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2011-07-05 07:44 am

#82 The Birth of Miss Dorothy Winterman: A Personal Essay– A Guest Blog by Luisa Ana Fuentes

Story Excerpt:

Dorothy Winterman's "African Amazon" outfit

It is day 15 of our arduous journey through the veldts of Nigeria (or are we in Cameroon yet?). Our tracker Adeola has discovered new tracks and scraps of fibers from obviously foreign cloths. She can find a single iguana track amongst a bevy of crocodiles, this one can. We listen intently that these “men” are probably several hours, if not a day away. We find evidence of them through their encampments, their excrement and their litter. Yes, litter. Can you imagine- these foreigners, these soldiers, these baby snatching, people annihilating, genocidal rapists also throw their unwanted refuse upon our beautiful, sacred ground. Well if you can march hordes of innocent groups of human beings to ships waiting to whisk them away to be enslaved, massacred and destroyed in a whole different place on this globe, throwing down unwanted garbage must not mean much. I guess it truly lies in one’s perspective, does it not?

I think to myself, “Did I travel back in time for this?”

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2011-06-19 12:00 am

Beyond Victoriana: #80 Shadi Ghadirian & Muslim Women "Time Travelers"

If nineteenth-century Iranian women discovered time travel, where would they go? What would they bring back?

Photographer Shadi Ghadirian did not have these questions in mind, persay, but she is interested in how the Western world perceives Iranian woman like herself. In her photography series "Qajar," she brings out the cognitive dissonance that someone unfamiliar with Iran may experience, as well as comments about the position of women in society today.

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2011-06-12 12:38 pm

Convention Extravaganza: Steampunk World's Fair II

Jake von Slatt's Roadster, featured at the Fair. Image courtesy of Michael Salerno.

Steampunk World's Fair-- the self-proclaimed "largest steampunk festival in the US" had a huge turnout last year and raised expectations for many steampunks for repeat success. Over the course of the year, shifts in management and staff structure sprouted rumors of uncertainty about the success of the con, but this year's Fair still held a strong and diverse showing of panels, workshops, and entertainments. Previous year's favorites, including musicians Professor Elemental, Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band, Psyche Corporation, Eli August, This Way to Egress, and Frenchy and the Punk returned, with the addition of several other newcomers such as Murder by Death, Copal, Ego Likeness, and Left Outlet.  Events expanded to include book launch parties for Tee Morris and Pip Ballentine's The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, Leanna Renee Hieber's The Perilous Prophecy of the Goddess and the Guard, and Emilie P. Bush's The Gospel According to Verdu at the Library of Lost Literature, an academic track, a Tweed Ride, a Dandy Stroll, a charity fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and Queen Victoria's Birthday Party. Other notable programming ranged from workshops on bartitsu and kimono-wearing to pro-union rallies and surviving the apocalypse.

Along with my own con report, which is featured on, below is just a sampling of experiences offered by our guest reporters, including Daniel Holzman-Tweed, Austin Sirkin, Lucretia Dearfour, Sean Proper, Matt Deblass and Ekaterina Sedia. Fashion designer Kathryn Paterwic of Redfield Designs also presents her runway collection from the "Across the Universe" fashion show told in her narrated photo essay. Photography from Jessica Lilley, Babette Daniels, Michael Salerno, Monique Poirier, Philip Ng, and myself are also included.

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2011-05-17 02:02 pm

When Feminist Fashion Goes Couture: Anne Avantie, Indonesian Designer

“If I walk, I hope my footsteps won’t be erased just like that… I want many other footsteps to follow mine!” - Anne Avantie"

Anne Avantie's signature kebaya designs are growing in popularity as Asian fashion enters the global scene. Born to Chinese parents in Solo, Indonesia, Anne never had any formal training in fashion design, but always had an interest in the fashion world. Her love for fashion design started young, when she created and sold hair ornaments to her friends in elementary school. As she grew older, Avantie began doing costume design for her school events and other local events in Solo, and in 1989, she started her own company with only a rented house and two sewing machines. Her business soon boomed, however, with her specialization in her elaborately beaded costume wear and wedding gowns.

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2011-04-09 11:43 am

“African Fabrics”: The History of Dutch Wax Prints–Guest Blog by Eccentric Yoruba


Vlisco model. Click for source.

“A picture of a pipe isn't necessarily a pipe, an image of “African fabric” isn't necessarily authentically [and wholly] African”.

These above words are quoted by Yinka Shonibare, a Nigerian-British contemporary artist known for his amazing artwork using African print fabrics in his scrutiny of colonialism and post-colonialism. What is commonly known as “African fabric” goes by a multitude of names: Dutch wax print, Real English Wax, Veritable Java Print, Guaranteed Dutch Java, Veritable Dutch Hollandais. I grew up calling them ankara and although they've always been a huge symbol of my Nigerian and African identity, I had no idea of the complex and culturally diverse history behind the very familiar fabrics until I discovered Yinka Shonibare and his art.

I know I personally felt shocked upon learning that the “African” fabrics I grew up loving and admiring were not really “African” in their origins (or is it?). This put things in perspective, however, as it suddenly made sense that my mother's friends regularly travelled to European countries, including Switzerland and England, to purchase these fabrics and expensive laces to sell them again in Nigeria. In an attempt to join this lucrative business, my mother once dragged me with her to a fabric store while on holiday in London. I was not 13 years old then and I recall being surprised to find such familiar fabrics on sale outside Nigeria. Regardless, I never imagined that the history of this African fabric, henceforth referred to as Dutch wax print, spanned over centuries, across three continents and bridging various power structures.

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2011-03-06 12:00 am

Beyond Victoriana #66 Fascinating Women: Madame C.J. Walker--Guest Blog by Evangeline Holland

Note: This is cross-posted with permission from Edwardian Promenade.

Madam C.J. Walker
"I had to make my own living and my own opportunity! But I made it! Don't sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them!"

Contrary to public opinion, Madam C.J. Walker did not invent the hot comb or relaxers, and neither was she the only African-American beautician during the Gilded Age. What the former Sarah Breedlove was, however, was incredibly intelligent–a savvy entrepreneur, pioneering businesswoman, and shrewd marketer, she turned African-American beauty culture into a multimillion dollar empire never before seen. In the post-Reconstruction period, black women were alternately neglected by the vastly increasing companies catering to women’s haircare, cosmetics, and beauty, or sold toxic concoctions by greedy companies which promised “lighter skin” and “straight hair”, but ended up creating more problems for black women desperate to conform to the very narrow standards of beauty of the late 19th century.

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2011-01-02 11:48 am

#55 International Influences: The Rise of Fashion Designer Guo Pei

Steampunk fashion is seen as modern interpretation of fantastical ideas based on history. This trend of multicultural influence and inspiration seen in steampunk fashion is also reflective in fashion trends today. The rise of Chinese designer Guo Pei is one example of this; she has been well-known in Chinese fashion circles for many years, but her recent collections created buzz throughout the runways of the world, in particular her 1002nd Arabian Night collection.

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2010-11-21 12:51 am

#50 Overcoming the Noble Savage & the Sexy Squaw: Native Steampunk--Guest Blog by Monique Poirier

Monique in her steampunk attire. Image courtesy of author

I'm not one for preambles, so let's get down to brass tacks here. I'm Monique Poirier. I'm a member of the Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe. I'm a Steampunk.

When I got into Steampunk several years ago, it didn't really occur to me to even try to incorporate my cultural identity into my Steampunk presentation; my first Steampunk outfit (worn to Templecon 2009) was cobbled together from my existent goth attire, stuff from the renfaire costume trunk, and a duct-tape corset.

Then I read Jha's articles at Then I started reading Beyond Victoriana. It was powwow season... and everything just -clicked-. When I attended The Steampunk World's Fair in May 2010, I made an active effort to incorporate my ethnic identity more visibly in my Steampunk attire.

That's where things get complicated.

Read on
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2010-11-06 11:27 am

Beyond Victoriana #48 Les Sapeurs: Gentlemen of the Congo--Guest Blog by Eccentric Yoruba

Modern day dandies--Gentlemen of Bakongo, Brazzaville. Click for link.

Dandyism and the Black Man

A dandy is a man who places extreme importance on physical appearance and refined language. It is very possible that dandies have existed for as long as time itself. According to Charles Baudelaire, 19th century French poet and dandy himself, a dandy can also be described as someone who elevates aesthetics to a religion.

In the late 18th and early 19th century Britain, being a dandy was not only about looking good but also about men from the middle class being self-made and striving to emulate an aristocratic lifestyle. The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of literature's greatest dandies; famous historical dandies include Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron.

These days the practice of dandyism also includes a nostalgic longing for ideals such as that of the perfect gentleman. The dandy almost always required an audience and was admired for his style and impeccable manners by the general public.

The special relationship between black men and dandyism arose with slavery in Europe particularly during England's Enlightenment period. In early 18th century, masters who wanted their slaves to reflect their social stature imposed dandified costumes on black servants, effectively turning them into 'luxury slaves'. As black slaves gained more liberty, they took control of the image by customising their dandy uniforms and thereby creating a unique style. They transformed from black men in dandy clothing to dandies who were black.

Click to read on
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2010-10-09 12:30 am

Beyond Victoriana Special Edition Odds & Ends #7

This weekend, I'm rockin' it out at New York Comic Con. I'm there mostly doing the Day Job thing, unfortunately (though, if I can, I might wear my steampunk for Sunday.)

For anyone who manages to recognize me in my civvies, though, you'll probably end up being filmed or photographed, if you're looking fabulous and want to flaunt it.

In the meantime, enjoy the linkspam below. This edition features lots of interesting essays, some awesome postcards, and a video of my interview with Cherie Priest.

Read on
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2010-08-23 12:01 am

Beyond Victoriana #38: "Sophie" Speaks--Art from Mary Sibande

My work also looks at the ideals of beauty and femininity represented by examples of privileged members of society, and the aspirations of the less fortunate women to be like them. - Mary Sibande (source)

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2010-08-15 05:03 pm

Beyond Victoriana Special Edition Odds & Ends #6

Work has been hectic as of late, and I'm also in the midst of preparing for Dragon*Con. I don't have as much new stuff planned out for this week as I had hoped, but have you checked out my essay series about multiculturalism in steampunk yet? And see the links below for more good things to read/watch/run in the streets shouting about.

Read on
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2010-03-14 11:44 am

Beyond Victoriana Double Post!

Beyond Victoriana #17.5: Steampunk and Victorientalism Assessed

The past week has been a flurry of conversation about the use and meaning of "Victorientalism". As part of this discussion, I wanted to highlight the various opinions expressed over this issue.

Read here.

Beyond Victoriana #18: Transcultural Tradition of the Vietnamese Ao Dai

(aka "How I Steampunk")

Conversations about cross-cultural  fashion in steampunk have been commonly assessed from the perspective of a Western, Eurocentric viewer (i.e. taking something and making it  "steampunk" is equated with Westernizing an non-Western garment). This viewpoint of fashion is focused on one-way consumption akin to an imperial culture appropriating from a colonized one: the viewpoint that has been prominent during the Age of Empire. Cultural exchange has many viewpoints, however, and fashion, being one of the most immediate forms  of public display and consumption, is open to an array of influences that do not have to be connected to a limited, one-way Orientalist  dynamic.

An example of this dynamic is the history behind the ao  dai.

Read here.
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2010-03-07 01:08 pm

Beyond Victoriana #17: The Semantics of Words & the Antics of Fashion: Addressing "Victorientalism"

This post has been been cross-posted to Beyond Victoriana's own website. Please submit all comments there.

Jaymee and I had a discussion the other day triggered by the use of the word "Victorientalism" (also spelled "Vicorientalism") in the steampunk community and whether it is an appropriate description of the transcultural blend of Eastern and Western fashion. I had my first (rather angry) rant about Orientialism sometime around this time last year, and now would be apt to revisit those thoughts about Victorientalism.

First, let me say that steampunk, because it deals with the dynamics of history and its alternatives, can never, ever be considered apolitical.* History is always subjective, choosing to expose or veil people, events, and perspectives based on the bias of the teller. In fact, it's not surprising that the most widely-known histories are those written from the perspective of those in the dominant culture and that underrepresented histories are so because they have been ignored or oppressed by institutions in the dominant culture (government policy, school education, media representation, etc).

Even something that seems frivolous like fashion has political ramifications, since clothing, as the most basic form of self-identity, has always being subject of control by others. Threadbared, a journal that focuses on the politics of fashion and beauty, captures the sentiment of how the politics of clothing impact everyday life during their discussion about vintage:

Clothing matters because it is through clothing that persons are understood to matter, or not. Consider the Sartorialist's captions for the presumably homeless man, or his driver, which attribute to these anonymous figures qualities of human dignity and pride because of what they are wearing. Consider the hijab, and all the histories and conflicts that hinge upon the presence of absence of the veil as a sign of civilization and modernity or its opposite. Consider legislation throughout the centuries to regulate what might be worn by whom: European medieval sumptuary laws forbidding the conspicuous consumption of the bourgeoisie; Dutch colonial missionaries insisting that African "converts" abandon their "heathen" clothes in order to reform their bodies and souls; World War II-era rationing bans on the material extravagance of the "zoot suit," the informal uniform of black and Chicano youth, as "unpatriotic;" and contemporary legislation across cities in the United States criminalizing black male youth in sagging jeans.

Thus, when speaking about Orientalism aesthetics, its existence as an art form is undeniably entangled with its political and social consequences. Orientalist fashions has long served to romanticize colonialism both in the past and today. The word "Orientalism" itself was a creation of the West to use by the West in reference to the East. That alone is a reason that the use of "Orientalism" as a term, especially by white people, does not promote a message cultural equality and exchange. It rings of old colonialist sentiment, which is connected to the history of Western engagement with the East as Professor Richard Martin mentions in his article "Orienting the Wardrobe":

Interestingly, each strand of Orientalism in dress has arrived with its own political circumstances. India yielded much in being a colonial nation. China's long isolation crystallized Cathay as an enchanted dream, although clearly some soft goods, such as the brocaded silk velvet of a sixteenth-century Portuguese cape, passed early on to the West. The opening of Japan in the 1850's influenced impressionist artists and Western fashion enthusiasts alike.

Therefore, believing that the word "Victorientalism" implies a positive, transcultural blend is misguided. In fact, using the term "Victorientalism" as a phrase to emphasize Eastern aesthetics in Victorian style is somewhat redundant, for Eastern influences have been prevalent in Western Victorian fashion already. Professor Richard Martin, in Orienting the wardrobe, gives an overview of the history behind Orientalist fashion and gives examples of British fashion, like the Paisley shawl and mandarin and pagoda sleeves, that had Eastern origins but then had been adapted into British fashion. For examples of this, Metropolitan Museum of Art has a fascinating overview of the Eastern influences in Western fashion in their online exhibit Orientalism: Visions of the East in Western Dress.

Thus, the existence of Eastern influences has had a long history in Western dress and had frequently been tied to political moorings; as a result, the term Orientalism today is in flux between its literal geographical meaning and the implied negative baggage it has acquired over timethat Orientalism is a Western-created ideal imposed upon the East and used to justify its subjugationan argument first presented by postcolonial theorist Edward Said. Commentary in the steampunk communities, however, continue to frame Victorientalism in a positive light, highlighting its romanticism as a positive endorsement for its use. This is all fair and well, IF the political and social effects of Orientalism were dead and gone. However, because it is very much alive todaycausing damaging stereotypes and promoting racist mindsetsthen perpetuating the glorified stereotypes of the Orient only serves to hurt the people of color they were based on. Moreover, such attitudes are only expressions of privilege, where white steampunks can turn a blind eye to steampunks of color in the community.

In fact, the term "Orientalism" may be on the way out. Its negative connotation has become so prevalent since Said first made his argument forty years ago that academic communities are starting to reject the term even in reference to Eastern-originated fashion, prefering the terms "Asian Look" or "Asian Fashion." Academic Bong-Ha Seo's 2008 article for the Journal of Korean Society of Clothing and Textiles argues against the use of the term "Orientalism" in fashion in "Critical Discussion on the ‘Orientalism’ in Fashion Culture":

Orientalism is geographical violence. In spite of the independence of numerous colonies, imperialistic culture is still influential. Therefore, Orientalism as an enlightened and open conversation without deflection or prejudice cannot be supposed.
So, don't think that adding the Eurocentric "Vict-" is a cute way of undoing the negative connotations of a historically loaded term. The term "Victorientalism" doesn't neutralize anything: the message is not the positive transcultural blend of east and west. Instead, the term augments a oppressive Western concept with another Eurocentric prefix. It's Western objectification times two. And Orientalism by any other name is still Orientalism.

But to sum up

I'm not saying that there is no beauty in these fashions.

I'm not saying that people shouldn't like it.

I'm saying that what one likes doesn't always exist in an apolitical vacuum, no matter how much one wants it to.

Fashion, just like any form of art, is a reflection of society, and art movements like Orientialism have complex political history that members of the dominant culture may not recognize as something negative or hurtful. Moreover, the social implications of Orientalism didn't die out with the end of the Victorian era, but has had a rather long and, often socially detrimental, afterlife.

So if one chooses to engage in Orientalism or toss about the word "Victorientalism," do not act defensive if other marginalized people take offense. Do not claim that you are re-living a "past that never was" because you're not; your fantasy is merely replicating attitudes from a very real present. Rather, instead of justifying this discriminating mindset, figure out for yourself what you can do to stop engaging in promoting those hurtful messages.

*One caveat: Steampunks and steam enthusiasts can be apolitical, but a person's apolitical stance does not mean steampunk as a conceptual idea is apolitical.

Below is a brief suggested reading list of resources that present a mindful assessment of Orientialist aesthetics and the transcultural blend of Eastern and Western looks.

Fashion & Orientalism resources:

Edward Said: Since I really can't quote him here often enough (and in the contextual whole in which he is meant to be quoted), so here are the two landmark books he had written on Orientalism.
Culture & Imperialism

Re-orienting fashion: the globalization of Asian dress (Excerpt also available on Google Books)
by Sandra Niessen (Editor), Ann Marie Leshkowich (Editor), Carla Jone (Editor)

Book Description:
From ‘Indo chic’ collections on the catwalk to mass-market clothes in retail shops, Asian fashion is everywhere. Re-Orienting Fashion explores this phenomenon in a global context and, unlike other books, does not ignore the western / non-western divide. How do western economic, cultural, political, iconic, and social forms influence Asian fashion when (and often because) that fashion is an expression of resistance against western encroachment? How does dress reflect state ideals and gender roles in nations struggling to construct new identities informed by modern, western impulses? What role does gender play and how does this tie in with commodification by the global economy?

With chapters focusing on East, South, and Southeast Asian designers, retailers, consumers, and governments, this timely book moves Asian fashion center-stage and will be of interest to dress and fashion theorists, anthropologists, sociologists and all those seeking to understand globalization and its effects.

Imperial Bodies
C.M. Cullingham

I've found this one of the best resources that details the conflicted dynamic between the colonizer and the colonized in terms of fashion exchange. I can't recommend this book enough.

Book Description:
This innovative volume demonstrates that the body was central to the construction and maintenance of British authority in India. Imperial Bodies explores ways in which the transformation of the British presence in India between 1800 and 1947 involved and relied upon changes in the way the British in India managed, disciplined and displayed their bodies. The move from commerce to control, and then to imperialism and Empire corresponded to a shift in bodily norms. As the nineteenth century progressed, an openness and interest in India gave way to a ban on things Indian. The British rejected curries for tinned ham, cool white clothing for black broadcloth and Indian mistresses for English wives. By the twentieth century, the British official had been transformed into an upright, decent representative of British virtues whose task was to bring civilization to India.

By the late nineteenth century, racial theory focused attention on the physique to such an extent that the body became a distinct category within official discourse, regarded as an instrument of rule. The body was used symbolically during Raj ceremonial, and even the pith helmet worn by officials was turned from a reminder of British vulnerability in the tropics into a symbol of British power.

Through an in-depth discussion of texts and practices, the body is introduced into the historical account as an active social principle: a force in the construction of social inequalities along lines of race and class. Drawing on a wide range of sources including government records, newspapers, private letters, medical handbooks and cookery books, E.M. Collingham paints a vivid picture of the life and manners of the British in India.

This important contribution to both British and imperial history will appeal to students and scholars of cultural and colonial history.

Orientalism: Visions of the East in Western Dress
Metropolitan Museum of Art

This is the exhibit guide to the MET link I included above. It's hard to find, but they give a sensitive assessment of Orientalist fashion while also acknowledging the movement's fraught political history. Plus, it contains those beautiful images as seen on the website and more.

Online Resources:

Excerpt from The Art of Decoration: Written by English cleric and popular Victorian writer Reverend H. R. Haweis In this excerpt, he talks about aspects of Orient design since the 1700s in British dress & decoration. About Oriental design in women's fashion, he hilariously commented that:

It was the dregs of that blind admiration for Oriental colouring with no understanding of its principles, which clothed Englishwomen in such horrible mixtures at the beginning of the present century, a fault which Frenchwomen with their better natural taste, and complexions which repudiate garish hues, were unlikely to fall into. Hence England soon won an unenviable celebrity for never knowing 'how to dress...'
Clothing & Fashion Encyclopedia - An online fashion history blog. The overaching history or Orientalism in fashion is explained in Part 1 and Part 2.

Orient-ing Fashion: Written in 1997 issue of Harvard's Digitas Magazine about that fashion season's Orientalism trend, Mina Kim Park's article is still very insightful. It also shows how modern fashion remains problematic in regards to racial representation and cultural appropriation that cannot be explained away by slapping a cheerful "multiculturalism chic" label on it.

On Using the Orient to Orient the West On Jaymee Goh's steampunk blog Silver Goggles. Her observations of the conceptual use of the term Orient by the West. Good stuff. She has also written a wonderful response to Victorientalism as well: Countering Victorientalism.
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2009-12-05 05:37 pm

Beyond Victoriana #7: Yinka Shonibare MBE: Revealing the Transnationality of Culture

This post has been been cross-posted to Beyond Victoriana's own website. Please submit all comments there. (Note: I've already mentioned him on this site once before when his work came to NYC, but he's been a personal inspiration for my creative approach to steampunk and more people should know about him!)

Yinka Shonibare, MBE, a self-described “bicultural” artist, was born in England but raised in both England and Nigeria. He is best known for his series of art pieces where coffee-colored mannequins are outfitted in eighteenth-century clothing made from brightly designed “African” fabrics.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

I put “African” in quotes because the fabrics that Shonibare uses are not made in Africa at all, but are Dutch wax-printed fabrics he purchased in Brixton Market in London. When he found out the origin of these fabrics on a shopping trip, they inspired him in creating this project.

“But actually, the fabrics are not really authentically African the way people think,” says Shonibare in an interview. “They prove to have a crossbred cultural background quite of their own. And it’s the fallacy of that signification that I like. It’s the way I view culture—it’s an artificial construct.” (Quote from interview by Pernilla Holmes, Art News Online, October 2002)

Read more below )