Military-inspired Steampunk

Miner's pin, not military at all!

So after going through some of the vintage military/RCMP pieces I have moved into my sewing room, I started thinking about a steampunk military costume.  What would it look like, how would it function, how would I wear it, and do I even want to go in that direction at all?  Does it make sense to base a costume off a desire to ‘use up’ some odds and ends sitting in my sewing room?

I figured that I’d look for inspiration first, and see if that could drive my thoughts or ideas in any specific direction.  Since I still need to finish cleaning up my sewing room, and take my machine in for servicing, I have the sneaking suspicion this will stay in the “inspiration and idea” file for a while to come….

Controversy abounds

First up – the notion of even using authentic paraphernalia in a fantasy costume to begin with.  I’ve thought about this a bit more, and even found a few interesting posts on the matter.  First up, there’s a rather passionate post on the Steampunk Empire where a current service person discourages steampunks wearing current service medals in the use of costume unless the person has earned those medals.  However, I would temper his comments against my own thoughts and plans with the notion that:

a) The American and Canadian perspectives tend to differ insofar as our military service men and women.

b) He is referring to medals (for bravery, heroism, injury or death), not to all paraphernalia in general.

c) The original poster says that using another country’s medals is fine, or those so old as to not be recognizable is fine as well.  To me this means that the intent of the argument is less about respect, and more about impersonation.

Unfortunately by the second page of the 16 page thread the posters were already veering heavily into flame-like politics and off the original topic, so I didn’t continue reading much further to see many alternate opinions on the ‘political correctness’ of this issue.

Next up, the Steampunk Tribune had a much less inflammatory perspective on the matter, and polled the readers about their thoughts.  One commenter suggested that history and alternate history should be kept separate (however having identified him/herself as a historian, I’d wager he/she is a bit biased on the matter), while another said that as long as it’s not modern (in current use), it’s fine.  The same poster suggested that authentic items were better well-used than left to gather dust in a forgotten drawer.  Again, the post was speaking specifically about medals of honour.

When it comes to the legalities that I pondered in an earlier post, it would appear that the major points revolve around medals and impersonation.  For instance, Veterans Affairs Canada states that it’s illegal to wear the medals that someone else has earned.  Further, in the forums on army.ca, a poster discussed the issue and outlined that uniforms “that is so similar to the uniform… that it is likely to be mistaken therefor” can not be worn.  Meaning again, this is an issue of impersonation.  Further, it says that wearing a “distinctive mark relating to wounds received…or  a military medal, ribbon, badge, chevron or any decoration… or any imitation thereof…that is likely to be mistaken for any such mark…” can not be worn.  Again here the issue seems to be wearing awards and medals that you didn’t earn, or imitating them in such a way that it could be considered impersonation.  The same part of the code says that you can’t possess a certificate of discharge/release, or ID card that doesn’t belong to you.  This seems to be more again, of an issue of impersonation, unless every veteran or former service member has to give up these papers upon his or her death, and never pass them on as memorabilia to their heirs.  (Which I can’t believe would be the intention of this code!)

In the same post though, posters brought up the existence of specialty and surplus stores.  Yes, some of these stores sell knock-offs, while others sell real SURPLUS items – things that the military no longer needs.  I’ve seen all sorts of items like name badges, embroidered crests, dog tags (American and Canadian versions) – all very similar to the kind of thing I am thinking of using.  If it’s fine for someone to sew a patch onto their backpack or duffel bag, this strikes me as the same kind of thing, legally speaking.

My final thoughts on the matter – I agree that it’s better to have something used and enjoyed than to have it go to the landfill or sitting in a dusty drawer.  I doubt that anyone would confuse my use of braid and wool, metal and embroidery as insulting to service men or women.  Likewise, although I know that there are people who collect military and RCMP things, I don’t believe that what I have is of any tremendous value that it should be ‘saved’ instead of enjoyed… should I ever get the opportunity to actually make up this costume!

However, if you disagree, then the Steampunk Tribune has some alternate options that I think are pretty cool, including a military medal teapot from Etsy seller Scrumptious, or a wooden medal from Miju.

Next up – Inspiration!

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