Neo-Victorian and steampunk enthusiasts gathered at the Doubletree Hotel on Oct. 16.[flickr 14423699@N04 72157625069872725]
It’s a bit of an understatement to say that life is busy in today’s society. Too often, it can be hard to put down the BlackBerry, walk away from the laptop and just enjoy life. There is a certain intensity that pervades modern life; technology is perpetually faster, gadgets grow smaller each week and there is more of a push to finish tasks as quickly as possible.
On Saturday, Oct. 16, time slowed down – and even rewound – as friends gathered in their best dress for an evening of libations and entertainment at Dorian’s Parlor, a monthly convention for steampunk and neo-Victorian enthusiasts.
“People are so frazzled with the intensity of current life,” Dorian’s Parlor attendee Kimberly Dickinson said. “The Victorian way is a simpler way of life. You visit friends, and you have a leisurely cup of tea.”
The event featured musical acts, comediennes, performers, handmade steampunk wares and a fashion show in the form of skits and vendors selling replicas from the Victorian era. The 21-and-over event is held each month at the Doubletree Hotel at 237 S. Broad St.
Gil Cnaan is one of the co-founders behind the event and the technical director of another steampunk event, the Steampunk World’s Fair in Piscataway, N.J. Known as Baron von Crankshaft to the steampunk community, Cnaan is a native of Israel and a 2008 Temple alumnus in religion and political science.
The event attracts steampunk and neo-Victorian enthusiasts from all over, with guests from as far away as Scandinavia and Toronto, according to Cnaan.
Cnaan, an amateur disc jockey at steampunk events, said too much of the steampunk culture is overlooked, and only the costuming side is truly recognized by mainstream society.
“There is very much an emerging genre of steampunk, and there are a lot of people arguing over what is and isn’t steampunk,” he said. “It’s growing as a literary movement, it’s growing as a fashion movement a lot [and] it’s growing musically a little more slowly.”
Steampunk is a science-fiction subculture that embraces the steam-powered engine era. It is an imaginary anachronistic aesthetic that features brass-and-copper clockwork, gears and other machinery. This same technology is seen as an oppressive force, and steampunkers fight against it.
Neo-Victorian is a more historically correct subculture that embraces historical Victorian and Edwardian facets and incorporates them into the modern way of life, dress, family values and morals and home décor. Enthusiasts wear full Victorian dress, including bloomers, corsets and petticoats for women, and waistcoats and top hats for men.
Dickinson, a financial manager by day, defines her look as “neo-Victorian or Victorian classic.” To build an outfit, Dickinson picks a focal point, then accentuates it without taking away from it, like the lace collar she wore Saturday. She purchases her accessories from vintage stores and events like Dorian’s Parlor, and others are “pieced together from antique shops or second-hand shops like Goodwill.”
Brian Thomas, better known as “Major Girth,” the commander of the Imperial American Air Corps when in costume, uses steampunk and the IAAC as “an artistic and creative outlet” where he and his friends “portray characters from this universe [they] created.”
“The IAAC is a steampunk brand that I developed about nine months ago,” Thomas said. “The IAAC is a series of short stories and short films that are based on the IAAC universe we created and steampunk merchandise.”
“A lot of steampunk artists and authors like to kind of gloss over the negative aspects of Victorian society,” Thomas said. “We don’t romanticize it, we blow it way out of proportion. What our fiction does, it bears it like an ugly fat girl and just revels in the horribleness of some of the [Victorian] morals and ugly ideals.”
Thomas added that the IAAC engages in battle frequently. However, as he and his crew have yet to find a worthy opponent willing to be injured, they often fight among one another. The IAAC’s creative steampunk propaganda films can be found on YouTube.
Music and live performances, along with fashion and literature, are a large part of steampunk and neo-Victorian cultures. The event hosted two musical performances, The Gypsy Nomads and the Absinthe Drinkers, along with a slew of other performers, including two comediennes and a hula-hooping, stilt-walking circus performer named Little Miss Rollerhoops.
Rollerhoops, who performs burlesque, hula-hooping, fire-hooping, fire-eating and trapeze tricks, said she attended a performing arts camp at the age of 13, where she fell in love with circus tricks.
“I’ve always been that crazy kid who went to school in costumes instead of actual clothing, and [the circus] just seemed to fit,” Rollerhoops said.
In addition to performances, Dorian’s Parlor also hosted vendors selling neo-Victorian or steampunk wares, like corsets, bloomers, women’s mini top hats and teardrop headdresses, glasses, goggles and jewelry.
Anna “Annie A-Bomb” Frangiosa, owned a South Philadelphia boutique, Ballroom to Bedroom, from 2003 to 2005.
“I sold special occasion women’s apparel, loungewear, lingerie and accessories, all vintage-inspired but new,” Frangiosa said. “Some things I made myself, but some things I purchased from other vendors or designers.”
Frangiosa graduated from Temple in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. Before she attended Temple, she received her associate’s degree in fashion design from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
Saturday’s event was the first Dorian’s Parlor event Frangiosa attended, and she sold corsets, formal wear, bloomers and accessories, such as pasties, nipple tassels and hair accessories.
For those who attend Dorian’s Parlor, history, science fiction and old-time technology buffs can unite under one roof to share their passions for vintage glamour and spectacles.
“It’s very warm and open,” Dickinson said, “as opposed to some of the other subcultures, which are very standoff-ish.”
Alexis Sachdev can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.