from donation centers. Three dollars!
Often, it’s more about willingness to find and modify things than your income. Your imagination is the limit. Thrift stores are amazing resources.
This is a great society for learning how to fix things. Find a great article of clothing with a rip? Hop online and learn how to stitch it back together. There are tons of YouTube tutorials and places like Instructables to help.
You can also buy good non-clothing at affordable places, like Home Decorators from Home Depot.
One very important part of the steampunk culture is the modification and the handcraft work. Make it personal, make it your own.
Tailoring is often not very expensive. Especially small things like taking in the back or hemming an item can be very affordable if the perfect article of clothing is just a bit too big.
You can also offer a trade of skills to people who can sew if you can do something they need, like cooking or baking.
Stream punk is utilitarian lifestyle.
Steampunk isn’t just clothing. It’s a community. It’s music, and publishing, and movies.
You know you’ve hit big time when you can go into the costume shops and see the steamounk kit with the monocle, bowler, monocle, and nerf gun. Steampunk is growing, but there’s more to it than most people see at first glance.
We forget some of the best things, like using horns instead of amplifiers for speakers. In some cases, simpler is better. Weve gotten into such a technological state that things need to be smaller and more complicated, but sometimes simpler really is better.
In general, when you dress in a steampunk manner, you look nice and get more respect for “dressing up.”
There’s a line between dressing “semi-formal” steampunk and dressing with the chains and the crazy flare and the buttons and medals and cool hat.
Today’s common wardrobe includes things like jeans, t-shirts, hoodies–in other words, very casual. There’s nothing wrong with jeans and tshirts, but it does look dressed down.
When dressing “up”, you do get positive responses from people. There is a great response to steampunk in everyday life, with people often being far more polite than they might be for someone dressed down.
An example of this was one of the panelists, who migrated to steampunk from the goth movement. A simple trip to the post office netted entirely different reactions. When goth’d out, they got bad attention with people actively avoiding them. In steampunk attire, however, they got positive recognition, smiles, gratitude for held-open doors.
It’s simple, really. When you’re dressed nicely, people associate you with politeness and manners.
A vest and tie makes you look more responsible and trustable than a t-shirt and tattered jeans. It’s called social engineering, and it’s not FAIR, but it’s true.
Why is Steampunk so Popular?
Perhaps because we’ve seen culture move in a direction so lax that “please” and “thank you” are unheard of, while saying horrible things to people is neither unheard of nor surprising.
A big part of steampunk is bringing back a sense of civility and a social code. Not in the way of an oppressive society. For a long time, society moved in a direction of wanting to be more relaxed. There is a concern that we may actually have gotten SO relaxed that we may be losing something.
Steampunk brings a lot of that old-time social behavior back to the table. Courtesy. The phrase “common courtesy” is now almost gone from our language, because it’s no longer common.
How to Be More Steampunk
Become polite at general outings. It’s easy to wear jeans and tshirt and not stand out. It’s easy to blend in. Sometimes it can be scary to stand out and deliberately encourage the sort of attention that comes from wearing a vest and suit shoes to a social gathering, but things never change if no one makes a splash.
One unusual element of steampunk is facial hair for men. In general, the majority of the steampunk congoers who have facial hair have VERY well-maintained facial hair. Beards, mustaches, sideburns, and goatees can be used to shape a face, lengthen a round face, and accentuate cheekbones.
Thou shalt cultivate interesting facial hair.
Have a lot of neat and interesting things? Try a wunderkamer cabinet of curiosities. These are collections of neat strange things and are used to display these collections. You can fill jars (such as clean candle jars) with smaller stuff. Use an empty shelf on a bookshelf (does anyone HAVE these?) to set up a tidy little museum style diorama of visually interesting things.
Additionally, you can use that love of accouterments and bits&bobs to make things and sell them. It’s a great way to make money. People love to buy original things. (Just look at the magnificent success of Etsy!)
In a way, it all comes down to pride.
There is a pride in knowing you can create something. There is a pride in customizing and making it your own. There’s a pride in knowing you look dapper or sharp, and a confidence in that.
At the end of the day, you tend to take better care of something if you are proud of it.