I will admit it. I love clothes. I love fashion. I love style.

But let me qualify that. I don’t love clothes in the omigod-I-have-to-have-that-purse-that-Carrie-had-on-Sex-and-the-City way. I don’t love fashion in the have-to-get-that-three-hundred-dollar-pair-of-shoes-because-they’re-so-in way. I don’t love style in the omigod-she-should-not-be-wearing-that-it’s-so-2004 way.

I love the cult of clothing. I love studying what people wore, finding out why they wore it, learning about different trends, ornaments, garments. (In fact, in the third grade I was convinced I’d become a fashion designer.) This is particularly true when it comes to women’s fashion. I haven’t got the time to dedicate to it here and now, but what’s considered acceptable or daring for women has fluctuated so much through the centuries, it’ll make your head wobble.

So it’s no surprise I’ve landed myself into the realm of steampunk and Victorian clothing, is it? Perhaps no other period of design so typifies absolute decadence and divine beauty more than the Victorian Era. In spite of some rather rigorous modesty going about, the dresses are a perfect symphony of texture, whimsy, creativity, and culture.

That said, some of the most fun I have (writing is, on occasion, quite fun, in spite of rants to the contrary) is describing clothing in The Aldersgate. Between the royals, knights, ladies, gearlings, Sibs, and the rest, it’s both a wonderful adventure and a great excuse to peruse the dozens of beautiful garments posted by various sites and resources online. My favorite site, hands down, is Vintagetextle.com not for the least of which is their amazingly high-resolution photographs that allow me a close enough view to see the individual bead-work and embroidery. If I start linking photos to all the dresses that I’ve incorporated into the closets of my main characters, we’d be here all day. (Okay… here’s one, but just because it’s so perfect: Cora’s dress for walking around in Vell day to day: linen with a jacket and contrasting dark brown embroidery… )

I also take liberties because, strictly speaking, my book has nothing to do with our world directly. So though the fashion is Victorian-inspired, it’s certainly not held to the same societal standards. A great place for those of us with steampunk leanings to start is the LJ community steamfashion. Though I don’t often dress up myself, these sassy and savvy individuals post their delightful designs on the community board and always, always inspire me. It’s become something of a gateway for designers, too.

Fashion is a study that many have taken up, so whether your story takes place in the here and now, or the long ago, you’ll likely be able to find something that can help you flesh out your characters wardrobes.

Here’s some notes on main characters and their clothing:

Maelys I – Queen of the Realm, so of course, she’s at the height of fashion. Elizabeth I was a clothes horse too, and since she’s a partial inspiration for Maelys, I wanted to be sure that facet of her personality showed through. Maelys prefers black with gilding. Anything with gold embroidery, bead-work, or other ornamentation. My favorite costume she wears is a black and peacock green, complete with feathers for a head-dress and gold slippers.

Coras dress at the beginning of the book, but in blue

Cora's dress at the beginning of the book, but in blue

Cora Grey – As an Alderclass girl she’s expected to wear certain clothing to reflect her status and her age. If given her choice, she’d most likely ride around in breeches, but at the story’s start she’s made to wear a hideous blue gown that I imagine is early 1870s style, low shouldered and covered–covered, I say–with yards and yards of bustles, ruffles, and lace. Far from her own sense of style, I torture her for a few chapters by making her run around in it, corset and all, while being pursued by the Order of the Oak. Yes, I’m mean.

Brick Smithson – As a boy from the territories, and a blacksmith to boot, Brick doesn’t have a lot to choose from when it comes to fashion. He wears the clothes he’s given or made, and it usually includes rough-spun britches, suspenders, and a linen shirt. Nothing fancy, but somehow… I’d say it works rather well for him.

Emry Roy – Like in many cultures, the bards of Earena are supposed to wear specific clothing to identify them as such. Emry is no different. But by the time we meet him, he’s significantly more bedraggled than your garden variety court bard. His shirt would be light yellow linen, over which he has a high-cut brown vest (no v-neck, but it’s flush at his collar-bone, typical of Islander clothing). His slacks are green with gold piping on the sides, tucked in to the top of his high brown boots. He’d wear a long camel-colored duster, as well, with a pin on the lapel in the shape of a lute on a leaf, in silver.

Sir Gawen of Fenlie – Though the Order of the Asp has abandoned a strict code of dress in recent years, Gawen–being of the Alderclass sort, and a consummate gentleman–still adheres to the old school. He wears a high tan hat belted across the brim with black and yellow braided leather. His duster is darkest brown, and his uniform (if you can call it that exactly) is comprised of a linen shirt dyed sage green, a white nubuck vest, black trousers, and brown chaps.

WhistlerOne of the most recognizable aspects of modern-day steampunks is their impeccable taste in fashion. I myself come from a long line of fashion-conscious, but I cannot claim to be anywhere near as dapper as many of the folks who go far beyond the call of duty in steampunk fashion. I mean, truly, it’s an indelible well of inspiration for me. I might get stuck with a chapter, and more than once I’ve been roused out of writer’s melancholy by a cursory Google image search for steampunk fashion.

Wikipedia has this to say on the subject:

The most immediate form of steampunk subculture is the community of fans surrounding the genre. Others move beyond this, attempting to adopt a “steampunk” aesthetic through fashion, home decor and even music. This movement may also be (more accurately) described as “Neo-Victorianism“, which is the amalgamation of Victorian aesthetic principles with modern sensibilities and technologies.
“Steampunk” fashion has no set guidelines, but tends to synthesize punk, goth and rivet styles as filtered through the Victorian era. This may include Mohawks and extensive piercings with corsets and tattered petticoats, Victorian suits with goggles and boots with large soles and buckles or straps, and the Lolita fashion and aristocrat styles. Some of what defines steampunk fashion has come from cyberpunk, and cyberlocks have appeared being used by people adopting a steampunk look.

The fact of the matter is that steampunk fashion is downright inspiring. Always a stickler for the Victorian myself, it takes it a step further, imbuing the lines and shapes of the time period with awe-inspiring details and lots and lots of shininess. I make no apologies for my raven-like behavior when it comes to thinks that sparkle.

I use Scrivener to compose which has, literally, changed the way I go about writing. Although I’m going to write another post devoted entirely to that most magical of software programs, for now I’ll say that for visual people–like me, I’m saying–Scrivener is a must. Not only does it force me to be organized (Professor’s ability to “make even the most disorganized rooms messier” is written from my own experience with myself) it allows me to integrate photographs into my work. I can stare at people who remind me of my characters, I can stare across prairies, and contemplate the doohickeys at the Victorian museum.

For my intents and purposes the fashion of the 1880s has been just the ticket. Of course, since my world isn’t our own, really, I could broaden more than that. But I feel, somehow, that sticking with a certain fashion “feeling” makes the rest of the narrative feel more realistic, in spite of the fact it’s completely fabricated. (Oooh… I just made a pun.)

On a visit to Charleston recently I was able to see some of these gowns in person. And although the quality of the images online has been by and large incredible, seeing the intricacy of the fabric and detail was another story altogether. Not to mention the shoes!

My favorite Victorian clothing website, hands down, is VintageTextile.com. The photographs and details are simply awe-inspiring. And of course, as far as steampunk clothing repositories you can’t get much better than the Aether Emporium’s wiki on the subject.

Now, I’m lost in the links again… oooh, shiny!