Every Journey Begins with a Single Step

Good afternoon, gentle readers. Oh, I know, several posts in a same month! I do hope that I am not causing undue shock and surprise.

I was asked, recently, what a new entrant to the Steampunk community can do about building an appropriate wardrobe: what to look for and where to find it. As this blog focuses primarily on fashions for males that is where I shall stay, though many of my suggestions will also be applicable to the ladies.

An easy way to start is to shop in October at many used clothing, costume or party stores where you will find mass produced boxes stamped “Steampunk Costume” of some form or another. Taking parts or the whole of what is within said box and adding your personal flair to it is a fast, inexpensive way to create something that will allow you to step, fully outfitted, into your first Steampunk affair. From there will come suggestions, ideas and thoughts that will swiftly and easily build your wardrobe in an individualistic manner.

One of the first things one can consider is a popular statement that “jeans are period.” Well… yes and no. Denim or dungaree [both cotton based] cloth was used to make trousers from the late 18th century and the 1600s, respectively, and onwards, often dyed blue with an indigo dye. The fabric used was MUCH thicker, stiffer and more coarse than the material used in jeans today. It was specifically used for heavy wear workers clothing as well as long wear trousers in the American mid-west so ’tis best suited to Grease Monkeys and Dustpunks [the Wild Wild West sorts]. Rivets must be done in copper if you’re going with the classic jeans look and the fly must be buttoned. The zipper, as we know it, was not invented until 1937 for trouser flies and though some may point at ‘zippers’ being around since the mid 1800s they were very very different beasts and were not used for clothing [initially they were for boots and tobacco pouches]. Zippers are therefore not period if you are playing a period role. For those who enjoy a modern day Steampunk or a post-apocalyptic character then Bob’s your uncle!

While many will point at various articles of clothing or accessories as the perfect starting point I would rather say that there are MANY places to begin, yet one stands out above all others for me: the hat. During the Victorian period and indeed until the mid 20th century men wore hats. Fedoras, top hats, bowlers, boaters and more. From the right hat an entire outfit can easily flow. More and more millineries [hat stores] have been appearing in major cities over the last half decade and shopping for the proper topper has gotten much easier for the gentlemen. Feel free to try on various hats in order to ascertain which one works best with the structure of your face and your hair. Different hats will impart different appearances. Vintage hats can oft be found in military surplus stores, vintage clothing shops and previously loved clothing stores. A little research on the internet can educate you both on hat etiquette [something I have written on in a previous blog entry] as well as proper care of one’s headwear.

After the hat one of the most important additions to one’s wardrobe is the waistcoat or vest. Again there are many stores which offer a selection of vests to match any outfit. Three piece suits and vests have become popular again and thus many modern haberdasheries will carry a selection. Do ensure that it has a pocket for your watch. Single breasted, double breasted, collared or uncollared, several vests will enhance any gentleman’s wardrobe.

Goggles are oft mentioned as a mainstay and item of note for Steampunks but I would put forth that one should have a reason for one’s goggles to cover both their use and their design. Finding a good pair of goggles is a bit more of a trick and will involve hunting in hardware stores, military surplus stores, vintage shops and all over. There are tutorials on YouTube to make your own or enhance the plain goggles you have purchased.

Accessories are important and, for the gentleman, the selection during the Victorian period was exquisite: cufflinks, pocketwatches and fobs, handkerchiefs, ties and ascots, monocles, glasses, tie pins, brooches, arm/sleeve garters and more. Form and fashion were important as, much like the large and expensive personal automobile of the last several decades, one’s accessories told the world of your success and standing.

A final note on colour: take it or leave it as you wish but do read your history before doing so. In the first half of the Victorian era there was a lot of colour and it was riotous. Dyes were being discovered and blended frequently and fabrics were experimented on and with. People combined checks and stripes, they wore palettes of colours which were bright and clashing, and they reveled in their clothing. Then a combination of circumstances changed everything around 1861. The most notable and best defined change was the death of Prince Albert, Victoria’s consort. With both the passing of the Queen’s mother and her consort that year the Queen dressed in mourning clothing for most of the rest of her life. And the public will oft replicate the trends set by royalty so much public-wear for men was in somber colours. Additionally the great amount of industry, most of it supplied by coal-burning power, resulted in a high level of pollution, smog and particulates in the air. Clothing of grey or darker colours did not show the ash and dirt as much as did the bright colours. More vibrant colours were still worn but primarily in the home or for special occasions such as picnics, outings in the country and vacations abroad. At home and at work most gentlemen sported a primarily darker wardrobe with accents of colour. So never let anyone else dictate that your wardrobe needs more or less colour in it, it is entirely upon your own preference and your vision for your character.

As for building a particular look or wardrobe there are two ways to go about it, I find. One can easily google “Steampunk” or something similar and take ideas from pictures. The other method, and the one I find more enjoyable and more interesting, is to attend a Steampunk gather or event even if you are just in jeans and a tshirt [and do note that t-shirts are not period and should disappear from your wardrobe as soon as possible] and ASK other well dressed folk where they obtained their clothing. Trust me on this: Steampunks LOVE to talk about what they’re wearing and where they found it. You can easily create an outfit or three from your very first event.

I find that many people are confused, hesitant and worried about their first Steampunk outfit and the subsequent wardrobe yet such concern is truly without foundation. There will ALWAYS be someone willing to point you in the right direction.

H.A. Higgins-Keith

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One Must Always Watch One’s Words

Good evening, mesdames et monsieurs.

I do thank you for your patience. Life, once again, has gotten away from me. But enough prattle and whine…

Recently I attended a Comic Con held in my new city of residence. It was well attended, boasted quite a few excellent guests, offered an expansive dealers’ room and some very interesting panels. Among the superheroes, the stormtroopers, the apes and daleks and robots and graphic novel characters there were some extremely wonderful steampunk folk.

I ensured that I made it to two of the panels on steampunk: Steampunk 101 and Steampunk Clothing.

I have a slight issue with Steampunk 101 classes having been involved with such for six years and counting at this point. Where are the following courses? Where is Steampunk 201 [So You’re Steampunk, Now What?], Steampunk 301 [The Devil IS in the Details] and the advanced Steampunk 401 [Etiquette Both Personal and Social as Embedded in the Steampunk Subculture] as well as the off shoots into the -02. -03 and onwards? Steampunk has been embraced by the media and the mainstream, something oft heard complained about, and most everyone knows what it is at the basic level: that which is taught in the 101 courses.

I was very pleased with some of this particular course as it did wander through the geo-centricity and temporal focus of the subculture and kicked those doors wide. But there were two points that niggled.

The smallest of the pair, which bothers me only a little, is when people talk about the ‘punk’ in Steampunk without experience or proper knowledge of the punk period and movement. Having lived through it, in it, and around it myself, I must admit that it rankles when Steampunks offer their ‘expert opinion’ on the ‘punk’ facet without actually having a solid grounding in what they are speaking of. But this part of the 101 was easily passed through and over.

The large, and by large I mean elephantine, shock was a statement made by one of the presenters; a gentleman from Montreal. He said, and I paraphrase but it is very close to his exact wording as I remember “The only way to do Steampunk wrong, I tell people, is to buy the box of prefab Steampunk outfit made by the big mainstream corporation with the Steampunk label stamped across the box.”

And to this I must say: Nonsense! Piffling nonsense. Nonsense from both sides and the middle. And unfortunately some people new to Steampunk may have listened to him and will now have the wrong approach.

It is indeed possible to “do” Steampunk incorrectly without buying in bulk. I often tell people who wish to experiment that they should try things and see how others respond. If it is met with frowns and whispers then hie thee back to the drawing board. If it is greeted with smiles and applause then it is successful.

And those boxes sold in chain stores, filled with plastic and cheap fabric bits, with the brazen “Steampunk” stamp boldly printed across the cover? Yes indeed, do feel free to purchase one of those if ’tis your first foray into the community.

It is apparent to me that the gentleman I have paraphrased has never heard the term ‘gateway’.

The goth/industrial subculture was little known and less understood until Trent Reznor’s “Closer” and Marilyn Manson’s stage theatrics and marketing creation. While both are pooh-poohed by most members of the g/i community it did introduce new blood to the clubs and the coffee shops, it brought new folk to the music and the fashion, it continued to inject life into the genre and the aesthetic.

The most common reason I hear for why someone has not made a steampunk gather is that they do not have an outfit. If buying a prefabricated outfit in a box allows them to make that first step into the community, if it allows them to walk into their first gather then I say huzzah to the retailer who supplies them this needed item. From that first step in the new entrant can THEN be offered advice, can learn of sources and styles, can begin developing their own aesthetic and build their own wardrobe. But without that first step, without the gateway then the new blood will not be maximized.

The speaker obviously did not consider access, income and creativity which is not offered equally to all people. He, perhaps unwittingly, has set up a group of steampunks for ridicule: those ‘poor’ folk who start with a box kit. He has pretty much said “you, you ‘real’ steampunks, may look down your nose at those people who purchase it as a boxed set, as they are doing it wrong.”

Can one do Steampunk wrong? I think yes, though I would more use the term ‘incorrectly’ than to say wrongly. Is what is wrong to be found in a box in a large retail location? I do not think it is that easy.

And again I say stuff and nonsense.

H.A. Higgins-Keith

Perceiving A Book By Its Cover

Good morning, gentle readers.

I do trust that your winter, where-ever this season should find you, has begun in fun and adventure. And for those of you what celebrate Yule I hope ’tis a joyous one and promises you the next year will be one of wonderful things.

While I have been, at times, serious in my tone and my content I have also attempted to keep things light and friendly. I find humour is an excellent thing to keep the conversation enjoyable and the occasional chuckle makes discussion more vibrant. Today, though, I am going to write on a topic that has been making me increasingly angry. It is a topic I have touched upon before [please reference “Around the World in 80 Minutes” from September of 2011] and I’m afraid that this time I am going to be firm.

Please keep your misperceived white-guilt political correctness out of my Steampunk. Oh, dear reader, I shall freely admit to being strongly opinionated in many things but there is a certain oft presented point that truly stokes the furnaces of my ire. There are enough gender arguments, heated discussions of the socio-political Victorian influences in Steampunk, and other poorly stated comments to truly make a person wonder, at times, just why they may ever do more than just show up in appropriate dress, sit quietly with a tea in a corner, and go home after the poetry reading without ever speaking to another. And yes, things I’ve heard uttered in sincerity such as “Steampunk is where goth discovered brown” and “Steampunk is… well, have you seen ‘Wild Wild West’?” both get my dander up but this one topic truly makes me wonder.

It is something I have heard fair frequently and tonight it began with a gentleman stating: “It’s been my experience that us whites only understand cultural appropriation and could never grasp multiculturalism. (joking.. kinda)”

I call complete and utter PC bullshit on this, pardon my language, ladies.

Much like many of the other subcultures in North America and Europe the Steampunk community is, in the majority, Caucasian. I know a handful of folk from different ethnic backgrounds but it is, indeed, a group that is primarily what is called “White” [though in all honesty I am still sometimes confused by the term “White” and muchly prefer Caucasian, thank you very much]. This is true of the goth/industrial as it was and still is of the punk subcultures. It is true of the science fiction/fantasy fen and convention goers. Strangely, though perhaps not, I also find it true of the North American anime/manga subcultures though here my experience is only truly from a handful of cities and a couple of conventions. This is likely a geographically influenced occurrence as I have no doubt that the various subcultures in Japan, for example, are primarily populated by Asians.

So let us speak of cultural appropriation, shall we? And, as this deals with Steampunk, let us look at the Victorian era.

As has been pointed out to me by a very intelligent and learned young lady during my earlier writing there was a fascination among the Caucasians of this period with those things that belonged to other cultures. The Victorian era saw world travel and exploration as it had never been before. Dark areas on map were being explored and opened up. Adventure was available for those who could afford the time and money and it was written about to be shared with everyone who could read [or be read to]. It was a time of excitement. Archaeology was truly established during the reign of Queen Victoria and the fascination with history and past cultures was equaled by the fascination with current cultures that were not “our own.” And it was a two way street, ladies and gentlemen.

Trade flowed around the world and thus trinkets, keep-sakes, artwork, fabrics and materials danced between countries. Indian silk, Chinese fans, African carvings, Egyptian antiques, paintings of Indians [in talking with several who I count among my many friends I’ve discovered lately that most do not like the term “Native Americans” though I’ve yet to discuss the why of it] and many other interesting ‘foreign items’ poured into the heart of the British Empire through her vast trade networks. And things British flowed out.

The visiting Briton appeared often to the members of other countries as a very successful creature. He had tools of metal, clothing of strange fabrics and intricacies, amazing medicines, machines that performed astounding feats and created amazing things.

Take a few minutes and, rather than just relying on my words, do some research. Google is a good place to start though your local library is possibly better for it. Look for pictures from the Victorian era and focus on those photographed or painted in and from other countries. You will see many non-Caucasian peoples sporting top hats, waistcoats, morning coats, tailcoats and carrying walking sticks and parasols. They did this in imitation and in respect to the “powerful people of the mighty British Empire.” The thought was, and it is still true today, that to dress like a successful man was to become a successful man or to, at least, gain respect from other successful men. The British, during this period, were seen as the most successful, particularly by those who had less. The British Empire was powerful so it is not a surprise that others desired to be a part of that, to gain some of that power for themselves and to do so they imitated what they saw.

And yet by our own definition this was and is “cultural appropriation.”

Oh, indeed you will see pictures of British military wearing turbans and other ‘native’ headwear of different ethnicities, or sporting a very non-British outfit. In many cultures trading was a sign of friendship, of welcoming, with personal gifts being exchanged. The British caught on to this and headwear was oft traded with natives of other countries.

Who could resist a few mementos to bring home after a long military or trading tour? In our modern world it is often photographs or post-cards or little tourist-junk that is brought home from vacation as a reminder of the fun, the adventure. At the least during the Victorian era what was brought home wasn’t made in some factory by underpaid labourers.

Besides the exchange there were two other reasons for Caucasians of that period to ‘appropriate’ the ‘native appearance.’

The first was simple geography and, resulting from that, climate. Standard British wear during this period tended to be multiple layers and those layers were mostly either linen, cotton or, more popularly, wool. I have worn a British uniform on the kind of hot day one may experience in India, in southern Spain, in the middle Americas and it is not at all comfortable. The native fabrics and clothing styles took climate into account, naturally. I have worn a Victorian gentleman’s attire in 90 degree heat and it was not pleasant, and I found myself longing for the flowing, cooling robes of an Arabian.

The second was called “going native.” Again, I would recommend doing a little bit of Google research and you will find that though this is now perceived as not being common, it happened frequently enough to be, at times, a concern. While particularly an occurrence in North America it also happened in many other countries of the world including Russia, India, Egypt, Africa, and most of Asia. Going native was often voluntary in the case of adventurers or military who became either enamoured of the culture in which they were placed or who “deserted” their company for one reason or another. It also happened that, through some tragedy, a young Caucasian would be raised by native parents in some country and thus would grow up acclimated to that culture.

Is a Caucasian who joins a culture therefore guilty of appropriating the trappings of that culture?

It was more cultural exchange and less appropriation.

Let us see. Appropriation – ap·pro·pri·a·tion [/əˌprōprēˈāSHən/] Noun: The action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission.

And if permission is tacitly given or understood through action? Who gives permission for an entire culture? With historic precedence set is there a need for permission?

As a closing note I have spoken with several people of non-Caucasian culture and ethnicity and they see nothing wrong with a Caucasian steampunk dressing up in a non-British period outfit or adding non-British touches as long as it is done tastefully and with respect. It seems an almost purely Caucasian thing to call someone out on “cultural appropriation” and it is, I feel, not our place to do so.

Finally, I am going to quote myself from that September writing: “However, I would note that if you do decide to add in some item or style belonging to another culture that you are aware of what it is you are wearing, the why of it, and how to explain it respectfully. There are those who get upset with past issues [even though there are enough current issues that they do not seem to care for so much] that in public one MAY be approached and called on the borrowed bits.
There is nothing wrong with exploring other options than the most often seen British/American characterizations from the Victorian period in your Steampunk wardrobe and presentation. Just remember it is to be both fun and respectful.”

Be well, good readers, and I hope that you enjoy a wonderful holiday season, a joyful Yule, a merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, a fantastic solstice or whatever it is that you celebrate at this time of year.

H.A. Higgins-Keith

The Very Model

Oh my. Apparently I’ve several months to apologize for. Well, I am sorry, dear readers [both of you *chuckle*] for having been away so very long. Many adventures have been had and I have survived each and every one, both good and bad. And soon I shall be off on another. But this evening I am here.

Anyone who actually knows me also knows that I collect uniforms, particularly those with a vintage appearance, and I wear them in public. There are a variety of uniforms available to the Neo-Victorian man: military, police, fireman and more. So is there truth to the saying that “women adore a man in uniform”?

My research has shown that it is mostly true. While there are those ladies who apparently do not find a uniform to be appealing or to be an addition which increases the attractiveness of a man there are more who do. Were I to roughly guess the ratio I would put it at around two-thirds finding a uniformed man more attractive.

Here are eight reasons which were offered by an author and a lady:

A man in a uniform knows how to look after himself. (Who wants to be some guy’s mother?)
A man in a uniform knows how to bathe, shave, and dress himself (I’m not saying the rest of you don’t . . .).
A dress uniform is flattering to the male figure (Ooh-YAH!).
An officer is a gentleman (or at least has really good tablemanners).
The whole demeanor of a man in dress blues, or whites, or whatever is confident and dependable. Very Sexy.
Since a man in uniform knows all about responsibility and duty, he could well be counted on to take out the garbage. Theoretically, at least.
Any military unit that has had to serve in a combat zone anywhere in the world (yep–even in Norn Irn) comes back changed. These men (if not too deeply disturbed by their experiences) (and my heart goes out to all vets of any combat anywhere who go home broken, either physically or mentally) know the value of a sunset. Or a sunrise.
Other uniforms, not just military, work just as well, if the training behind the spit and polish is as extensive. Who is more welcome at an accident scene that a paramedic or a fireman? Women know that they will be rescued by these substitutions for knights in shining armor.

The uniformed man is presented as our ‘modern’ knight in shining armour. Oft the ladies also mention his fitness, his attractive shape and muscular form. There is described a ‘safety’ feeling or a knowledge that a man in uniform will protect a lady or, if she needs, rescue her. And there are wanderings into Mr. Darwin’s realm supposing that a lady looks for the best provider, the alpha male, and that those in uniforms are obviously that sort.

Let us look at the uniform first, shall we?

Beginning with the tunic, that most important part of a uniform ensemble, I have oft stated that a properly fitted military jacket is to a man much as a corset is to a woman: if forces the shoulders back, the spine straight, the chest out and the stomach in. The high collar keeps one’s head up to enhance the posture. The colours of the Victorian military man were often fairly bright and flashy due to a need to see the troops through the fog of war [also known as the dark power smoke of fired weapons] and thus reds, blues, yellows and greens were all popular. Add in trim of gold, silver or copper and other shiny accessories along with dark leather belts and one has an eye catching outfit. During the Victorian era the officers had their own uniforms tailored specifically which, as anyone knows, enhances the appearance, the drape, the fit of a garment.

The pants are usually creased and without pleats, fitting snugly to the waist, thighs and legs. This can make a man look taller than he is, particularly from a distance. Stripes to match or complement the tunic colour also help gain one notice. Generally speaking the pants also did not have pockets which means no unsightly bulges from wallets, keys or what have you. Necessaries were carried in pouches on the belt.

For an officer, in particular, high boots brightly polished and well fitted were necessary. Once again this creates a longer and leaner look of the body. And boots have that particular sound on hard surfaces, a sound that brings many of us back to our fathers, to parades, to marching. It is a strong and aggressive sound.

Add in gloves of snug leather and the appropriate hat and one is set. A uniformed man must know all about hat etiquette which his a showy practice in itself.

Military fashion has oft and long influenced the fashions of civilians. Men’s facial hair has oft been dictated by veterans in an attempt to look more like those who have returned from ‘doing their duty for Queen and country.’ During the Victorian era lady’s riding outfits were very militaristic in cut, buttons and accessories oft including a pelisse for cooler weather, gloves and hat of a distinctly uniform look.

The suit of this modern age owes much to the uniforms of the past as many women will admit that a man looks better in a well tailored suit, and a proper suit is a form of uniform for the working man. Naturally I prefer a three piece suit with waistcoat but even a two piece can, if properly fitted, add to a gentleman’s attractiveness.

Speaking for my self and my self only there is something about putting on a good suit or, particularly, a uniform. The snugness of the clothing which requires that I stand straight in good posture, the many buttons requiring individual attention all shining brightly, pulling on the boots, ensuring that each piece is as it should be: in good state, clean and sharp; all together it adds to my self confidence. A uniform is not a quick to throw on outfit and takes attention and care to ensure that each piece is properly set which means I must attend to my self and my appearance in detail. Together, once that last button is done up and my throat clasp is closed, I walk taller and feel more in control of my own world and self.

There are patterns about for uniforms though they can be difficult to find at times. Military surplus stores sometimes offer vintage uniforms or outfits of a vintage appearance though do shop around for the best price as some stores set a very high value on such things. For daily wear worry not if a uniform is authentic or a reproduction as both will look excellent and only the ‘experts’ truly care.

In conclusion I must say that to any Steampunk gentleman or Victorian re-enactor a good uniform is a must have for the wardrobe.

Here is hoping that I am not so tardy in my next posting.

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

When Goth Found Brown

Please do bear with me, dear reader, while I rant a little bit.

If you are into all things steampunk then surely you’ve head this mouthful of blather: “Steampunk is when Goths found brown.” I have never heard such a handful of bulldroppings in my many years. Even when said in jest, and many do not do so, it is misleading, misperceptive and just wrong.

To begin with let us examine the goths, particularly those at the start of their own subcultural growth. Back in the 80s when goth sprang from both punk and new wave/glam there were several styles of fashion for those who set the foundations for this movement. It was dark and it was spooky or morbid and it was a little piece of this and a little dash of that. The cybergoths and rivetheads had yet to truly emerge but within the beginning years there were quite a few who did the NeoVictorian look and they did it well. At the better clubs one saw tophats and tailcoats, bustle skirts and lace shawls, walking sticks and parasols and fashions familiar to the steampunk crowd scattered in through the jeans and band shirts, the fishnets and skirts. You can see the possible, if tenuous connection being made by people today who just don’t know better.

The first misunderstanding that this saying fosters is that steampunk is built mainly of goths. While there is a lot of attraction, particularly to the NeoVictorian old school gothy sorts I have found this to be completely untrue. Steampunk attracts many types of people from many walks of life with diverse backgrounds and interests. I have met many in the steampunk subculture who are not goths and would never be goths. Steampunk did not even begin in the goth subculture and so yet again there is a lack of any connection at all.

The second misconception inherent in this saying is the inference that goths did not wear colour. While the predominant colour in a goth’s wardrobe is black there was an array of burgundies, greys, blues, jades, whites and an assortment of other shades and hues beyond the basic ebony. Colour was, for the gentlemen, often worn as an accent while the ladies would wrap themselves in luxurious, deep colours at times. Pastels were rare and brown, orange and other ‘soft’ colours were frequently passed over in favour of bold, solid tones.

Coming from the other side of the statement this little saying also seems to hint that steampunks wear black a lot as it equates them with the gothier set. This can be somewhat true but it all depends on when one takes one’s look from. During the early part of the Victorian period [1837 to 1861] fashion was bright and bold and brassy. Colours were seen everywhere in eye-catching combinations and patterns could be liberally mixed. Checks with stripes or plaid and herringbone, interesting combinations were well accepted. Colours tended to make the males, in particular, look like strutting birds during mating season. Black was worn but browns and greys were often the province of the lower classes and did not make much of an appearance on the gentlemen of this period. After Albert’s death in 1861 the Queen set the tone. Victoria dressed in mourning for the rest of her life and the British people imitated her, as is usual, with much more somber trends in fashion. While there was still colour it tended to be used more to accessorize, as accents or for particular and specific reasons. Blacks and greys also grew very popular as they did not quite so easily show the soot and other particulates that floated in the air and settled on one’s clothing.
Where brown was popular was in the western regions of North America. Browns did not show the dirt or dust that would result from unpaved streets and regular work in the dirty out of doors.

So the next time you hear ‘steampunk is when goths found grown’ do feel free to laugh loudly and merrily, knowing that the speaker has no idea of what they say.

H.A. Higgins-Keith

The Well Dressed Man

I am sure that, by now, if you’ve done any research you’ve noticed a plethora of designers and fabricators of clothing and accessories for the ladies. However men too require clothing and, during the Victorian period, there are a number of necessary accessories. Depending on the look you are striving for there are some very necessary items, gentlemen. Let us start with the lower classes and work our way up.

The Grease-Monkey

Good strong boots, tools, gloves and goggles. This group of men would, beyond nearly all others, actually have reason to have goggles about their person. A respirator as well would be very likely. Headware is important and may be job related or for wearing home. Denim and corduroy are both period and durable fabrics. Buttons of bone, brass, copper or steel for all closures. Among the clerical and service industries a good set of sleeve garters is important. Rarely ever a watch as the factory whistle will tell the time for you. If you have an idea to be Scottish, which many of the best engineers were, then you can substitute a solid and heavy wear kilt in for your slacks. You could, should you wish, even go with a utilikilt or other non-tartan ‘work’ version as this IS an alternate history, after all. Suspenders can be worn to hang loose or shouldered.

The Middle Classes

Cufflinks, a passable pocket watch, a sack suit, and a hat. Perhaps a derby, a homburg or a trilby, a slouch hat or an ivy, a sporting cap or a gambler’s. Boaters are also to be considered for good-weather wear. And even a fedora or a cowboy’s hat would do, depending. An umbrella is a necessity for poor weather. Add in a car coat or a trench and you are set. Of course no man would be seen without a tie of some sort. Suspenders are normal rather than belts.

The Gentleman

Here we have a wide range to play with and this is where most people do aim. A good pocket watch with a fob chain, cufflinks, tie clip or pin, handkerchief, and other little accessories are important. It is in the small details that the gentleman stands out. Add a tophat or a John Bull, perhaps a bowler or a small brim fedora. Gentlemen stay away from the poorboy or newsboy caps for the most part. A tie or an ascot. Good shoes with spats or riding boots. A gentleman never went outside without gloves. A walking stick or an umbrella depending on the forecast for the day. A frock or morning coat for daytime wear, a set of tails for the evening. A town coat, car coat or duster but never a sack coat unless you’re going very late period though a cutaway jacket is never a wrong choice. A waistcoat or vest is necessary. Suspenders over belts but a well fitted pair of pants needs neither.

As a general rule for any of the classes go colourful in the early period and sombre in the later. While black, brown and grey are all excellent and oft selected choices the right flash of colour in a waistcoat or in one’s accessories can allow one to stand out from the crowd.

Stepping off to the right we have:

The Military Man

What is it about a man in uniform? The back is held straighter, the shoulders are out, the stomach is in and there is a confident swagger that is natural. A well appointed and fitted uniform definitely catches the eye.
One can do many things depending on if you are dressing for field, garrison, work detail or formal occasion.
For the field and garrison the main difference is how much kit one is carrying. Otherwise it is uniform, shako or cap of some form, belt and pouches, boots or shoes and spats. For colour ideas check various online sources for period uniforms as there are a lot. Work detail is even simpler with less belt and pouches and a very basic look often in lighter fabrics.
But full dress? Now here we can shine. Boots or shoes polished to a high gloss with the option for spurs. Tunic, gloves, sashes, medals and all sorts of glitter and gleam. A cap or hat, of course, whether shako or crusher/peaked. An officer would never appear fully armed at a fete or a social but may bear a ceremonial piece.

And where would you find what you need to make yourself up properly? Locally look at used clothing stores, military surplus stores, antique stores and flea markets or bazaars. Online there are a handful of places including:

http://www.gentlemansemporium.com/gentlemans.php

http://www.milanoo.com/

http://www.sutlers.co.uk/acatalog/index.html

And for a bit more reading, here’s one of several sources which I have enjoyed:

http://www.victorianweb.org/art/costume/index.html

But one important thing to remember, gentlemen, is that Victorian Great Britain tended to have chill, drizzly weather moreso than any other. A lot of the clothing was of wool and worn in layers. When dressing for other climes please keep in mind that Victorian clothing does get very very warm.

H.A. Higgins-Keith