strange like that

On Steampunk and Cosplay

Steampunk Poison Ivy

Apparently my costume warrants harassment.

There is no great Council of Steampunk. No overseeing ruling class that decides what it is and is not. Yet, it seems many people on the internet think they are a part of this imaginary institution. These elite few believe they wield the power to dictate what is acceptable. They believe this so much that they seek out images on the internet to venomously critique. Fear their awesome judgment! Woe be unto those who dare don goggles, gears, corsets, or other sorts of traditional trappings!

I get it. Some people think Steampunk is played out, or that it’s too “mainstream”, or that “ur doing it wrong!!1!” To those I say: chill the fuck out.

I really, truly don’t understand the rampant hatred of most, if not all, Steampunk that some people hold. There are things I’m not particularly fond of when it comes to cosplay and personal style, but not enough to go about the internet screaming like a little bitch about it.

I’ve been aware of the Steampunk haters for quite a while, but the whole thing really came into shocking detail when I participated with a cosplay group that Steampunked notable DC Comics characters. Overall, the reaction we received was positive, but there were a few shrieking voices that decided we were, on the whole, rather crap.

I personally received scorn because I had goggles on my Poison Ivy costume, along with some pseudo-gears made of beads on my corset*. These two items were apparently an unforgivable transgression. I was accused simultaneously of not understanding my character and not understanding “correct” Steampunk. I won’t go into lengthy detail of the functionality of my costume parts, but everything had a very specific reason for being there. There were items I included, such as the goggles, because I was using the earlier incarnations of Poison Ivy as my reference. (You know, the days before she was part plant and was more crazy botanist.) But it became obvious that it didn’t matter to some what other things my costume contained, or what my reasons were, just that those two items automatically discounted it from being anything but a shoddy and lazy attempt at cosplay.

Here’s what I want to know of those naysayers: if all of these conventional pieces of Steampunkery are off limits, what is left? And at what point does it cease to be Steampunk and becomes simply Victorian? Or perhaps something where you cry that it’s not Steampunk enough? Where is this entirely arbitrary line? Will you just know it when you see it? Or is it more of a state of mind?

Here’s what I say: Steampunk as you see fit. Will you catch flack for it? Probably. Should you care? Not a damn. Remember that the nastiest commenters succeed only in making themselves look petty. Your pleasure at your costume/fashion aesthetic is what is really important. There are some versions of Steampunk that I don’t think are all that stellar, but I’ll protect the rights of the wearer to do whatever the hell they want regardless. I don’t get to decide what’s right, and neither does anyone else. Glue gears to your ass and make a corset entirely out of goggles if it makes you happy. Just be sure you’re doing it for you.

Lastly, because I know it will inevitably be brought up, I have indeed seen the music video ‘Just Glue Some Gears On It (And Call It Steampunk)’. Admittedly catchy. Admittedly entertaining. But not the end all, be all, of the genre. Deal with it.

*I get asked about my corset a lot. It was purchased online and already had the beading stitched into it. I didn’t think it was going to be such a big deal, but it seems I was wrong.


19 Responses to “On Steampunk and Cosplay”

  1. Erin says:

    I have not personally gotten into steampunk myself even though I find myself drawn to most aspects of it. I like your whole outfit and can hardly see why anyone would find any issues with the gears. Don’t let them inhibit your creativity!

  2. Macabri says:

    Thanks! I never give in to the haters.

  3. gearhead says:

    i think your outfit looks great.

  4. We go to a lot of steampunk conventions- and it really doesn’t matter if you’ve got a Party City outfit, a hyper expensive brass arm construct, or a milk carton painted bronze hand cannon…if you’re having fun and getting into it that’s all that matters.

    This is totally an art and the interpretations are all part of the fun.

  5. Jasry says:

    I tried my hand at steampunk for Halloween this year. Was it “perfect”? No. Did I get a big kick out of all my belts and dangly doodads, and my spray-painted water pistol? Heck YEAH. Did anyone in this tiny border town understand what I was doing. Um, NO. But I had fun, my kids loved it, and were saddened when I told them hands OFF my gun. ;-)
    Also, it was nowhere near as cool as yours. So there. :-)

  6. KAREN says:

    I think your look is terrific! And thanks for your article. Getting into something new is hard enough without a lot of crap from the people that you’d love to get inspiration from. But in truth, some of the hardcore Steampunkers can be very hard to like. But most are charming and having fun with their cosplay and are glad to share ideas!!

  7. Kat Davis says:

    I think you look awesome!!! Screw all the haters, obviously they either are jealous of you or want to look like you!!!

  8. Astrid says:

    You and your costume are beautiful.

  9. Russ says:

    It’s sad that people feel the need to be so judgmental. Personally I think your outfit is fantastic. I love the way the greens and browns work with the brass and the leafy textures in your top and skirt are great!

  10. Nykele says:

    You’re the epitome of gorgeous.
    Everything you do is magic.

  11. Felix says:

    I agree that some people are giant dickbags when they “critique” (it’s not critiquing if you’re just being a jerk!), but I do think there’s a line sometimes. When one person doesvast amounts of research and puts time and thought into a costume, and another literally glues some gears to a belt and slaps on some goggles, yeah, I wouldn’t really call the latter steampunk. But then, that’s my personal opinion, and I wouldn’t go out of my way to be rude about it. To me, the whole thing really boils down to ‘don’t be an asshole’.

  12. Macabri says:

    Thank you everyone for all of your lovely feedback and support! I’m glad that my blog has been met with understanding and it’s refreshing to know that others out there support creativity and innovation.

  13. Your article was spot-on! I’ve worked as an MC, entertainer and panelist at steampunk & comic book events across North America for going on five years now. For the most part, I find the participants to be friendly.

    But as you point out, there are always a few pontificators in the mix. That’s how it is an ANY group, however. What it really boils down to is manners, or lack thereof.

    No one with any shred of human decency, and knowledge of etiquette would attack another person’s attire unprovoked. When such an uncouth person accosts me, I simply look right through them, as if they are not there. Miss Manners herself condones a cold stare, coupled with icy silence.

    Either way, the faux pas is not yours, but rather the other person’s. Personally, I’d rather wear “questionable” attire than to be that insensitive to the feelings of others in the name of “being an expert.”

    Keep on cos-in’!

  14. Ryan Grimm says:

    My response to the idiots is ‘Fuck ‘Em’. They have no life, so they latch onto whatever they can for ‘correctness’….never knowing they are, through their own lack of creativity (such as MAKING a comic in the first place), miserable losers.

    I’m do my own thing, Thank You Very Much.

    Bugger off to the nay-sayers.

    Good article.

  15. biwi says:

    Steampunk is a past that never was. Therefore, we all get to say what is in our own steampunk universe. I became part of Octopodicon because it is a convention where all forms of steampunk are welcome. The 2 rules: 1) If you can’t play nicely, get out of the sand box, 2) no one gets to say someone else “isn’t really steampunk.” Steampunk is a chance to be creative and to be makers and to enjoy each others’ company. It’s a chance to learn more about history and science and art and technology, etc. Why some people want to exclude everyone else is beyond me.

  16. Beth says:

    Mac, your version of IVY is one of the BEST damn cosplays I have ever seen. And if you happened to bump into Tallest Silver (who does a pretty good one too) I am sure she would say the same.

    I’m with you, wtf people. Let a girl have fun. As long as she isn’t walking around in the buff in public who the hell cares? It’s fun, it’s for me and ye, the praise is nice but why waste your breath commenting on something long done? It’s not like the cosplayer is going to write you back and be like, “huh, really? you hated it? What do you think I should I do to improve?…” I am sure they wish they were that noticed. If you don’t like it, try this one on for size…

    Don’t write about it! Do it better. Set the precedent so that other cosplayers may follow. That will be a hell of a lot more effective than a hater’s rant. Oh wait, then that means they would actually have to put THEMSELVES out there like the rest of us…

    You look great. They are full of it. Can’t wait to see your next one. <3

  17. Macabri says:

    Beth – Tallest Silver is an absolute sweetheart and a friend of mine. Her Ivy is spectacular! Have you seen her version of Ivy from The Long Halloween? So cool.

  18. Cameron says:

    Without the “punk,” it’s just Neo-Victorian, and spending hundreds of dollars on your outfit for “designer steampunk” is not punk. If you made it yourself, found it in the garbage, at goodwill, or assembled it out of scraps, it’s steampunk. If you paid $150 for a pair of pants from Kato, it’s not steampunk.

  19. Marguerite says:

    I personally like the Steampunk touches to your costume. It gives you character. I’m learning about Cosplay because I have a daughter who Cosplays. I have learned to open my mind to things other than the conventional.
    Your costume is fabulous. Don’t change a bit. It’s a perfect rendition of Poison Ivy!

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