Unlike approximately 89.3% of American females, I detest clothes shopping with a deep and heartfelt passion. To me, it is a futile and time-consuming process to wade through endless stacks of clothing looking for attire that fits well, slenderizes, and matches my anemic fashion sense. Most fashions today I spur as hideous and patently unsuitable for someone with a bosom and a short waist, so clothes shopping is a dreaded task that I would love to pass on to someone else should it ever be economically feasible for me to do so.
Costume shopping, however, is an entirely different kettle of fish (or to coin a lovely Terry Pratchett phrase I read, "a different pocketful of rats"). Although technically in the same category as clothes shopping, costume prowling is infinitely much more fun than the former. I'll happily peruse thrift stories for hours looking for likely pieces and waiting for steamy inspiration to strike. Take yesterday: I had 30 minutes to kill so I ducked into a Goodwill to try to find some work clothes that compensated for both the extra 5lb I have gained lately and my complete lack of fashion sense. I left clutching an awesome braided leather bracelet perfect for steampunk and a fluffy pink window valance that will soon be the bottom of an underskirt. All this for $5! Alas, I still had no new work clothes but when I visited a friend that night, she happily unloaded a pile of clothing she had outgrown which made me inordinately gleeful since the clothing was both free and did not require an hour of flipping through clothing racks to acquire.
Later on that evening, I was killing time in downtown Omaha and, for lack of anything better to do, wandered into Basic Tease, a rather naughty lingerie shop. There among the home stripper pole kits and stacks of jeweled pasties, I roamed the aisles thinking to myself, "Wow, they have awesome choli tops for that steampunk bellydancer costume I want to make, and these stockings are absolutely perfect, and these earrings look kinda steamy...."
So yes, costuming does tend to do funny things to one's brain and inspiration can strike in the oddest of places. A few weeks ago, I struck up a conversation with my eye doctor about steampunk and he directed me off to Harbor Freight, a place my father refers to as "the big boy toy store." Although I did not have an immediate need for welding rods or an air compressor, they did have these awesome clip-on lenses which will help form a pair of steampunk glasses I need to put together for a costuming event next month. Standing at the counter surrounded by burly men in sweat-stained shirts, I felt like announcing loudly that Harbor Freight was an awesome place to get Victorian costuming stuff, but that probably would have made the guys feel a little weird about the store, so I refrained from comment. I also eye-marked stuff I want to go back for next paycheck.
And it continues, bits of leather bracing, an old canvas Army tote, rivets from a flag, a torn lace curtain, scuffed boots with a broken heel. Stuff keeps coming in and finding its way to my basement where a steampunk workshop is in full swing. My wallet goes anorexic and the credit cards melt from overuse. My regular wardrobe which I wear everyday remains unfurbished and gradually aging while my stacks of steampunk costumes grow exponentially. Costuming shopping trips with my girlfriends replace browsing at the mall. Sundry items are seized and carefully assessed for their steampunk value and/or judged to see how much modification they can rightfully withstand.
The solution to my utter lack of variety and skill when it comes to dressing myself for normal activities is, of course, to simply to wear steampunk costumes everyday since then I will take far more care over the daily dressing process and probably look much more attractive to boot. Other friends of mine have agreed that we look far better in period costume than anything modern designers can dream up. In fact, it is always a small shock to encounter a fellow steampunk out of costume because quite often people look very different in civilian clothing. The joke is then, as it was in my martial arts days when you rarely saw your friends out of uniform, "Oh, I didn't recognize you with clothes on!"
This isn't the first time I have spurned modern clothing. During my seven years of college teaching, I longed to return to the days where teachers wore academic robes to class. This way choosing my clothes each morning would take about 30 seconds (i.e. I could wear the same outfit with different shoes every day) and the robes would have lent a touch of pedantic class and old-world charm to the campus. Alas, it was not meant to be as I think the daily steampunk wardrobe also is not meant to happen. Certainly with Omaha basting in regular 100 degree days, I am not exactly keen to done a corset daily, not to mention long skirts and full boots. But it would be a fun world if I could go about in costume as my daily attire!