“Steampunk is…a joyous fantasy of the past, allowing us to revel in a nostalgia for what never was. It is a literary playground for adventure, spectacle, drama, escapism and exploration. But most of all it is fun!” —George Mann
I do so adore smartly-rendered steampunk fashion. I first discovered Brian Kesinger’s work through a friend’s Facebook post. Immediately, I fell in love with Brain’s whimsical steampunk work, and soon discovered that I’d also seen his past work with Disney Animation Studios in films like Tarzan and Atlantis: the Lost Empire. While there is a lot of delightful artwork on Brian’s sites, I especially loved his “Tea Girls” collection. The Tea Girls are a series of steampunk paintings done with watercolor and tea. Each features delightful portraits of charming girls in steampunk attire, typically sipping tea while exploring or enjoying leisure activities. The two depicted here are among the more adventuresome Tea Girls, the first an airship swashbuckler, the second known only as “the chief.” (For more of Brian’s Tea Girls, check out his web gallery, DeviantArt, and Facebook page.)
Our first tea girl is a steampunk swashbuckler, Lady Bonny, and, based on the burning dirigible in the background, a successful pirate aboard some kind of airship. And what steampunk airship pirate is complete without advanced cannonry, clockwork parrot, bottle of rum, and cup of tea?
From head to toe, our airborne pirate is clad in awesome. Her ladies’ top hat is quite dapper and perfectly thematically appropriate for the steampunk genre. Her eyepiece is a delightful contrast to the pirate’s eye-patch, enhancing her vision rather than obscuring it. Blouse is loose and flowing for free movement in a swordfight (though it seems to have flowed open in the front a bit). Interestingly, it’s her left sleeve that’s tied down to keep it out of the way, suggesting that our pirate is a lefty, or at least fences with her left hand. Her corset keeps her vitals protected in combat and offers a place to keep her throwing knives.
Though a bit frilly at the top, our comely pirate’s skirt is short enough not to trip on and light and loose for effective movement aboard ship and in battle. Additionally, her left side is split to mid-thigh so not to trip her up when running. Lastly her boots are tucked down to allow better bending at the knees, and while they have heels, it’s important to note that they are not high-heels.
The dashing lady to the right is known simply as “the chief,” and is possibly my favorite of Brian’s Tea Girls. She has a air of confidence and competence befitting a captain of… of whatever it is she’s captaining. None of her surroundings clarify with any certainty what manner of vessel she’s aboard. She could be captain of an ironclad warship, steam-powered airship, giant land-ship, or even a submersible. Regardless, she looks like the sort who can give or take orders smartly and competently, even under challenging circumstances.
I’ve always had kind of a thing for the short-haired, bespectacled look, as it adds an intelligent, focused demeanor to most any wearer. I love our captain’s cap as well, the insignia suggesting, though not necessitating, a military command. Her cloak and mantle look sharp and offer protection from the wind and weather when the chief steps onto the deck of her vessel. Her outer, button-down dress jacket is professional-looking, like something that could be part of a women’s officer’s uniform. Her long dress is smart as well: loose for quick movement across the ship’s cabin or deck, light with only a single petticoat, and not so long as to drag the floor and trip her.
If I have a concern with our comely captain’s attire, it’s the high-heeled boots. I’m fairly opposed to high heels in general, but aboard an airship or sea ship, where air and sea currents are seldom steady or predictable, high heels only increase that unsteadiness. While the heels are thematically appropriate and add to our heroine’s air of authority, she risks possible knee or ankle injury in high turbulence or rough waters.
One other quality I like about all of the Tea Girls collection is that there’s no context to the images: viewers are free to imagine whatever background story and characterization for each portrait. I like to imagine these two intrepid ladies as adversaries, in fact. The first is a dread pirate, bringing a reign of terror upon the unsuspecting sky lanes, while “the chief” is captain of an air-gunship as part of a task force sent to bring the swashbuckler to justice. As both come across as smart, confident, and courageous, I suspect this could be an epic match-up.
Anyway, another huge thanks to Brian for letting me use his paintings. As always, thanks for reading, folks, and stay awesome!