Thursday, September 24, 2009

steampunk blogs

Here's a pretty cool blog related to all things steampunk,especially the making of steampunk items such as clothes (work corset anyone?) or lamps:

I am impressed with the amount of links to other steampunk sites and blogs, as well as the blog posts relating to articles and events in the steampunk world. It appears the blogger, "Jake von Slatt," was the originator of the brass-colored computer monitor pictured in my last post.

And who knew that one of the Boston fashion week designers focuses on steampunk? A quote in von Slatt's blog, taken from this article in the Boston Globe:
I’m picturing lots of coal-stained faces and dust. How do you work different materials into your pieces without them becoming too much like costumes? Well, sometimes they do become a little bit like costumes. I just experiment with a lot of different materials, and my hands pay dearly for it. They’re always cut up and burned. The first time around I used basic metal. This time around I’m using rivets . . . .

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

the reincarnation of the industrial age

I was going to discuss Victorian Industrial, but I think that it would be more fitting to first focus on the steampunk genre, because this covers not only music but books , film, and a fashion style.

Simply put, steampunk is a science fiction/fantasy genre based in the Industrial Age. Confused? I was too at first, and I must admit I'm still learning a great deal about the steampunk genre. It's like mixing Victorian mechanics and techology with modern technological developments and inventions to create a 19th century that never happened. Think of the mechanical spider of the 1999 film The Wild Wild West having actually been a real invention in the 1860s. Or H.G. Wells' Time Machine. Or the possibility of cell phones in the Victorian era.

Steampunk enthusiasts have been known to build computers that look like they were engineered in the 19th century, such as this one where the original keys have been replaced with typewriter keys and the monitor has been lined with a brass-like metal:

image source: Pastile Cu Spotlight blog

It's turned into a considerable subculture among enthusiasts. More on the many facets of steampunk to come.

Monday, September 21, 2009

dancing monkeys

Emilie Autumn, one of the premiere Victorian industrial artists, uses a mix of the electric violin, drum machines and synthesizers to create this rich piece. It gives me the feel of walking through a Victorian house. This song was used on the German Saw III soundtrack but not in the film.

I'll talk more about Victorian industrial and Emilie Autumn later this week, when I get over a case of the flu I currently have.

Friday, September 18, 2009

how tight?

An interesting observation made by fashion historian Valerie Steele and cited in Judith Flanders' book Inside the Victorian Home:

She notes that in the Leicestershire Museums Service there is a collection of 197 corsets, only one of which has a waist measuring 18" when fastened; eleven measure 19", and the remainder are between 20" and 26"-- in other words, not much below the waist sizes of many women today, who substitute exercise for corsets. She adds that we do not know why these corsets were preserved; it may have been that they were considered particularly small or pretty.

20" and 26"?! Considering Flanders' book was published in 2003, I wonder where Steele's stats on waist sizes come from. Is this an average of women's waist sizes in a specific country, such as England, or in general? Steele never actually says that this number is an average, so is it just women she knows who consist of her "many women today?" Or do those numbers only count for women who exercise?

From my online research I am coming up short on finding an "average" waist size being 20" and 26". I am finding, however, that most American women seem to be well over that mark. What I am finding, however, is that a healthy waist size has nothing to do with how many inches the measuring tape records around your middle, but is based on a waist to hip ratio:

Waist Hip Ratio is calculated by dividing your waist measurement by your hip measurement. (Hips are the widest part of your butt).
Ideally, women should have a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.8 or less.
Ideally, men should have a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.95 or less.
From a non measurement stand point, if your waist is smaller then your hips, you have a healthy waist line.
While a waist smaller than hips certainly looks healthier, I wonder if a cap exists for how small a healthy waist/hip ratio can actually be:

image source: Pardesh Baata

"Hourglass" is an understatement. Ouch.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

is it underwear or outerwear?

image source: Funny signs
The corset. Perhaps one of the sexiest pieces of clothing out there. No, the Victorians did not invent this whale-boned, tight-laced undergarment made to emphasize the hourglass figure. But their version of the corset is what fashion designers generally base clothing off of today.

The first corsets were stays, a 16th century invention that gave the torso a cone-like shape and pushed the breasts up, like this.

By the 19th century stays had been replaced with the corsets we associate with the Victorian era, an undergarment which created a tiny waist and hourglass figure. It went out of fashion by the 1920s. Although it can be associated with fetishes and BSDM, it has made a mainstream comeback--not as an undergarment, but as a top, much like a shirt.

Why did we adapt this piece of underwear for our everyday outerwear?

As someone who has worn corsets in public before, I have to scratch my head. The Victorians would be horrified--it'd be like women wearing just bras without some form of clothing (like a shirt) over it, such as Brenda Strong's character did in the Seinfeld episode "The Caddy." But the corset still has that association as an undergarment. Unless I wear a sweater or some other layering item over the corset, people think it's a camisole. Take away that covering item, however, and a girl is bound to get elevator eyes or catcalls. This despite the fact that Charlotte Russe has been selling corsets for at least four or five years, which means that the corset can't be that uncommon anymore.

I wonder if this is because the corset, in some way, is associated with sex. From watching enough modern movies set in 19th century London, the prostitutes mainly seem to be wearing corsets. At least any clear shots of Rachel McAdams in the new Sherlock Holmes trailer are the ones in which she is wearing a corset.


Monday, September 14, 2009

the victorians? who cares?

In her song "Swallow," musician Emilie Autumn sings:
Filthy Victorians
They made me what I'm made of.

As I sit here, I wonder: Is this true?

In many ways the Victorians have shaped the person I am today. Most of my pleasure reading after 6th grade was the Victorian literature in my father's den. My first serious experiments with fiction writing were set in 1890s London, amidst the dark, foggy gas-lit streets and brilliant, twisted criminals a la Sherlock Holmes stories. My fictional writing style has increasingly mimicked writers such as the Bronte Sisters (Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre). As a history major in college my readings turned to the social life of the Victorians. My own personal library currently consists of titles such as Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey; The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale; Public Lives: Women, Family and Society in Victorian Britain by Eleanor Gordon and Gwyneth Nair; and Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England by Judith Flanders.

As I've read these books I began to notice how influenced modern culture is by the Victorian period, determined by Queen Victoria's reign, 1837-1901. Not only have the gothic and steampunk scenes heavily borrowed from Victorian fashion; it's entered the mainstream as well ( see especially Alexander McQueen's fashion designs of 2007.) Corsets and camisoles are now outerwear, while ruffled skirts and shirts, lace, ribbons, tweed and the like, all inspired by the Victorians. Modern artists from Rasputina to Emilie Autumn have created a sort of "Victorian Industrial" music genre, with lyrics concentrated on topics and issues of the late 19th century. Victorian science fiction from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to The Wild Wild West led to the creation of the steampunk subculture in the 1980s and 1990s, which has a steady following. On top of that, Sherlock Holmes holds the record for being the most commonly portrayed fictional character in film, with Count Dracula, another Victorian literary figure, coming in second.

My goal is to explore as many aspects as possible of Victorian culture's influences on our 21st century culture. Why is this era of history still so prominent over a century after it ended? Why aren't we sick of it yet? Most importantly, how does it shape our lives?