This lady, by the way, is magnificently tall

Steampunk Style Everyday…As Seen At Aethercon

One of the delights of Aethercon was seeing other people who had steampunk as a part of their everyday wardrobes. Here’s some inspiring highlights.


Loved loved loved this girl. A good deal of her ensemble came from Covent Garden in London, and she asserts that she dresses like this all the time.

We should have gears and dials on our everyday handbags but only if they functionSteampunk with a piratical flair. Remove the costume-flair pennants and perhaps swap out the blouse, and this ensemble of boots-skirt-military jacket-Jolly Rogers can board and sink us three seasons a year.

It's all going on hereThe tailored layers, the textures, the accessories – even if she left the silver-topped cane at home, she’s ready for high tea anywhere.

This lady, by the way, is magnificently tallCream, white, taupe, and black are layered together deliciously – and note her crocodile handbag on the floor!

This is what I'm talking about, mmm hmmm

She kindly let me take a close-up of her bejeweled, manicured hands and her vintage jade, gold, and pearl sword brooch.

Note the steampunk ensemble in the background

And finally, this irresistible moment courtesy of BodyFX. An everyday look for an alternative steampunk universe. What we can take from it is that great toast-turquoise-and-gold color scheme.

Unseen Things is on Etsy, most of her jewels get snatched up before they are posted.

Steampunk Style Everyday

Hustlin' that bustle

Steampunk costume. Note the hat, the voluminous sleeves, and the deep bustled skirt. Photo courtesy of the steampunk event, Aethercon, and Paradox Photography.

Steampunk and me: we were meant to be. My love of science history and natural science “wunderkammers” – my lifelong vintage clothing + jewelry collection, which began at about age 14, when a British great-aunt left us her miscellaney of Victorian jewelry, laces, and photographs – my naturally prim face, which can be traced back to those Victorian photos. Steampunk ties it all up with a bow and a couple of gears, just for the looks of it, and encourages us to tell stories about the fantastical fictional worlds where tech-friendly, remixed clothes of yesteryear would be everyday wear.

As a science-fiction/fantasy genre, steampunk has refreshed the fun of being a sci-fi fan, revitalized steam-technology museums, and even increased interest in Victorian architecture. Steampunk is a delightful Victorian manse in the air, with many rooms, but is it possible to rifle through its wardrobes for every day?

I wish to debunk three huge fallacies about steampunk style:

  • Steampunk style is for costuming only. Not so! I incorporate steampunk items all the time. My more “everyday” steampunk-flavored looks set aside strong costume elements – long skirts, hats, and ray guns – and give normal garments a twist.
  • Steampunk style is based on a muted brown/gold palette. Like these looks here.– It’s often said that “steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown.” My everyday steampunk look is, admittedly, exhibit A. But steampunk can be done up in any color palette you desire. Club-room Victorian colors seem like naturals (navy, hunter, burgundy, amber) but the Victorians themselves loved what artificial aniline dyes could do for their wardrobes. And there’s no reason that the pastels of the late 1800s and the Regency aren’t steampunk. So if you aren’t an “autumn”, you can still get steampunky.

    I can get in and out of cars by myself in this and I don't get caught on furniture. Yay modernity!

    Steampunk flavored for a night out. This survived an 80-km Wellington wind…can’t say the same for my hair in this picture!

  • Steampunk style is hard to find. – Granted, not everyone has a great-aunt who empties the lumber room for you, but most of my key steampunky pieces were thrifted or second-hand. Victoriana and “the military look” come and go.

You can steampunk it up by adding any of the following to your style, with some basic polish as a foundation.

  • Outerwear/The “Third Piece” – A button-and-buckle laden coat, a nipped-waist jacket, or a tailored vest.
  • Detail and Richness – Pattern and texture, quality and patina. Brocade, stitching and fabric layering. Tweed and leather. Buttons. More buttons. All the buttons! Perversely, I like mixing Arts and Crafts patterns into steampunk looks, even though the Arts and Crafts crew were entirely against 19th century industrialization. Brocade jeans are having a moment, by the way.
  • Jewelry – Steampunk rewards those who love good bling. A simple outfit framing steampunk jewelry is a great way to evoke steampunk 24/7.
  • Victorian/Edwardian Looks – Buttoned gloves, buttoned or laced footwear, lavish blouses, a purse with embellished silver hardware, a hat or headband, even some real vintage in a scarf, fur, bag, or jewel.
  • Bump Up The Quality – Speaking of jeans, it is indeed possible to have jeans and sneakers as the backdrop for all these steampunk accoutrements – if the jeans are trim-fitting and fresh, and the sneakers are smooth dark leather or brocade fabric. Be thoughtful about your foundation wardrobe – quality never hurts. It’s my experience that people who like steampunk are smarter than average, and I’m confident that you can extrapolate on this.

My next post is going to showcase five successful “everyday steampunk” looks that I snapped at Aethercon, the New Zealand steampunk convention. So you’ll see all of this in action tomorrow.

Unseen Things is on Etsy, most of her jewels get snatched up before they are posted.

Steampunk necklaces by Unseen Things.

Some links for steampunk and vintage inspiration…

  • Aethercon – New Zealand’s steampunk convention. Held last weekend in Wellington, it was absolutely fantastic and you should come along next year!
  • Steampunk Oamaru – The delightful Victorian town of Oamaru in New Zealand hosts twice-annual steampunk festivities.
  •  Brass Goggles – A very fine blog for the steampunk aficionado.
  • 2D Goggles – Amusing web comics about a version of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage…who fight crime!
  • Gail Carringer – Her Parasol Protectorate series is engaging steampunk romance/comedy, complete with awful millinery. And Gail Carringer herself, when I met her, was a lovely person, even when being mobbed at a Worldcon. Her retro style blog is separate from her author blog.
  • Vintage Textile – Do not stop, proceed directly to the Victorian/Edwardian textiles.
  • The Three Graces – Estate jewelry, and how.
  • Vintage Skins – Again, check out the Victorian/Edwardian section – authentic bags from the period that often look surprisingly contemporary.
"I was a young 'un at Oogli, shy as a girl to begin/Aggie de Castrer she made me, and Aggie was clever as sin..." Poem by Rudyard Kipling, photo courtesy of Digitalpix!
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Vintage Clothing Matchmaking

"I was a young 'un at Oogli, shy as a girl to begin/Aggie de Castrer she made me, and Aggie was clever as sin..." Poem by Rudyard Kipling, photo courtesy of Digitalpix!

Both this eau de nil short kimono and the antique paper fan were gifted to me.

Comments are still streaming in over at the all-time #1 favorite post here, Grandma’s Vintage Fur. There is one poignant theme that I want to address: that of wanting second-hand, somewhat valuable, once-loved garments to have a new life. It comes up whenever I buy a “Sadie von Scrumptious” dress online or in person: the sellers are thrilled at the idea that the dress will be worn and seen.

This idea is so powerful that one vintage-dress-loving blogger’s series, The Secret Lives of Dresses, got turned into a novel. The wistful tales of these anthropomorphized garments are irresistible, and show us the drive behind playing vintage clothing matchmaker.

Sometimes a garment comes to my hands , or emerges from the wardrobe archives, that is really great…for a friend. Three tricky things can come up with this:

  • It IS used, after all – And not everybody is comfortable with used clothes.
  • It isn’t how your friend sees themselves -You think your friend looks fantastic in it, but they’re unsure. It may not be their usual color or labeled size, or it may look strange until the right person puts it on.
  • Maybe you’d like money for it – A toughie! I have had this come up twice for me with thrifting finds. Keeping finances out of the friends zone is usually for the best. Still, one time it was an item I’d been asked to look for, and the other time, if my friend hadn’t bought it somebody else would have, with such an immaculate designer item. I offered it to her with the tag on for just-reimburse-me. If I haven’t thrifted it and I do want some money, I usually post it online or talk to the people at appropriate consignment stores. They are not my friends, they are fellow business people.

I do find that playing vintage matchmaker works best with:

  • Designer items – I admit this with some reluctance, but it does give everyone a shared idea of provenance and quality.
  • Natural fiber items – Yes, polyester is veritably vintage, but it doesn’t time-travel so well.
  • Items that match a person’s aesthetic very strongly. Hard to lose here.

As a giver, be low pressure – an air of generous nonchalance is just right. And when in doubt as a receiver, either say no kindly-but-firmly, or, if you’re on the edge, give it a chance. Keep it for a season and see if it fits, or ask when you accept, “If it doesn’t work out for me, can I share it with another friend?”

Vintage matchmaking gets awkward with family. It’s when it’s family that we feel bad about saying no to the closet full of 1970s knits, or coveting the bolt of Italian silk gathering dust in that same closet. Or it’s when we are pressured to take ALL of Grandma’s vintage clothes – the ones we covet as well as the ones we don’t. (My own grandmother, by the way, was much more gracious than that – hi, Grandpenny! That’s your fan in the photo above!)

Lastly, accept that the item is going on to its new life. When you are gifting something, especially with dramatic items or whole outfits, you have your idea of what will happen to it. The new owner definitely has their own.  Would the person who gave me that mink stole be pleased that I had it converted into a scarf and used the scraps to line a cat bed? I’m not sure. Maybe if I shared my own stories about wearing the mink scarf, they’d be reconciled.

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Furs And Money, Part II

1920s arcade card featuring Fannie Ward and a sable coat ready to run away on all those feet!Some past posts have been particularly popular – here’s some follow up on them.

Grandma’s Vintage Fur…  Recent comments show that people are getting ready to sell their vintage furs. I did the rounds of the vintage/resale stores in Wellington this past weekend. Furs I’d noted there a month or two prior were sold, and ladies were trying on furs. Yes,  sightings of vintage store customers trying furs. So if you’re going to sell, this month and next month are prime.

Also, thanks to the super-stylish Alison for this tip – the last full-service furrier in New Zealand is Mooney’s in Dunedin. Remakes and repairs, take them there! Alison and I also agreed that the Antipodean retailer Cue is, in fact, a stealth petites store, and their partner retailer Veronika Maine is for taller women.

Living In NZ, Shopping Overseas… Had a fascinating discussion with an international retail maven who pointed out that one item leading to higher NZ prices is that “suppliers in NZ pay the GST tax every step of the way. In other countries (such as the US) wholesalers are exempt from sales tax.” But don’t the suppliers here get their GST tax paid back, eventually? “Yes, but they do have to provide the cash up front.” Retail Maven also agreed that, because Kiwis are used to paying the higher prices, retailers in NZ go ahead and charge them.

Cupcakes Against the Abyss  Oddly, the same week that the Very Vintage Day Out was a huge hit in Auckland,  I was asked a lot, “So when is the retro trend going to die? When will it stop?” Plenty of people are going ahead and starting the stylistic future (hello, Black Milk and your galaxy leggings) – I’m particularly impressed with older women’s contemporary style in Wellington. On the other hand, retro has never been more accessible, more fun, and more widely understood. Retro overall has joined Goth, Steampunk, and Rave/Electronica as an alternative lifestyle choice centered around events, dance, and music, with a significant style/dress component.

Real life has been keeping me away from the computer, including lots of freelance work, burlesque hosting, and outdoors winter preparation. Coming up soon: thoughts on color and style, how to get the most out of a photo session, a page on emceeing/hosting, heretical thoughts on red lipstick failures, and some house/home posts.


Vintage Precious Jewelry: Understanding, Buying, And (Not) Selling It

Vintage jewelry seems to baffle people as much as, if not more than, vintage furs. And it has an even higher cargo of expectations about its value and emotional significance. Plus, who doesn’t like looking at shiny sparkly things? So: a post about vintage precious jewelry.

In my early 20s, I lucked out with a part-time  job at a high-end jeweler. The jeweler was a kind and artistic man, and he told me about the pieces he made, the stones he used, and what was and wasn’t worth one’s dollar. I came away with a lifelong appreciation of jewelry. A month ago, I learned that he had died, which made me sad. So, this post is for you, Vaughn.

What Is Vintage Precious Jewelry?

Vintage precious jewelry = mid-Victorian to modern jewelry made with gold, silver, platinum, and precious stones, including pearl strands.

People often assume that all vintage precious jewelry was like Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels – they visualize spectacularly valuable pieces.

Hey, I wish it was all like this too

Elizabeth Taylor and her emeralds. Brooch on right is Bulgari.

But there was a huge range of items, many of them for the mass market:

Vintage jewelry examples.

Left to right: rose gold bow/heart locket, 1940s diamond engagement ring, multi-stone bracelet, Victorian Bohemian garnet brooch, Art Nouveau amethyst and gold lavalier pendant.

These smaller pieces blend into the lives that 95% of us live without being overly formal or ostentanious. They can add vintage style to a contemporary outfit, and be the perfect finishing touch for a vintage or pin-up event.

Behind the cut: more information about jewelry economics, when you should and shouldn’t sell old jewelry, how to tell if metals and gems are precious, and what I learned working at that high-end jeweler.

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I went to the other side of the planet to get away from this. Nothin' personal, Lisa.

Escape From The Prepicenter

I went to the other side of the planet to get away from this. Nothin' personal, Lisa.

True Prep authors Lisa Birnbach and Chip Kidd walk the preppy walk.

Living in New Zealand after being brought up in New England, I am occasionally asked to explain this thing called “preppy.”And I am reminded of how happy I was, myself, to leave preppy style behind.

From the ages of seven to eighteen, my home was a small town just bordering New Haven, CT. New Haven is the demarcation line between NYC suburbs and “real New England”, as indicated by my family’s bitter inter-sibling rift between being New York Yankees fans and Red Sox fans.  My svelte British mom liked New Haven’s Georgian colonial flavor, the brick and shale and clapboard buildings, the streamlined, classic clothes – the look called preppy that is well described here as “British inspired New England styling“. J. Press, the Yale Co-Op (which was its own small department store with in-house clothing brands until the 1990s), and Laura Ashley were just the thing for the tennis lessons and beach club visits.

Today, preppy styles have been given slimline makeovers and an ironic wink, and there are lots of preppy aficionados – even the Preppy Handbook has been updated. The web page for that update, True Prep, is a preppy primer. Pastels, madras, and tailoring take over the streets of Nantucket in the summer.  On the Boston sidewalks, every other person is preppy, and the look leaks down all the way to Washington D.C. According to True Prep, there are now new-prep variants across the country, from Lily Pulitzer southern belles to dignified Northwestern polarfleece. It seems easier for men, somehow, and easier to subvert today (if you’re read right). Lisa Birnbaum’s witty interview here sums up the subdued ethos of preppiness very well. “Grey and navy,  navy and grey, pink and navy…”

Pastels. For days.

All well and good. For me, as a teenager in the 80s, before the ironic makeover, preppy style in its 80s apotheosis made me think I hated clothes.

I took after my dad’s side of the family physically, with an Eastern European chassis. My cheeks, hips, chest – everything, really – curved. My hair waved and tousled, neither preppy straight nor 80s full, in the years before straighteners. I tried to be a hip ’80s New England teen. Disastrously. Shoelaces with hearts on them (mine had frogs, so wrong), a Ralph Lauren polo, and a Le Sportsac bag. L.L. Bean snow boots in season. A Laura Ashley dress for everyone else’s bar and bat mitzvahs when I was 13. But the pinks and blues and boxiness of 80s wear in New England meant that clothes were just another way for me to be a dork – until I discovered vintage clothing.

Ah, those 80s vintage clothing stores, full of lost treasures. Whatever happened to the burnt-orange 60s evening gown I picked up for a song? The quasi-Chanel 50s suit that even my mom agreed was a good idea? I still have a few pieces of Victoriana from those days, and a retro 40s tilt topper that has since done duty on many a model’s head.

The next step in my style evolution was leaving New England. I relocated to the Philadelphia area. Yes, preppies still roamed, herding onto the Paoli Local R5 commuter train in beige trench coats.  But it wasn’t mandatory. Philadelphia Freedom meant never having to wear a polo shirt again. In 1990, I bought a leather jacket on South Street and never looked back. Henceforth it was all admiring ladies in church hats, Mummers, and clothes from Zipperhead. I spent the 90s after work in sunflower sundresses and boots, polka-dot hot pants, leopard-print leggings from Contempo Casuals, and slinky oddments from the $20 sale bin at Betsey Johnson.  Life got interesting to match the clothes – one memorable evening, I got smuggled into a voguing ball – though I never made it to one of Henri David’s Halloween balls. I’m thinking about the clothes now, but at the time, they were almost incidental, so much was going on.

And then, at 28, I moved to New Zealand…


Reindeer games, anyone?

A Burlesque Christmas

On December 3rd, I went to the Christmas party for Miss La Belle’s House of Burlesque. Here’s some style shots from the festivities!

Reindeer games, anyone?Atomic Ruby, or, as we called her for the night, “Jessica Reindeer.”

A Christmas cracker, she isFanciforia Foxglove in seasonal crimson and green!

Such a lady!The delightful Delicia Minx, elegant for evening.

More lovely than a summer's dayPenny Pins shares a vintage find with us.

Absolutely ravishing, dahlingScarlett DeLight has the best champagne smile!

This blonde beauty is ready for the earth to moveHoney Suckle is as smart as she is beautiful – she picked out those particular shoes after a 5.+ Richter earthquake rattled Wellington earlier that night. “How high do YOU want your heels to be in a quake?”

A quiet moment...beautiful on the inside, tooPossibly my favorite image of the evening: Busty la Belle, having a sweetly pensive moment before performing. What’s under that delicious vintage robe? You had to be there to see it.

p.s. All the keys in this bowl belong to beautiful women.

When It’s So Bad It’s Good

There’s a category of vintage clothing summed up by this Venn diagram:

Note that the overlap area isn't large and is murky.I’m a sucker for items that fall into the murky, “so bad it’s good” area in the middle. Mouton coats. Marbled silk prints. Giant pussycat bows. Hats that are ready for lift-off. Brooches that can be seen from outer space. These items have often survived because they’re so distinctive or over-the-top that they got worn once or twice and then got put away.

It’s also illustrated by this vintage 70s dress that I thrifted:

p.s. All the keys in this bowl belong to beautiful women.

"I knew it was going to be a great party when I had to get a bigger bowl for all the keys!"

The dress seems to have been custom-made in Asia in the ’70s. Only the ’70s can explain the totally bizarre, yet very high quality, stretch silk twill, and the enormous collar. Based on the total lack of a waist, it seems to have been made for an edgy matron – I’ll be wearing it with a belt and a slip in the future.

The dress has no zipper and pulls over the head. Easy-on, easy-off.

"Whose keys are these? And which way is the waterbed?"

The dress photos are thanks to Wellington photographer Diana Villiers – see more of her work here.

Exhibit A: Rockabilly Kitchen, original 1940s layout - note the "pie safe" cupboard

“Vintage Lifestyle:” Cupcakes Against The Abyss

Why did it take me until this month to hear the phrase “vintage and rockabilly lifestyle”?

At first, I was grumpy. “How can an aesthetic be a lifestyle?” Then I looked around my house.

Exhibit A: Rockabilly Kitchen, original 1940s layout - note the "pie safe" cupboard

I hauled this taxidermy around for years. People thought I was mad. Well, WHO'S MAD NOW? Oh, I still am.

Er. If a “vintage lifestyle” is about the aesthetic, the look, the stuff, I am guilty as charged. So, what does it mean to love vintage things but be impatient for the future?

(By the way, these pictures don’t even show the leopard-print sheets. Or the art-deco light fixtures. Or the rusted hand-forged coat hooks I rescued from a junk shop in Auckland, soaked in oil for three weeks, and lovingly hand-sanded. Or the atomic barkcloth curtains that I made with the fabric I ordered from the U.S. for a song (this stuff, with a blue background). I list these things and I think, “Perhaps I could have been saner?” Oh well, moving on.)

The other day in a slip of the tongue I said, “Now that we all live in the 22nd century,” then I realized I wished it was true. I like the Internet, eating food from around the world, being huffily offended at the least jot of racism, and women with science careers. You know that it’s possible to update a Twitter feed using brainwaves alone, right?  How cool is that? And I eagerly anticipate stem cell medical advances and the new ceramics-based electronics.

But just as Western culture took 75 years to fully assimilate the impact of industrialization from 1850 to the 1920s, I think we’re not done with modernism and its changes just yet. The 1990s, you may recall, were all about the cyber and the techno and the virtual, glossy Matrix-style coats, rubber fetish wear. We were chafing at the bit to start the future. Then 9/11 happened, and in the U.S.A., people looked backwards. Cupcakes, aprons, vintage Atari games, That 70s Show. Europe soon jumped on the bandwagon (“Ostalgie” in Germany, the U.K. going retro too) and it trickled to the Southern hemisphere. We’re still unpacking both the retro suitcase we turned back to (which did have layers and layers of cool things in it) and our massive ambivalence about actually having started the future.

For myself, I’m aware that the main space in my abode, my living room, stylistically exiles the Cold War period. As a young teenager I had nightmares about Chernobyl and nuclear disaster – and the space where I spend many hours leaps from Art Deco to 2001, as if the years when we all lived in nuclear terror didn’t exist. But from my non-nuclear bunker, I can contemplate peak oil, global warming, apocalyptic science fiction, and social flux, and take comfort from cupcakes. And let’s face it: if I had Aeon Flux’s cheekbones instead of cupid’s-bow lips and an hourglass figure, my personal style would be less retro.

Aeon Flux - remember when the future used to look like this?

Judge for yourself! There is a mind-boggling array of blogs combining housewifery and “vintage lifestyle” content.  The blogroll here at B. Vikki Vintage is a good cross section.

A vintage lifestyle magazine in South Africa, for a change.

Thinky thoughts on vintage lifestyle advantages.

Retro-futurism: the past’s perspectives on the future. Paleofuture Blog is a treasure trove of this madness.

If you’re in Wellington, NZ, this month’s Nerdnite, on Monday the 19th, is exceptionally interesting. A speaker is discussing Steampunk Digital Humanities, “using new digital tools to reinterpret and visualise traditional data.”

And, finally, long-term retro aficionado artist Robert Crumb’s A Short History of America. So much nostalgia…and this was drawn in 1979. “What next?” as the last panel asks. Crumb himself did an addendum in 1989.


This aquamarine negligee set almost glows in the dark.

Teenage Mutant Vintage Lingerie

My vintage collection and I were invited to a Digitalpix glamour shoot. Oh happy day! I thought I’d bring something special. “Special” in lots of ways. Because vintage lingerie can be pretty demented. Take this demure “bed jacket” modeled here by Phoenix Flame.

The pink puff sleeves? The lace and bows? Surely designed to hide a mind like a steel trap.

Do not be deceived by the lace and ribbons: Agent Phoenix Flame is extremely dangerous.

Courtesy of Digitalpix Photography and model Phoenix Flame.

And then there’s this. On the way to Las Vegas in 1964, some revelers tossed a pair of synthetic panties out of their convertible into the Nevada desert. One nuclear test later, this lace and nylon negligee set was found clinging fetchingly to a tumbleweed.

It almost, but not quite, glows in the dark. Guest photographer Andrew used a soft focus to lessen the impact:

I feel a pleasant glow when I wear this. Is that happiness or my DNA warping?

Courtesy of superb guest photographer Andy!

Did it give me superpowers?


Captured in flight by Digitalpix

Well, I think so!