Please give a warm Nineteen Teen welcome to Shelley Adina, bestselling author of the Magnificent Devices series.
It has been said in withering tones that steampunk is what happens when Goths discover brown. But I can assure you that isn’t true! Fashions in steampunk novels can be as varied as the women who wear them—from peacock feathers to dusty cotton. The guiding principle, though, is the maker philosophy; in other words, one creates one’s outfits to suit one’s activities and personality.
In the opening chapters of Lady of Devices, it’s no coincidence that my heroine Lady Claire is dressed in a seersucker school uniform (indicating she is given no choice in her dress) and completely forgets her appointment with the dressmaker (a response to being given no choice at home, either). It’s a sign of things to come, when she joins forces with a street gang who make their living as rag-pickers, and learns firsthand about making an outfit out of nothing. But every heroine has to start somewhere, because the girl who forgets her fitting with the modiste who outfits the royal princesses has a mother described like this:
“Lady St. Ives sat upon the forest-green brocade couch, its width sufficient to accommodate the bustles and petticoats of the fashionable, in the forefront of which she maintained a dashing lead. Her navy-and-white striped silk skirts were overlaid by a polonaise of navy damask trimmed in gold ruching, and gold rosettes drew the eye to a square neckline and the statuesque figure that was the envy of many a dumpier matron. The fact that Claire had inherited her father’s height but not her mother’s figure, her father’s unruly auburn mane and not her mother’s blonde curls, was a continuing source of despair.” —Lady of Devices
Elaborate gowns have no place in the world of mad scientists, stolen airships, and explosions that Claire must learn to live in. As the books go on, she develops her own taste, which runs to practical navy skirts and pretty blouses (known as “waists” in those days) with sleeves that can be rolled up so as not to get in the chemicals.
But her favorite outfit is her “raiding rig,” which she has put together to suit herself and her own needs as the leader of the cleverest gang in the London underworld:
She had dressed carefully in raiding rig for the occasion, in a practical black skirt that could be rucked up by means of internal tapes should she have to run or climb. She had dispensed with a hat for the evening, choosing instead to simply leave her driving goggles sitting in front of her piled hair, a gauzy scarf wound over it and around her neck. A leather corselet contained a number of hooks and clasps for equipment, and instead of her trusty rucksack, she wore a leather harness with a spine holster specially made to the contours of the lightning rifle she had taken from Lightning Luke Jackson three weeks ago. She was pleased to see that her lacy blouse remained pristine white.
“Great Caesar’s ghost,” Lord James said, gaping at her. “What in heaven’s name have you got on?”
“A costume,” she said, twirling like a ballerina. The fact that her rig was both practical and sensational delighted her. “Do you like it?”
“You look like an air pirate. Let those skirts down at once. Do you want His Royal Highness to see your knees?” —Her Own Devices
In the fictional steampunk world, a woman can wear couture if it suits her, or put together her own practical outfit. And in the real steampunk world outside books, a woman can do the same. Some like to comb secondhand shops and up-cycle pieces to assemble something new and old at the same time. Some buy ready-made outfits from online stores. And some find pride in their own craftsmanship, designing and sewing Victorian or neo-Victorian costumes that reflect their personalities and the characters they play at events and conventions.
I do a mix—I’ll pair a bustle and skirt I made with an formal dirndl bodice in black silk that I found in a mountain town in Austria (see picture). Or I’ll wear a store-bought Edwardian striped skirt with a middy blouse and bolero jacket I made. With both I’ll wear my Timberland buckled boots, which have the advantage of being comfortable, practical, and stylish. One must, after all, be able to dance as well as shoot in any ensemble one wears!
ITA Award® winning author and Christy finalist Shelley Adina wrote her first novel when she was 13. It was rejected by the literary publisher to whom she sent it, but he did say she knew how to tell a story. That was enough to keep her going through the rest of her adolescence, a career, a move to another country, a B.S. in Literature, an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction, and countless manuscript pages.
Shelley is a world traveler who loves to imagine what might have been. Between books, Shelley loves playing the piano and Celtic harp, making period costumes, and spoiling her flock of rescued chickens.