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August 2014

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Nadya Lev

madamekat in steam_elegance

The elegant steampunk world

I saw this painting over at steampunker.ru (Russian internet site) and was really in love. This is just how I picture the steampunk world. See those ladies? They hop aboard a dirigible in normal Victorian dress. No hot shorts. No skintight pants. No sexy bustiers. No jangly collection of belts with things hanging from them about their waist. Just normal, real, elegant Victorian dress.


That's not to say I don't appreciate a little creativity with ladies' steampunk wear, but this is a great example --given the morality and strict clothing rules of the 19th century-- of how women really would have looked despite wonderous advances in steam technology.


Yeah, see, the flaw there is obvious: You're being rational and logical. ^_^

Also, most of the costumes with the hot pants and the bustiers aren't usually "proper" ladies or even suburbanites... they are for characters who are, at their best, iconoclastic; at worst, criminal. Women who are intentionally disregarding fashion and propriety for the sake of their own desires and ambitions... Sort of a Women's Lib Movement being given equal steampunk treatment, that is to say predating actual events for a more colorful fantastic setting.

I am most certainly NOT saying you are wrong. I'm merely offering my view point for consideration. ^_^

not to stick my big foot in things....

see...but then I think of how the female 'rebels' of the periods just before the world was transformed by steam.....and how their rebellion was made manifest...things like the rational dress movement where dress was less strict but still not 'gasp inducing' in public...

So thought of that way, even the most rebellous iconoclasts were still within a certain -range- of dress.....

Granted...since alternate reality is just that...one can make any sort of argument, but I don't really think you can -alternate- periods before....in order to change the later alternate reality...

my two centavos..

Re: not to stick my big foot in things....

Hear hear!!

And I think a polite and friendly discussion on the subject is fine. Like I said, this is *my* image of the steampunk world. I understand that it is not shared. But we need to remember that even prostitutes dressed like regular Victorian women out on the streets- just not as fashionable. They weren't parading around in corsets and drawers outside the brothel ;)

Re: not to stick my big foot in things....

Very well put.

Re: not to stick my big foot in things....

Granted...since alternate reality is just that...one can make any sort of argument, but I don't really think you can -alternate- periods before....in order to change the later alternate reality...

I THINK I get what you mean, but can I ask you to rephrase this? For some reason I just can't track it properly.

Do you mean that you can't (meaning, it is improper to) alter Victorian aesthetics by bringing in a concept like Women's Lib ahead of time? If that is the case, then I think you may have hit on a MARVELOUS topic for debate, because it opens up so many possibilities for the imagination. ^_^

Re: not to stick my big foot in things....

Actually, what I mean is fairly simple..I was probably being too verbose for it.

What I meant is....in a brief condensed way, Steampunk is the what if of steam transforming the 'future' into that alternate one.....

So the changes made need to be put in the context of 'What was happening in the (real) unverse AT that point....and understanding that period is a key.

so for the example of dress, you cannot grab things or standards from our real lives in the 20th century, drag them backwards, and modify them and say but it COULD have happened...

You have to start with what the dress sense was at the time that STEAM took over the universe ;)....morphing that is what makes steampunk fantastic....and it (obviously this is in my opinion...as all of this is) is fundamental to the whole darn idea.....

transform reality a bit later and its dieselpunk....

transform it earlier and you would get something else...

Re: not to stick my big foot in things....

Ah, I get you.... and yes, I see your point. Trouble is, I have a different take on Steampunk as a concept: for me, it's when you take a technology rooted in one time period (say, for example, Steam power) and transplant it onto a different, ostensibly earlier time period (say, for example, the Victorian age). You could give the Internet to King Arthur and have a similar effect, is my head. To me, each work of art under the Steampunk banner is its own individual unit, this picture (which I never rendered comment on directly: it is indeed beautiful, I love the techniques used) is at best peripherally associated with, say, Girl Genius, because they share an associated theme.

I feel it important to restate that I am not saying this as a "I'm right and everyone else is wrong" sort of thing, what you've said have certainly given me fuel for thought, and I am grateful for that. ^_^

Re: not to stick my big foot in things....

oh and I am not saying I am 'right' either...

and I only find one tiny 'flaw' in your theory of it...(please don't balk at the word flaw...its just the shortest word for it)

No one took the later technology of steam and brought it -back- in time to the say the Victorian era....

it was there...all the steam related inventions were made earlier then that...steam engines date to 1765.

Whats been -tweeked- instead, is the IMPORTANCE of steam....

in real life, things like electricity happened and surpassed STEAM and gas-lighting..etc..

in the STEAMpunk-verse, those things either never happened or were discarded as 'unsafe, etc'...

so steampunk is less about bringing something from the future, and more about a diversion from the 'real history' of a time.....its about the 'what if the world stayed steam powered instead of moving forward into diesel and electricity?'

Re: not to stick my big foot in things....

Fair point. You are correct about that.

I once read an article once that described how Charles Fort came up with an idea he called "Steam Engine Time", referring to the gap between the invention of a technology, and its acceptance by the general populace... at a demonstration of a steam-driven river boat, Napoleon Bonaparte is said to have remarked that he didn't see the point in sailing against the wind.

If I'm reading things right, you're reducing or eliminating that gap of time altogether, while I'm pushing it backwards along the timeline.

Similar, but different results, I think. ^_^

Re: not to stick my big foot in things....

Stonepunk? Medievalpunk? Renai-punk? The possibilities are endless. ;)
I can definitely appreciate this steampunk world. It's much more like the world I had envisioned than other interpretations. While I do feel the rebels and criminals would have been more subtle than just outright under garments it is a fantasy world and what's fantasy world without scantily clad women?
Kat, you and i have the same vision. I love this picture. Thank you for sharing it. As for the hot pants, shorty bloomers and corsets on the outside... I think that is the fantasy that people pull out of Steampunk. Even in the time period, there were still the radical women, but even then, there was a limit. Look at the bike pantaloons that came out in the 1890's. They were quite scandalous at their onset.
OMG, yes, I have read accounts of men wanting to divorce their wives for wearing bicycle bloomers! Scandalous it was, indeed.
Here, I think you can make a case for 21st century judgments and desires being superimposed onto 18th century values. Folks WANT it to be that way, and are willing to ignore trifling details like "People just don't DO that".

Much in the same way people ignore all the unpleasant details of Medieval life for the fun and glory of Robin Hood and the Gummi Bears, etc. ^_^
Amen sister!

I share your vision and wish a few more people did as well. I'm just SO NOT a fan of the rag-person look.

And I think there ARE creative ways to do more period influenced "undesirable" characters - look at movies like Sweeney Todd or Gangs of New York. A "rebel" character doesn't have to look like they shopped the big sale at hot topic.


I'm glad I'm not the only one who invisions Steampunk much this way! I'd add more, but my brain is fried from a 10 hour work shift.
I totally agree with you! This is my vision of the steampunk world too. Although I don't mind some cogs now and then (if it's not overdone), the basis needs to be victorian. Thanks for posting this painting. It's really inspiring.
I have decided that my view of steampunk is essentially an alternative present (rather than, for example, an alternative past).
So, in my creation of a steampunk world, one takes the starting era, which is sometime in the Victorian era, and moves it forward in time. Now, obviously, one possible permutation is the current present and all the times between now and the starting era, since they do all indeed derive from all points in its past.
So - when society changes over time, some stuff changes, and some stuff stays the same, and there are a variety of rates of change. The obvious key in steampunk is of course steam power - in the real world it fell out of use, but in the steampunk world it didn't. I like to increase the rate of change of tolerance and prejudice, so that there is less racism, sexism, etc in my alternative present than in the current present, and, for example, in my alternative 1920s along the alternative timeline there would be less prejudice than in the real 1920s, etc.
Other things that you can keep the same or change are fashions - for example, in real life women's clothing changed to involve trousers, but men's clothing stayed the same in generally allowing only trousers, no skirts. You can keep static the things that really did change, or you can change the things that really remained static, or you can make the change ocur faster or slower.
And so thus people can create a variety of alternative steampunk presents by modifying different factors.
oh this works for me too...its really the same thing...

for me its about the starting point...as long as you can trace back and say where your -now- diverged from the 'victorian steam coming to the forfront real universe', then its precisely how I think of it...

You can keep rolling the 'steampunk' world forward in time and have it evolve within itself..its not frozen in say 1872 or anything.....

What happens as time moves forward is fascinating....
this is also the path I tend to favor, especially due to the various -ism's prevalent in the actual Victorian period. I cannot totally disassociate myself from the niceties I enjoy, including clean hot and cold running water, modern toilets, women's lib, and jersey cotton underpants.
I like to play dress-up, and I do the glam, the camp, and the ruffian-- to various degrees in different outfits. I also think that, given the whole of the outfit, individual elements (including hot pants and visible corsets) can be incorporated into an outfit with an overall glam/elegant look (and have seen it done).
What fun. A lovely picture.

Thank you for posting this!

Shaun Tan's The Arrival got my ideas for part of a steampunk world just right, but I've been looking for one in colour for awhile now and this is the closest I've come to finding one. Thanks again! I'll keep reading, if you don't mind!^_^
Very intereresting reading. thx

Have to agree, the interesting part of steampunk for me, is not the more modern raygun overlay to a pseudo victorian base, but trying to actually imagine the interpolation of a steam powered information revolution over actual victorian styles and ideals. Fashio changes for a reason, so would have airships and steam autocars altered the way people looked then? Not a great deal. I still see it as belonging to an age of, what we now consider, elegance. At least thats how I portray it in the novels I write.