My very first encounter with Steampunk was at my first Wicked Faire in 2010. A few vendors here and there were selling accessories with knobs and gears and some of the patrons were dressed in this unfamiliar fashion — though at the time I would not say it was the majority. At first I found Steampunk very unappealing. It’s interesting, I thought, but not for me. One of the reasons I felt distant from it was because I found the aesthetic to be too masculine. As a girl who prefers her lace and velvet over copper and leather, looking out at bunch of waistcoats and top hats, I saw nothing that called out to my inner girly-girl. If one was going to go Victorian, I reasoned, one might as well go Japanese-inspired Lolita, rather than Steampunk.
I consider myself a diverse person. Because of this, I have a particular fondness for the Steampunk culture, and I say culture because it is just that, a community with shared experiences and interests. But more specifically my focus is on the conventions or festivals where nearly everyone dresses up as characters. When you compare it to Anime culture, Video Game Culture, Fantasy Culture etc, as much as I still wholeheartedly love each and every one of them, they are all limited in the experience of their own culture creatively in a way that Steampunk culture is not.
Last year, we were lucky enough to be invited to the Steampunk World’s Fair. Besides having a wonderful time meeting everyone and just experiencing the festival, we were struck by the high level of creativity throughout. Many were looking to make a profit (nothing wrong with that); some were not. However, all were joyously sharing their creative output.
But how many are giving thought to safeguarding their creative efforts? The Steampunk community is stuffed with inventive and imaginative types. Musicians, performance artists, writers, visual artists, jewelry designers, milliners, costumers of all varieties — the list goes on. After all, a lot of work goes into making these wonderful things that have become the Steampunk experience.
Why should you even think about this? Well, here is what happened at our house.
Once upon a steamy time ago, there was a little black girl looking for a wedding dress. She wanted something unique, something bold, and something…so not like her sisters’ wedding dresses. Search as she might, through magazine after magazine, nothing seemed to fit. And then out of the swirling mists of tulle and satin…the most beautiful dress she had ever seen. It had a bustle with a train, lifts that showed off the underskirt, and the coup de grace – a corset that had her drooling with envy. How had this dress come into being? How could she get one herself? And why was everyone in those wedding pictures dressed quasi-Victorian?
To be honest, the whole Steampunk thing kinda snuck up on me. Which of course sounds rather like saying in wide-eyed innocence, “What elephant?” — when there’s one standing right behind you, flapping its ears to stir up a gale-force breeze. As my good friend, the multitalented writer Paul Di Filippo has noted, Steampunk seems to have become a cultural juggernaut, crushing everything in its path. To have not noticed its hissing and clanking approach, as I actually managed to do, indicates a blithe disconnection with the real world on my part, much commented upon by my wife Geri over the years, though to little avail. But then, I’ve always aspired to raising solipsism — Latin for utter self-absorption — to the status of an Olympic event.