Gaining steam...

by - Wednesday, October 30, 2019

My ears immediately perked up.
Did you say steampunk?
Oh, yes, let me grab my goggles, and I'm on my way!

A short car ride away in Morristown, New Jersey, is a selection of women’s and men’s costumes and accessories that illustrate the eclectic and individualistic nature of steampunk fashion today. The Morris Museum's Steampunk Fashion exhibit on view until November 17th is a concise look at this profound aesthetic. The word "steampunk" conjures up numerous images of antiquity, industry, science, wonder, and grandeur. And while steampunk's origins in literature with plentiful portrayals in art and film, the most iconic manifestations are en vogue. Retro-futurism on full display.

Though many equate steampunk with corsets, top hats, and goggles, it is really a world embodying the spirit of a past that might have been but never was. That is, until now. Time travel back to the Victorian era and pair futuristic imagination with fantastic ideas conjured from science-fiction then package it with a vintage view. What's old is new again, and how it is assembled is left to the craft of the fantasy. Captured above is a men's character ensemble as a Scottish Highlander, a collaboration between Amber O'Boyle Kulp (costume) and Colleen O'Neill (accessories), with mechanical wings, once used onstage by steampunk duo Eternal Frontier.

Mechanized manufacturing, extensive urbanization, telecommunications, airships, and locomotives gave the world technological advancement and the birth of science fiction. Using this existing technology and structure, a more advanced nineteenth century with Victorian-era inspired wonder is created. Above is costume artist Paige Gardner's Siri: A Helpful Communications Assistant in an Apple-inspired costume with mohawk headpiece made of zip ties, and hair and gauntlet sleeve assembled from rotary telephone parts.

For the six costume ensembles in the exhibit, 19th-century Victorian Era clothing, and accessories from the Morris Museum’s permanent collection have been interspersed into the displays providing historical context. Each element from paintings to trinkets to shoes highlight the design connections and deconstructions that frequently push the limits of inspiration.

"The steampunk subculture draws fashion inspiration from archetypical characters, science fiction, and technology of the past, and its fashion is based on repurposing old items in a modern and imaginative way," states guest curator Kathy Francis.

"Nineteenth-century clothing recreations are mixed with gears, moving parts, and attitude, conveying a message of practicality, romanticism, adventure, and self-reliance. Thus the fashion becomes not only art but an artistic outlet for self-expression and creativity." ~ Kathy Francis

"For me, as an artist, the most important thing is a willingness to experiment and explore. To me, steampunk is all-encompassing. You go to any steampunk convention, and you will not only see costumes based on Victorian fashion. You will also see a lot of art from other subgenres. Steampunk is a really inclusive community." ~ Amber O'Boyle Kulp

Display of 19th-century women's undergarments, deconstructed to show the various layers from the inside out, including bloomers, underpetticoat, hoop skirt, petticoat, corset, and corset cover, any of which steampunk costumers may use as an outer layer.

So many fascinating trinkets pepper this exhibit. This Magic Lantern, circa the 1800s, is comprised of colored glass slides made from drawings or paintings held up in the device lit up by lantern or candlelight and then projected on a wall. The resulting projections were often accompanied by music as a form of entertainment or for educational purposes.

Men's fashion in the nineteenth century were proper and dignified. Today's gents wear aviator, and military-style jackets, waistcoats, tails, vests, top hats, bowler hats, goggles, medals, and pocket watches, to just name a few. The influence of fully charged futuristic weapons and sounds of yesteryear creates a rich beauty when combining both.

"I hope that this exhibition can inspire people to use their imaginations and create their own things. It doesn’t have to be professional or perfect. You just have to put your heart into it and do it because it’s something you love." ~ designer Colleen O’Neill

Steampunk fashion continues to gain steam... xoxo-Sonya

You May Also Like


© Copyright Sonya Marie Fitzmaurice - A little something... ® All rights reserved.