Corporate Steampunk Fashion
In Jake's post on goth, via the comment thread, Sangori asked a fashion question I'd like to address:
"How do you really, I mean really, incorporate your subculture style into your everyday work life?
Call me a fence-straddler, (I have come to terms with the fact that I am) but I am having real trouble finding a way to incorporate my love of steampunk inspired Victoriana with my work wardrobe in a way that puts off a fully professional image. Being that I have a toddler at home and don't get out much other than to go to work I have to express myself through fashion mostly in a work-appropriate way. While in a creative field, I do spend my nine-to-five in an office environment. I certainly have a found a few choice pieces that do cross between work and steam well enough, and I have a covet/shopping list of a few more (think tall brown boots, tweed skirts and vests, a herringbone newsboy cap and camel coat to brave the cold weather in). However, while I feel confident in my steampunk styled toggs I can't help but worry that my sense of theme dressing comes off as a bit costumey to my employers and colleagues.
Is my worry more a facet of being unwilling to fully commit to the cultural aesthetic of steampunk style, or something more valid that others struggle with?"
Bloody good question. Ok, so, first of all, I don't think having problems finding work-appropriate attire means that one isn't entirely invested in a subculture. It's not a matter of lowering one's standards, per se. Being conscious of how your fashion choices affect both your own disposition as well as the way others perceive you is actually an incredibly mature way of looking at the closet. There is a fine line between being fearless and being foolish with your wardrobe, so I'm pleased that Sangori is questioning this.
Fortunately, I believe steampunk/vintage punk is one of the more palatable and flexible fashion styles one can take to the office. When I rocked a desk job, my boss often complimented me on my "timeless" and modest garments (and on that note, since so much of Victorian fashion is straightlaced fabric from head to toe, you never have to worry about breaking the dress code by showing too much skin!). I stockpiled a lot of traditional work clothing, like long blazers and jackets, vests, floor-length flowing skirts, pinstriped trousers, knit dusters, and wool knickers. These items are easy as pie to find online or at thrift stores if you're on a budget. Considering exactly how casual business-casual attire reads these days, it's definitely a statement to show up to work in a tailored white suit, a striped dress shirt, and a white silk tie, plus pointed vintage shoes--and I managed to acquire that specific outfit for mere pennies by scouring sale racks, vintage shops, and Goodwill.
Sangori's fear of looking a bit costumey is very valid, and should be approached with stealth. Perhaps, if you're uncomfortable with your work dress code, pretend it's the costume--it always made me feel really slick to pass as "normal" whilst hiding lime green striped tights under my dress pants.
You can look unique and stylish without having to be a caricature. One of the easiest ways to avoid looking like you're trying too hard is to watch your accessories. For example, if you don't wear goggles to do your day job (like welding or working with chemicals), LEAVE THEM AT HOME. Unless you get paid to nuke space aliens, don't bring your Weta raygun in your purse (though if you have this occupation, let me know--I want in). If you like the supportive feel of a corset, it's ok to wear one, but keep it under your clothing. You may be able to get away with a bowler or a top hat, but it's generally impolite to wear epic headgear to board meetings. I have never had a problem, however, with carrying a pocketwatch, having fancy but tasteful jewelry, or donning old school sock garters under my skirt. In fact, my coworkers loved the look.
Assert your extreme steampunkness through the way you carry yourself--have excellent grooming habits, fine manners, and fantastic footwear, and you'll impress the heck out of your colleagues. Anyone who feels otherwise is likely jealous. If you're still worried that you're not displaying your love for Victorian sci-fi enough, try presenting it through the manner in which you decorate your workspace--most jobs will allow you to place toys on your desk or post inoffensive items on your door. I used to decorate my office door with flyers from my art shows and Wondermark comics.
Need more help? Turn to the folks who have been incorporating their subcultural style into their work attire for years: the Corporate Goths. A lot of the tips on this site helped me out when I was a wee babybat with a cubeville design gig, and they hold true across subcultural lines.
Thanks to Sangori for the inspiration. If anyone has any more tips for dealing with one's work wardrobe, feel free to leave them in the comments.