Tuesday, June 9th, 2009...3:03 pm

#136: Take Off That Store-Boughten Underwear: A Shocking Report from the Land of the Young

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Okay, I’m sorry, all you young ‘uns reading this post, but there’s no way for me to tell this story correctly except via an old person-style long and convoluted anecdote. But first, to tantalize you about what’s ahead and to keep you interested, I offer the following visual clue:

Now that I have your attention, I can tell you that I went last night to a panel discussion on women’s lives across the generations. The discussion, which was amazing, was moderated by the fabulous Sheila Weller, author of Girls Like Us and blurber of How Not To Act Old, and featured, in descending order of age, the stunning group of Patricia Bosworth, Judith Warner, Joanna Smith Rakoff, and Emily Gould.

My point, and I do have one, is that during a back-and-forth on the effect of changing technology on women’s lives, someone raised the issue of backlash and Emily Gould, the ex-Gawker editor who now blogs at Emily Magazine and who was born a few weeks before I got married for the second time, said something about steampunk.

There was a brief silence, punctuated by a few What?s from everyone over 40, after which we figured maybe she said Stephen, or steamtown, or punk rock, or something, and everyone started talking again.

And then Joanna Smith Rakoff, a novelist in her 30s whose new book is called A Fortunate Age, again used the word steampunk — we all heard it clearly this time — eliciting yet more confusion.  What was this mysterious thing called steampunk?  And why did the two younger panelists reference it so naturally while the older ones were utterly clueless?

When I finally got home and googled steampunk, immensely proud of myself for having remembered the word for an entire 38 minutes, I felt as if I were pulling back the curtain on a whole alternative culture that isn’t exactly new but that has remained largely hidden from just about everybody over 40.  Yes, not knowing about steampunk makes you, in the words of the twitter thread started by Rainn Wilson aka Dwight yesterday, #officially old.

So what the hell is steampunk?  Ah, see, that’s kind of the problem: It’s really hard to explain.  It’s a genre of science fiction and fantasy, it’s a fashion movement, it celebrates Victoriana and is anti-technology, yet it subverts elements of technology by deconstructing and reinventing them.

Would some visuals help? Here’s a steampunk laptop:


And here’s some steampunk taxidermy, by Jessica Joslin:


And here is a tutorial on how to make your own steampunk underwear from the flannel shirt your college boyfriend left in your laundry after a Kurt Cobain concert.  But before we go to the videotape, credit for the lace-up lingerie in the teaser shot goes to Clare Bare Collections — it’s not only kinky, it’s sustainable! — whose designer is featured in this video.  More pretty amazing examples of steampunk lingerie can be found at the Louise Black Designs shop on Etsy.  I would have lifted a picture but she has a very scary prohibition against that, and seems pretty terrifying all around, though her corsets are not to be missed.  (Hmmm, wonder if they come in XXL?)

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