Tea time with steampunks

14 Mar, 2014

by Molly Snyder

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The Pfister Hotel is a natural setting – both aesthetically and historically – for a Milwaukee Steampunk Society outing. Hence, when 36 members of the group spent last Sunday afternoon at the hotel, it was a perfect fit and a visual feast.

The group, all of whom were dressed in elaborate steampunk attire, went on an art tour with Pfister artist, Stephanie Barenz, and followed it up with a formal tea at Blu.

Perhaps you are asking the same question I asked. What the huzzah is a steampunk? (You might not have included the “huzzah” part.) I have heard the word “steampunk” many times and had a sense of its meaning, but really, what exactly is it?

Well … According to Charles Tritt, who organized the Pfister outing, the term is not easy to define – nor should it be because everyone defines it and executes it a little differently.

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“Basically, ‘steampunk’ is a retro-future movement that focuses on the Victorian period. But it’s a reinterpretation of Victorian times and themes including industrialization, lighter-than-air travel, etc.,” he says.

“Retro-future?” I ask. “Isn’t that an oxy-moron?”

“Exactly,” says Tritt, eyes shining.

“Exactly,” I say – drinking my ginger tea and drinking in the creativity and whimsy of the free spirits in the room.

Tritt told me he discovered the steampunk sub-genre when he went to a science fiction convention with a steampunk theme. “It was perfect. It’s something I enjoyed all of my life but didn’t have a name for it,” says Tritt, who is also an engineering professor.

The looseness of the interpretation is also a thread that runs through the Milwaukee Steampunk Society in general. The group does not have a founder, a leader or regular meetings. Instead, anyone can join and anyone can organize an event and attract attendees via social media.

Past events, other than the Pfister outing, included the Reinaissance Faire and laser tag. (Corsets in combat? Sure, why not.)

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“I don’t think there is any one thing that everyone in the group has in common. Everyone has something in common, but it tends to be something different,” he says. “Some are writers, clothing makers, consumers of media. Every steampunk is different – it’s a hugely varied group of people.”

Most people’s costumes are a mix of the vintage, new and handmade. Tritt points out his coat is from H&M, but he made his bolo tie. A woman wears a formal Tardis dress from Dr. Who that she made herself and yet another attendee sports a 10-pound hat made from stainless steel and brass that he crafted at work.

“I have a stainless steel tie, too, but it didn’t go with the vest,” he says.

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Another woman tells me she came to the Pfister event from Madison. She says the group has helped her meet new people post-college.

“Everyone here is so inviting and friendly,” she says.

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Tritt points out a couple other highlights of being a member of the steampunk society.

“Where else do men talk to each other about clothing this much?” he asks. “And women tend to show you their undergarments.”

I love people who are not afraid to make bold statements, celebrate the imagination and are deliberate with their dress, actions and entertainment choices. That afternoon, I went home and ordered a black rose brooch, much like the one worn by the woman sitting across from me at the tea. I need a piece of steampunk for myself.

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  • Charles Tritt

    Thank you for joining us for tea and for your interest in steampunk
    culture. I enjoyed our conversation.

    Allow me to clarify the organization within our community. While
    on the whole the movement does not have formal structure or leadership, locally the Milwaukee Steampunk Society (MSS) was founded and is currently led by Bridget Sharon. The MSS was created 3 years ago and hosts monthly salons where we gather to socialize and discuss upcoming events. I was the ad hoc organizer of the tea at the Pfister. It was supported and promoted by the MSS, but was not an official MSS event.

    The MSS is active on social media. Information about upcoming
    events can be found at:

    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/milwaukeesteampunk
    Blog: http://milwaukeesteampunksociety.tumblr.com/
    Webpage: http://milwaukeesteampunk.webs.com
    Twitter: https://twitter.com/SteampunkMKE

  • Lisa Walker England

    Thank you so much, Molly! It was fantastic having you and Stephanie show us around. Much love–and do drop a photo of your new brooch when it arrives!

  • Pingback: Steampunks, Unleash Your Scenius | Lisa Walker England()

About the author

Molly Snyder

Molly Snyder has lived in Milwaukee her entire life. She started keeping a diary when she was four and published her first poem at age 10 called “The Unicorn” in the now-defunct Shorewood Herald. Today, she writes less about mythical creatures and more about Milwaukee people and places. She is a senior writer at OnMilwaukee.com, where she has worked for the last 12 years. Telling people’s stories is her passion.

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