High WASP, Meet Steampunk.


I’ve been noticing, over the past few months, several things both remarkable and related. Maybe even a trend. I’ve seen references to “steampunk“, as a fashion, nay, a life style. Words like artisanal, handmade, workshop, applying not only to cheeses. Wedding invitations in the style of old saloon slash rock ‘n’ roll posters. Even the love shown my dear Mulholland Brothers bag and its turn of the previous century air. I kept thinking, hmm, hmm, hmm, this is something.

Well, today the New York Times concurs. The late 1800’s are where it’s at.

“As with home design, where curio cases, taxidermy and other stylish clutter of the Victorian era have been taken up by young hipsters, many of today’s popular men’s styles have their roots in the late 19th century.”

And it’s not just the men.

Bloggers say it best. Audi at Fashion for Nerds tells us what “steampunk” is, and goes it one better by wearing a corset to work. Hollister Hovey and her sister wear old-fashioned military-style coats in Prague. Purchased at Forever 21. James, at secret forts, shows image upon image of men making bags and shirts by hand. Turns out that “indie style,” (here I point you to east side bride, and etsy of course) may not fall too far from the nostalgia-for-earlier-eras tree. The, we don’t like machines, nor glitz, nor foreign manufacture, tree. That one.

Audi. In a corset. You go girl.

Ironically, just as we leave behind our own turn of the century excesses, we fall in love with workaday artifacts of an earlier Age of Innocence. And so, I suppose, my little hunt for a buffalo plaid shirt was perhaps just part of this larger wave. A wave heading towards mainstream America, by the way. Watch out for suspenders. Wait, I mean braces.

Today, as Duchesse was so kind to point out in a comment here, Robert Redford’s Sundance Catalogue is offering us this rendition of a vintage Woolrich jacket.


Now that the jacket is real, and not a fantasy of an earlier, simpler, woolier day, do I have the same urge to acquire? Or was I, are we all, hipsters and traditionalists alike, channeling a zeitgeist that cannot, in fact, provide the imagined comfort?

I read the Times article this morning and started this post. When I came to finish writing later, I saw that both the steampunk site, and Hollister, had already taken note. OK. Compelling sub-groups are excited. Are we?

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27 Comments

  • 11/12/09
    5:11 pm

    Reply

    Belinda Munoz said...

    While I wouldn't be caught dead in a corset, I find the return of the 1800s fascinating. Is it possible to be nostalgic for eras we never lived through? Is nostalgia a coping mechanism for escaping the present? The future?

  • 11/12/09
    6:39 pm

    Reply

    CDS said...

    the corset …not so much…but I may be able to live with other things from this look! :)

  • 11/12/09
    6:47 pm

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    Love the Home You're With said...

    I for one am very excited – it's a backlash against the cold sterile modern aesthetic of the past several years. I've shopped at thrift stores and flea markets for decades and have always appreciated the quality, integrity, and 'soul' of older clothes and home furnishings. I love the late 19th century era and one of my favorite sources of inspiration is the Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett which has aired weekly here in San Francisco for years- i rarely miss it – the clothing and interiors resonate so strongly.

  • 11/12/09
    8:24 pm

    Reply

    Maureen@IslandRoar said...

    Hmmmm, definitely intrigued. Looking forward to seeing what this brings…And I've never heard the term "steampunk." Where have I been?

  • 11/12/09
    8:43 pm

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    Kevin said...

    Where have you been indeed? This has been going on for… 3 years at least.

  • 11/12/09
    9:22 pm

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    LPC said...

    But going on where? In the hip corridors of San Francisco? South of Market? Brooklyn? Or on the Main Street of, let's say, for local color, Walnut Creek?

  • 11/13/09
    3:08 am

    Reply

    Natasha said...

    Great post! I totally agree with "Love the home you're with", that this is a backlash movement and I am so glad it is happening! This was a fascinating post and I loved going to all the links you kindly made.Best wishes, Natasha.

  • 11/13/09
    5:42 am

    Reply

    Turquoise Diaries said...

    So that's what they call them.. I learn a new term..

  • 11/13/09
    6:18 am

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    Plus Size Bride said...

    ~sigh~ I still love my Hatch Show Print invitations. We have one framed and hung in a nook.

  • 11/13/09
    7:07 am

    Reply

    tintin said...

    By the time the folks hear it about this in Naperville – it'll be deader than a door nail in Brooklyn. Having said that, I'm fascinated by this David Byrne video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DQyusKTAh4&feature=related

    The leather coats and gas masks lend it a bizarre post WWI thing-a-jig. And it's a great song.

  • 11/13/09
    9:17 am

    Reply

    La Belette Rouge said...

    I understand there is a literature based on this Steampunk style as well. Oh, and speaking of plaid: I am LOVING all the men's plaid in the stores now. I just ordered for He-weasel JCrew's version of the lumberjack print shirt and tartan boxers. There is something romantic and transcendent about plaid. I suppose they allow me to imagine I live on a Glenn in Scotland and that I soon will sip a single malted Scotch. If a shirt can take you there it is a shirt worth buying.;-)

  • 11/13/09
    9:21 am

    Reply

    Belle de Ville said...

    You've all probably read the Vanity Fair article on rise of "cute" in our culture. I think that the 'steampunk" look corresponds with the "cute" look in the fact that a part of us needs to go back to a less 'edgy" time.
    I really avoid all things that could be taken as "cute", but I like the Late-Victorian/ Edwardian vibe of "steampunk".

  • 11/13/09
    9:59 am

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    prashant said...

    not so much…but I may be able to live with other things from this look
    Work from home India

  • 11/13/09
    10:21 am

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    lauren said...

    there's a large helping of nostalgia in steampunk , but one can't forget the speculative part of it; while it poo-poohs our machines, it's full of alternative, rube goldberg-ish technology (feed "steampunk" into google images and you'll see what i mean; it's gorgeous guns, and spectacles, and lordy, just look at that steampunk guitar).

    a working definition, if you will:

    Steampunk: A fashion-and-culture speculative fiction and fantasy movement involving the meticulous re-creation of various modern technologies with Victorian-era materials (think cyborgs circa 1880).

    in other news, the plaid is lovely!

  • 11/13/09
    10:44 am

    Reply

    LPC said...

    Do you think the "Twilight"series is also sort of "steampunk-ish"? I mean, it has its Edwardian/Victorian flourishes, no? And I do love Scotland. I do.

  • 11/13/09
    11:04 am

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    lauren said...

    it lacks the gadgets, i think. stephenie meyer is enthusiastic about cars, but (aside from bella's beat-up old truck) they're all contemporary and sleek; as far as nods to earlier eras go, vampires' association with bram stoker and his contemporaries aside, twilight leans more toward the renaissance, i'd argue. the crossover between the vampire and steampunk camps is in stuff like van helsing and nochnoi dozor.

  • 11/13/09
    1:42 pm

    Reply

    Someone said...

    Wow…never expected this subject to come up here. I (and DH) dressed steampunk for Halloween this year. Including corset (well, not him…). I have me some lovely brown and brass boots. :)

    'Course, I've included Victorian flavorings since 1980, and then onward as goth became the keeper of the lacy flame, and now steampunk shares the torch.

    If sub/cultural engines are of interest it is worth noting that in steampunk there is a strong feminist theme, where women can be dashing and adventurous right alongside the menfolk. (I'm not opposing this to goth BTW – and I'll have to look at the article in case I'm being redundant. :P)

  • 11/13/09
    2:54 pm

    Reply

    tintarosa said...

    Corset! Yikes! No can do.

  • 11/13/09
    9:57 pm

    Reply

    Maya said...

    The plaided Woolrich jacket any time. The corset, not so much. I need to take a deep breath every once in a while. Audi is looking good though!

  • 11/14/09
    7:36 pm

    Reply

    Anonymous said...

    I learned about Steampunk via Etsy a couple of years ago. A a couple of movies have used the style in the last few years too.

  • 11/14/09
    7:41 pm

    Reply

    Joyce Lau said...

    I saw a very elegant woman at the posh IFC complex in Hong Kong. She was maybe 50, blonde, reasonably slender, high cheekbones, and she was wearing YOUR red plaid jacket, with gold hoop earrings, dark sunglasses and black trousers. Usually, women like her do not wear red plaid wooly jackets downtown.
    I also saw a similar plaid wooly jacket at Club Monaco, but it was black and white, not red.

  • 11/14/09
    7:42 pm

    Reply

    Joyce Lau said...

    Now I really want to wear a corset to work.

  • 11/14/09
    8:06 pm

    Reply

    Miss Cavendish said...

    Love steampunk! (But do not wear it.)

    And BTW: I just saw a pair of buffalo check ballerina flats in the J Crew catalogue!

  • 11/15/09
    6:40 am

    Reply

    Duchesse said...

    I differentiate classics (like the Woolrich jacket) from costume dressing (a Victorian corset worn over a blouse). Though I admire the costumed look on others, at almost 62, usually avoid. But I'd throw on a pea coat and feel wonderful!

    Buffalo check ballenrinas, what fun!

  • 11/15/09
    9:29 pm

    Reply

    Lipstick said...

    great post…Mr. Lipstick and I were talking about this tonight-actually with respect to furniture and the resurgence of rustic pieces and reclaimed wood and I told him about your post. I do wonder what he would think about the corset…. ;)

  • 11/18/09
    4:56 am

    Reply

    vintage simple said...

    I think this is all fashion – it's self-expression, after all…no? And OMG, that's the jacket I directed you to back when you were in the midst of your plaid shirt/jacket search (this is me being a whiny little girl – talk about going back to more "innocent" times…ha!):

    http://amidlifeofprivilege.blogspot.com/2009/09/sturdy-fashion-should-involve-plaid.html#comments

    xoxo,
    -maria

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