19th Century

AetherCon: The Steampunk Convention

This Saturday was AetherCon, Wellington’s first (hopefully annual) Steampunk convention. I really want to support any sort of historically inspired costuming in Wellington, so I agreed to do a talk on the historical origins of Steampunk Fashion.

In the weeks before had lots of fun sprucing up costumes and finishing UFO’s and even making some new things.

Unfortunately the day itself did not start well.  It was pouring.   A dear friend was kind enough to lend me her apartment – only three blocks from the venue  – for dressing in, but I still had to get all my garments from my house to the car, from the car to the apartment, and then get the models from the apartment to the venue – all without getting the dresses (and models) soaked and bedraggled.  Ergh.

I put the dresses in plastic bags to transport between my place and the apartment, and stuck every umbrella I owned in the car.  And then I prayed.  Nothing else to do.

I got soaked getting to the car and getting to the apartment.  We dropped all the wet stuff outside, patted off, and started getting dressed, all while I kept a worried eye on the rain outside.  I wasn’t happy about any of my garments getting wet, but one especially freaked me out.  I’d been planning to put a model in Juno, but wasn’t going to risk it if it was still raining, so I’d scraped together a backup outfit – I wouldn’t know which she could wear until the last minute.

Luckily the rain cleared up in the last 40 minutes of dressing, so Juno sans train went on the model, all of us wrapped up in anachronistic jackets and trotted to the AetherCon venue, causing turned heads even in ‘too cool to be surprised by anything’ Wellington.

The talk was great – my only complaint was that it was hot.  The room was packed, and all those people warmed it up considerably.  It’s good to be that popular though!

Afterwards we posed for pictures outside, browsed the pretty goodies on sale in the vendor section, and trotted back to get undressed before it started raining again.  Oh, but first we stopped in at an Asian grocery for ‘Melona’ ice creams (sooooo delicious!).  They loved us in the grocery store – all the clerks wanted pictures of us.  Best part of the day!

Thank you all for putting up with me while I was distracted with sewing (but hey, now I have new fun sewing things to show you!), and huge thanks to  all of my models and my great friend who let us spread our huge mess over her apartment for a couple of hours on a Saturday.

And now, for your viewing enjoyment, pictures:

After the talk (Madame O not pictured, because it was too cold outside for her to pose in a corset and drawers):

And having posing with customers and having ice creams at the Asian grocery:

After getting undressed and packing up I was pretty exhausted – but there was still a ball to go to that night.  I really considered flagging it, but thought I’d just try on a dress to see if I had something that worked.  And it did, and then I did my hair, and it worked, and I decided it was meant to be!

Lots of gorgeous dresses at the ball  – some of which I had a hand it too!  I made Sadie’s  gold dress, and helped Madame O with patterning her ‘Night Sky’ extravaganza (it sparkles amazingly in person).

I think I want to re-do the bodice of Sadies dress, but the overall effect is amazing.  It just glows gold.

My goal for the ball was to be comfortable. I wanted to dance, and was pretty worn out, so no corsets and bustles for me.  Instead, I put on the 1913 Poiret ‘Carte Blanche’ frock.  It’s a couple sizes too big for me, but I just tightened the waistband and pinned under the arms, and it was good to go.

To Steampunk it up, I wore my gold wedding shoes, added a Japanese fan (OK, not that Steampunky), a gold bag, a steampunk-esque necklace from Things Unseen (which unfortunately got tugged and broke before I took pictures), and as a final touch, a copper rose in my hair.

It’s not the usual Steampunk attire, but I was thrilled with how I looked, and I also have a problem with gadgets and gears all over Steampunk ball attire.  I mean, what scientist wears their lab coat to a ball?  When Dr Livingstone came back to England he didn’t wear his African explorer gear to balls.  I think we need to find a way to make Steampunk fashion logical when it comes to eveningwear.  It’s an idea I’m working on!



  1. So totally awesome. You look lovely. I’m so glad that you didn’t get rained on!

  2. Elise says

    Gadgets as jewelry…It’s funny, because a friend of mine (we span the Gen X generation) and I were talking about the digitization of life, and how gears and mechanisms become exotic and like a fetish.

    But you know, in the end, it’s beautiful! Who doesn’t like looking at the insides of a clock? And Faberge eggs are the best because off all the cool things they do.

    And what I love about Steampunk is the veritable *joy* coming out of these people! It’s like there are a bunch of people with their arms around each other yelling out of the tops of limousines: “Wahooo! Pastiche for the win and I love it and I don’t care who doesn’t!”

    Reading sorts of people would never ever ever want to reenter the Real Victorian World, but one of the best things about it all was the sheer breathless forwardness of it all. It makes sense that the most salient pieces of Victorianism–machinery–is given a prime spot!

    Maybe I’m just defending old gadgetry today because my friend’s on may or may not have had his first encounter with a VCR, and put the tape in backwards. He’s 18..sigh.

    • Elise says

      Ok, follow up question on wearing machinery. Why do I remember that the famous 18th-century boat-as-hairpiece happened because there was a celebration of something nautical. So would the 19th-century analogue also wear some sort of machinery-thing?

      In a similar vein, Ben Franklin (American Revolutionary) wore a coon-skin cap to France in order to ‘look the part.’ So would anyone wear their lab coat or hunting gear to a ball to look the part?

      Not nit-picking at all, just the comment made me think of ‘legitimate’ reasons why someone would wear something mechanical during the real 19th century.

  3. I love your gown for the ball and I agree re gadgets and cogs on evening wear, it does detract from lovely garb 🙂

    I also love your ‘talk’ gowns, very delightful and all so different. The gold gown you made for your client is stunning, as is the starry night dress that you patterned.

    Wonderful work!

  4. What an amazing experience! I love the fact the grocery store clerks got super excited about your fabulous outfits- though how could you not? Hope you got to dance until dawn 🙂

  5. I love that Edwardian look, and I think you could be right about the steampunk evening look – I am still researching but I agree there must be day and evening looks, as the Victorians and Edwardians changed for everything!

  6. You always go out looking like a star! Your gatherings look like far more fun than any local nights out around here. Thanks for sharing the photo’s!

  7. when I read your comment “I mean, what scientist wears their lab coat to a ball? When Dr Livingstone came back to England he didn’t wear his African explorer gear to balls.” totally spluttered with laughter. That’s eminently logical. Why would you wear a lab coat to a ball? Unless it was a spangly one….

  8. Even Steampunk evolves. I’m not that interested in the Galactic adventuring side of it but I loved the gadgetry/look side of it even before I knew there was a movement (but I do like things to really work). My husband was in the process of fitting out our old villa laundry in steampunk style (lots of copper, brass, polished wood and pressure gauges) when he died. I am a purist about things historical but for playfulness I love the reworking of styles using modern fabric or acceptabilities. I must say the Steampunk costumes I’ve seen in Oamaru in the past don’t seem laden with gadgets, but I suspect the (non-working) gadget-wearing is part of the evolution of the idea.

  9. What a marvelous event! I hope it becomes an annual thing as well because it just looks fantastic! All of the dresses are stunning, of course – well done and yay for not having to get the dresses wet in the rain!

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