Accessories make the man – or, in this case, woman

Half of the fun of creating a steampunk look comes from choosing the accessories. Guns, fob watches, jewelry…they all combine to define the steampunk personality being presented. If done well, each piece will be uniquely suited to your character – each accessory choice will make sense when viewed against the personal history you have created for your steampunk identity. If done incorrectly, with a slap-dash sort of attitude, you risk having your look fall apart. Trust me, it’ll be kind of obvious that you just went through a pile of random junk and thought “this kind of looks Victorian or steampunk, so I’ve got to use it.” As Tim Gunn would say, make sure to use an editing eye.

At the moment, I don’t have a whole lot of steampunk accessories. What I do have feels right, in the context of my character. I’ve got a wonderful pocketwatch on a chain, courtesy of my friend Maggie. It’s got a train on it – one of those big, beautiful steam engines, with a cloud of smoke above it. I can’t begin to tell you how awesome that is. (Let us put aside, for the time being, the fact that the smoke belching forth from the steam engine is undoubtedly impacting the environment…it still looks neat in the old photographs) I LOVE trains. I have loved steam engines since I was a little girl, growing up in southwestern Colorado. My parents would take my sister and me to nearby Durango – “nearby” being relative…it was several hours away – and we would watch the old steam engine pull out of the station, taking passengers along the Durango-Silverton route. My parents always promised us that they would take us on the train one day, but we never did get around to riding it. It’s still on my list of things to do before I die. If I have to jump on the train like one of the storied hoboes of old, I will ride that train.

My love of steam engines, combined with the fact that the train was the primary mode of transportation for so many years – and still is in a number of places today – makes the inclusion of my pocketwatch in my costume accessories perfect. Of course Tesla Wheelwright would have a watch with a train on it!

Currently, I’m wearing my own pair of glasses with the costume. It is my hope, however, that I will be able to scrounge together enough money to buy some contacts for my costuming days. If that happens, I’ll be able to wear the wonderful sunglasses that Maggie’s grandmother bought me. They are pewter with blue lenses, and are modeled after glasses from the Colonial period. Grandma Cerny brought two pairs back with her when she and her husband went to Williamsburg. They’ve got little hoops on the end of each side, so you can attach a ribbon or what-not to them and hang them around your neck. I like mine so much, I’m thinking of ordering a pair in another color.

Again, this accessory works with the costume and character. I’m pulling from an older period than most steampunk tends to – Colonial America, rather than Victorian England – but the look still works. And since I need to wear sunglasses when wearing contacts anyway, it is practical.

I’m still having trouble reconciling the steampunk gun I’ve made. It’s really more like a rocket-launcher than a standard gun. I’ve actually named it “Peace.” I don’t know why. It just seemed appropriate. The ammo is being painted with the same sense of whimsy and fun that I’m trying to keep with the rest of the costume. One will have a target painted on the tip, while the other will have a smiley face (the gun only came with two missiles, and I have yet to set about making more).

The reason I’m having difficulty explaining the gun’s presence with the rest of the costume is simply that Tesla is not a warrior. Like anyone else, she’s able to fight in order to defend herself, but she is not going to turn to force as the first solution to a problem. Honestly, I think she’s probably going to be a lot more successful at being peaceful than me. So, if that’s the case, how can she carry around a gun that’s bigger than her arm? As far as I can figure, she plans to use it more as a back-up diversionary tactic: “You want to fight? Okay…WOW! Look at that big explosion that just happened over there! ::disappears::”

That’s just one idea. I’m not sure how workable it is.

The other important thing I have to consider is footware. I don’t want to wear tennis shoes or my regular Kaylee boots. They’re a little too modern. I also am not going to be wearing Victorian or Civil War-era boots. The style does not work with what I am doing. I want a heel, but not a stilleto. It needs to be a sturdy heel – something that gives me a little bit of height and makes me feel kick-ass, but is still comfortable to stand and walk around in for hours. Comfort is just as key as look, in this case. Remember – my steampunk concept is about whimsy and practicality.

To that end, I’ve been looking at a bunch of boots made by Mudd. I love their boots. My first pair of high heeled boots were Mudd boots, and I wore them until they literally gave out – I’m even looking at ways that I can alter them to continue to work. Unfortunately, they can be kind of hard to find in this area. Kohl’s is usually the only place that has them, and I’ve been unable to find a pair in my exact size recently. Additionally, Kohl’s tends to not stock Mudd boots past winter, so I’m down to looking for clearance pairs. I really want a pair of the Juli style, but they are impossible to find. They had three pairs on clearance at Kohl’s yesterday – two 6’s and an 8.5. I wear a 7.5. Sometimes I can go half a size down or up, depending on the style, but not a whole size difference.

I’m currently searching online for a new pair of Mudd boots. There are a couple of hits on ebay. One auction ends in 6 hours, and I’m debating whether to get them now or wait. It seems there are a fair number of Mudd boots up for auction at any given time, so I think I can afford to wait. No one’s got a pair of Julis, but there are a couple of other styles I like: Beth, Sorcery and Tribune. You’ll find them below, in the order that I listed them. The Tribune boots look the most like the Juli ones.

One level at a time

The challenge of creating my steampunk persona has started me thinking – how many people completely immerse themselves in their characters while cosplaying? I know there are a number of folks on cosplay sites who are known in their respective communities by their screen or character names. When they go to cons, that’s how they introduce themselves to each other. It’s a simple way of making sure that what people know of you from the web carries over to when you meet in real life. This is certainly not the only community in which this happens. Browncoats, as Firefly fans are known, do this as well. So do Klingons and some Pennsic groups. In fact, I’ve actually had an online forum name carry over to non-forum discussions: when I was a visitor and, later, moderator on Barb and JC Hendee’s forum, I went by the name Ameme (a Munsee word that I claimed for an alias). A friend of mine went as Blade, another as Lucrezia. For a while, even communications between some of the forum goers outside of the forum itself maintained use of the user names. Eventually, much of the communications shifted and we addressed each other by our real names. Occasionally, though, I still use some of the “fake” names. For instance, I can’t remember what Elfie and Ocy’s real names are.

Now, some of the groups I’ve mentioned above certainly embody their characters fully while in the process of cosplaying. I point again to the Klingons, who can be rather hard-core. Their cosplay personalities, in many ways, can not be separated from their everyday personalities. They may not go around shouting at the bank teller in Klingon (or, they might…I really don’t know), but the very thing that made them choose to be a Klingon rather than, say, a Tribble will continue to be a major facet of their everyday personality.

But is this the case with everyone who goes out cosplaying? I know that, for many, there will be a level of separation. I mean, I’ve seen plenty of folks who cosplay as assassins or tentacle-wielding monsters, but they aren’t necessarily going to turn around and put a bullet in your head or a tentacle in…er, an oriface. One hopes.

So to what level do people immerse themselves in their characters? Do you respond to questions as the character? If the person you are pretending to be is, say, a dirigible mechanic (an old steampunk standby), do you pretend to know what you’re talking about if someone asks you about engines and pistons and so on? Or do you look at the person asking the question with a glassy stare and simply reply “You do know I’m playing a part, right?”

Why do I ask this? As I mentioned at the beginning (and in the previous post) I’m in the midst of creating my steampunk character. I know I want her to have an accent. So…when out at cons in my gear, do I talk all day long with the accent? Does that count as lying? Being crazy? Or simply acting without the presence of an actual stage or camera. Got any ideas?

This entry into cosplaying as Tesla is certainly not completely new – I have been creating characters for some time. Some of these live on the stage, some on paper, some in ongoing inside jokes. A vast majority simply live in my head. It’s awfully crowded in there at times. This seems to be a safe way to let one out for a bit.

Steampuckishness

Yes, I know the name of the genre is technically “steampunk,” but steampuck seems to fit my mood so much better. That’s not to say that I’m not at all punk-like. In some ways I am. My aesthetic isn’t necessarily hard-core punk, but there are aspects that seep in from time to time. However, we’re not talking about regular, run-of-the-mill punk. We’re talking about steampunk. Or, as I’ve already tried to establish, steampuck.

That’s kind of the idea behind one of the new costumes I’m working on. According to the entry on wikipedia, the term “denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used – usually the 19th century, and often set in Victorian era England – but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.” The entry goes on to talk about the beginnings of the genre, and finally touches on the subculture – including fashion: “Steampunk fashion has no set guidelines, but tends to synthesize modern styles as filtered through the Victorian era. This may include gowns, corsets, petticoats and bustles, gentlemen’s suits with vests, coats and spats, or even military-inspired garments. Often, steampunk outfits will be accented with a mixture of technological and period accessories: timepieces, parasols, goggles and ray guns.”

So, with a (not really cut-and-dried) explanation of what steampunk fashion usually incorporates, you’d think I would have a clear vision for what my steampunk costume is going to look like, wouldn’t you? Not so, my friend. Not so. I like petticoats (there’s a part of me that sometimes likes feeling girly), but I don’t see myself running around in a skirt as part of my steampunk. I’m planning to incorporate something like a corset into the costume – it’s actually already made – but it’s not the type of corset seen in historical Victorian clothing. I’ve got a wicked cool pocketwatch already, courtesy of my friend Maggie (with a TRAIN on it!). I like spats, but I’m not sure how well that would work, considering I’m probably going to be wearing pants, and said pants will probably cover most of my boots. Hell, I’m still trying to decide if I want to wear my high-heeled ass-kicking Mudd boots (currently being fixed) or if I want to use my western style boots instead. Oh, decisions, decisions.

Really, the only thing I know about the final look of my outfit is that it will have the blue and gold dragon brocade corset (one of the corsets pictured here: http://www.mccallpattern.com/item/M4861.htm??tab=list/costumes&page=all), and I will be wearing a coat modeled after an Edwardian pattern I have in my stash. Originally, I had a hard time deciding between this one (http://img.sewingtoday.com/cat/10000/itm_img/B4954.jpg) and the one I ultimately decided on. The other design, which I can’t seem to find a picture of online, is designed to be kept open in the front, and not buttoned up. It also doesn’t have the high collar. Although I love the look of the other coat and will most definitely be making it at some point in the future, I didn’t feel it went with the character I seem to be building.

I’m getting more into the character development part of this costume than anything else. When I’ve made costumes before, they really haven’t had a persona attached to them. I’ve got a Jedi, but they have no name or back history. I’ve got some costumes based on pre-existing movie characters, so they don’t require any additional character building. With steampunk, however, you have to figure out what your character’s background is if you are to have any hope of developing a functional, cohesive costume in the first place. The individual’s job will play a big part in what they wear: a dirigible mechanic will probably not be wearing bustles and yards of lace. A noble will most likely not be wearing an outfit made of salvaged material. That sort of thing. So the character really kind of has to come first.

One of the things I’ve kind of decided on is that my steampunk character will be rather like me in a lot of ways. Some girly stuff is okay, but full out crinolines and Lolita-style wear will not be happening with this one. Pants are my friend. 🙂 I need pockets. What ever else I do, I need pockets. Preferably in unobtrusive places. I need things that will wear pretty well – that don’t require too much special care (no dry cleaning for me). This has to be stuff that I can move in comfortably without worrying about it wrinkling or getting squashed, etc.

I’ve been looking through a lot of galleries on deviantart.com, flickr, google, etc. I consider it research – looking at what ideas are already out there, jotting down ones that interest me and throwing out the ones that don’t. i’m not copying anyone else’s steampunk designs. As I said, these costumes have to grow out of the individual character. I have, however, seen a couple of things that I liked that I might want to adapt and change into something that would suit me. As I slog through all the research, I’ve hit upon something that intrigues me…there aren’t a whole lot of looks that incorporate styles and cultures outside of the European/American Victorian period. There are all kinds of outfits that fall into that category, but i have yet to find something that incorporates elements of Eastern designs, for example. Aside from the occasional use of silks and very sparing use of brocades. Most also tend to stay within the brown/sepia/burnt umber color scheme. Normally, I’d be fine with this…I love brown, after all. It looks good on me. However, I also love bright colors, and those seem to be missing from the whole steampunk aesthetic.

I like brass and copper and rich, chocolatey browns as much as the next steampunk creator, but I think it’s time someone present something a little more playful and, in some ways, innocent. Steampunk differs from cyberpunk in that it doesn’t necessarily focus on dystopian societies. However, it also isn’t necessariliy a fun, happy, cheery place full of kittens and bunnies. That’s what happens when you base it on Victorian culture. Sure, there are some wonderful things about the whole period’s aesthetic, but you need to inject a little fun. Hence, my steampuck. I’m intending to create a more playful and wide-eyed approach to the whole thing. The character I’m creating – Tesla Wheelwright – is a traveler. Not an adventurer, necessarily, although I’m sure she’ll have those, too. She is not setting out to find lost treasure or buckle any swashes. If that happens along the way, so be it, but she is really just out to see the world, swap stories and create new ones, and generally enjoy herself.

We’ll see how well she is received by the rest of the costumer/cosplay world.