Another bit of African print-inspired Edwardian crazy…but less so than some. I think. This is a really unusual fabric- ornately printed of course, in a lush red and black design, but also embossed/textured. I’ve never seen or felt anything quite like it, and couldn’t resist. If I recall correctly, it was the usual 6 yards […]
Category Archives: Fashion
Bram Stoker’s Dracula may not seem like a Steampunk movie on first viewing. But any movie with Doctor Abraham Van Helsing should be automatically slotted into the Steampunk genre, because he uses modern technology to fight vampires, such as electric lamps which could be attached to a prospective victim to act as a deterrent. He is also one of the original ‘mad scientists’ of the literary world – not the action figure portrayed in some movies and comics. (However, Carl from 2002 movie Van Helsing has my undying admiration for his gadgetry.)
Dress designs for the movie were by Eiko Ishioka. There were many gorgeous dresses in this film, but my personal favourite is the green walking dress worn by Mina , played by Winona Ryder, the original Manic Pixie Girl. Dracula was written and set in the 1890s. It is the dress Mina is wearing when she first encounters Dracula.
Since Dracula was published in 1897, we can use that as the benchmark time period for the movie costume. The most striking feature of the dress is the clever use of pleats to add ornamental details; the fabric is folded like Origami. The multiple waterfall folds of the bustle creates contrasting diamonds of colour. The unusual dag hemline of the white blouse is accentuated with more pleats. Are these features historically accurate?
The above dresses are replicas garments based on historical designs from the late 1800s. Waterfall pleats were certainly used in the Victorian era, and the multiple pleats on the green walking costume is quite likely to have been used in reality. The Victorians were never shy about ornamentation. I was unable to find evidence of a Victorian-era blouse with a similar dag hemline, which isn’t to say there weren’t any.
As you can see from the two examples above, the silhouette of the green walking dress resembles the 1886 fashions, with the larger emphasis on the bustle. However, the silhouette does lean towards the more slender skirt of the 1898 illustration, and certainly conforms to the jacket-with-blouse combination. The hat on the right in the 1898 illustration also resembles Mina’s hat in style and size, even if the decorations aren’t a match.
Both the walking dresses above are from 1890. As you can see, there is a flourish of embroidery on the lapels and cuffs of the jackets. The dress on the right is even a similar green to Mina’s green walking dress.
Overall, I would say that Eiko Ishioka’s creation fits right into the era of the movie. Since we can ‘modernise’ Mina’s character with Steampunk gadgets, feel free to give her a cross bow with a stake for a quarrel, or a sunlight raygun.
Helena Bonham Carter is the Corset Cosplay Queen, as she has played many characters in historical movies that have required her to wear the most gorgeous costumes. The 2013 ‘The Lone Ranger’ movie was set in 1869, and so Red Harrington – the character played by Helena Bonham Carter – wears Victorian-era inspired costumes. Red has red hair and wears red clothing; in Australia, we would have nicknamed her ‘Blue’.
Red went through a series of costume changes. Rather than try to break down the accuracy of every costumes, I have chosen two main outfits to discuss. Oh, and we will also discuss the major Steampunk prop of her costumes: the prosthetic leg that was also a gun. This was actually to the most Steampunk gadget in the movie.
As previously mentioned, the movie is set in 1869. Crinolines were the dress-shape of the fashionistas of that era …and Red’s costume is certainly the right shape.
Red’s crinoline is also in the right colour range for the era, and ruffles were a popular way of decorating the skirts of a crinoline. There had been a time when a hoop skirt would be absolutely enormous, but in the late 1860s the worst of these excesses were in the past. In the next few years, crinolines would be replaced by the bustle. Red does not appear to be wearing a hoop, and she should be. (However, she is also well away from the centres of fashion and may have resorted to petticoats instead.)
The little lace jacket that is part of the movie costume appears to be a boudoir jacket being worn as day wear. Above are a range of jackets:
- a boudoir jacket circa 1860;
- 1861 lace jacket over a mourning dress;
- A mantle/caplet from 1888.
As you can see, the boudoir jacket is lacy like the little jacket that is part of Red’s outfit, but the cut of the jacket is more like a modern shrug or a caplet.
Red’s buttoned shoes are spot on for the era.
This second outfit also sports a strange little caplet trimmed with lace, over a dress with at least three visible layers. As you can see, this dress does loosely resemble a high fashion gown from 1870, from the House of Worth in France. The Costume is a mishmash of fabrics and colours compared to the Worth dress, but that can be put down to Red’s flashy tastes. The parasol is spot on for the era.
The closest equivalent period garment with dramatic sleeves I could find was this tartan dress below. However, those style of sleeves turn up again and again in the Victorian era.
It was this clever gadget leg that inspired me to look harder at Helena Bonham Carter’s costumes in ‘The Lone Ranger’. For me, it is the gadgets that really make the Steampunk Aesthetic. As a cosplayer, I would wear a ‘tattooed’white stocking and a modified shoe to mimic this prosthetic leg.
The problem for costumers is that people forget that the Victorian era was lo-o-on-ng. Fashions changed. It is hard to put together an authentic historical outfit, particularly when the accuracy of the outfit hardly matters in a fantasy Western/Steampunk movie. I think Penny Rose did a great job of using Red’s outfits to give the audience a deeper insight into her character. That is inspirational work.
Joan Bergin was the Costume Designer of this stunning outfit from the movie, The Prestige. Scarlett Johansson played Olivia Wenscombe; she looked like a dream come true when wearing the outfit. It has some very classic Victorian features.
The outfit is made from a combination of fabrics in different colours and designs. Stripes were a favourite of the Victorians, and the use of stripes and florals in the outfit is certainly not out of step with the era’s fashions.
The Prestige outfit also combines lace trims and floral embroidery details. This combination was a favourite with Victorian-era fashionistas. Nothing says outrageous femininity like lace and flowers.
The pleated chiffon ruffles trimming the movie costume are also a Victorian-era fashion. It wasn’t unusual for these pleats to be decorated with ribbon or lace.
Note that the pleats aren’t as crisp as in the modern costume. I am putting that down to ageing fabrics.
The main problem with this costume is that The Prestige is set in the early 1900s, and all these fashion trends are from around the 1870s and 1880s. As well, tasteful dresses didn’t have every type of trim thrown onto the one outfit, though it works here due to superb styling by the costume designer. I suspect that the modern fabrics are easier to work with, but I am not a seamstress and can’t make that call.
However, seen as a Steampunk costume for a Steampunk fantasy film, this costume is magnificent. It wouldn’t be hard to add a bit of gadget magic to this ensemble, if a cosplayer decided to recreate this dress.
Fashion dolls conform to what was considered beautiful in the era they are produced. The dolls are representative of the era that they come from, in both looks and the clothes that they wear. If a doll is deliberately ugly, like the cute troll doll, it is not a fashion doll. By studying a fashion doll, you get a much clearer picture of what was the standard for beauty in an era, because these ‘standards’ change frequently. I often laugh when someone is called a classic beauty – for which era?
Take for an example how Barbie’s looks have changed. The original Barbie’s looks are very different to examples of the Millennial era Barbie. What was considered a ‘classic’ beauty in the 1950s is now considered a ‘vintage’ beauty. Women haven’t changed, but what is considered beautiful certain has. At the moment, big eyes and tiny noses in an heart-shaped or oval face are what are fashionable. In the 1980s, bushy eyebrows were queen! In the 1990’s, bee-stung pouts. Fashions change.
In the Victorian era, small, regular features were the in thing. One of the reasons that many photographs of Victorian women show them with their lips tucked in severely is because they are trying to minimise their mouths in the same way modern starlets stand side-on to minimise their hips and show off their chests. As well, porcelain dolls were favoured because of their fine translucent skin tones, as a proper European Victorian-era woman was pale and interesting.
Of course, little girls love their dollies no matter what they look like. (Unless, like me, you find dolls a little creepy.) Most dolls were passed down from sibling to sibling or from mother to daughter. Few Victorian dolls survived this journey because they were loved to death. On of my father’s cousins has a headless, articulated, leather doll with china hands and feet, cherished because his grandmother brought her over from Europe in the 1880s.
Steampunk dolls are usually based on modern dolls with modern features. This isn’t a problem, since the dolls aren’t meant to historical recreations of Victorian toys. As well, Steampunk dolls aren’t confined to just wearing the height of fashion and can wear trousers and goggles and gadgets.If that isn’t a great step up, I don’t know what is!
The Victorian-era fashionable beauty wanted to have flawless white skin with no freckles, birthmarks, scars, blotches, or redness. To this end, she would dust on rice powder, zinc oxide or, the most expensive option, pearl powder. The commercially available European pearl powder was a mixture of chloride of bismuth – bismuth oxychloride – and French chalk – French chalk is also known as talcum powder. In Asia, pearl powder was a preparation of crushed freshwater pearls used for skin care and in traditional Chinese medicine.
Bismuth oxychloride is sometimes used in modern cosmetics, as a pigment in paint for eye shadows, hair sprays and nail polishes. This compound in crystaline form contains layers of molecules that refract light chromatically, resulting in an iridescent appearance similar to nacre of pearl, hence the name ‘pearl powder’. Bismuth is less toxic than lead and other heavy metals, but its long term use will eventually see a build up of bismuth in the kidneys. Bismuth poisoning can occur and mostly affects the kidney, liver, and bladder.
Recent studies have linked talcum powder to respiratory diseases and ovarian cancer, but as talcum powder is used in many industries and not just the cosmetic industry, there is yet for case to made that its use in pearl powder was endangering the health of its users. The evidence is inconclusive that using talcum powder causes ovarian cancer in adult women. So European pearl powder was a healthier option than the use of arsenic to whiten skin, but could still have a negative impact on the long-term user’s health.
Asian pearl powder, because pearls are made primarily of calcium carbonate, is mainly calcium carbonate contaminated with traces of minerals and organic elements. This means that this pearl powder is completely safe to use. It was expensive, but it was also the best quality of the ‘pearl powder’ available for cosmetic use.
Pearl Powders, for the Complexion:
1. Take pearl or bismuth white, and French chalk, equal parts. Reduce them to a fine powder, and sift through lawn.
2. Take 1 pound white bismuth, 1 ounce starch powder, and 1 ounce orrispowder; mix and sift them through lawn. Add a drop of attar of roses or neroli.
Pearl White: Take nitrate of bismuth in solution, and add it to a dilute solution of chloride of sodium until the whole of the bismuth is precipitated; collect, wash, and dry the powder with great care.
By a Practical Chemist, member of several scientific societies, London: John Churchill, Princes Street, Soho, 1841.
(Original excerpt from the Kate Tattersall Adventures website.)
Personally, I’d rather wear a string of pearls than pearl powder.
As part of Steampunk activities, I take part in Steampunk cosplay. This involves me in creating my own costumes and accessories. In the two images above, I converted a 1980’s short-sleeved dress and a second-hand lace shirt into a vest with coattails and the coat’s sleeves into spats. The vest was success, the spats not so much. Below is the outfit, worn to the Steampunk Charity Ball 2014.
I was a much thinner and younger woman when I wore that dress. When I finally accepted that I was never going to fit into it again … ever … I made the decision to make it over rather than throw it away. I went hunting through op shops looking for other fabrics that matched the neutral colours of the strips, and lucked out by finding a lace shirt in the exact same colours. With some creative splicing and sewing, I converted two items of clothing into Steampunk fashion items. I made some new memories, from the satisfaction of completing a project successfully and all the fun I had at the ball.
There can be great memories made by going through old photos and letters. In the future, with most of us living online rather than writing letters or getting photos developed, I wonder if we are cheating our descendants out of the fun they could have going through these old memories.
Of course, I suppose they could go through my online accounts…
But they will have to dredge through a lot of trash to get to the nuggets of treasure.
This is where Steampunk is ahead of the game. It takes old memories and makes new ones. It means that my great-umpteen grandchildren will know what was important to me by seeing that dress turn up in a pile of images. That might even have kept the vest as an heirloom. I certainly hope they never toss away the Steampunk Ghostbusters backpack. That really is an original work of art.