Are Fishnets Steampunk?
By Steampunk Origins | Updated Oct 09, 2019
The aesthetic behind Steampunk is often tied to the “Hungry Forties” with its themes portrayed in Charles Dickens’s novels, and Manchester’s “Cottonopolis”, far from the fishnet stocking. So are fishnets Steampunk?Yes, while the fishnet does not represent the Victorian vision, the genre is one of alternate history, time travel, and libertarianism. Rules - as far as Steampunk is concerned - are meant to be broken.
The History of the Fishnet Stocking
The history of the fishnet stocking is hard to pin down, but all can agree that they weren’t around in the Victorian era (source), and even if they were we wouldn’t see them outside of the docks and flop houses.
The Victorian era was one of expansion - colonially and technologically - which was balanced by a repressive nature in its society. Sexualization was feared, expressed only in its Vaudeville theatres, for those truly degraded and lost (anyone with a few pence and a bit of time to kill).
Steampunk is the conscious observation of that time. An age when everyone knew their place. A time of structure and integrity - the polar opposite from today, where anyone can be anything they want. This appears to be one of the major pulls to the genre, seen in its fashion, where men and women tend to dress in specific gendered roles.
Where the genre differs from actual Victorian society (above the laudanum to help you sleep, and alum in the bread (source)) is that it brings a gender equality to the era, a willing acceptance for men to display their testosterone via increasingly larger waxed moustaches, and the ladies sharing promiscuity and feminine wiles via the corset and assortments of tiny hats.
It is in the differences that attracts the Steampunk, something that seems more professionally driven in the Hungry Forties, but welcomed personally, romantically, mentally in Steampunk.
None of this backs up the point made that fishnets should be recognised as part of the repertoire of any self-respecting Steampunk’s arsenal (Know what I mean, nudge, nudge), but then anything worth saying should be exaggerated and pontificated in the most grandiloquent manner imaginable, as is the British way, as is the Steampunk.
The evidence that comes with the defence of punk and punkette’s rights to their holy tights comes in the historical reference to said tights - fishing. Fishing has been a part of British industry since the Picts looked up from the grass and noticed that the ground was all blue and wobbly in the distance. Surely, it stands to reason that a Steampunk may wish to celebrate this part of history through a bout of sexy legwear?
And, that’s before we get to the black sheep of Steampunk, the soft and fragrant sort, the part where, technically, tea came from (even if it took the British to improve it) - The East and its Silk Punk. Here, the fish is more than a piece of battered cod and chips, it’s a symbol of beauty, a nod to the Qing dynasty and all that came before it.
Wouldn’t it be remarkable if the fishnet tight went beyond saucy weekends and Rocky Horror Picture Show anniversaries and instead became another weapon in the rising tide of Silk Punk?
This brings us to the power of the fishnet, and its symbolism with the rise of the feminine. Now, as mentioned, Victorian society welcomed the distinction between men and women, Queen Victoria herself, a woman considered a feminist icon, regarded women as weak, which is non-surprising given the eras demand for high physical demand, and bloody interests of foreign policy. This was the age of the workhouse, the long day, and the damp-filled room - no place for a caring woman.
The fishnet and the stocking may go together, but it was a union, fought with cloak and dagger, and the occasional can-can kick to give it some “umpf”. The corset was symbol of patience and resistance, the fishnet was the revelation of flesh, desire, not just for the man, but the lady who wished to make her intentions clear. The World could look, but only those worthy may touch.
With this in mind the fishnet is a weapon in the war of liberation, one that can cut both ways if not properly handled. It makes sense that the fishnet would be welcomed with open arms into the Steampunk community. A symbol of reverence, of celebration, the desire of the feminine to balance the raging industry of the male. The sensual Yin, to the bearded Yang of the cosmic Steampunk.
So Are Fishnets Steampunk?
In conclusion, the fishnet belongs no more in Victorian society than does Steampunk. They’re both too confident, too expressive, neither fears missing their place, or standing in the open only to be seen. They are weapons of the meek and mature alike.
In an alternate timeline the Fishnet may have haunted the streets of Manchester and London as did the cobblestone killers, whale-oil-lampmen, and doctors of hysterics. They would have been seen as repugnant, lowly, and fit for none but the dogs. They are everything a high-class society abhors, so why wouldn’t Steampunk’s love them?
In the end, it’s you that must make up your mind. The roads you travel must be decided by yourself. The choice - as always - is yours.