Gaslight Gathering: A Martian Holiday

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Event Review by Lindsay Pettee

Upon arriving at the Gaslight Gathering Steampunk and Victoriana Convention, I realized that I was underdressed.  I had expected this since nothing in my closet resembles anything from the 1800s, but I was still unprepared for the immense detail and time put into each costume.  For those who are unfamiliar with the term “steampunk,” it is a sub-genre of science fiction set in an alternate reality that incorporates nineteenth-century elements, with special focus on steam-powered machinery and industrialization.  From leather flowers and corsets to elaborate metal propellor backpacks (no doubt for time travel), it was clear that if anyone’s glance lingered on my floral sundress it was out of pity for the outsider.  My lack of appropriate garb was not a hindrance for entry, however, so after purchasing my badge, I made my way to the entrance in a rather bewildered trance.

As a lover of Victorian literature, I have read a couple steampunk novels out of curiosity and knew that it had a very dedicated following but was rather unsure of what to expect aside from a ton of costumes.  Taking a look inside the program, I was pleasantly amused by the great assortment of performances, presentations, crafts, and activities held throughout the day.  Gaslight Gathering is held yearly at the Town & Country Hotel for three days and showcases everything from steampunk writers’ workshops and artist signings, historically accurate Victorian activities and artifacts, and social events such as a fashion show, afternoon tea party, and concerts where passionate fans are encouraged to mingle.  Perusing the schedule, I was disappointed to find that I had missed the “Painted Parasol Workshop” as well as “Readings from the Works of Edgar Allen Poe,” so I decided to wander the buildings and get an idea of the layout.  The venue for the convention was perfectly chosen, with brick pathways shaded by trellises, gardens full of roses, and rooms with elegant chandeliers and gorgeous floral paintings.  Being surrounded by guests in nineteenth century attire made me feel as though I really was in the midst of the Industrial Revolution.  I was rather disappointed in myself wen I realized that my plain, modern clothing was probably ruining the effect for everyone else who had taken the time to dress the part.  Exploring several rooms used for crafting and special demonstrations, I found myself in a large, bustling ballroom filled with vendors and eager shoppers.  I felt dizzied by the number of racks overflowing with Victorian and steampunk clothing, as well as a wide array of accessories decorated with gears in true “machinist” fashion, crocheted gloves, genre-inspired art, and of course, plenty of books.

After wandering the maze of booths, I decided to make my way upstairs to the Garden Salon for “The Birth of Fashion Design”, a lecture by historian Dawn Devine on “the key players, their garment designs, and the social change that created the emerging new industry.”  Dawn was dressed in a design of her own, using intricately patterned Egyptian fabric to create a belly dancer’s traditional costume.  She guided the audience through a fascinating presentation on some of the most important moments and figures in the history of the fashion industry while answering audience questions with a clearly expert level of knowledge.  Even in the heat of mid-afternoon, she kept the attention of the audience with her sense of humor and facts about well-known figures such as Oscar Wilde and Coco Chanel.  I walked out feeling even more underdressed but with a new-found appreciation for the women who had to wear what must have been pounds of clothing even in the summer.

I was short on time, but decided to stop by the outdoor stage to see what was happening before making my exit.  I arrived just in time to catch part of the fencing demonstration by the Cabrillo Fencing School.  The speaker explained many of the modern day regulations that were imposed for fair scoring in the Olympics and demonstrated how electric wiring and sensors in the tips of each blade served as the measure for points nowadays.  He compared the modern practices to fencing in the Victorian era, highlighting the differences in equipment and scoring.  During the 1800s, much more was taken into consideration in terms of earning points and it was no surprise to learn that opponents were judged on style and proper etiquette as well as hits, which factored into the overall score.

At the end of the afternoon, I was disappointed that my time in the alternate universe of steampunk had to end.  There were so many interesting things left to do, such as “Discover the hidden depths of a very Victorian libation” at the “Absinthe Minded Professor” event, and learn how to swing waltz before the War of the Worlds USO Dieselpunk Ball.  As I made my way back to the parking lot past the crowd of attendees for Glutina’s Gluten Free Convention, I thought, “How incredibly boring those people’s clothing is.”  I guess I will be back next year!

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Tickets for the Gaslight Gathering Convention are sold in advance on their website and on the day of the event.  They are available in either a weekend package or single day passes.  Certain events (such as crafts) have additional fees.  You can find more information on the event here.

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