To steampunk, or not to steampunk?
For the uninitiated, Wikipedia says: Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialised Western civilisation during the 19th century. Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century’s British Victorian era or American “Wild West”, in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power.
Think of Will Smith’s movie “Wild, Wild West” and you’re there.
At the Pikes Peak Writers Conference next month, one of our keynote speakers is Gail Carriger, who writes a delightful series in the steampunk genre. At the Friday night dinner, when she will be speaking, we are having an optional steampunk costume contest.
This is a really long-winded way to get to the point: for women, steampunk usually means wearing a corset. Usually over a white blouse. I feel that, having attained the sagacious age of 50, if I was corset sort of woman, I’d have one by now. Heck, I’d have half a dozen, in various styles and colors, from black leather to purple brocade.
From what I can tell, the main function of a corset is to keep your posture bloody perfect, and to cinch in your waist. If you’ve anything extra at your waistline, as most of us do, the corsets pushes it out both ends. Think of grabbing a toothpaste tube in the middle and giving it a good, hard squeeze. Since I am sufficiently supplied at both the bosom and the backside, I’m not sure why I’d want to either increase the padding on my hips OR push my boobs up to my chin.
Do you see where this is going?
Sure you do.
Some of the women of PPW were talking about corsets for the costumes. So I decided that instead of going out with a group of women who are predominantly younger and thinner than I am, I would slip into a local store that sells all sorts of boudoir accessories. For the sake of anonymity, let’s call the place Seductions.
I cross the threshold. The music is loud. Okay, I’m not THAT old. But it’s loud enough that the female sales clerk and the male customer she is assisting need to shout at each other to be heard. While they were busy with a lengthy discussion of his purchase, I perused the stock at the front of the store, ears quietly bleeding.
I was trying not to pay attention to what they were doing/discussing. Really, your sex secrets? Your little kinks and peccadilloes? I do not want to know. That’s not a judgement call–you have to understand that I truly, madly, deeply do not care what you do in the bedroom, as long as nobody is being coerced.
The man left the counter, came back. Left, came back. Packages were opened. Batteries were inserted. He want to what I imagine was the changing room for men. He came back out, said, “Oh, yeah, that feels really comfortable.” The sales clerk said, “Walk around, see how you like it.”
He walked around the store with a springy step. I confess, I looked at his feet. He was not wearing new shoes. But he had something battery-operated either attached to or inserted into some part of him covered by his clothing.
And I still couldn’t find a corset that looked like you could wear it over a poofy white blouse, OR one that looked like it would span my thigh, let alone my waist.
The man finally wanders off to the back of the store to examine more battery-powered accessories, and I approach the sales lady. Her lips were moving and she was smiling at me, so I yelled “What?” After another couple of shouted exchanges, I was able to explain that I was looking for a corset that could be worn on the outside of a blouse, and I need one that wasn’t Barbie pink or Barbie sized.
The sales lady stepped out from behind the counter. She was the smallest human being I’ve ever met. The top of her head didn’t even reach my shoulder. She led me to the single bustier in the store that was my size and not covered in cheap and itchy red lace. She smiled when she held it out and told me I could try it on.
I looked her in the eye, and said, “You want to explain to me exactly how that works?” I had images of needing an Nascar pit crew. But it turns out that these garments often lace on one side, and have hook and eye closures on the other side. Roughly a hundred hook and eye closures, so it’s like fastening your bra except that it takes a whole lot longer. You loosen the laces in the front and wrap it around you so the hooks are on your side, rather than in the back. You fasten them. You keep fastening them. After an hour or so, you’re all in. Then you have to yank and pull the corset into place, so the laces are properly in the front and the hooks are at the back.
For a moment, I considered buying the damn thing just so I wouldn’t have to wrestle it off. No matter the fit was off, the material cheap and the construction shoddy, to the tune of $59.99.
That’s a whole lot of effort for a garment that has been (successfully) replaced by Spanx. (Not that Spanx don’t have their own foibles, but that’s a different post.)
I left the store with two options. One, I could skip the costume and just enjoy watching other people wear them. I like that option. It suits two of my sterling qualities: laziness and frugality. Two, I could look for a steampunk inspiration that didn’t involve a corset.
The decision? You’ll have to wait until conference to find out.