As we have previously explained, modern fashion is based on 19th century fashion. Goth and Steampunk styles are not exceptions to this… perhaps ‘discovering brown’ is not so important?
6.1.- 19th century fashion: the importance of mourning
In March 1861, Victoria’s mother died, with Victoria at her side. By the beginning of December, Prince Albert was diagnosed with typhoid fever and died on 14 December 1861. Victoria was devastated. She entered a state of mourning and wore black for the remainder of her life. Queen Victoria avoided public appearances and rarely set foot in London in the following years. Her seclusion earned her the name ‘widow of Windsor’.
Queen Victoria was the model for upper and middle-class behavior during 19th century. This meant that there was social pressure to make grief public. Then a man, as breadwinner, had to get on with life and resume his working uniform; for this reason, the woman, guardian of the home, tradition and all that was sacred, was expected to act out the family’s sorrow and wear its livery.
As we explained in this blog post entitled ‘Ornamental hair jewelry’, a Victorian woman could spend a great deal of her life wearing black:
For the Victorians death was a common and accepted part of everyday life. Because of high mortality rates, death and mourning became a way of life for survivors: houses were filled with mementos and after the loved one had actually passed, women were expected to follow a complex code of mourning that lasted for two and a half years.
In the ideal world of the etiquette books, the woman mourner was sequestered at home, and widows went out only to church. The mourning material was crepe (sometimes spelled crape), a silk fabric chemically treated to achieve a crimped surface. Crepe was favored because it didn’t reflect light; anything shining or sparkling connoted richness and festivity, out of place when honoring the dead. Other dull silky fabrics called bombazine and paramatta were good alternatives, but lacked the scary immediacy of crepe.
Said The Manners of Good Society, 1893:
The regulation period for a widow’s mourning is two years; of this period crape should be worn for one year and nine months, for the first 12 months the dress should be entirely covered with crape, for the remaining nine months it should be trimmed with crape, heavily so the first six months, and considerably less the remaining three; during the last three months black without crape should be worn. After the two years two months half-mourning is prescribed…
Mourning attire was the perfect way to show the wealth and respectability of a woman. Some went so far as to dress their servants for mourning when the head of the household passed away. Middle and lower class women would go to great lengths to appear fashionable in times of mourning. However, most average people probably didn’t have the resources or the social pressure to mourn expensively with strict propriety. Women with lesser financial means tried to keep up with the example being set by the middle and upper classes by dyeing their daily dress. Dyers made most of their income during the Victorian period by dyeing clothes black for mourning
In previous eras the colour had been in fashion for periods, in fact Spaniards introduced black into English courts in the 16th century. The early Victorians mainly associated black with mourning, but as Victoria continued to wear it, the colour started to be adopted by the mainstream as a fashionable colour. Beyond mourning, a lot of black clothing was made in the 19th century. To qualify as a specialized mourning article, an antique clothing garment had to be more than black; it had to fulfill the rules of etiquette.
An average woman could expect to have a good dress possibly once in 10 years. If she had any smarts she would made it from a strong, long-lasting black fabric. Black was practical and versatile; it could be worn almost everywhere and with everything, and it didn’t show dirt. Even clothes made in other colors could be dyed black to cover spots, fading and alterations as clothes were handed on and worn out. And people never knew when they might have to mourn or attend a funeral, so it was best to be prepared.
Bonus.- in 1866, Victoria developed a curious relationship with a Scottish servant of her household named John Brown, a Scottish highlander who had been in service to the Queen for several years as a horse attendant. Slanderous rumours of a romantic connection and even a secret marriage appeared in print, and the Queen was referred to, jokingly, as ‘Mrs Brown’. Much gossip surrounded their unusual relationship. Some Britons said that he was acting as her spiritual medium, continually contacting Prince Albert from the beyond… but we have talked already about about Spiritualism.
6.2.- Steamgoth fashion: Dark Beauty
6.2.1.- The meaning of wearing black
Wearing black clothing has often taken on a social significance and it has become a real statement in many cases. Black clothing recalls clergy and asceticism, and for more than 500 years wearing black signified bereavement in Europe and America.
Black dyes were terribly expensive during the Middle Ages; in fact, wealthy Spanish gentlemen wore black velvet to display status and mourning attire was limited to people of the highest social strata. Furthermore, sumptuary laws established rules for dress and the practice of wearing black during bereavement. This prevented the lower classes to follow this trend until the 18th century, when mourning dress became more or less ordinary.
In the 18th century the ability to afford expensive fabrics and fashions was no longer limited to the aristocracy, due to the economic development of the European economy and the middle-class citizens. As explained before, black clothing became all the rage in the 19th century thanks to Queen Victoria, as she and her daughters were the fashion models of the later 1800s to early 1900s. ‘Coco Chanel really popularised black as a fashion in the early 1920s, but it was kick started by Queen Victoria’, says Butchart.
6.2.2.- Haute Couture, Goth, Steampunk
Although there is no doubt that goth subculture has punk roots, classic romantic, gothic and horror literature has played a significant role in its evolution. Nevertheless Goth attire styles are often borrowed from the Elizabethan, Victorian or medieval period.
As noted by researcher Maxim W. Furek, ‘Goth is a revolt against the slick fashions of the 1970s disco era and a protest against the colorful pastels and extravagance of the 1980s. Black hair, dark clothing and pale complexions provide the basic look of the Goth Dresser. One can paradoxically argue that the Goth look is one of deliberate overstatement as just a casual look at the heavy emphasis on dark flowing capes, ruffled cuffs, pale makeup and dyed hair demonstrate a modern-day version of late Victorian excess’.
In the later part of the first decade of the 21st century, designers such as Alexander McQueen, Rick Owens, Gareth Pugh, Ann Demeulemeester, Rodarte, Hedi Slimane, John Richmond, John Galliano, Olivier Theyskens, and Yohji Yamamoto brought elements of goth to runways. This trend was baptized as ‘Haute Goth’ by Cintra Wilson in the New York Times, who defends the thesis that ‘the origins of contemporary goth style are found in the Victorian cult of mourning’.
We would like to bring back up this video… ‘Haute Couture & Steampunk Fashion’.
At this point we do hope that you have found this introduction to Steamgoth enlightening. If so, feel free to share it and leave your feedback, so that other aficionados to Steampunk have access to it.
Have you read the complete introduction? Many thanks then for your time and interest! If you have not had de chance to do it yet, you can read further through the links below.