To Get Ahead, Get a Hat*

Guest post by Arlys-Allegra Holloway

Ione D. for Tea

Photo by @ for book 1 of the Steampunk Adventure Series of Professor Ione D.

Hats were crucial to a respectable appearance for both men and women in Victorian times. To go bareheaded was simply not proper. The top hat, for example, was standard formal wear for upper- and middle-class men. Women’s hats were designed to match their outfits and changed greatly over time. From the top hat and the bowler to a plain straw hat, women redesigned the “manly headwear” of the time to make artistic one-of-a-kind creations.

A woman’s hat in the Victorian era portrayed the very essence of who she was. Many women had a say, if not a hand in their design and construction. Milliners with the experience to please their customers with original designs were highly sought after. Most hat shops were women-owned and operated. Their original creations could cost anywhere from $8 to over $30, which was an extravagant sum at the time.

In the early to mid-1800’s, voluminous skirts held up with crinolines, and then hoop skirts, were the focal point of the female silhouette. To enhance the style without detracting from it, hats were modest in size and design. Straw and fabric bonnets were the popular choices. Poke bonnets, which had been worn during the late Regency period, had high, small crowns and brims that grew larger until the 1830’s when the face of a woman wearing one could only be seen directly from the front. They had rounded brims, echoing the rounded form of the bell-shaped hoop skirts.

The Ultimate Steampunk Hat

Steampunk photo collection of @ Model- Arlys Endres

Now in the 21st century, zteampunk couture has resurrected these wonderful fashions! This science fiction genre and subculture have had the amazing ability to combine the romance of the Victorian era with steam-powered gear-driven vehicles, elaborate weapons and all types of gadgets. Only in the world of steampunk can a girl be coy, sexy and deadly!

In the second book of our steampunk series, Professor Ione D. and The Epicurean Incident, the ladies’ hats are remarkable and match the characters’ personalities to a T. You must read this amazing adventure to discover which lady wears which hat. This exciting novel is scheduled for e-book release on Amazon on May 24th, 2017, Queen Victoria’s 198th birthday.

* Slogan is from a hat company advertisement, circa 1897

Hats, hats, hats!

Photo Collage by @, Hats created by @ for the “Ione D” Steampunk Adventure Series by Vaughn Treude and Arlys Holloway.

Author’s Note:

Please peruse my other articles on Victorian Fashion, cooking and all things Steampunk on


The Parisian Hat Company History

My Two Left Feet

by Arlys-Allegra Holloway

Victorian Boots

The perfect steampunk accessory: original button-up boots from the Victorian era. Photo by Arlys Holloway.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “two left feet” to describe someone who’s awkward or clumsy. Back in the 1800’s, this was, in a way, literally true. As late as the 1850’s, the two shoes in a pair were interchangeable. The owner had to break them in order for them to be wearable. Most shoes and boots at that time came in only two widths, slim and “stout.” Since they were handmade, though, a cobbler could adjust or customize a shoe to fit.

The Victorians were much more comfortable than those of previous eras because shoes were finally being made differently for left and right feet. William Young is credited for perfecting the process in the early 1800s, although it didn’t become the norm until much later.

Around the same time, it became acceptable for women to wear the same kinds of boots that men were wearing. Women’s boots would feature intricate embroidery, and lace of many colors often dyed to match one’s dress or gown. They were made from rubber and leather, and were heeled in a different way than men’s. With scalloped edges, patent leather, and suede, these stylish boots were not the kind their owner would want to wear in mud. Fashion boots still survive to this day as a lasting testimony to the Victorian Era.

Well-bred women took great pride in their feet and wanted them to look as small and dainty as possible. Ladies’ magazines of that time would instruct, “The foot is one of the chief points by which a woman’s social position is judged. If the feet are small, well-shod, and prettily used in walking, they add an additional charm to the appearance, and are an indication of high standing and … of gentle birth.” It was crucial that women’s feet looked as presentable as the rest of their outfit. (I was unable to find the exact source for this quote.)

Footwear has seen many changes over the years, in particular with the introduction of different shoes for left and right feet in the mid-1800’s. This gave way to the elegant styles of the Victorian era, which remain popular to this day.

Why Steampunk?

Steampunk Frog

Illustration: Steampunk Frog by Kyle Dunbar. Kyle now has his own tattoo business in scenic Cave Creek, AZ, be sure to check it out!

Note: WordPress won’t let me put a link in the caption, so see Kyle’s Instagram Page here.

For those of you who are wondering, what the heck is steampunk, there are plenty of definitions but I’ll give you mine. Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction set in the past, generally in the period of the late 1800’s we call the Victorian Era. England was at that time the world’s ruling power, and its monarch, Queen Victoria, reigned from 1837-1901. Personally, I would include the reign of her son Edward VII, extending the period to 1910. In America, it was known as the Gilded Age, the time of industrialization and progress when steam power ruled the world.

In one sense, steampunk is historical fiction, but it’s more correctly a form of alternate history, which is why we add the “punk” suffix. According to Wikipedia, sci-fi writer K.W. Jeter coined the term to classify his works. The term was a pun on the term “cyberpunk,” a popular sci-fi subgenre of the 1980’s, which was in turn associated with the “cypherpunk” political movement of computer hackers. In the beginning, “punk” signified the anarchy and decadence of the musical style by that name. Eventually, it was broadened to include any genre in which history is skewed or twisted, giving rise to “dieselpunk” fiction set in the period from around World War I to the 1950’s.

What makes steampunk so popular? I believe it’s because the Gilded Age was a time of great optimism about humanity’s future and the advancement of technology. This is when writers like Jules Verne and HG Wells invented modern science fiction – though admittedly not all their works were optimistic. In our uncertain and decadent times, this era seems inviting, even refreshing. Courtesy was an essential character trait, and honesty and hard work were widely admired. The positive outlook of that time provides a welcome contrast to today’s bleak economic and political outlook. The class distinctions and rigidity of Victorian society, which would be stifling to our modern sensibilities, can seem reassuring when viewed from a distance.

One thing that has surprised me about the steampunk movement is its longevity. At first, it seemed it might be a transitory fad, more about the fun of wearing “high tech” period costumes to conventions than the stories themselves. Perhaps costuming and art are indeed steampunk’s more popular aspects and we have a lot of that in our house, but the literary movement is going strong as well. This is one of the reasons I’ve been writing in this genre- its current popularity, combined with my own fascination with history and technology.

My first exposure to steampunk fiction was the novel The Difference Engine by Willliam Gibson and Bruce Sterling. This alternative history about the rise of mechanical computers in the 1850’s helped establish some of the archetypes of the genre. Alternate history, including the steam era, were frequent themes in science fiction (such as Michael Moorcock’s Warlord of the Air) but only recently did it earn its own category. Since then we’ve seen talented young writers such as Cherie Priest (Boneshaker) and Scott Westerfield (Leviathan) emerge to further develop this trend.

Some of its devotees say that the steampunk genre is much older, going back to the 1960’s sci-fi TV western called The Wild Wild West. It’s set in the 1870’s, when Secret Service agents James T. West and Artemus Gordon have their own train car HQ and lots of proto-James-Bond gadgets. It was one of my favorite shows as a kid, which unfortunately gives away my age.

Though I’ve always been fascinated by history and period novels, alternate history, such as the works of Harry Turtledove (Guns of the South) are even more fun. This kind of writing provided the inspirations for my second novel Fidelio’s Automata. In this book Nikola Tesla did not leave Colorado in 1900, staying to play a part in the Colorado Labor Wars, which pitted radical miners against the companies. I set another part of the story in my home state of North Dakota, involving the real-life characters the Marquis de Mores, an eccentric French nobleman, and his liberated American wife, Medora. In real life, the Marquis’ meat-packing business failed, he returned to France, got involved in extremist politics, and died violently in North Africa. In Fidelio, his business did not fail, and he stayed in America and lived to see the twentieth century.

My latest foray into steampunk is the novella Miss Ione D. and the Mayan Marvel, a collaboration with my writing partner Arlys Holloway. She invented Ione D as a Facebook persona to promote Fidelio’s Automata. I found the character so intriguing that I decided we had to create stories for her. We began with Professor Ione D and the Epicurean Incident, but decided instead to start with Ione D in her younger days, exploring the pyramids in Tikal, Guatemala. (Don’t worry; Epicurean Incident is next!) Ione is the daughter of an American diplomat and a French actress and grew up in the US embassies in Paris and London. She’s a brilliant young woman who travels the world looking for adventure and exciting new recipes, while solving mysteries in the process. Mayan Marvel is a short work and as such it is (in our humble opinion) a good introduction to the steampunk genre. Check it out on Amazon; it’s currently free to Kindle Unlimited members.

A Fascinating History

One of the things I found most intimidating about writing a steampunk novel was the prospect of historical research. I needn’t have been worried. It’s been the most fascinating aspect of the project. Most steampunk fiction is set in the Victorian era, in the mid to late 19th century. My book, Fidelio’s Automata, begins in 1901, at the tail end of this time. One of the things I needed to learn was what peoples’ daily lives were like in those times, around when my grandparents were born. In those days, indoor plumbing was a luxury and electric power was an innovation mostly found in larger cities.

Among the more important issues to resolve was how my characters should travel. In 1901, the horse-drawn carriage was still a major mode of transportation, albeit a slow one. The automobile was new on the scene, and transcontinental highways were not even begun. I was intrigued to learn that the first cross-country highways were privately-run projects, in some cases spearheaded by western businessmen as a way to promote tourism from the East. Another factor was the newly invented bicycle, which required a smooth surface for riding. Cycling groups formed the core of the “good roads” movement.

Although I wanted one of my characters to have a car, since the book is centered around emerging technologies of the time, the most efficient way for the characters to travel would be by rail. Another mandatory form of transportation would be the airship, especially since that’s a staple of the steampunk genre. Since this is fiction, I’ve advanced this technology by a few years. This seems plausible because the airship required less in the way of infrastructure than did land transportation.

One of my favorite things about writing about this era is that it takes me back to my childhood. No, I’m not nearly that old, but since I grew up in a rural and backward part of the country, I had experiences shared by few people my age. For example, I attended a one-room country schoolhouse through the third grade. By the way, this facility did not have plumbing; we had to use the traditional little wooden building with the crescent moon on the door. The farm where my family lived was connected to the electrical grid only a few years before my birth. The wind-turbine my parents and grandparents had used for power still stood at the top of a tower in the middle of the yard.

This is all the more amazing when I consider that my son, who was born hear the close of the 20th century, has never known a time without video games, computers, and the Internet. Speaking of the Internet, this has been my most valuable resource. It’s quite easy to find population statistics for various cities that appear in my book, such as Buffalo, New York, and Toledo, Ohio. I can even download street maps from that time so I can use correct names. Outside of the fictional aspects of the book, I try to stick to factual whenever possible, to preserve its historical feel. Years ago, when I first began writing, I had to make a trip to the library every time I needed this kind of information, which was quite time-consuming. Thus my book about the past is being made possible by the technology of the future. I hope that when it’s finished you’ll enjoy reading it as much as I did creating it.