Thursday, September 20, 2012

10 Steps to Create Your Steampunk Character Name

     When it comes to my creative process, whether making jewelry, writing a story or designing a new costume piece, I am always most comfortable pulling from personal experience, and I recommend you do the same.  So, rather than casting advice about how you can find a Steampunk name, this post is about how we (Multifarious Jim and I) chose our own names.  Hopefully our experience as neophyte Neo-Victorians will be helpful in your own excursion into Steampunk appellations.  First, remember the ancient Greeks certainly had it right:  Know Thyself!
     Second, consider why you need a Steampunk name in the first place.  To impress?  To fill a certain cosplay role?  In our case, the need for a Steampunk name stemmed from our impending attendance at SteamCon II in Seattle.  It somehow seemed just wrong to go as our normal, mundane selves.  Fortuitously, Jim actually already had a Steampunk name - we just hadn't really realized it yet.  So we fooled around with a "steampunk name generator," but found it frustratingly impersonal.  Then, poking around on Ebay one day, and it dawned on me - it was his Ebay username!
     I had been selling on Ebay under my original username (wisteriablue) for years, but needed to open a separate account to sell Steampunk stuff.  Somehow "wisteriablue" just didn't seem to fit Jim <grin>!  So we thought long and hard about who Jim is, what he loves doing, and his manner of doing it.  He is a person of diverse talents and an unassuming manner; and I swear he can fix anything!  Combine those personal qualities with my own love of $10 words, and voila!  "Multifarious Jim" was his new Ebay username and then, later, his Steampunk identity.  Easy!
      My own name was a bit more problematic.  I was completely stumped.  So, again, I went to the name generator, but it wasn't much help.  I wanted my persona to really characterize me, so I could be completely comfortable introducing myself to other Steampunks.  That level of comfort was very important to me, as I have always been quite uncomfortable "acting" as anyone other than myself.
     For my first name I went with family history.  I had been told when young that my first name, Brenda, means "little raven" in Welsh, which nationality is a part of my ancestry.  I really liked that - felt a good connection with it.  So Raven it was.
     My Steampunk surname took a bit more searching.  I wanted my name to describe what I do.  And what is that?  Basically, when I'm "in the zone" up in my Steampunk Workshop, I cobble odds and ends together to make a completely new and useful construct.  Historically, what kind of person does that?  A mechanic?  A builder?  A Tinkerer!!  That was it.  I had captured the concept for my name.  However, I couldn't just use the word "tinker".
     So I thought about language, ethnicity.  My life experience has included quite a bit of French, starting, surprisingly, with my love of Louis XV furniture as a teenager, and, later, 6 years of French lessons in school.  For me, French was just a given!  So I messed around with French-sounding words, and came up with "Assemble'" (pronounced "ahh-sahm-BLAY").   There it was - Raven Assemble', Steampunk Tinker - a name I can carry proudly through my Steampunk lifetime!
     Although my own process was a bit laborious (as are, unfortunately, MOST of my creative endeavors), the result was definitely worth the brain strain.  To get you started on creating your own Steampunk character, don't just google "steampunk name generator;" try "fantasy name generator" to broaden the scope of your character.  Click HERE to go to Pace J Miller's blog page that contains a great list of fun name generators (the list is about 1/2 way down the page).
     So, to re-cap, this is the process I went through:  1. Know thyself;  2. Figure out the reason you need this name;  3. Try out some name generators to get the clockwork ticking;  4. Think about your personality;  5. Give some thought to family history;  6. What is the meaning of  your real name?  7.  What do you (or your character) like to do?  What is that job usually called?  8. What national (or international) flair might come into play?  9.  Keep up with our blog for future character ideas;  10. Have FUN with the process!

Child Labor 100 Years ago

 Not only did I find this video fascinating historically, it also is an amazing look into the clothing of the working classes 100 years ago.

Time Travelers Alert: The Historical History of the Hysterical Top Hat – Part 3

Of course, the London Times was correct in their prognostication. By mid-nineteenth century the top hat was ubiquitous at every level of English society, from the lowly chimney sweep to the gentry, and had made its way to the U.S. as well. During the first half of the century there was still a bit of exaggeration involved (witness the “stovepipe” hat favored by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln; stovepipe hats could be as tall as 8” or 9”). But in later decades the height slowly descended to the now-standard five to 6.5 inches, while the top of the hat broadened slightly, giving a more “nipped-in” or tailored look.
For a time in the Victorian era, top hats were actually mandatory for certain lines of work, such as doormen and carriage drivers. Wikipedia state that in some cases it was even “worn daily for formal wear, such as in London at various positions in the Bank of England and City stockbroking, or boys at some public schools.
In 1829, London's Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel initiated a new police force (called “Peelers” at the time) whose uniform consisted of blue tail-coats and top hats, no doubt adding to the perceived “authority” of the headwear. Sir Roberts' variously instituted police forces eventually rendered London's famous “Bobbies,” sans the top hats (but incorporating another awesome hat-type, the pith helmet)!

It's commonly known that by the early 20th century top hats were the very pinnacle of formal attire. High-end hats owned by the wealthy would be scrupulously cared for, including being packed in special cases when traveling by train, or on steamer ships such as the Titanic.
By the 1920's and '30's top hats were generally confined to solemn occasions, such as weddings and funerals, black-tie events, and the world of entertainment. It is still such fun to watch Fred Astaire dance in his top hat and tails!
Unbeknownst to many in our modern age of tablets that aren't pills, mice that don't eat cheese and monitors that aren't lizards, though, top hats are actually seeing somewhat of a resurgence. They are still with us, of course, in their usual guises, worn by prom-goers and pall bearers, carriage drivers and ringmasters.
But they can be seen more and more frequently of late in the newly-growing costume genre called “Steampunk” (also known as “Vernian” or “Neo-Victorian”). These costume hats have really become an art form of their own, coming in all sizes and shapes from exaggerated to mini, highly decorated to elegantly simple, and most commonly seen sporting a pair of goggles!

So, why not surprise your friends by showing up in a top hat at your next formal event? Or, even better, play along with the theme next time you go to an old fashioned fair or reenactment!

Time Travelers Alert: The Historical History of the Hysterical Top Hat – Part 2

By 1797 the top hat had made its way to England, the Aristocratic French and the well-to-do English perpetually racing to outdo each other as fashion plates. The Dandy movement, too, was just as popular in England, the chief model of which was Mr. George Bryan “Beau” Brummel, a man who was reportedly famous for not wearing a wig (somebody decided to put a tax on wig powder!) and for, well... being famous! And although the trend in England did not involve hyperbolic hats or skirts as wide as church doors, it did involve specific modes of style, including men's corsets, to achieve just that perfect air of insouciance and laissez-faire. However popular the style (including the top hat) may have been amongst the gentry, though, it was apparently not equally well received in all locales, as we shall see.
As noted in Part I, hatter George Dunnage of Middlesex County is generally credited with the “invention” of the top hat in 1793. (Of course, we Futurians are now the wiser, knowing as we do that the French were wearing them at least a decade earlier!) What Mr. Dunnage actually did was patent it – a very smart gentleman, indeed. Curiously, about a century later, an article printed in an English publication, “The Hatter's Gazette,” told the tale of turbulent events surrounding the appearance of the “first” top hat in London. One would think that people residing in the heart of London would be somewhat less insular, but here's where the tale gets really silly, a few decades before the hat came to be the height of elegance.
The report was of poor John Hetherington, out for a promenade one day when he inadvertently caused not just a “stir” but nearly a riot in what one would have assumed was a “fashionable” district of London called “The Strand.”
Apparently there were women screaming and fainting. Dogs barking and children crying. Fear, confusion and flying fruit. Horses bolting and crowds surging (there is even a report of one boy's arm being broken as a result)! Quite the ruckus! All just because Mr. Hetherington decided to take a leisurely stroll down the thoroughfare wearing his shiny new Top Hat.
Evidently the constabulary was called in to calm things down and take Mr. Hetherington off to court. There, in lieu of jail, he was fined 500 Pounds (the equivalent of $30,000 today) for a “Breach of the Peace,” with one officer stating, “Hetherington had such a tall and shiny construction on his head that it must have terrified nervous people. The sight of this construction was so overstated that various women fainted, children began to cry and dogs started to bark. One child broke his arm among all the jostling.” Eventually the story made the front page of the London Times, which stated, “Hetherington’s hat points to a significant advance in the transformation of dress. Sooner or later, everyone will accept this headwear. We believe that both the court and the police made a mistake here.” It was also recorded that a law was passed against wearing such hats because they “frightened timid people.”
Despite Mr. Hetherington's escapade, however, it wasn't long before top hats were not just "all the rage" in England, but were sometimes even required headwear, as we shall see in Part 3.

Time Travelers Alert: The Historical History of the Hysterical Top Hat – Part 1

Looking diligently back into The History of Fancy Hats, one can deduce a definite chronological divide between “The Time of TriCorns” and “The Time of Top Hats.” This is important information for Time Travelers, since arriving in the “Time of TriCorns” wearing a Top Hat could be disastrous, as could, of course, the opposite! And top hats have such an interestingly dichotomous lineage – both silly and elegant! Silly because, as we shall see, they have gone through amazing extremes of fashion on their way to becoming the dignified head wear familiar to Upper-Crusteans the world over.

Although their invention is generally attributed to haberdasher George Dunnage in 1793 (more on that in Part II), and thought of by most as an English conception, they can actually be seen in French etchings as early as the 1780's. There had been a hat called a “Capotain” in style since the 1590's (can you imagine a style with 200-year staying power?? Time travelers, take note), which was middlin' tall and slightly conical, with a somewhat narrow brim. We in the U.S. tend to think of them as “pilgrim hats;” they were often adorned with a centered buckle on the hatband.

By the late 1700's, however, the style had been refined and was being worn regularly by French “dandies” - gentlemen fashionistas who were principal driver's of French style at the time. They were not then called “top hats,” but, rather “Paris Beau,” or even just “beaver hats,” since beaver was a favorite hat material, as was silk.

Here's where the story starts tending toward the silly... It would be a gross understatement to say that the late 18th century French aristocracy were quite fond of exaggeration when it came to costume. Think dresses 3 times wider than your body, and powdered wigs half again your own height! The same was true of hats, of course, including the top hat. Well-heeled French Ladies would have the style enlarged and softened, then adorned with everything from bird cages to sailing ships, with plenty of large, fluffy ostrich feathers shoved in all over. The men's hats, were, of course, somewhat less overdone, but those caught up in the movement called “Les Incroiables” (the Incredibles) were, for a time, also seen wearing large floppy versions, as seen in the illustration to the right.

So, you may ask, how did this caricature of what would become the ultimate in distinctive menswear morph into the perfect hat for any special occasion? Stay tuned to Part II for tales of women swooning and screaming, courts, coppers and jail, patents and royalty!

Tap, Tap . . . Is This Thing On?

Well, I'm thinkin' an Official First Post should be an introduction  :)  I'm Brenda Hibbs, and have lived in the nice little University town of Corvallis, Oregon, for about 16 years.  I have always had a love of History, Art and Making, but Especially Science and Machinery (I originally moved here to attend Engineering School... another story).   The tale of the glad happenstance of my coming upon Steampunk a few years ago is told on our About Us page.  Here I think I'll expand on my reason for starting up Steam Circus.
Hubby Jim and I attended SteamCon II last year in Seattle (as our steampunk characters Raven Assemble' and Multifarious Jim, of course!), and really enjoyed ourselves.  I mean, who doesn't like to get dressed up in fancy costumes and go hobnobbing around with others of like mind?  The organizers did an amazing job of creating a family-friendly, fun and educational atmosphere that kept us going early and leaving late every day and wanting more at the end.  It was our first foray into the real world of cosplay (despite having made and sold much steampunk stuff in the previous two years).  Both my Official Mission (researching vendors and costuming styles) and our unofficial one (having FUN) were fully fulfilled!
Steam Circus was an epiphany that burst into my brain not long after our return home.  Themes!  The theme of the convention we had just attended was Weird Wild West.  But skimming through the 'Net I could see that there were SO many other themes to play with - Nautical, Airship Crews, International/Asian . . .  And no matter how I tried, I couldn't find a website that catered to that need.  I had my basic costume (my character, Raven Assemble' was a French tinkerer), but what if I were to attend a Nautical convention?  How could I change up the pieces I already had to fit in with the theme?  Or Jim's Motorcycle Rider outfit - what if we went to a Circus-themed event?  It hit me that it would be very nice indeed to have one place to go, look up various costume types, categories and themes and pick out just pieces that would fit the theme of whatever convention or event I was planning for.  Voila! was born!
My hope for this new endeavor is several-fold:  To make available fun and unique theme-based items (as well as the usual standard assortment); to facilitate the sharing of costume ideas (complete with pictures and diagrams); and to keep our audience informed of upcoming Steampunk events, big and small.  Probably more as time goes by, and that's certainly a good start!
Future blog posts will include not just my own ramblings about my workshop, creative process and more epiphanies, but also the work of  other artists, costume ideas, creative tips & techniques, favorite movies and books, interviews, history articles and posts focusing on specific themes.  Stay tuned!