Airships and brass-plated contraptions, top hats and gowns, the subculture of steampunk takes its cues firmly from the past, quite far in the past actually. In the Czech Republic there is a thriving scene with examples of steampunk found in everything from fashion and clubs through games to literature, where the term first appeared. And if you want to see it live and in person, grab your moncoles and head to Vojanovy Sady on August 23.
One of the main sources of information about steampunk is Steamzine.cz a Czech language resource which shows upcoming activities as well as having profiles on Czech steampunk authors.
Barbora Lyčková, a member of Steamzine’s editorial board, was described to me by another steampunk as one of the most prominent figures on the Czech scene. Lyčková, who keeps another blog, Nebe Plné Vzducholodí (The Sky Filled with Airships) credits her time in Glasgow with playing a part in her interest. She was also attracted to the combination of rational sci-fi and romantic atmosphere found in the literature. On top of that there was a love of Victorian Era architecture.
From her perspective she sees the scene as quite diverse.
“Girls generally wear dresses from Victorian gowns based on historical models through unkempt styles of pirate captains to fashion cross-overs with local and Japanese fashions.”
A similar opinion was expressed by Kateřina Mrázková, better known in the steampunk community as Victorian Catherine.
“In the steampunk community it is usual, that you won’t run into the same costumes. The costumer-wearers are often very inventive and diverse and their costumes look accordingly.”
Victorian Catherine came to steampunk through the band Abney Park, but her love of the Victorian Era has been for much longer and extends beyond the clothes to include the literature, inventions and even the manners of the age.
“It is thus possible to see me predominantly in dresses with a bustle [known as a honzík, in Czech] at the moment also inspired by Japanese aesthetics. It can thus be said that I am a something of a Japanese Victorian Lady. It just sounds so steampunk.”
Given the modern age’s emphasis on convenience and comfort, one may wonder why Victorian Catherine and other steampunks would go to such elaborate lengths. Victorian Catherine has been asked this question often.
“I have worn Victorian models already for a considerable number of years and so I am used to their aspects such as the weight of the dresses (which can weigh several kilos), length of the skirts, corsets and so on,” said Victorian Catherine who sews her gowns herself and can design them to her own needs and wishes.
The mixing and absorption of other styles of cosplay sees steampunk appear in connection with Goths such as the Dracula Clothing and Steampunk or Victorian Catherine’s presence as a judge at the recent AnimeFest.
On the subject of Cross Club, this is only one of the few clubs in the Czech Republic which reflects to the subculture. Others which the cocktail bar Progress in Žižkov which is decorated with airships and furniture in the chosen style, Roura whose fixtures make you imagine you’re in the nineteenth century, and Standard with that emblem of steampunk, an airship, hanging from the ceiling.
With its rich history and age, it’s not hard to see unintended steampunk elements throughout Prague.
“Definitely,” Lýčková agreed. “When you look around Prague and the wider surroundings, the majority of the residential buildings fall into the second half of the 19th century.”
Examples she gave included the Exhibition Grounds (Výstaviště) and the city’s Neorenaissance architecture. Victorian Catherine mentioned the Karel Zeman Museum, whose exhibits about Zeman’s films, with their old-fashioned costumes and Jules Verne inspired creations, recall many elements of the subculture. She also recommended her home town of Ostrava, whose industrial past conjure up images from the nineteenth century.
For all the creativity and knowledge this subculture displays, it is referencing a time when values, especially values surrounding women’s roles, were seen as stricter.
Victorian Catherine did not think steampunks were bringing back these values. However, she certainly saw appeal in some of the period’s ideals.
“Personally the Victorian approach to wedding preparations is for me very pleasant. The traditions and customs of this time concerning newly-weds. Furthermore the period of grief and respect for the dead was better defended according to my opinion than today.”
Lýčková said there were some symbol, like the peace symbol, with unambiguous meaning, but she doubted the corset worn by many steampunk women was one of them.
“Maybe for me, and I believe that that many people similarly, steampunk is really a visual aspect. We wear clothes inspired by the style, and thus corset, because we like them, not because we want to remind the period 19th century or – God forbid – we yearn to return to those times.”
Where do you go to go Victorian?