Friday, April 1, 2011

Is This a Steampunk LARP or San Francisco?

I just got back from a week of hanging out in the San Francisco Bay area. On one weekday afternoon I went by Borderlands Books, a remarkable 2000 square foot science fiction and fantasy bookstore that recently relocated to a neighborhood called The Mission District. When I lived in the Bay Area 10 years ago this neighborhood was a bit sketchy and was known for its Mexican gangs and punk rock dives. I was shocked last week to see how much The Mission had gentrified, especially Valenica St. where Borderlands is located. While gentrification-by-hipster isn't terribly interesting or unusual, the case of Valencia St. merits mentioning because there is an usually strong flavor of steampunk in the gentrification. Within a four or five block area I counted at least three shops devoted to selling steampunk lifestyle supplies. Animal skulls with bits of broken clocks glued to them. Brass steam pistol replicas. Glass and gear curios that look exciting but don't actually do anything. Lots of victorianish doodads and gewgaws. And vests, course.

During the week I was in the Bay Area (not jut Valencia St.) I saw a number of people walking around in public, in broad daylight, openly sporting steampunk accessories or complete outfits. Before this I had only seen this kind of thing at comic book and/or gaming conventions. I saw plenty of vests and highly manicured moustaches, which aren't unusual in some L.A. neighborhoods these days, but I also saw capes, clockwork goggles, petticoats, bodices, and so on. Costumes, really. While I'm not necessarily a huge steampunk fan, this whole thing is kind of interesting to me. In 20 years we have seen steampunk turn from a geeky niche literary trend into a street fashion. How in the world did this happen?

I'm kind of jealous, I must admit. When will MY favorite literary niche - weird space wizard fantasy - be able to break free from the underworld of rennies and roleplayers to get its turn in the fashion spotlight of wayward middle class youth? When will I be able to hang out at my favorite Orange County Korean Taco truck without feeling self-conscious about wearing wizard robes? I think I look quite dashing in a pointy cap. Maybe this new Conan movie will at least make it easier for me to spearhead fur loincloths as the next geek fashion trend.


  1. Sounds like steampunk fashion's reached critical mass in the year since I left SF. Interesting.

    I did once see two people in full plate armor hanging out in Golden Gate Park, but I think the high water mark for weird fantasy fashions in the Bay Area was probably back when the SCA was getting started.

  2. I lived there (in the East Bay) for the bulk of the 90's and there was never any shortage of what a friend of mine referred to as "Urban Attention Seekers." During my time, we had a lot of vampire types, with pancake makeup and cloaks and junk. I spent a week in SF last summer, and didn't see any steampunkers; however, I may have been unconsciously shutting out anyone who was trying too hard to get me to look at them.
    I could talk trash about the Bay Area for hours on end, and yet I would move back there is a second if the right opportunity presented itself.

  3. What, no photos?

  4. Borderlands is wonderful and that area of the Mission has really become a treat over the past few years. I'm moving away from SF and California entirely this month, and it will be things like this (and EndGame in Oakland) that break my heart to have to do so.

  5. I could talk trash about the Bay Area for hours on end, and yet I would move back there is a second if the right opportunity presented itself.

    Ha ha! This sums up my feelings as well. The bookstores, restaurants, cultural diversity, and beautiful location all end up outweighing the painfully self-conscious trendiness of the place.


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