A Little Midnight Mental Meandering.

Good morning, dear readers.

I truly must apologize for my absence of late but the real world has been demanding much of my attention of late and thus the virtual world suffers. And, to be quite honest, I’m not sure on what I should write next particularly with regard to men’s fashion or etiquette or some such topic. Have you any suggestions? Is there anything that you are wondering? Shall I write next on ties and ascots? Perhaps on styles of jackets? Or of the military look in fashion and its constant resurgences?

While you ponder that I do believe that I shall take a moment to explain a little bit more about my own thoughts with regard to politics. I oft state quietly that I am a somewhat right leaning imperialistic bastard. Now this is not totally true as my parents were indeed married well before my birth. Nor do I always and constantly favour imperialism as much as I am a bit of a monarchist at heart.

Why am I a monarchist? Well, I suppose it is time for me to once more blow a breeze up some petticoats as I have read some very strong anti-monarchist writings in the last few weeks what with it being Elizabeth’s Diamond anniversary of her rule.

Let us look at the ‘government du choix’ that is waved about like a flag in this current age: democracy. While communism and anarchy both have strong numbers of supporters it is obvious that neither work in large groups and with the breakdown of the U.S.S.R. we are now, globally, frequently all and only about democracy. Most democracies aren’t, but are rather more along the lines of a strange form of representative republic or polyarchy. I apologize for digressing.

The basic theory behind the democracy is that every individual of a certain age is permitted the vote to determine the government because we should all know what our country needs. This would be at least a little reasonable if everyone who was allowed to voted but they do not. Speaking very generally the voter turnout is usually quite abysmal which is extremely unfortunate. As a result the elected government is not truly a representation of the voters as much as it is a representation of the voters who actually got off their duffs and took the small bit of time to go show some identification and check off a small box.

The second problem I have with democracy is that it believes that an idealistic student, a farmer focused on his life’s style, a business owner and I all have the same knowledge of politics and the issues of our country and will vote for the ‘best candidate’. This is not so. We will vote based on the tried and tested ‘popularity contest’ method based on who we like which is often and regularly an emotional and subjective thing. I will not vote as the idealistic student would because I have experienced more of the world, more of our country and more of our government and am, at heart, a realist even if an optimistic one. I understand that fast change can bring damage and that my own priorities are not those of the country. I shall not vote necessarily as the farmer would as I am not a farmer and have a different focus to my own personal world and life though I do have farmers in my family so we may have many similar thoughts. I likely know more about the politics of my country than does a business owner who has no time to keep up with what is happening as I do have the time to keep myself reasonably informed. So we get together all of the idealistic students, all of the farmers, all of the business owners and all of me and we get a government determined by whom, exactly. It becomes a numbers game if everyone votes. But they do not. Thus it becomes a random and unpredictable numbers game. Democracy assumes that we are all rational, well informed and intelligent and unfortunately this is not so, particularly in large groups.

A further personal frustration that I experience with democracy is the limitations placed on terms of office both in the time permitted and the frequency allowed. The long term must be taken into account and many of the better plans are not easily accomplished in two to four years or perhaps, if one is elected a second time or even a third, in the time allowed. One can indeed see this occurring in many countries where changes are abrupt and short term with little thought as to the effects that will be felt in the next decade or the next generation. There are and have been some very wise politicians and some very well organized political parties who have been able to effect long term change somewhat but this is very, very rare. And speaking strictly of my own country, Canada, I would like my fellows to consider how many good Prime Ministers we have had in the last three decades. I frequently hear how few there were, if any. Insisting on a time limit merely makes people feel rushed to make quick changes now. The good ones pop up and are swiftly gone replaced by someone who is not necessarily able.

Democracy also tends to foster self serving agendas and greed. A politician has an expiry date and thus the approach is frequently to get as much as one can while one is in office. Most have forgotten that it is a service and it is about serving the country and its peoples. Elections are more frequently mud slogging, cat calling, finger pointing contests in which one tries to make the other sides look bad rather than trying to make one’s own side look good.

Onward to monarchy and to match each of my previous points.

A monarch is, one would expect and hope, properly raised and educated to know about the country one is a monarch of. Their entire life is aimed at knowing what the country needs and desires and how to make its people prosperous and powerful. A trust is given and fair treatment is expected. I am aware this is not a deal that is always held to but we are speaking in generalities at the moment so do please wander down this path with me for a few moments more and continue reading. Monarchs have but a small group of other monarchs to know and have years and decades to get to know each the other’s particular characteristics, strengths, flaws and quirks. Many monarchs are related and thus, as in any family, while you do get the bad you get all the wonderful parts of family as well. While in a democracy an ambassador may need to learn about a new President every four years a monarch may be involved in their country or sit a throne for decades allowing a familiarity and comfort in working with them.

A monarch should and does, in good instances, care about the idealistic student, the farmer, the business owner and I but also knows how to balance all of our needs and concerns so that while none of us wins at the expense of the others it is equally true that none of us loses. A monarch can hand pick a team to assist in the running of the country and this team shall both be unlimited in term and be of like mind in serving the needs of the country and its people. And if one of the team is ineffective or damaging it is fairly easy and simple to shuffle them out and bring in someone who is beneficial. I would expect that the monarch knows much more about running the country and dealing with other countries than would the idealistic student, the farmer, the business owner or myself.

A monarch has no real expiry date save through natural or unnatural causes be it death, revolution or accident. Or even simply desire. A good monarch, such as the Queens Victoria or Elizabeth II, Louis XIV, Meiji, or Suleiman I may last decade after decade continuing to have a beneficial impact on their country, steering it towards greatness. Indeed there have been bad and wicked monarchs and a few have lasted quite some time atop their thrones but many were forced to remove themselves or were ousted through one means or another. Revolting against democracy is, as we are discovering currently, a very very difficult thing to do short of an actual civil hot-war.

Yes indeed, I recognize that there have been monarchs who have been wicked, wicked people or who have been mentally unstable but one can say much the same of politicians in a democratic system. And once again I would like to point out that sometimes removal of a damaging monarch is ever so much easier than the removal of a damaging democratic representative or party.

A monarch, and the goods ones are like this I believe, is raised with the awareness that what they do in service to their country is a service. They are not really the top of the pyramid as much as they are the base on which the pyramid rests [imagine flipping the pyramid upside down so that it rests on its pointy little peak]. They are there for their country and not for themselves. While there are monarchs who have forgotten this there are those who never neglected this philosophy.

I shall leave you with three little thoughts that are mine.

I actually think that a proper representative republic which combines a monarch with an elected assembly, each to watch the other, is a rather stable and solid way to govern a country. It allows the people to have their voices heard, it offers checks and balances and it gives the benefits of both systems. Short of a benevolent dictatorship this is, in my own small opinion, the best form of government in a real world.

I am right leaning as I believe that a small government should be given the powers that it needs to do its job without all of us busybodies who have no true idea of how to run a country sticking our noses in and buggering up the works. If you think you could do better than the politicians than please do run for office. Do you appreciate people coming into your workplace and complaining, pointing out how to properly do your job and making constant noise? I would think not, yet this is what we constantly do with our own governments. I do agree, however, that with power comes responsibility and our elected governments act too often like children with a key to the candy store. I do not wish to run my country nor any other and I do not wish to have to keep checking on those that do. Apparently, though, I am strange in my trust of other people to do their tasks in a reasonable manner.

I frequently hear about those who have moved to Canada from other country and wish to become citizens complaining that they will not take the oath because the Queen is in it. This is Canada. The Queen is part of our history and part of our government in a certain manner. If you do not wish to take the oath required to become a citizen then don’t become a citizen. There are many other countries who do not have a monarch involved and perhaps you should look at becoming a citizen in one of those.

And again I shall ask, dear reader, what shall I write on next that you may avoid reading my own strange approach and thoughts on politics [or making tenuous connections between such writings and Steampunk only because Queen Victoria was mentioned].

H.A. Higgins-Keith


Every Inch.

Good evening, dear readers, and thank you for your patience with my inconsistent writing schedule. I am oft away from the keys on some adventure or another but when I have time, as I do know, then I shall continue to scribble out my small thoughts as I may in hopes that you enjoy them.

I have noted recently that much of my writing is advice on what to wear or how to comport one’s self or perhaps how to set a room in your house. In this I am offering advice, to be taken or left as you wish, in how to appear to be a gentleman. This is also, I have learned, called being a “surface gentleman.” I wish to correct this disservice tonight and look at what it is to be a gentleman beyond merely the surface.

There are many in today’s modern North American society both walking the streets and within the various subcultural groups [though my focus is generally on the Steampunk folk] who are surface gentlemen. What man would ever admit to being rude or uncaring, without empathy or sympathy, that he swears or spits, or that he may ever treat another person improperly or without respect? None would ever say that they are like this and yet the world is full of examples of just such behaviour. Men misrepresent themselves as gentlemen often to colleagues and friends in an attempt to gain standing and respect and even more often to women in order to allure and intrigue. Many are the ladies I hear who bemoan the lack of gentlemen and whom seek one of their own. So I shall look at commonly accepted characteristics and behaviours of gentlemen to see if I can shed a little light on what it is that makes a male so.

Much like the etiquette of hat wearing there is quite a bit written both on and off the internet on being a gentleman and there appears to be no hard and fast rule to “what is a gentleman?” But there are frequently agreed upon characteristics. It is not all, nor merely, the holding of doors or chairs. There are several traits which seem agreed on by nearly all and a fair bit of disagreement. Of course what follows here are my own personal thoughts and opinions.

“A guy is a boy by birth, a man by age, but a gentleman by choice.” [Anonymous]

Historically a gentleman was a title offered to those of a certain class or standing, usually financial. They were those men a step down from those in positions of nobility. It was a title generally offered to those men who were wealthy enough not to need to work but were not, themselves, nobles. A gentleman possessed a coat of arms and carried a sword. This began to slowly change even in the pre-Victorian eras to encompass a man’s manners and presentation, a change which the industrialization of the world and the evolution of politics increased in speed. The most well known period of ‘gentlemen and ladies’ is indeed the Victorian period. Many people, in looking for what defines a gentleman, look back to the 19th and early 20th centuries as a guide. In this modern period the lack of gentlemen is evidenced by the general lack of good taste and etiquette even considering the changing societal standards and behaviours. It is within groups like the Steampunk subculture where one will find the attributes of the gentleman being learned once more and being expressed into the world.

So what IS a gentleman, then? It is somewhat of a shopping list of characteristics but through this large handful of traits one may garner more than a few clues.

I shall begin with: a gentleman is not a gentle man, but one who is genteel. If you delve beneath the velvet surface of a gentleman you will find a core of solid steel. Do not mistake a gentle man for a gentleman in all cases for though a gentleman knows when to be gentle he also knows when to be strong. Never mistake his gentleness for timidity nor hesitation but know that he thinks before he acts and should you misjudge him you will see the fire and mettle within him.

“Courtesy is as much a mark of a gentleman as courage.” [Theodore Roosevelt]

The first and most visible part of being a gentleman is, of course, etiquette. A gentleman is polite and proper in action. Always. He does not curse nor swear for that is an indication that he does not have the vocabulary of a gentleman. In our modern age I may disagree with this as invective has become necessary for emphasis at times but one can be creative and need not scatter a speech with frequent and constant unnecessary swearing. I am still pondering this though I may fall on the side of agreeing. A gentleman does not lose his temper nor speak loudly. A gentleman Does not interrupt no matter how brilliant his response, always allowing others to complete their own statements. A gentleman understands etiquette whether it be with respect to the wearing of his hat, or when to properly sit and stand, or when to hold open a door or offer a seat, or when to help someone with their coat. He is civilized and well mannered at all times. He does not insult others nor their ideas. He is elegant, mannered, cultured and does try to have good taste; he is refined. That is a lot of “thou shalt nots” with a few “thou shalts” but there will be more of a balance as I progress.

“A real gentleman is as polite to a little girl as to a woman.” [Louisa May Alcott]

A gentleman is respectful not just to his elders but to all people. He is attentive to all, particularly those he is immediately dealing with and is aware of their needs. He does not inflict pain nor hurt. He is sensitive to himself, to others, and to the world around him. He is a patient man who does not judge quickly but does judge finally, even though he knows that a leopard can, in rare circumstance, change his spots. He does not laugh at the mistakes of others as a gentleman knows that mistakes are the best lessons in life, though he will offer assistance and correction as he is able. He does, however laugh. Often. And at himself as much as at life. He finds humour and beauty in many things.

“A gentleman has his eyes on all those present; he is tender toward the bashful, gentle toward the distant, and merciful toward the absent.” [Lawrence G. Lovasik]

The gentleman understands the balance of benefit between himself and others. He is not selfless nor selfish but walks that fine line between to ensure that all find what they need. One characteristic that I am still pondering is that a gentleman both forgives and forgets, though I believe that there are situations that warrant neither of these in rare cases when the insult or difficulty is constant, consistent and occurs repeatedly even when he works to correct it. One can only take the high road so often before looking for a road away to somewhere else. It does not benefit a gentleman to remain in a situation or place where he is discomfited. He does not cause stress and worry and does not accept it without thought towards its settling. While a gentleman should not seek social praise he does know how to accept a compliment when genuine and ensures that all of his are sincere. This is also true of apologies though it is my belief that a gentleman does not oft find himself in a position to apologize but rather addresses the issue, corrects the source of friction, the mistake, the error and moves onwards.

“The final test of a gentleman is his respect for those who can be of no possible service to him.” [William Lyon Phelps]

I believe that the true mark of a gentleman is acting so not only when others can see but also when no one is watching. He is a gentleman in formal social occasions as well as with close friends. He is a man who knows he could do better and actually does. He knows who and what he is and is comfortable with himself even as he strives to be and do better. This, in particular, is a very difficult thing to do as our modern age assaults us through media and society to believe that we are not whole and require assistance, therapy and serious amounts of support. A gentleman accepts support and help when he needs to, recognizing those times, and offers it without expectation, reluctance or resentment. He is modest but not overly so and contrary to what one may expect he does care what others think of him even though he does not define himself through or by the opinions of any one but only by his own.

“I find it sad that by not talking about who I sleep with, that makes me mysterious. There was a time when I would have been called a gentleman.” [Kevin Spacey]

A gentleman is discrete even when he is with his closest male friends. He does not rumour and he does not slander and he does not accept either from another. He does not talk solely of himself and he not only hears what others say, he also listens. He is not resentful nor suspicious nor depressing but rather focuses on ease and comfort both of himself and moreso that of others. A gentleman treats a lady as he would expect all men to treat a lady. He offers his arm and knows which side of the sidewalk to walk along when escorting a lady. He helps a lady with her seat, with doors, and with her coat. He will buy her flowers or a small gift, will offer her a small gesture with no expectation and for no obligatory reason though he will not try to purchase her attention or her affections.

“A gentleman would be ashamed should his deeds not match his words.” [Kong Fu Zi]

A gentleman is honest and lives a life of principle and integrity. As my grandfather used to say “A man comes into this world and leaves this world with only one thing: his word. Lose that and you have nothing.” A gentleman is trusting but not foolishly so. He works to live a life that is ‘good’ for both himself and for others. He is truthful but not in a mean nor hurtful manner. He is educated and does not attempt to pass himself as more than he is, knowing more than he knows, or as anything he is not. He is both honourable and chivalrous.

“The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman.” [Robert E. Lee]

A gentleman utilizes his authority or any power that he has inoffensively. He often forebears or even abstains using any power he has. He does not use his education, his position, his knowledge, his strength nor even his common sense as a weapon. He never takes unfair advantage of power or weakness.

Well, dear readers, that is rather a long and somewhat complicated grocery list, is it not? But it is not something to be written down and checked off, rather it is meant to inspire you to thought and consideration, to reflect on your own approach, presentation, mindset and life and to consider the value of being a gentleman.

Am I a gentleman? I would like to think so yet during all of this research I have determined that there are indeed areas I need to look at again and behaviours I will need to consider, correct or restructure.

To end this lengthy bit of writing [I do know that I am quite wordy, a fault I do need to work on: simplification of expression] I shall leave you with two more quotes:

“From everything I have seen, felt, and observed, being a gentleman is a deep, unspoken, unrewarded commitment to genuine service and to to “thine own self” in search of “thine own truth” cohabiting in the same self respecting individual’s mind. It is unquenchable thirst for knowledge and growth, and it is commitment to the well being of one’s fellow creatures. It is being one with the music, the dance, the fight, the moment, or silence. But what it is, more than these, is the individual that thirsts for and emerges from these experiences – someone who seeks to understand their particular shard of what it means to be human, in full awareness of how little we will ever know, and in subdued delight for the opportunity to do the simplest of things. It is bravery in accepting the challenge of being something more than what you were, and it is the gradual realization that we are no less than our fathers, and that our sons are already our equals.
“Surely more important than what a gentleman has, is what he is, and more significant than what he is, must be what he truly aspires to become. It is a “voyage of self discovery” in the words of the great cosmologist and free-thinker, Carl Sagan. The courage to embark towards the unknown in any field is what makes a rugged gentleman worthy of knowing, in any century past or in any age to come. That is the very essence of what forms the bond between souls such as these – mutual respect for another who asks the questions that arise from within, and dares to see with eyes unclouded. Society’s definitions of what constitutes “cultured”, “adventure seeking”, “intellectual”, “romantic”, “considerate”, “tactful”, “rugged”, and yes – “a gentleman” have and will continue to evolve at a disturbingly rapid pace. But let the voyage of self discovery as a human being never cease, and defined as it may be in one’s own heart, let it continue to be something that every man has the courage to journey toward within himself, where the truest frontiers will always exist.” [Vincent Charles Nance.]

And my favourite quote, by far:

“My duty as a gentleman has never interfered with my pleasures in the smallest degree.” [Oscar Wilde]

H.A. Higgins-Keith

Class In Session

Good morning, mesdames et messieurs. I do hope that this night finds you well and, at this time, likely asleep.

An interesting thought that has been bouncing around within my skull of late has been one of classism: then and now. Everyone acknowledges the Victorian period one in which classism was rampant, strong, the way of life. There are occasional comments that in this modern world classism has nearly been defeated or destroyed or some-such but I find that this is not so, and others agree very loudly. With this in mind let us take a comparative look, shall we?

Yes indeed, the Victorian period was one of societal and economic classes. There were the lower, the middle and the upper classes. Additionally one could be in a ‘class’ based on employment particularly if it was familial/generational in nature. The rules were rigid but were also fairly well defined and this is an advantage that we do not currently enjoy. I did indeed say ‘enjoy’ and if you read the rest of this examination then you may see the sense of it, or I may just be misguided and in need of further education.

To get this particular burr out of the way being a woman was nearly as much a class as it was a gender. The Victorian period still saw women as person within the family unit who ran the home, raised the children and handled many of the social and economic responsibilities of the family. Within the upper class the role of women was somewhat broader. During this period more women were accepted into the working population but only in certain areas of employ.

Within nearly every class most jobs were almost perceived as hereditary. If your father was a clerk or a smith, a merchant or a machinist, a carriage painter or a mason it was oft expected that the son [usually the firstborn but often more than one] would enter the same or a related field. Apprenticeship, sometimes within the family, was often a way of life and on the passing of one’s father the son could and often did inherit the family business. The expectation was to have a life slightly better, slightly more comfortable than one’s parents. A member of the lower class would expect to remain in that class, working as a chimney sweep or a household servant as did his father before him. There was some movement among employments but there was nearly as much progression in a generational manner.

There were two or three easy ways to shift to a couple of positions that were both within the class system and outside of it: the military, the priesthood or through higher education.

Within the military there were two classes: those with commissions [the officers, usually drawn from the gentry] and the non-commissioned [your fighting man or soldier, and certain low levels of officers]. The allure of the military, particularly for the lower classes, was that it offered consistent access to food and a roof of some sort over one’s head as well as a possible pension if one lived out his term.

The priesthood did not have a recognizable class structure but advancement and access to perks was based as much on politics and social connections as the movement within any other class. During the Victorian period, however, it was not the sole source of education.

Universities grew remarkably during this time period and were taken advantage of by certain peoples which both created new members of the middle and upper classes as well as allowing people who knew how the system worked to shift their own position upwards; one very excellent example is the explosion of Scottish engineers during the Victorian age.

And knowing the system? Ah, here we come to the advantage. When there is a set of established and acknowledged rules then there are those who can find the little ways and means to skip around the system using these very rules and the loop holes that they do not completely cover or hide. There are many stories from the Victorian period of those of both genders who rose up in the ranks through fame or fortune, through the military or through education, or by learning the ‘rules’ and utilizing them. Of course it took risk and intelligence to even try and thus many did not, accepting their futures as their parents had before them.

And while everything I have said so far is true of periods preceding the Victorian it was during this particular age that the greatest movement happened, though even that was more an exception than a rule.

The Steampunk world truly takes this system and its advantages and spreads it wider and larger, introducing women adventurers and mechanics, spies and pilots and quite a number of ‘folk of humble means’ who became heroes.

Now let us examine the modern age. The classes still exist though in most parts of the world and very truly in North America the middle class has been nibbled away at until it is a slender portion of the population with a greater segment being defined as the upper class, to one extent or another, and a very large group now firmly ensconced in the lower class. Movement among the classes does still happen but it is more risky, more chaotic and a single person can rise and fall several times in their own life in a fairly easy manner, particularly in the falling.

The problem as I see it, and this is merely this writer’s own opinion, is that during the Victorian period each of the classes had their own rules, knew the rules of the other classes, and even if they were not written out [though in some cases some small publications did address these rules] they were there, they were accepted, and they were rather rigid. In our modern world it is really only the upper class that accepts that there are rules with the middle and lower classes rebelling through ignorance or denial. The rules are amorphous and poorly defined, subject to change usually at the whim of the upper class, and difficult to understand. Thus one can climb and claw upwards only to find that the cliff face has suddenly changed to a treacherous sheet of ice mid-scramble. It has become more of who you know and less of who you are, which is extremely evident when one compares the relative proportion of written contracts versus verbal/hand-shake agreements during the two periods and the pervasiveness of those employed in the legal fields in our current age versus those in Victorian times. Acceptance and trust have both lessened greatly though it’s a big of a ‘chicken and egg’ issue as to which came first, honestly. I think they’ve fed off each the other.

Like many other socio-political/economic topics that are focused on by various people and groups in the Steampunk community, such as gender roles [which I will touch on another day when my skin is thicker as I will no doubt be shouted loudly at], colonialism, imperialism, industrial advancements and other hot-button topics it must be noted that people do like to focus on the negative to the exclusion of the positive and I feel, myself and personally, that while the opportunities of the Victorian class system were not often nor well used there were some very strong advantages over the class system of today.

That and, given the nature of man, a truly classless system is a utopian ideal which will never work nor occur. But that is a topic which is part of a greater discussion and best left for another time.

H.A. Higgins-Keith

The Politics of the Thing

Good evening, my dear readers.

And again I find that I must apologize for weeks between my scribblings. My life out in the world of weather and people keeps me far too busy but do know I think of you few frequently and wonder what shall I write of next. Today’s topic comes from a discussion I have watched avidly on Facebook, and one that I have seen dance through conversations often in the last few years.

It began with this video: Abney Park’s new “Steampunk Revolution”
And a question about a “Steampunk Revolution.” Does politics belong in the Steampunk culture? Do we need focus on the socio-political or economic?

Let us begin by looking initially at the history of political involvement of some related subcultures as mentioned by some folk in the Facebook discussion thread.

Very few “movements” or groups have focused on political discussion, change and action particularly through music while becoming an acknowledged and lasting self-identified subculture until the 20th century. Previous to this political movements did indeed begin small scale but they peaked swiftly and after the change was effected they generally disappeared into the new mainstream culture.

The first and most obvious was the Hippie movement of the 1960s. With an identifiable message, a fashion and aesthetic and even involving and heavily focused on music as the world changed so too did the members of the hippie culture until now, in our current ‘age’, many Hippies are now working for ‘the man’ if not having become ‘the man’ themselves. While the music [and you will notice I return to this particular area often] did receive some airplay it was primarily presented through live shows and concerts and never made it into the clubs of that period.

A more aggressive movement was the Punk scene of the 1970s which Steampunk is often compared to because of the misfortune of the label, even though both groups do share some similarities: primarily the DIY nature of the scenes, the individuality of the fashion aesthetic and the rejection of the modern world and romanticizing of an alternate way of living. Punk music did indeed make it into the clubs though at that time it was, again, primarily through live shows. Punk has changed with the metamorphosis of the socio-political world and what is Punk now is not what was Punk then. Punks main focus for change was extremely anarchistic and an anarchy-based system will not work in the real world.

Closer to Steampunk and somewhat of a gap-bridge between that and Punk is the Goth movement. Goth began in the 80s from a literary origin [something I find that many do not remember or know] in a small group setting reminiscent of the salons of the Victorian/Edwardian periods [and before] and moved slowly as a snowball rolling downhill gathering speed and size. While never PRIMARILY a socio-political movement there always has been a large amount of discussion about current world events and situations, though in the last decade that has dropped off in favour of dressing appropriately and clubbing relentlessly. The music of the Goth subculture has indeed moved into the clubs as well as, in some instances, mainstream radio, television and film, and it has become more a part of the mainstream culture than any similar preceding group.

There are, however, differences in the four I am looking at in this bit of writing. The Hippie and Punk movements WERE movements more so than any other form of social grouping with a strong political message and an expiry date. Goth has become a subculture with all the facets and factions this involves. Steampunk is an aesthetic, primarily, and while there are subcultural elements it has yet to reach that stage. Also remember that Steampunk, as a building force, is relatively young compared to those social groups that have come before.

Now, to approach this from another angle: that of the Victorian age itself. Many wonder why Steampunk is focused on Great Britain during this period. First, may I remind people, that the entire age WAS named after the Queen of this small island country. And while England was not alone in the empire building game, she was joined by Germany, Holland, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Russia which are all countries primarily populated by Caucasians. Many forget about the expansion and empire building that was happening in Asia during this period but we in North America and Western Europe aren’t taught much of this during our history lessons in school. It is only natural, after all, that countries focus on their own demesne during the schooling of their young denizens. There was also a lot of change in all areas of life during the Victorian period: industry, politics, gender relations, race relations, religions, science, medicine, quality of life and on and on and on. And this change mostly revolved around Great Britain and Western Europe. The British Empire was the dominating force of the time, about where the United States of today is trying to be. Remember that the “Sun never set on the British Empire” and her influence spanned the entire globe.

For people of this area of the world, at this time, everything else WAS strange and exotic. Africa and South America still had unexplored vastness hidden in their core. The Asians had separated themselves from the non-Asians for centuries save small trade contact and thus they too were mysterious. Archaeology really gained steam during the Victorian era and so digging back into the past, exploring the unknown of the Middle East was also exotic and enticing. Ways of thought and lifestyle, approach to the world, this was all different from the Europeans and thus amazing and mystifying. And it still is today: most Asian cultures nurture an extremely different mindset and approach than does the Caucasian cultures. So why is this not still exotic now? Familiarity. During the 19th Century news traveled slowly and people even more so while in the present thanks to modern media and the internet information, ideas, pictures and huge chunks of life can flash around the world in parts of a second.

Socio-political discussion and movement, such as it is, has been tacked on to Steampunk by those who want it. Again, Steampunk is an aesthetic: it is an appearance, a feeling, a way of looking and creating. Yes, it can include a set of manners and mannerisms appropriate to the time period being romanticized. Indeed, it can involve a modern awareness of one’s personal approach to Steampunk. Surely, it can and does require a long and ongoing discussion as to what IS Steampunk which encompasses all the parts of our world including music and art, transportation and media, fashion and appearance and yes, also socio-political and economic discussion.

Does it need to? No more and likely less so than did Hippie and Punk and Goth. The wonder of Steampunk is that you can bring to it what you wish and take from it what you desire and if that includes discussion of a past and now gone social movement or similarities with today’s political milieu or how little our economic environment has changed then that is your bailiwick.

Personally, I read and enjoy the stories both historic and modern, I wear the clothing and admire the makers, I enjoy the toys and the entertainments but I have the mind and the approach of a modern gentleman, thank you, and wish for everyone to dance on a level dancefloor [and in my own small ways do what I am able to, to level out that dancefloor a tiny bit at a time]. Yes, I shall continue to point out parts of history that others seem to enjoy ignoring or glossing over and I do enjoy a rousing discussion but my only advice is this: find in Steampunk what you enjoy and enjoy it and if it’s not for you then do find a hobby or movement that stirs your passions.

Is there a Steampunk revolution? Do we need one? Well, all I can say is that I am grabbing my tophat and off to sit with friends over a drink and see where the discussion goes [which is ALWAYS to interesting lands no matter what the topic].

And as a little addendum I must note that I have known of very, very few non-Caucasian members of the Punk or Goth subcultures in North America. There are a few, but they are in a very tiny minority.

H.A. Higgins-Keith

It’s What’s On Top

Good evening, gentle readers.

I must apologize for my absence of several months. I was just too busy with offline stresses and responsibilities and wondering, in truth, where to go to next. I thought I may return to the wardrobe as I’ve written about the etiquette of hats but not the things themselves so without further adieu: hats.

Hats were required at all levels of society and for men of all classes. The man’s hat did not fall out of fashion until the Kennedy era when the American’s ‘presidential (royal) family’ disdained hats because they did not like the look or what hats did to their hair. And the Kennedy boys were all about the coiffure at that time.

Let us begin with the hat that everyone believes defined the Victorian era: the top hat. The first top hat made its debut in the late 18th century though there are several arguments as to its origin. The first collapsible top hat was created in 1812 in order to make traveling with the hat easier. The top hat truly took off in about 1850 when Prince Albert set the fashion. Made initially of either beaver fur [for its waterproof qualities], oilcloth or felt, the silk top hat came a few decades later.The hat band can be either silk, wool or felt.

Grey or brown was meant for daywear and black could be worn day or night. Louis Comte, a French magician in 1814, was the first to use the top hat to conjure up a white rabbit. For refined, self-assurance, men would wear top hats tilted at a 10 degree angle, no more, no less. Top hats come in a variety of heights and styles with either curled/curved or flat brims. Generally the rule is that the higher the top hat [within a respectable height] the higher the class of gentleman.

The bowler, or derby has a lower and rounded top, was most often made of felted wool or straw [though occasionally you can find a leather one] and is usually associated with the middle classes of the period. Brown or grey were the predominant colours though the bowler could be found in a variety of heights, brim styles and shades. Designed and created around the mid 19th century, the bowler was stronger and harder to unseat than a top hat. It was also the most popular hat in the American midwest during the Victorian period.

In the last quarter of the 19th century the slouch hat became very popular. Made of felted wool or other cloth it bears a striking resemblance to the fedora though generally with a slightly smaller brim. Slouch hats started among the military, particularly in the colonies. And fedoras ARE proper for men in late period Victorian-wear.

The newsboy cap, the flat cap and similar styles were also popular during the latter half of the Victorian era, particularly among the lower and middle classes [though the upper class would affect a flat cap during the weekend in the country or during summer outings]. Generally made of cloth they were simple, easy to crumple up into a pocket and light, and there was a plethora of styles to choose from.

And finally we have the straw boater. Made of straw, as the name suggests, this style was created specifically for summer-wear, particularly at sporting events but due to its lightness and easy wear it became extremely popular towards the end of the Victorian era. Popular with men of all social classes and standings the rule was that a boater was NEVER to be worn with a black jacket or coat, though a jacket of some style must be worn with the boater.

And then there are the homburg, the pork pie, the smoking cap and a broad variety of military or ethnic headgear available depending on the clothing and occasion.

It is recommended that you find one or more hats, depending on the extent of your wardrobe, for no Victorian man would be seen out of his home without his hat.

H.A. Higgins-Keith

Six of One and a Half Dozen of the Other

Good evening, dear readers.

Tonight I thought I would discuss a difference that I was asked about recently, and in doing a little updating research have found that the difference is slowly growing smaller and smaller. What I am considering and pondering is the difference between NeoVictorian and Steampunk.

When “The Difference Engine” was originally published in 1990 it was branded SF NeoVictorianism rather than with a Steampunk label, even though this book is now upheld as one of the seminal Steampunk novels.

It is my own opinion that while Steampunk is an aesthetic, a movement, a subculture, a genre and many more things in a great melange of creativity NeoVictorianism is simply an aesthetic. It is Steampunk without the toys or accessories.

The NeoVictorian style has been with us much longer than has Steampunk. Goths sported tophats and morning coats, wielded walking sticks and small-lens spectacles, and often comported themselves as did their literary heroes and heroines both fictional and authorial. Though the goth subculture has, in the last few decades, changed into a cyberpunk, dystopian and post-apocalyptic appearance primarily through the increased influence of electronic and industrial music as well as changes in the favoured literature and cinematic offerings there has been a resurgence of the NeoVictorian due to the recent growth of Steampunk.

My own response to this question, as to the difference, being asked was that “NeoVictorian is Steampunk without the toys” and this is somewhat, but only somewhat true. While there are accessories utilized in common among the two groups the NeoVictorian does not carry a brassed up pistol, wear goggles [unless appropriate] nor use the cog design to such an extent. NeoVictorian is more focused on the appearance, the outfit, the behaviour and the manners. The NeoVictorian, in romanticizing the Victorian period [as the SCA romanticizes an ever growing slice of the middle ages] is almost solely representing the gentry, the noble and wealthier class of gentleman and lady and does not present the greasemonkey, the adventurer [save as a worldly and world-traveling gentleman or lady], the soldier or scientist. The modern NeoVictorian truly only populates the ballrooms and drawing rooms of the Steampunk world.

The greatest difference that I perceive is that the NeoVictorian looks to the past and draws its best forward to the present while the Steampunker incorporates strong elements of retro-futurism.

It was mentioned to me that NeoVictorianism also must embrace the politics and beliefs of the Victorian era but I would disagree. While popular among the social and cultural conservatives, particularly with respect to morality and behaviour [politeness/respect-displays in particular], it should be noted that the actual cultural social attitudes and conventions of the Victorian era can be disputed and many, if not most, NeoVictorians blend the aesthetic with modern principles and technologies. This is most noticeable in the largest subculture to have embraced the NeoVictorian aesthetic before the Steampunkers: the goths. The goth subculture, having spawned out of the punk, new romantic and glam subcultures, tends to have always attracted more liberal and progressive minded persons, particularly during its early period [1979 – 1990].

Currently the term ‘NeoVictorian’ is being appropriated by the Steampunkers as possibly a more gentile, familiar or comfortable label and so the lines blur even more strongly.

As much as I love the Steampunk folk, the aesthetic and the music, the gatherings and the discussions, I shall forever at heart merely be a NeoVictorian.

H.A. Higgins-Keith

I Am Iron(ing) Man

Good afternoon, dear reader.

A very important skill for the neo-Victorian or Steampunk gentleman is being able to wield that necessary bit of equipment called the iron.

Read the manual and be familiar with your iron. It will have various settings on it which require you to know the composition of your clothing, of what fabric it is made AND if it is ‘safe’ to iron. If you are dealing with period materials then ironing is essential.

The easiest items to iron are ties, handkerchiefs and napkins. Simply lay the item flat on your ironing board and, with the iron set to the appropriate heat setting, press with a smooth, light stroke. If you like creases in your handkerchiefs or napkins, every time you fold them in half run the iron lightly over the folded fabric.

Shirts are a little trickier. Check the care label for the proper ironing instructions and temperature setting. For best results cotton and linen shirts should be lightly dampened with water before ironing (have a spray bottle handy or know how to use the steam and spray settings on your iron). Spread the collar out on the ironing board with the right side facing down. Iron the back of the collar first and then the front. Use the tip of the iron, pressing from the collar points and work towards the middle. Iron the yoke, starting with the shoulder areas first and then do the back yoke. Use a spray bottle with water to keep the shirt damp. Iron the cuffs by pressing inside of cuff first, then the outside. Lay the sleeve flat on the ironing board with the cuff opening up and begin ironing from the shoulder seam down to the the cuff. Turn the sleeve over to iron the other side. Repeat the process with the other sleeve. Iron the body of the shirt starting from one front panel, then do the back and finally the remaining front panel. Use the tip of the iron to press the area around buttons. NEVER iron over the buttons.

Pants are an easier matter. For the most part the Victorian gentleman’s pants did not have a crease in them. There is a lot of discussion and no hard fact as to the invention of the front crease in one’s slacks, but there is some agreement that the crease is attributed to Edward, Prince of Wales during the reign of Victoria, likely in the mid 1890s. Initially the crease was along the side seam rather than the front. Edward also created the style of cuffing one’s pants, wearing the bottom button of one’s waistcoat undone, and several other common fashion styles (including dinner dress with black tie).

Pants without pleats are the best looking unless one is a large gentleman, though depending on the period of clothing you are looking through non-pleated pants can be somewhat difficult to find (in my experience) but do keep looking; they can be found.

Pants are ironed in a commonsensical manner. Do each leg individually. And whether one wishes a crease down the front or not, both styles are very easy to do.

And thus you can swiftly and easily gain proficiency in this simple skill. Though if wielding an iron still boggles you there are many videos and advice pages to be found through google.

H.A. Higgins-Keith