Attention all gentlefolk! On this approaching Saturday, October 19th, the artist Sarah Rocheleau and I will be hosting a panel entitled “Everything I Thought I Knew About Costume History Was Made Up By Victorians” at 11 am in room LL3 at Geek Girl Con. Full scheduling info here!
Les Trois Grâces ~ One of my Favorite Bloggers Talks About the ACE Trope - AKA What I’m Usually Playing When I Monster ~ A Nice Reminder About Larping in the Heat ~ Amazing Underpants Neither She Nor I Can Afford ~ A ZOMGAWESOME Post About Victorian Bustles ~ Why I Don’t Give Two Shits About Offending Folks ~ In Defense of Bronies ~ Planets! ~ Because Sometimes, You Just Need To Look at Pictures of Pretty Things
Recent discoveries have suggested that paleolithic humans used flickering firelight in caves and toys known as thaumatropes to create animation effects (source). This works because of the effect known as persistence of vision. As with all theories regarding things that old, interpreting what that meant or how paleolithic humans experienced it requires a lot of research; luckily for us, we mostly play in fictional worlds, and can content ourselves with being inspired.
We call the toys thaumatropes because that is what the Victorian Era re-inventors of these toys called them; in the Western world, that is the most recent leap in their popularity.
These two sets of facts suggest entirely different costuming ideas. The paleolithic animations suggest a prop that can be used to maintain, for example, area of effect spells centered on the caster. It would be a particularly fitting prop for illusion spells. On the other hand, the Victorian era popularity suggests an opportunity for increased whimsy- especially as jewelry thaumatropes are available.
Thaumatrope illusion NECKLACE - The Bird and the Cage via The Mymble’s Daughter. Clear plastic and plated silver. Ships worldwide. $34 USD
Image Credit: Lions painting, Chauvet Cave (museum replica) by HTO (Own work (own photo)) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
If you examine the middle parts of the lady on the right of this image- not those middle parts, get your mind out of Shakespeare’s gutter- you will find a muff. Not that kind of muff! Look, what kind of pervert are you?
A muff is a perfectly innocent word for a round tube of fur that was popular as a cold-weather garment for a span of three hundred years, from the 1600s through the early 1900s (source and source). It was unisex for the first 200 years of its popularity, though it became a ladies-only garment by the Victorian Era. It’s hardly a combat appropriate, but it is rather small and compact; something to keep with you on those long trails. It would be even more effective as an accessory for one of those incredibly long-lived night-walking bloodsuckers everyone’s so fond of; the kind of touch that reveals a person a bit behind the times.
Photo is of Marvel Rea (left), Fred Sterling (center), and Alice Maison (right), circa 1919, via Wikimedia Commons. The work is in the Public Domain.
But if you want a muff of your very own…
I have something of a fetish for pockets. My favorite pair of shorts has, on last count, 23; I keep finding new ones from time to time. One can never have too many pockets!
That’s why I love tool belts; they allow you to add mobile pocket storage to any outfit. Plus I enjoy tinkerer characters, and what’s a tinkerer without their tools?
(Answer: someone who’s figuring out how to turn underbrush and rocks into tools, that’s what.)
Vintage leather tool belts are easy enough to find, and if you find a modern one in a natural leather color, you can age it a bit with the meticulous application of dirt and a hammer. Just stay away from the rivets and/or seams! Or if strapping bits of dead animal to yourself isn’t your cup of tea, you do have other options- canvas or fabric tool belts are just as old* as leather ones, so just look for one that fits your character’s look, and you’re off!
*How old, exactly? Pretty old! There are numerous images of Medieval craftsmen with aprons or half aprons- some with pockets, some without. Leather was often used in situations like smithing, where you don’t just want to stay clean, you want to protect yourself.
I have a confession: I have wanted a union suit for years. I used to do CRM Archaeology, and every time I was shivering my butt off in single digit weather (Fahrenheit), I was super jealous of my coworkers who had union suits. Besides, when nature is your powder room, a removable back panel makes a difference!
Union suits were invented around the same time as jeans. Originating from Uttica, New York, the first union suit was patented in 1868. They were initially a ladies undergarment and part of the Victorian dress reform movement that advocated for women to wear more practical, less restricting clothing. Union suits quickly jumped the gender line, becoming popular with American men as well. They caught on in England shortly after 1878, when a German book claiming that only clothing made from animal hair was healthy was published. An Englishman translated and sold the book in his new shop- one that happened to specialize in clothing made exclusively from animal hair.
All this being the case, it would be eminently reasonable for a steampunk adventurer exploring the colder parts of the world to include a union suit as part of his or her adventuring ensemble.
Top: Vintage Duofold Union Suit from Etsy. Only available as shown. Inner layer is cotton, outer layer is wool. (Wool was what people used before Underarmor- it pulls moisture away from your body, making it an excellent bottom layer material for physical activity in cold weather.) $35
Bottom Left:Unisex Rib Henley One-Piece by American Apparel. Sizing is unisex. Comes in Black, Brown, Cranberry, Rose, Grape Juice, Navy, Dark Sea Green, and Forest (shown). This one does not come with a rear opening! 100% cotton. $38
Bottom Right: Midweight Cotton Union Suit by Carhartt. Available in men’s sizes. Only in Red. 100% cotton. $42
(All of these are only available in Red)
Men’s XXL at Wal-mart. Doesn’t state what the fabric is. $18
Indera Men’s Classic Union Suit at Tractor Supply. 100% cotton. Prices and size availability vary by location; my local price was $22
Duofold Midweight Union Suit in Small-2XL. This is the same cotton/wool fabric as above. Most sizes $38
Threadbangers has an awesome library of how-to videos for crafting. This one features a super easy way to make steampunk goggles.
Something they leave out of the video is that the size of the nose piece will vary a bit from human to human, so measure before you sew. Some fun variations of the design are using different size plastic lids (with correspondingly sized leather), and/or using curved plastic (like from these holiday ornaments).
Keep in mind that plastic eyepieces will get scratched over time, and probably need replacing. Of course, that only matters if you plan on wearing them over your eyes!
Goggles with glass are a relatively new invention, and firmly in the steampunk time period of the early 1900s in the West. However, all kinds of cultures have developed slit goggles. The Inuit, for example, would carve a band of bone so that it looked kind of like Gordi’s visor from Star Trek and then cut two horizontal slits. This let a limited amount of light in, preventing snow blindness during the summer. If your character comes from a culture with lots of light, they might have just this kind of technology.