Tuesday, July 12, 2011

steel city steampunk escapades

This weekend I attended two events held by The Steel City Steam Society- a private "concert" featuring two local musicians, and the Mixing Alcohol & Heavy Machinery dinner at Local bar + kitchen that I mentioned in this post.

There were no plans for me to attend the former, at first. In fact, an hour before the event I was trying on various wardrobe items for the Mixing Alcohol & Heavy Machinery get-together. For that event I knew that I would be safe with my boyfriend Scott and my friend Juice, so I could have some people to talk to if I didn't really hit it off with anyone in the SCSS.

But then a bizarre thought occurred to me- wouldn't it be better for me to attend an event without the safety blanket of two people I already knew, two people who I could withdraw into, thus limiting my ability to truly socialize with this new group of people?

Remember, I have never been to a real steampunk event, never hung out with steampunkers, and am naturally shy. The shyness I do hide well- in recent years, I think mainly thanks to my journalism training, I do better in unexplored social situations where I put myself completely out there. Having friends with me whom I feel "obligated" to entertain would hinder me putting myself completely out there. Once I got somewhat familiar with some of the attendees of these events then I could introduce them to my friends and (hopefully) facilitate conversation between them, thus making it easier for them to be there.

The other plus was that I could make an easier escape without my cohorts if my presence at a SCSS event somehow got awkward for the attendees, or awkward for me. Yes, I am human and have a fear of rejection.

So I donned my go-to steampunk gear, threw on some makeup, and headed out to the music event, making sure my twin sister knew the exact location of the event for safely purposes.

Note: there are no photos from this night. I didn't want to scare people by taking their photos, or by taking their photos and then asking their permission to post them on a public blog.

Yes, I know that I ALWAYS go to this same corset
whenever I am doing something neo-Victorian.
I have finally bought more clothes. See below.
The "venue" was actually a house in a residential street in the Greenfield neighborhood. When I arrived I sat in the car for a nervous five minutes staring at the house, waiting to see if there would be any steampunk-clad individuals walking into the house. One girl in a pink corset and her street-clothes boyfriend walked in as if they were going to a house party rather than a music event. That was all the evidence I needed that I was at the right place. I got out of my car and soon found myself being let into the house along with two other girls.

It was an interesting scene within the residence. All of the blinds were drawn and the lights turned off, while an oil lamp and dozens of candles, most stuck in empty glass bottles, served as the only illumination. As my eyes adjusted I gradually was able to take in the various people.

In the corner sat two young women in straight-up Victorian bustle dresses while another guy read their fortunes on Tarot cards. Others sat on the couch talking, some wearing regular modern clothes, while others had top hats, goggles, or just brocade vests and dress pants. One guy had a two-foot wrench that he had painted copper and attached a blue LED light to the end of it, while another guy had a steampunk gas mask like the one Scott bought me, except made of brown leather, attached to a tube that was attached to some strange contraption at his hip that sort of looked like those stainless steel water bottles.

At first the two girls and I stood there awkwardly as the host (gas mask water bottle guy) introduced himself and pointed out where the drinks were. I followed the girls into the kitchen, where we opened two wine bottles and we began to chat, asking questions about each other's clothing pieces and where we had gotten them or how we had made various items. Just what I needed to break the ice and get adjusted to the group. The one girl, Bridget, had made her entire outfit out of items that were already in her closet, while Kristen, her friend, had ordered a lot of her clothing online like I had.

Eventually I made my rounds among many of the attendees, starting conversations with asking questions about a person's clothing or complimenting an accessory that was skillfully done, or even just straight-out asking them how they got involved in the group. There were a good twenty people in and out throughout the night. Most people seemed to get into steampunk because they were "always that way, but didn't know that there was a name for it" until recently, apparently.

Some of the boys borrowed vests and the like from one of the Victorian-dressed women, Desiree. She makes costumes for reenactments, so she's quite an accomplished seamstress at this point. I asked her a bunch of questions about costume making, although next time I will have to ask her about the nature of some of the reenactments she does.

The music, meanwhile, was sort of Mumford and Sons-styled acoustic guitar playing. The first musician, Patricia Wake, sang folksy songs with dark lyrics (and one song about Dr. Who) just wearing black pants and a black camisole. The second headliner, Eli August, played the same king of folksy songs wearing black pants, white suspenders and a white undershirt. The crowd was very attentive to their playing, mostly being quiet while they played.

Unfortunately, western Pennsylvania in July has the humidity of a sweatshop in Hell, which does not bode well for Victorian-appareled people wearing heavy layers in a poorly air-conditioned house. As a result most of us eventually made our way outside onto the front porch to continue chatting. Some made clothing changes. I had neither an extra change of clothes nor layers, so I remained in my garb.

Eventually I began talking to the founder of SCSS, Alexa Black. She pretty much decided to start the group up about one year ago because Pittsburgh didn't have a steampunk group. Go Alexa! I've known about steampunk longer than her, but I would not have taken the initiative to reach out to would-be steampunkers in Pittsburgh- this city is not known for having any subcultures.

I left feeling pretty content with the acquaintances I did make. And the following evening, dressed in a different outfit, I showed up at Local with Scott and Juice feeling more confident. I talked to the people I had met the night before, talked to a few who hadn't, was happy when Scott hit it off with a guy who likes the same movies and games he does, and then we all went for ice cream afterwards. A pretty awesome night for me:

Eating and chatting at Local
More chatting.
Juice (left) and Scott (right). Juice borrowed the goggles from me but did the rest of the outfit himself. Scott was the only person there in street clothes, but he is the only one I know who actually owns a pith helmet.
Me. I made the earring myself with spray paint and the inside of a white out tape dispenser. The dress is from a consignment store and the hat is Scott's.
Scott, trying to be Professor Elemental, and myself sans the gas mask.

Not sure what this thing on the wall was...

Gears and coils and liquor!
More gears and happy bar people
Juice having some steampunk fun!

Bridget (left) and Kristen (right)
Scott and Juice had a decent time overall, but it wasn't quite their scene. Fair enough. At least I tried. And I found a group that I am interested in seeing more of in the future.


  1. This looks like a lot of fun. You're very brave going by yourself. I have trouble doing that, but I think it's a great idea for meeting new people.

  2. I love the colors in your Neo-Victorian outfit!

    Isn't it an awesome feeling to find yourself amongst like-minded people you can really connect with? Looking forward to reading more about your adventures with the new friends!

  3. @ Ms. Lou- Thanks. I agree.

    @ VictorianKitty- It is an awesome feeling to be along like-minded people. I think this is truly the first time in my life that that has happened...