My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

The Gothic subculture is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, and looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Tim Burton, Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Rice et al.) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. Goth should not be limited by what is considered "goth", inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Steampunk

I think Steampunk literature, art, cinema, etc. is fabulous, but I don't like Steampunk as a fashion or decor choice.

This may sound a bit hypocritical as I went through a Neo-Victorian/ Steampunk phase, but it's a conclusion I've recently come to. Don't get me wrong, this is purely my reasoning as to why I am going to stay Goth/Aristo and not go back towards Steampunk and not a criticism of those who incorporate Steampunk into their personal style. This is about my personal style decisions.

Firstly, I like the aesthetic, but to me it is a branch of speculative fiction - it is the world as re-emagined if steam and clockwork remained as the dominant technologies, or as if the Victorians were more scientifically advanced than they actually were. It is inspired by Jules Vernes and H G Wells. To me, all the cogs and non-functional gadgetry is from the realms of costuming, of "dressing up", especially when people put on a persona, and is akin to L.A.R.P, which is fine, and can be quite a lot of fun, but it is not something I want to do as an everyday fashion choice - to me, my clothes are not a costume, not a representation of a fantasy-world version of myself, but a representation of my actual self here and now. Yes, people can say that there is a certain 'Hammer Horror' and Gothic Romance inspiration but I'm not trying to dress as a character from that sort of world, I just appreciate the aesthetic. Now, I know people are going to say that they just appreciate the aesthetic, and that is fine, but I think there is a line, and the non-functional gadgetry and suchlike cross that line and land in costumery. I have a hard time as it is explaining to people that this is "really me" without wearing something that clearly is a costume. My life is not a game of dress-up, I am a Goth, and often one in a Romantic or Aristocrat inspired outfit, every single day of my life, even when I'm not dressed as one.

Secondly, it would either be very expensive or very complicated in terms of crafts to do properly and well. 

Neo-Victorian, without the extra cogs and non-functional gearing looks pretty amazing, and part of the reason behind that is that it was everyday wear in its time, and if made to clothing standards rather than costume standards, retains that elegance and a degree of functionality (people in the past seem to have been willing to be a lot more impractical in their everyday style choices than people of today, partly because people in elaborate clothes generally had staff to do practical things for them.). A lot of my Romantic clothes are definitely inspired by Victorian and earlier fashion, and I try and retain the elements that made them work as viable fashion choices then to make them work now, as well as incorporate elements of modern fashion that I appreciate. To me my clothes are clothes, and being Goth or historically inspired does not give them allowance to be any less good as clothes.

The difference between Neo-Victorian and Steampunk is the addition of that steam and clockwork science fiction element.  Most of it is non-functional (things like modified headphones that look Steampunk but really work are discounted), it isn't "real", these are accessories designed to give the impression of some mechanical device, and unless done to an exacting standard, are clearly not real, clearly part of an imaginative costume. It is exceedingly hard to make plastic look convincingly like brass in real life - what works for the cameras does not always work for the eye. There is also the fact that it is clear that in most cases, those cogs and pistons do not do anything. To me, it is like the thought processes behind Cosplay representations of materials - the wearer knows that it does not look like brass, but for the purposes of make-believe, it must give a reasonable representation of brass and those around them accept it on a make-believe level as "brassy" but also know that it is only supposed to be a representation of brass.

It is possible to make things to a standard where it looks convincing, but that involves the use of actual wood, leather and brass rather than paint effects, and craft skills that even most crafty people don't have. If you go to somewhere like the Museum of Science in Oxford (which held a Steampunk exhibition the year before last) you will find that in Victorian times things were made to very, very precise standards, and polished wood and brass really were materials for scientific instruments, and if you place these antiques next to modern steampunk accessories, the gap shows. I'm not saying that is necessarily a very bad thing, but personally, in my outfits I like everything to be what it looks like.

If I have funds, I can browse antique shops for accessories that fit in with Romantic Goth aesthetics because there is no necessity for things to include elements that were not actually around in the past, unlike with Steampunk, which necessitates this by its very nature, I can also find modern findings and details for my craft projects that again are of excellent quality and attention to detail, but which are moderately priced - I replace plastic buttons on clothes with good metal ones either scavenged from old clothes or bought new, for example. It is actually reasonably possible for me to put together a Romantic Goth outfit where nothing looks like it is part of a costume and everything does what it looks like it should do.

To get a Steampunk outfit to that same level, I would have to get someone with some engineering knowhow to first design things like exoskeletal arms and other gizmos with at least realistic moving parts, if not genuine functionality, and then find craftsmen skilled in wood turning, leather working and making things from brass and then pay good money to have them made. If I was going to spend that much on having something made, I would probably commission something with some functionality at least, at which point it stops being excellent costumery anyway and starts being an actual wood, leather and brass gadget of some sort. A few curios from antique shops could be purchased, and plenty of the base garments are available through people catering for the re-enactor and Neo-Victorian market, but it is generally financially impractical for me to be a convincing Steampunk even if I wanted to be. I do not have a cinematic special effects budget, I have a meagre wage and thrift skills.

Thirdly, I find an all-black outfit with a few colour accents is a lot less visually imposing. All the colour of Steampunk can get visually cluttered, and also be a bit too flashy and colourful for my tastes. I'm not just into the all black wardrobe because it is the Goth thing to do. When I do wear colours, they are in small doses and in dark or jewel shades - I prefer the interplay of textures in black to harmonising colours. I also like the symbolism of black - it is a colour of sombre, serious matters, the colour of business suits, lawyers and priests; it is the colour of death, the colour of mourning; it is the colour of the night, made up of either the absence of light entirely or, if in RGB colour management, all the colours at their maximum, a non-colour or all the colours. To me, all of that is interesting, it's a symbolism I don't want to loose.

Fourth, it just wouldn't suit me. Steampunk is generally warm colours, wood browns, sepia tones, khaki, rust and deep bottle green, accented with gold-like brass and polished copper - it isn't a cool black, and it certainly isn't in any colours that enhance my skin tones, hair or eyes. I'm naturally a dark haired, pale-skinned, grey eyed sort of girl, black will always suit me, cool colours will always suit me, warm colours will just make me look sickly. I can only do cool reds, those with a hint of purple to them. If I dressed in brown, my dark hair would look muddier. Gold really does make me look ill, it brings out what little pink there is in my skin and makes me look like I have a cold. Black makes a wonderful contrast, and even without makeup it makes my skin look like it's supposed to be that way instead of it looking like I ought see a doctor about something. Silver is paler than I am and at least makes it look like I'm not actually a corpse and doesn't bring out the red in my skin. Pale with a hint of ruddy is the worst sort of pale to be; it makes it difficult to not look perpetually sick.

Lastly, it doesn't quite fit in with my way of thinking - Steampunk glorifies technology as well as romanticises the Victorian era as a politer, more educated and well mannered age. I know enough history to know that it was no golden age, and having read a good bit of literature from Blake through to E.M Forster, I know that industrialisation even through steam power rather than the internal (or infernal) combustion engine and an oil-based economy still wasn't nice, and was polluting and horrible to witness. Burning coal for steam isn't clean at all, and I've been close enough to a coal-fired power-station to know that the sulphurous clouds and permeating smell is not nice at all.  England was once covered in brick chimneys spewing out smoke from the coal-fired furnaces of industry, and it was actually rather horrible. Science fiction of an idealistic nature tends to leave those sort of details for dystopian fiction to deal with.   It is an aesthetic based on the glorification of things that aren't quite as we romanticise them to be.  At least, in my mind anyway, my aesthetic is not divorced from context, but not an idealisation of anything more than an aesthetic and art form. 

I have never been the sort of person to chase after technology, to be excited by the boundaries of science, other things pique my curiosity instead, and this vision of the time from industrial revolution into the Victorian era as an age of unbridled forwards motion and progress doesn't sit with my way of thinking (or my understanding of the consequences of that so-called 'progress') and I'm happy to leave it to science-fiction, and to leave re-imaginings full of low-tech versions of our high-tech world where electronics and the internal combustion engine have been replaced with intricate clockwork and steam engines for escapist moments when I relax enough to really not care. It's another, imaginary world, things work differently there, disbelief can be suspended and I can sit back and enjoy. 

I can hold with the Neo-Victorian movement that culls the better things from that era (such as good manners, corsets and how to make good fun outside of technological amusements), and knowingly discards things we have thankfully moved on from (like cultural misogyny, racism and a rigid class structure) with an understanding of how things historically were, and I can hold with a Victorian-inspired aesthetic that I can competently carry in the 21stC, but I can't wear a costume every day, and I can't make speculative science-fiction into a lifestyle. I also can't follow an aesthetic that doesn't key into my own tastes despite running parallel to them. 

I've explained why Steampunk does not do it for me, but these are my personal reasons, and I don't want hold anybody else back from doing what they enjoy. I also do not mean to denigrate anyone who is into Steampunk - it just isn't the choice for me. My last reasons are based on how I see Steampunk, and I do understand that from person to person the ideas and ideals behind what they do will be different, and that there probably are a lot of historically aware people who still really enjoy Steampunk and don't see the romanticisation of an imperfect time (not that we've ever had a perfect time, there are no golden ages) as a problem with it, delineating it as a clear fantasy, but to me, that is a sticking point. 

12 comments:

  1. Whoa...made a real...long point. I understand it. Honestly, I'm not much of a steampunk person, myself, though not for the same reasons. If anything, I like to....hm..."gothify" steampunk, primarily because steampunk consists earthy colors and gold/brass/rust...and I really, really don't like gold. At all. So I replace the gold with silver...and a few other things...

    But you made a very interesting point.

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    1. I was up at 03:00 local time stressed and unable to sleep so I wrote this... Sorry if I rambled on for a bit. I also don't like the earthy colours and gold/brass, copper, rust thing... Even when I do err towards Steampunk it ends up with more silvery things than brass. I don't like gold either. I just... don't. I think I've come to associate it with people trying to show off and be flashy over the years.

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  2. The last Gothic Beauty I picked up had soooooo many adds for steampunk clothing and shoes I decided I was done with it. I've never dressed it but I can appreciate the aesthetic and done right it can look AWESOME. I really like your point about not wanting to dress in a "costume" which I had never consciously considered but have to agree with. Steampunk does seem to be a bit of a costume. On the other hand, I'm going to be going to a Steampunk ball soon because well, it's going on and I like to do stuff. :) So I'll make a costume and go but in general, I'm kinda tired of seeing it everywhere. But then, I was never "into" it so maybe someone who's into it more will disagree. (sorry for the rambling)

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    1. When Justin Beiber did his Christmas video in a Steampunk aesthetic and I started finding cog and watch decals in all the mainstream craft-shops I realised that it had become a bandwagon to jump on. I'm not going to dislike something because it's popular, but I do think it now means a lot of cheap and tacky stuff to wade through to find what is good. I think some people have found it a way to be alternative and fashionably creative without the "threatening" imagery of Goth or Punk and without the cutesy of Lolita - it fills a niche.

      I used to be more Neo-Victorian than Goth, and I'd have little "time travel" themed accessories, things made of broken watches as a bit of a nod to the people who'd tell me I looked like I'd stepped out of the TARDIS, but I never fully did Steampunk because by the time my crafting skills and budget were at a point where I could move into accessorising well enough, I was into Romantic Goth. If there's a themed event, and it's Steampunk, it's not like I'll turn my nose up at it, I do actually think Steampunk is quite fun for stuff like themed events, I just wouldn't want to do it everyday, it feels like dress up. It's like actually historical garb - I won't wear that stuff everyday, it's period dress-up.

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    2. Wha??? Justin Beiber did a Steampunk video? Ok.. yeah... done. LOL

      But I'm still going to my party!!! :D

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    3. Yes, yes he did. It's here if you want to watch it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAI_xI9wQnE Some of the people who aren't Beiber in it are relatively entertaining, but, personally, I recommend you watch it on mute, because Beiber is murdering that song.

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  3. Hey I've been reading your blog for a while and I think it's great. It's nice to have something text heavier every now and then. ^^

    I really like (neo)-victorian and steampunk aesthetic, but I agree... steampunk just looks to 'costumy' for 'real' everyday wear and it looks so high maintenance. I prefer clothes I can just dump in the washing mashine and have them come out whole again. (I'm too clumsy for white clothing as a start XD). On the pro-side steampunk has shown me that earth coloured clothing can actually look good and not just middle-aged-woman/hippie like. (Not that I have something against either, I just don't like that look on me.)

    Mainstream jewelery stores have a lot more brassy looking stuff lately, which is bad at least for me, and that means there is a lot less space for silver stuff.
    I'd love to have a clock on a chain... so now I'm waiting for the sales ... Bwahahaha.

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    1. I tend to write at length when I write, other than that I can end up just posting mostly photographs I've taken with a bit of explanation. I'm intending for this to be a blog that is slightly more in-depth than others - there are plenty of fashion orientated blogs already. I'm still not used to posting tutorials, but eventually I want to put some more of those up too.

      Steampunk does have an awful lot of twiddly bits that I would be likely to wreck. I have enough mending on my hands as it is with my rather lace-filled and heavily buttoned wardrobe. I'm forever catching my cuffs on stuff or pinging buttons off my jackets.

      I would agree that earth tones and reds and greens can look fabulous on younger people and in non-hippie ways, it just wouldn't look fabulous on me - my skin tones, eyes and hair suit Goth better.

      Pocket-watches, pendant watches, etc. are all to be found on e-bay, but beware cheap ones, there are three broken pocket-watches in our house belonging to Raven and one broken pendant watch belonging to me, and the batteries would always run out really quickly on all of them.

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  4. I also believe that people should do whatever they enjoy and makes them happy. That said, I have no real interest in Steampunk. Although I really enjoy Victorian fashion, Steampunk attire seems more costume oriented, which makes it a bit less practical for every-day wear. As you said, Victorian attire was both functional and fashionable during that era, and it still projects an elegant and classy feel.

    I have friends who are into Steampunk and there's quite a bit of role playing involved. Again, it's just not what I'm into.

    Like you, I don't care for the browns and warmer colors of Steampunk. I enjoy black and sometimes a bit of white or red. I also enjoy wearing blue jeans from time to time. It's just my style.

    As I said, whatever people enjoy is fine with me, but I prefer sticking with the style that works for me.

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    1. I think it is mostly the costume and role-play aspects that keep me away from Steampunk. I have previously participated in L.A.R.Ps and suchlike, and I think they are fun but to me there is a clear delineation between that side of my interests and my daily style choices. To me, L.A.R.P is somewhere between acting and make-believe, and my life is neither of those things.

      Nobody is going to persuade me into blue jeans. Black combats, on the other hand...

      I definitely agree that people should do whatever they enjoy and which makes them happy in terms of style choices. All I wish to do is explain my own preferences, not condemn the choices of others. For me, Steampunk doesn't work, for others it does.

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    2. (My objection to jeans is not limited to blue ones. I just don't like denim, it think it's heavy and takes forever to work to comfortable, and I'd rathe have my comfy combats any day.)

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  5. I can understand your personal objections to blue jeans as they don't exactly fit into the type of clothing that we would consider as Goth. Still, they go well with almost anything else a person wears; and then there are the practical aspects.

    I live in the southern United States. Last summer daytime temperatures lingered over 100 degrees F. (around and above 40 degrees C.) for weeks on end. When you have to be out in weather like that, and when the sun shines with a glare that makes a person squint even in the shade, it's just not practical to wear mostly black clothing as it absorbs and maintains the heat. At times such as that I still try to at least wear a black T-shirt unless I have to work in the sun for some reason. Then, even that's not practical; I'd burn up in minutes. Of course, I avoid the summer sun like the plague, but it's not always possible.

    When the cloudy, gloomier days of autumn descend upon us, I quickly go back to a darker style of dress; and of course, I dress up for dark events. Trust me, people think I never wear anything but black, so my style must be working.

    Blue jeans are very common here, and I see people whom I know as totally Goth or metalhead wearing them casually from day to day. Still, there's no mistaking what these people are about.

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