Monday, November 26, 2012

So You Want To Dress Steampunk...

...but you don't have the time nor funds to invest in a complex Steampunk ensemble.

Sometimes we have Steampunk events we must attend, but what happens if we don't have any Steampunk outfits to wear?  Or we'd like to go to the event and participate, but we aren't technically a Steampunker?

Well fear not!  For Adrienne is here to help you create your very own Steampunk outfit from what you already own!  Huzzah!

First of all, for those of you who, like me, are visual people, I will reference some films that might help focus your thoughts.  For Edwardian examples think MOULIN ROUGE, MARRY POPPINS (or most any of those Edwardian 60s Disney musials i.e.: CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG), MY FAIR LADY and DOWNTON ABBEY.  I actually find the Edwardian slightly easier for people to emulate using contemporary clothing because it is closer in time period to our own.  But for Victorian examples think OLIVER! (any Dickens adaptation), JANE EYRE (so many adaptations), THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST (any Wilde adaptation - ie: AN IDEAL HUSBAND), THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, TITANIC and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.

Second of all, you might notice all my suggestions would also work if you were invited to a neo-Victorian/neo-Edwardian party.  There is nothing particularly Steampunk about the clothing choices.  What makes something steampunk are the accessories.  These are those accessories:

Accessories -

Hats: newsboy hat, bowler, top hat, fedora (actually a hat meant for women invented in the late 1800s), small top/bowler hats for women, fascinators, large wide brimmed hats you'd wear to Ascot or to star in My Fair Lady.

Eyewear: round glasses/sunglasses, goggles - aviator/lab/motorcycle, monocle

Jewelry: anything really, but in particular: cameos, pocketwatches, chains with a solitary pendant, chokers, rings.

Belts.  Belts belts belts belts belts.  Thick ones, thin ones, layer them one on top of the other, over the shoulder for a holster effect.  Leather, of course is preferable.

Canes, sticks, parasols.

Weapons - all oldy-timey and preferably fake because of the whole going out in public thing.  But: swords, old fashioned guns (small and discrete, large and formidable), daggers.

There's an amusing video called "Don't just glue some gears onto it and call it Steampunk" that mocks, well, the obvious.  To which I respond, why the heck not?  If you want to put in a bit of an effort, there is no surer way to Steampunkify your ensemble than gluing some gears onto it.  Here are some inspirational photos.

Now for the clothing part.


I really like using Moulin Rouge as my reference, but if people don't know it, I've also included pics.

The easiest for men is a SUIT.  There is a day suit, usually brown, maybe tweed (think what Henry Higgins wears almost all the time throughout MY FAIR LADY), or there is a tux or evening suit - black, sharply put together complete with a top hat.

If you have a colourful suit jacket you can suddenly become an MC of your very own Burlesque show :) .  Think Zidler.

Or if you happen to have a smoking jacket, replace your suit jacket with that, and add a white cravat (where does one get one of those, well it's easy enough with a scarf, but look around your place and see if you have any random bits of fabric, or if you really feel like it, cut up an old bedsheet) and you've got a lovely outfit to rest in for the evening.  And you'll look like The Duke in the Like A Virgin number.

This was seriously the best pic of his outfit I could find :P

Or add a lab coat and a pair of goggles and suddenly you're a scientist!

But if a full suit is not in the cards, then there are some other Moulin Rouge inspired looks that work:

The Semi-Dressed Man aka the Roxanne Musical Number - dress pants and shoes, a white tank top/under shirt, if you have them, suspenders add a certain je ne sais quoix (and will really highlight your killer Fosse dance moves).  If you want add a waistcoat/vest.  This look works great for men and women.

Literally cap it all off with a bowler hat (cheaply found at any costume shop, as are top hats, mine was eight bucks at Theatrics on Yonge here in Toronto) and you're good to go!


The Artist/Inventor aka The Hills Are Alive scene - dress pants and shoes OR brown corduroy/tweed/dress pants and brown boots/shoes, dress shirt (unbuttoned if no tie), scarf/cravat/undone bow tie, vest/waistcoat, funky glasses, most any kind of oldy-timey looking hat

I'm about to launch into female options, but men I suggest you read it too.  There might be something I list for women that could inspire as well.


It's harder for women to come up with a Steampunk costume with the elements in our wardrobes for one simple reason: corsets.  In that we don't tend to own them.  It is one of the coolest costume elements for women getting into the Steampunk aesthetic, but what does the average woman do?

Well first of all it is perfectly acceptable to cross-dress.  Think Marlene Dietrich.  Any of the male suggestions work for women too (to be fair any female suggestions are perfectly fine for men as well if they want), and since a lot of women own suits now, these outfits might suit better than a corseted ensemble.

However, here are some uniquely female options:

The Professional/Adventurer - even if you don't have a corset, you can still give the illusion you are wearing one beneath your clothes.  With a cropped military/tweed/business jacket, a tight shirt with a thick belt around the waist and a long skirt, you are good to go.  You can even go with a just below knee length skirt if you don't have a long one.  Think a Wild West kind of look.

Courtesy: Clockwork Couture

If you add a white lab coat and a pair of goggles suddenly you're a scientist!

The Fortune Teller - mediums, tarot card readers etc were very popular at that time (and I suppose remain so today).  This can be the easiest for women to dress as because most of us own scarves etc that can be wrapped around the head, the waist, the neck.  Get a flowy skirt, a blouse, lots of bling - long necklaces and bangles, hoop earrings . . . bring a deck of cards with you and you're golden.

As you can see from the pic below, fortune teller can also double as pirate.

The Dressed-Up Lady - if you have a long elegant gown, preferably at least A-line, add a pair of gloves, a belt, an up-do, some period jewelry and ta-da!  A lovely Edwardian lady. 

Titanic is a good inspiration too!

However, if you DO have a corset:

- add a long skirt and a bolero - you are a dressed up lady
- wear it with the gentlemen options above and you've got a female version of all said outfits
or . . .

The Semi-Dressed Woman - again we're talking about the Roxanne number from Moulin Rouge.  Get a white undershirt, or sleeveless blouse, add the corset on top, a pair of frilly boy shorts underwear, thigh highs, garter belt, shoes.  It's a far more risque costume to the male version, but you can actually be pretty covered while wearing it.  Hair up, messy makeup.  You're good to go!

So there you go!  I could go on, as there are so many wonderful options for dressing up, and my list here is by no means the be all and end all.  But I hope it's sparked some ideas, inspired you in some ways. 

However if you want even more inspiration and pics, please visit my other blog post on the Archetypal Steampunk Costumes.

Also if you are in Toronto, here are some excellent stores to check out if you want to spend some cash: Theatrics, Malabars, Kensington Market, Value Village (for Halloween they actually had pre-packaged Steampunk outfits and still might), Goodwill

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Reluctant Reader

Hi.  My name is Adrienne Kress and I'm a reluctant reader.

I don't know if they had the term when I was growing up, and it took me a while after I'd first heard it to learn that reluctant reader did not necessarily mean someone who found the act of reading difficult, ie: had dyslexia.  Of course those who do find the act of reading difficult can definitely become reluctant readers due to sheer frustration. 

But I discovered that the term also referred to people like me.  People who don't struggle with the act of reading, but do struggle with remembering that reading is a totally awesome way to pass the time. 

This might sound truly odd, seeing as I'm an author and all.  It might also sound truly odd considering how many books I have read over my lifetime.  But I wanted to talk about it to offer a bit of a insight into the mindset of someone like me.  I also thought it might be useful to authors who want to take reluctant readers in mind when writing their work (not that it is necessary to do so, but if you are interested then well, here you go).  Being not only one of those readers, but an author of books who has been told by multiple teachers that her books are popular with reluctant readers, I feel I can offer some decent insight.  As always, if anyone has anything to add to my post, please do feel free to leave a comment.  After all, ultimately this is coming from my personal experience, and I can't necessarily speak to some universal truth.


First of all, what do I mean by reluctant?

I mean someone who would rather relax doing something else.  Whether that be watching TV/Film, playing video games, playing sports, doing music etc.  I mean someone who doesn't think reading and goes, "Ooh yes!  That's what I'd like to be doing right now."  Someone who needs to be reminded every time she picks up a book that she actually really enjoys reading.

And yes, I need to be reminded every time.  I've grown as a reader.  I've worked hard to do so, I now read almost every genre (aside from horror because it scares me).  I am willing to fight my way through a more dense work because I see a value to it, when once I would have just given up.  But still.  I need to be reminded every time.  I don't automatically trust I'll enjoy a book the way I automatically trust I'll enjoy a film.

As such, I wanted to share what does keep me reading, and more importantly what got me reading when I wasn't yet willing to put in the effort.  When I really needed the book to do all the work for me.

And one of the things I've noticed that some are doing to try to engage reluctant readers is to write shorter works with simple words and plot.  For me this is the wrong tactic to take.  This is not not what engages such readers.  As I said above, reluctant readers don't struggle with the act of reading, nor with comprehension.  They just don't think they enjoy it.  But books like Harry Potter have shown us that people of all stripes will pick up long books with complicated stories so long as they are entertained by them.  And that's the key: the books need to be entertaining.

Reluctant readers don't need easy language and story.  That's just as likely to turn off a reluctant reader as anything else (it's condescending and not really that compelling).  What they want is proof that this story will keep them reading.

So what are some elements that help keep us reading:

Short Chapters
- not less complex, but chapters where when you flip ahead you can see an end point.  Short chapters give permission for a reader to pause.  It also gives the reader a sense of accomplishment.  Short chapters can also oddly make you want to read more.  The whole, "Okay I'll just read one more chapter since they are so short anyway. . ." really does work.  I've fallen for that trick many times.  Say what you will about Dan Brown, but one of the things he does brilliantly is use the short chapter technique to perfection.  He also ended each chapter with a cliffhanger, which can get annoying after a while when you realise what he's doing.  But darn it if it didn't get people reading further :) . 

A Story That Moves Forward
- this doesn't have to be action action action, but even in a more character driven piece, things need to happen.  I will say it took me a long time to appreciate literary fiction, and that was because I worked hard to discover what was enjoyable about such fiction.  Now I love it.  But I remember how I felt in the early days.  Story needs to move forward, there needs to be momentum.  The reader wants to keep reading, to see what happens next.

- like Alice says, "What's the use of a book without pictures or conversations?"  Dialogue does several things.  First aesthetically it breaks up the text.  It makes it look less daunting.  White space is very comforting.  Secondly dialogue hints at action. It suggests that this won't be some book that talks about the sunset for five pages nor internal strife for paragraphs on end.  Thirdly, dialogue is in the moment, it's a conversation happening in the now.  Even if written in the past tense, dialogue gives a great sense of immediacy.  It also is the closest part of a book to a screenplay, and considering how popular television and film is, it's not a bad thing to have something in common with those media.

Minimal Description
- it's not that we don't want you to world build, it's that we don't want you to dwell on it.  We get it, we can fill in the blanks.  Some readers have the patience to read every small detail of the world you have so lovingly created.  But we are interested in the story happening now, not the background. This doesn't mean you shouldn't create a well rounded universe, it simply means that for writing for the reluctant reader it isn't necessary to share every single element.  Only add those bits that matter to the story moving forward.

 - not necessary, but I know it worked for me.  When I considered reading, I saw Literature with a capital "L".  It was what was good for me.  It was the choice my parents wanted me to choose to occupy my free time with.  It was quality.  And for that reason I assumed, like other things that were good for me, it was blah.  It didn't taste good like junk food, it didn't entertain like a movie.  It was healthy.  So I assumed it would be boring.  Something I'd have to struggle through.  When I discovered books could be funny, could make me laugh?  That was a big deal.  Ultimately it isn't about the humour specifically (that's just what worked for me), but in writing a book that doesn't take itself too seriously, that doesn't see itself as "important".  That first and foremost wants to include me the reader, that wants to get me excited by the story, as opposed to showing off to the reader how well the story is written.

Those are just a few elements, dealt with on a pretty basic level, that I think bring the reluctant reader in.  They are also elements you will find more of in literature for young people.  Why?  Because books for young people don't rely on the reader putting in an extra effort.  Kids especially will not attempt to get through a book because some reviewer told them it was a seminal work of whatever.  If they aren't entertained, they ain't reading it.  And that isn't an altogether bad attitude I think.  It puts the focus where it belongs, on the book, not the show of reading, not the importance of the author, but on the words there on the page before you.

In any event, I hope this shed some light on the reluctant reader mindset.  I also want to remind you that this is very particular to that one group.  This doesn't mean that there aren't books worth putting in effort for, nor that there aren't readers who love pages and pages of description and slow moving stories with little dialogue.  This isn't me making any kind of value judgment.  I am simply being very blunt in what a certain group of readers think when they read.  Not everyone. 

As always, it's all about to each his own.  In the end, it's about getting people to read and, just as importantly I think, to enjoy reading.  How you do it is up to you! :)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Steampunk Tuesday - Adrienne's Steampunk Photoshoot Part Deux

I already posted the spontaneous photoshoot pics I took a while ago, but here and now I can finally share with you some of the professional photos I had taken so I had some I could use for various Steampunk events etc.

They turned out amazing, and it's all down to the fantastic Tanja Tiziana - a professional photographer here in Toronto.  She was creative and hilarious and totally understood the look I was going for.  Her work is fantastic - check it out at her site here.

We had a lot of fun playing with costumes and props, as well as lighting, hair and makeup, it was an all day affair.  And here is the end result! I really think they are pretty sweet (click on pics for larger versions):

I shared this chair on this blog before: it's at late 19th century music hall chair. Underneath there is a wire frame where you can store your top hat :) .

Poll time:  of the two above, which do people prefer, smiling or not smiling?

And . . . close-up of the same shot.

Me with a very large Steampunk gun.  Courtesy of Mr. Adam Smith.

Now a pair of fun shots.

Made this one look oldy-timey!  Aka: Sepia

Me as an anime character? The Giant Eye picture.  Took a while to place the magnifying glass just so, but well worth the effort I think :) .

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Steampunk Tuesday - and the winner is . . .

And the winner of the gorgeous Steampunk necklace designed by Lora at London Particulars is . . .


Please email me at adriennekress @ gmail . com your mailing address and the necklace will be shipped to you directly!

Just in case people were wondering, the selection was made at random by Lora herself, because, quite frankly, how could we choose from between all of you lovely people??  Thank you so much to all who entered, and I do hope that even if you didn't win you might consider still investing in a piece from the shop, 'cause, you know . . . her work is fabulous!

That's enough excitement I think for one Steampunk Tuesday.  So, until next week, this is Adrienne Kress saying . . . if you're going to go punk, go steamy.