Note: This is cross-posted with permission from Edwardian Promenade.
I had to make my own living and my own opportunity! But I made it! Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them!
Contrary to public opinion, Madam C.J. Walker did not invent the hot comb or relaxers, and neither was she the only African-American beautician during the Gilded Age. What the former Sarah Breedlove was, however, was incredibly intelligent–a savvy entrepreneur, pioneering businesswoman, and shrewd marketer, she turned African-American beauty culture into a multimillion dollar empire never before seen. In the post-Reconstruction period, black women were alternately neglected by the vastly increasing companies catering to women’s haircare, cosmetics, and beauty, or sold toxic concoctions by greedy companies which promised “lighter skin” and “straight hair”, but ended up creating more problems for black women desperate to conform to the very narrow standards of beauty of the late 19th century.
Filed under Essays, History
Steampunk fashion is seen as modern interpretation of fantastical ideas based on history. This trend of multicultural influence and inspiration seen in steampunk fashion is also reflective in fashion trends today. The rise of Chinese designer Guo Pei is one example of this; she has been well-known in Chinese fashion circles for many years, but her recent collections created buzz throughout the runways of the world, in particular her 1002nd Arabian Night collection.
Her work represents an inspirational blend–not only derived from the famous Arabian tales, but also influences from classical Chinese fairy tales and classics from the West as well. In these designs, delicate blue and white designs reminiscent of Ming vases mingle with rich, plumed imagery of birds and Persian motifs and decadent Rocco and baroque styles. Combined with Pei’s striking geometric vision, her couture collection is a blend of classic fantasy and modern avant-garde.
Monique in her steampunk attire. Image courtesy of author
I’m not one for preambles, so let’s get down to brass tacks here. I’m Monique Poirier. I’m a member of the Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe. I’m a Steampunk.
When I got into Steampunk several years ago, it didn’t really occur to me to even try to incorporate my cultural identity into my Steampunk presentation; my first Steampunk outfit (worn to Templecon 2009) was cobbled together from my existent goth attire, stuff from the renfaire costume trunk, and a duct-tape corset.
Then I read Jha’s articles at Tor.com. Then I started reading Beyond Victoriana. It was powwow season… and everything just -clicked-. When I attended The Steampunk World’s Fair in May 2010, I made an active effort to incorporate my ethnic identity more visibly in my Steampunk attire.
That’s where things get complicated.
Modern day dandies–Gentlemen of Bakongo, Brazzaville. Image courtesy of Daniele Tamagni. Click for link.
Dandyism and the Black Man
A dandy is a man who places extreme importance on physical appearance and refined language. It is very possible that dandies have existed for as long as time itself. According to Charles Baudelaire, 19th century French poet and dandy himself, a dandy can also be described as someone who elevates aesthetics to a religion.
In the late 18th and early 19th century Britain, being a dandy was not only about looking good but also about men from the middle class being self-made and striving to emulate an aristocratic lifestyle. The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of literature’s greatest dandies; famous historical dandies include Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron.
These days the practice of dandyism also includes a nostalgic longing for ideals such as that of the perfect gentleman. The dandy almost always required an audience and was admired for his style and impeccable manners by the general public.
The special relationship between black men and dandyism arose with slavery in Europe particularly during England’s Enlightenment period. In early 18th century, masters who wanted their slaves to reflect their social stature imposed dandified costumes on black servants, effectively turning them into ‘luxury slaves’. As black slaves gained more liberty, they took control of the image by customising their dandy uniforms and thereby creating a unique style. They transformed from black men in dandy clothing to dandies who were black.
Note: I wrote a bit here about Vietnamese steampunk, but when Tor.com asked me to write for their Steampunk Fortnight, I offered a more personal take on how my life has influenced my steampunk, and vice versa.
“You wear this so well! I can’t believe this fits you,” my mother exclaims. “I must’ve been really skinny.”
I’m ten years old and I don’t think to wonder whether she meant I was a fat kid (because all of her children have grown up “so big and tall” in America) or question why my mom was that thin when she married. I’m just admiring my outfit in the mirror. It didn’t fit as perfectly as she said; the dress panels of the ao dai nearly touched the floor, and the sleeves ran a bit past my wrists. But it was still the prettiest thing I had ever worn in my young life.
Read on Tor.com: A story in which the clothes make the steampunk as much as the steampunk makes the clothes.
This weekend, I’m rockin’ it out at New York Comic Con. I’m there mostly doing the Day Job thing, unfortunately (though, if I can, I might wear my steampunk for Sunday.)
For anyone who manages to recognize me in my civvies, though, you’ll probably end up being filmed or photographed, if you’re looking fabulous and want to flaunt it.
In the meantime, enjoy the linkspam below. This edition features lots of interesting essays, some awesome postcards, and a video of my interview with Cherie Priest.
Work has been hectic as of late, and I’m also in the midst of preparing for Dragon*Con. I don’t have as much new stuff planned out for this week as I had hoped, but have you checked out my essay series about multiculturalism in steampunk yet? And see the links below for more good things to read/watch/run in the streets shouting about.
Note from Ay-leen: I got in touch with Michael Redturtle—a steampunk enthusiast from the Southern US—a few months back and we’ve chatted about how steampunk can become integrated with someone’s personal and cultural identity. He offered to pen a few thoughts about his Native ancestry, the journey he took to discover it, and what that has to do with how he steampunks.
Michael RedTurtle Dancing at a Pow Wow
Since you’re reading this, you’re aware that there are many of us who prefer to look at steampunk from the viewpoint of outside neo-Victoriana. I was asked by Ay-leen to talk about my preference: that being Native American steampunk.
My name is Michael Redturtle. This is not the name of my “character/persona/whatever”; it is my actual name (some of you may know me on LiveJournal and other similar sites as Lucv_Cate, or LocaCate: which is Redturtle in two different Mvskoke dialects). I know one question that you probably have is: “is that your ‘real name’?” Well, it depends on what you call a “real name.”
I’ll be at ICON in Long Island this weekend and so I’ll be leaving a few tidbits for you to munch on while I’m out (by the way, my con schedule is easily traceable).