The Redcoats Were Coming – A Review of Up in the Aether Steampunk Convention

Good evening, gentle readers.

I do hope that you have been enjoying the slow stroll into summer. It does seem that some days are warm and sunny while others are chill and grey, but such is the wont of Mother Nature particularly in Canada.

I simply must, and need, to let you know of an event that I attended recently that has reset the bar for all Steampunk fetes. I have attended many many conventions over the last three plus decades and DJed nearly countless events in about the same amount of time but Up in the Aether [UitA] has created new expectations and hopes for all such Steampunk Conventions [and I do need to attend more to see if they are ALL so incredible]. Both as a guest and as an attendee I found this convention to be incredible.

The weekend after our Victoria Day, accompanied by my noble and trustworthy soundman and fellow DJ, Danr, I traveled over the world’s longest undefended border to the city of Detroit to attend and DJ at Up in the Aether. I had recently relocated cities and so found the trip would now take a further four to five hours and, combined with my temporary financial situation due to moving cities and seeking common employ, I initially turned down the offer of being a guest. Mr. Wiggins, however, was very insistent and did a fantastic job of convincing me to set out on this adventure, and I am glad that he was so persuasive. And so we journeyed off to this four day happening as it was the weekend our Southron neighbours call Memorial Day Weekend.

There were occasional issues throughout the convention and I am sure others discovered challenges which I did not but it was how the convention folk dealt with these small things that made all the difference.

After a rather lengthy trip, with gratitude to our road construction workers and all those other drivers who felt a need to be on the road with no knowledge of how to drive properly in order to keep traffic flowing well, we arrived on the Friday evening at the Double Tree hotel in Dearborn, Michigan. Our room keys were presented promptly though, being guests, it took a touch of walking about and asking after various people to ensure we were properly tagged and badged and ready to enjoy the weekend.

They had wisely booked all of the DJs and bands together at one end of a hallway that we could make as much noise as we desired and so Saturday night we hosted a three-room room party with the Steampunk Mixologist and a reasonable bar [which shall grow next year] as well as music and conversation throughout the rooms and hallway.

It is estimated that between seven hundred and one thousand attendees accompanied us though due to the layout of the hotel and the large selection of panels, workshops, concerts and other attractions it never truly felt crowded: my own guess was that perhaps four hundred or so had strolled through the door.

There were, methinks, about a half dozen or more tracks of panels and workshops including writing and publishing [with readings by several authors], clothing and fashion [of course], food and alcohol and tobacco [with sampling], a well supplied makers’ room with ongoing discussions and teachings, Steampunk socials, a Port Party, a room dedicated to Self Defence particularly as regards sky pirates, and many, many more. There was constantly something interesting happening. Outside in a spacious tent was a near constant line up of incredible musicians, bands and DJs including Voltaire, Eli August, and many others ranging from Steampunk duets to a Steampunk Heavy Metal band.

The dealers’ room simply must be mentioned: it was a reasonable size to not take an entire afternoon to explore, was never so crowded that one could not walk comfortably and was filled with such high quality fare end to end that I boggled. The offerings were varied and diverse and of exquisite craftsmanship. Incredibly desirable. I believe I spent my entire month’s pay-cheque seven times over, fortunately only in my thoughts but next year I shall attend with a large amount of coin of the realm.

There was a kaleidoscope of clothing from the simple day-wear to intricate evening fare. There were uniforms [it was VERY pleasing to find three others sporting the Queen’s Scarlet besides myself and my companion], work clothing and sporting-wear, brass and steel bits, and a very wide range of appearances.

If you desire then you can find the pictures here:
https://www.facebook.com/djthelf.thelf/media_set?set=a.10152869105880024.1073741827.797510023&type=3
[And do note that though ’tis my Facebook all pictures are set to public access so everyone can enjoy them! I would also like to state that I am not a photographer but I do try]

The DJing was extremely fun particularly when all four guest DJs faced off on the Sunday night at Midnight to provide hours of dancefloor energy. It was an honour, a privilege and a definite pleasure to work with gorgeous and talented DJ Psycubus, the genial and skilled Doctor Q and the intense, brilliant, and accomplished Vorteque. I have played with, for and beside many great DJs in North America but these folk, these incredible, artistic people, in a modern vernacular, bring it!

If you are interested in knowing what songs I, personally, played throughout the weekend then you can find them here:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/DJ-ThElf/324307224252503?ref=hl

Those who spent time in the Music Tent enjoyed the offerings muchly, particularly Voltaire on Saturday night and the “Steampunk Rave” on Sunday night. The dancefloor was wonderfully delicious.

The staff: the organizers, the wranglers, the helpers, the committee; were to a single person the most incredible group I have ever had the joy of working both for and with. Nothing was impossible. We were treated like royalty, truly. The Guest Wrangling Matron, an exquisite lady I knew only as “V”, had a team who were beyond awesome in being informative and helpful. Any issue, anything requested, any question or need was met by V’s motto: “I Have This.” She owned her department and every situation that came her way. Her staff would stop, in passing in the hallway, even as they were arms-loaded with items to ask if there was anything we needed or any way they could assist. I am oft treated very well but V and her people offered a level of service that was beyond stunning. And throughout the convention I saw this style and level of service provided to guests and attendees at every level and in every capacity.

We left tired and sore from watching the sun rise each and every morning, from dancing like fools and maniacs to many bands and DJs, from learning at panels and watching incredible low budget/high production independent movies and from the high energy socializing. We left leaving behind friends and new family. We left knowing that in a year’s time we will return and nothing can stop us from doing so.

I do not know that I have enough positive and glowing adjectives to properly convey how amazing this convention was.

Next year, good reader, when you are planning your convention schedule and wondering where you should visit and what you should commit to pen in your daytimer I must insist that you give Up in the Aether your strongest and most serious consideration. Do come find us and I shall happily hoist a glass with you at the most amazing event of the year.

H.A. Higgins-Keith

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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

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