Saturday, January 29, 2011

Irish Dance Steampunk Dress Designs

I am going through a Steampunk phase; that is no secret. A couple of years back I wanted to wear Kimono everyday, now it is bustles and vests.

Back in November, a the day after I came home from the
Oireachtas, I read something about one of Alisa’s projects (The Steampunk Ghost) and suddenly, a crazy idea came to me: A Steampunk Irish Dance Dress. Designs started popping in my mind, begging me to draw them out. I have made a few sketches based on these ideas.

First, whenever I imagine an Irish Dance dress, I like to begin with decorative design I will use repeatedly on the dress. Here is what I came up with:

Gear-Cross design

It is a clockwork gear with an Equal arm cross in its center; Steampunk plus Celtic in one simple design.

Now for the dress ideas I have come up with so far; I tried to follow An Coimisiún Rincí Gaelacha rules concerning dresses, which includes long sleeves and neckline coverage up to the collar bone, as well as general Irish Dance dress fashion of layered skirts and capes.

Steampunk Irish Dancing Solo Dress

This one is based on the current Solo dress fashion: a corseted bodice, over skirt panels and a flounced underskirt. You can see my Gear-Cross design on the panels and cape. What else says Steampunk other than wheel gear? Wings! The cape, which would be flat and quilted, represents a pair of wings.

Although people might not get the wing concept, this is a dress I could easily make and wear for shows and competitions.

Fabrics would be taffeta, silk, satin and liquid lame.

Steam Era Steampunk Irish Dance Dress

This second one is inspired by Steampunk outfits in general, and is what I imagine a Steampunk Irish Dancer would wear. The top part mimics a cream shirt with wide sleeves, worn under a green bodice. The bottom consists of an underskirt covered in lace flounce, with a bustled over dress gathered at the side front with ribbons. The cape is a piece of tartan fabric held at the shoulder and waist by brooches made in my Gear-Cross design.

If I were to perform Irish Dancing at a Steampunk event, I could definitely wear this, but I would not make it to compete on a regular basis (the colours are not flamboyant enough).

Burlesque Steampunk Irish Dance Dress

This third design could actually be worn as a Steampunk or even Lolita dress. The bodice consists of a Basque-like jacket with mandarin collar and diamante buttons down the front, an underskirt with 2 layers of pleated flounces at the bottom, and an apron over skirt trimmed in lace with tails trailing at the back. The cape is a gathered and holds with rosette brooches.
If I were a burlesque Steampunk Irish Dancer in a cabaret, I could wear such a dress (although I would probably need an evening bodice instead of a day one).

I also decided to make one design based on what Irish dancers actually wore in the early 20th century, since this is what lead to the costume we wear today. I have read (here) that at the time, with Ireland gaining its independence in 1921 (and half of it returning to England a year later), the Irish people were trying to rediscover any aspects of their culture void of English influence. They looked to the 12th century, before they were invaded, for such clues, and what little they found (archaeology in the early 20th century was still in its infancy) was that people wore belted Leíne (knee length unisex gowns) and brats (cloaks) back then. Therefore, the girls wore knee length white dresses reminiscent of Leíne, embroidered with Book of Kells design, with wide sleeves gathered at the wrist and a brat or shawl pinned to their should with a Tara brooch. The men of the time looked to their Scottish cousins for a "true Celtic look" and adopted the kilt, even though there is no archaeological proof that is was ever worn on the Irish isle. By the way, the brat is the ancestor of the modern day “cape” worn on the back of the dress.

Three young women wearing 'Celtic Costume'

Steampunked, this is what it could look like:

"Celtic Revival" Steampunk Irish Dance Dress

This is a white dress with stand-up collar, back buttoned placket closure, and Gigot sleeves. It is gathered at the waist with a kelly green sash finished with tassels. The skirt is decorated with popular Steampunk motifs such as a skeleton key, topped with a shamrock motif, clockwork gears in a Triquetra (made of zigzag ribbon to simulate a chain pulling the gears) and of course, my gear-cross motif. In the 1920’s, all the designs were hand embroidered by the dancer – they were given to her as a reward for winning a competition; the designs around the bottom of the skirt would be hand embroidered to feel period. The brat is tartan, but in the colours of the Irish Flag (born in 1916) and is pinned not by Tara brooches, but by Gear-Cross gold brooches enamelled in green. A winged Gear-Cross brooch is pinned at the neck. I have incorporated the Irish Flag colours as well as Irish symbols as much as I can in this design to give it a true patriotic feel.

I don’t know if I will ever make any of these, but it has been a fun exercise in creativity. Next up: Asian Steampunk! It's been developing slowly in my mind since New Year...