High Tea: A Steampunk Gathering in Three Courses

Image courtesy of Renee Reger-Kelsey

Image courtesy of Renee Reger-Kelsey

If there’s anything steampunks love to do, it’s get together for tea. High tea, low tea, and every tea in between: name a venue that offers elegant service and real china cups, and we’ve probably been there. Or at least have it on the calendar.

This past weekend, the Duchess of Buckingham (aka Heather Dawson, of the Duchess Collection) hosted a lovely tea at a new venue: the Palm Court at Marriott Milwaukee West.

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Our hostess the Duchess of Buckingham, in a new gown she sewed just for the occasion.

Other members of nobility, sky pirates, sea-faring captains, and even a few maverick wanderers (such as my own Valuria T Englehart) descended upon the hotel at 1 PM for a three-course spread and all the tea we could hold.

We enjoyed the “usual” fare of small sandwiches, savory snacks and finger desserts, with a few twists. I admit this was the first time I’d seen vegetable spring rolls on a high tea menu!

Sometimes the most amusing aspect of these outings is watching the venue staff react to our unique costumes. Most hotel staff have never hosted a group so well-frocked. And small accommodating details (like turning the air conditioning up very early in the day) go unattended . . . until they set eyes on those five-layered frocks and three-layered suits that trap heat like nothing else I know.

But steampunks are used to these minor hiccups and handle them with a good humor that, for many of us, was o doubt one of our first attractions to the community.

Where else, after all, will you shout “Hip hip hurrah!” on cue or practice your best British accent, without feeling silly? Not to mention wearing feathers that could stand a full foot off your head?

With as many high teas as I’ve been to over the years, I’ve tried to figure out what exactly attracts us to these gatherings again and again. After all, there are few surprises. We know the sort of food we will eat, the beverage we’ll drink, and what we’ll likely converse about. We wear the same general types of fashions, too. And in a community this small and tight-knit we know who we’ll meet.

I would imagine that’s part of the attraction.

In a world that has lost its grip on the power of ceremony, afternoon tea is a sanctuary of order and old-fashioned decorum. It’s a sort of social dance, previously agreed-upon, that we all sign up to play: one that ties us to the people of the past and provides a sort of anchor in the midst of our chaotic modern lives.

(Either that, or we really just like those little cucumber sandwiches . . .)

For me, rituals like tea are one of the reasons I keep coming back to steampunk events. It’s a chance to be with people who share my love for the past, my obsession with beautiful hand-crafted things, and my appreciation for ceremony. I can relax here precisely because I know what’s happening next.

We nibble and sip. We laugh. We make memories in a good old-fashioned way. All the while, we imagine new futures for ourselves using the pieces (or in this case, utensils?) of the past.

Thanks, Heather and Don and team, for a fantastic afternoon. Thanks to my lovely table mates for sharing your stories and your advice for sewing TeslaCon costumes. Thanks to Marriott for welcoming us into your lovely space.

And thank you most of all, steampunk community, for being a welcome oasis of whimsy, joy and creativity.

Here’s a big “hip hip hurrah” to you!

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