rufflecon, where lolitas and steampunks let their freak flags fly
The ultimate subculture dressup convention returns.
Every year, Lolitas, steampunks, Strawberry Shortcakes, and other dressup fanatics gather in a Connecticut hotel to let their freak flags fly. The Rufflecon convention, now in its second year, will feature a fashion show, beard and mustache contest, masquerade ball, burlesque show, vendors selling hard-to-find fashion from Japanese subcultures, a variety show, and high tea party when it returns to Stamford on October 2nd.
RuffleCon founders Carolyn Dee and Christina Gleason met five years ago at a Lolita fashion event, commiserating over the fact that there was no formal event for fans of alternative fashion to get together and dress up. For its first incarnation, RuffleCon attracted almost 400 people. And while the conference's following may still be small, its mission is one that affects almost anyone who's ever worn anything weird: to unite lovers of the unconventional. We caught up with Gleason, one half of the RuffleCon team, as she preps for next month's convention.
What inspired you to start RuffleCon?
We've been in the alternative fashion scene for almost a decade. My good friend Carolyn and I were talking about how there isn't anything like this for alternative fashion. I ran a blog for five or six years, doing research on fashion, specifically Japanese subcultures and street fashion. Carolyn, specifically, has one of the largest Lolita fashion blogs in the world—there are about 35,000 subscribers. We've been doing the 'con circuit,' which means we go to other cons and provide them with fashion content, panels, fashion shows and workshops. We were tired of being a sideshow and wanted to be more of the main event. We decided to create RuffleCon as an answer for the need for it.
Alternative fashion can mean a lot of different things. How would you define the fashion at RuffleCon?
It started with Japanese subcultures, but RuffleCon is more than that now. We focus on being inclusive of everyone, so we have steampunk, gothic, special interest historical fashion, basically anything that doesn't fit the status quo. We are very accepting of all different types of styles. We didn't want to make it exclusively Japanese subculture street fashion. We wanted to make it inclusive to people who are into everything that's not mainstream.
How do you decide what's mainstream and what's not?
Honestly for us, it's anything that's going to get you a weird look on the street. You're not going to find someone walking around the streets in a Victorian era hat, petticoat or corset. It's anything that has that kind of historical flare to it. I think we try to strive for a sense of elegance. We don't really have that any more in everyday society. We don't have excuses to get really fancy. Whenever I tell people to show up, it's like, 'When was the last time you got dressed up and felt really good about it?' That's what we want at RuffleCon.
What do men wear to RuffleCon?
We have people that dress up as more of an aristocratic male from the early 1900s. Then you have people who are more steampunk or industrial. There are lots of goths.There are guys that show up in female fashion too. A lot of people will change outfits throughout the day.
Is there an overwhelming trend you see in terms of what people wore last year?
We saw more of an elegant side of fashion, instead of the hardcore punk style you might anticipate. We saw a lot of petticoats—really extravagant outfits that look like they cost thousands of dollars to make. The biggest thing that I want to project about RuffleCon is that it's inclusive. This is the stage to try on whatever you want to try on, no matter your gender, no matter what you identity as, we've been really supportive of that. That connects right to our charity. We work directly with RAINN who supports anti-harassment, anti-bullying and anti-abuse. We want to have an environment where you can do what you want to do—as long as it's safe. The time that I've been in the scene, I can count 30 stories off the top of my head about people being harassed, abused or hurt, just for what they're wearing. It's tragic to think that clothing and your expression can lead to that. It can come from people on the street to something internally, in terms of a family aspect. I think RuffleCon is an answer to that. We want to say, 'It's ok, you can come here and wear whatever you want.' If you're a guy and you want to dress in a woman's Victorian outfit, we're not going to stop you. Go for it.
Text Kristen Bateman