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The Franklin Journal: Steam dance culture in the Victorian media

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Franklin and steam-dance culture: fashion

Adherents of the emerging dance culture distinguished themselves from mainstream society through their dress. Franklin describes his own introduction to this fashion after visiting a tailor "to purchase the perfect attire for a forthcoming event":
Following [Quincey-Morris's] instructions, I came upon such sphynx's riddles of back streets and alleyways as must, I conceived, confound porters and coachmen alike. I imagined that I had discovered a terra incognita yet to yield its secrets to any cartographer.

By some miracle I found the emporium, and was greeted by a youth scarce old enough to be a student of the University, let alone an accomplished tailor. But when he ushered me into his basement rooms, the sight nearly rendered me unconscious: fabrics of luminescent colour, great swathes of luscious silks sparkling with sinuous rills a sunless yet gleaming sea of mingled measure!
Franklin documents the innovative use of materials in clothes designed as much to make the humidity and heat of steam clubs tolerable as for show:
...Breeches so bright that they appeared to glow in the shop's dim lighting, yet so loose-cut that they billowed about my ankles like the sails of a ship. When challenged, the tailor insisted that his measurements were true and the design intentional; he hinted that my own woollen trouser might prove too restrictive, leading to excessive perspiration from the organs of generation, and chaffing of the thighs.

He then produced a shirt of bright red cotton, its breast embroidered in azure and white with the motto "Fuct," and the sleeves dramatically shortened. I warned the lad that, as a respectable academic, I would not open myself to ridicule, but he was adamant that, should I attend the event dressed in the waistcoat and tails of a contemporary gentleman, I would be uncomfortable and even more a target for mockery.

The canvas footwear he recommended was no less unusual: I found that the lightness of the fabric construction, and the buoyancy of the india rubber soles, imparted a spring to my step which I somehow found wickedly enjoyable. These were skillfully crafted indeed, and reassured me somewhat that I was not simply victim to an expensive confidence trick or practical joke.
That Franklin should consider buying clothing which so plainly challenged his sensibilities is testament to his desire to experience his first night of steam-powered dance music. However, nothing could have prepared him for the emotional intensity of the event itself, or its implications for his career and reputation.


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