The Style Edition

This entry is part 7 of 12 in the series Meanwhile..

Man, you know everyone on earth gets their fifteen minutes of fame when even lowly cartoonists get interviews.  My Deep Thoughts on steampunk and the universe, over at!

I make one extremely contraversial statement in that interview that is bound to set off a firestorm.  That is:  the fashion of the 1830s is hideous. Here at 2dgoggles we pride ourselves on our strict historical accuracy on all points save one.  And on that one point, I feel myself entirely justified.  There is just no way I’m going to draw clothes like these:


As you can see from the following chart, the comic unfortunately coincides with the absolute nadir of western fashion in the last 500 years.. what are the odds!  Babbage, seriously, you’re a statistician– what are the odds??!  Ghastly proportions, nasty pointless detail, huge lapels.. I swear to god, it wants only polyester.


Further proof:  spot the point at which fashion FALLS OFF A CLIFF (Alfred Roller drawings courtesy of Wikimedia):


I’m doing what I can to keep the clothes bearable.  This means going for a generic-olde-fashioned-dress for lovelace, with a vague nod to the bizarre lozenge-shape bodices.  No power on earth can save the men’s jackets of this period but anyone can look good in a poofy shirt and a waistcoat (can we bring those back?  because they’re stylin’).


Mind you, much of the time I’m just going to have to throw everything out the window and put Lovelace in trousers, not only because she would totally have worn them if given half a chance, but as Marian Halcombe puts it in “The Woman in White”- “In my ordinary evening costume I took up the room of three men at least.”

Yeah, no kidding, Wilkie Collins.   You try composing a comic panel with three women having a conversation in skirts five feet in diameter.  By the way– it seems like everybody knew everybody else in Victorian England, but sadly there is only the slimmest of connections between Wilkie Collins and Ada Lovelace– his father met her once and described her as delightful and simple-minded.  It’s a shame they never met as I have a feeling they would have gotten on like a HOUSE ON FIRE.

We do have some info on both Babbage and Lovelace’s dress sense: in true geek fashion, it seems to have been terrible.  Sources:

Babbage: the waistcoast story. I darkly suspect Babbage would have been a Hawaiian-shirt-wearer.. not to throw a cloud over his memory or anything.

Ada Lovelace: awkward, badly dressed geek.  -this is a recollection of Lovelace’s visit to her father’s old estate the year before she died;   it is typical of her in this anectode that she goes through two entirely different personalities in the course of three days (speaking of clouds over memory, I should say that the actual extent of Ada’s racing losses were around 3000 pounds, as far as scholarship can determine.).  There are surprisingly few contemporary descriptions of her; see seems to have been rather reclusive.  You can see everything I’ve found regarding her from the period online here (the entire list of my primary sources is here).  From “bouyant and hearty” to “melancholic” to “haughty and arrogant” or was she “without an atom of pride”?   “She had, indeed, a most variable personality”, wrote her first biographer Doris Langley Moore.. indeed!

Anyways, doodling away on “The Organist” but won’t make any promises as to time.. Giant Monsters being what they are and all.  In the meantime, any nagging questions re the comic, I’ll make this an ‘any questions’ post.

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  1. Nancy F on September 26, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I loathe the “Bo Peep” look. Things start to go right again in the 1840s, then go crazy in the 60s, then…well, you get the picture. Menswear just died a horrible death in the 1860s and never really recovered. It had a brief re-flowering in the 1890s, then started down the scree of baggy awfullness again.


  2. Mouse Borg on September 23, 2013 at 11:40 pm

    I agree that the women’s dresses were extremely hideous in the 1830’s, but I really like the men’s clothes. All except those awful stirrup pants, they should have stuck with knee breeches and stockings.
    Admittedly the 30’s men don’t look quite as fabulous as those of the preceding three decades, but they’re still awesome. I absolutely love big lapels.

    Thank you for the link to those fashion plates! Now I want to sew my own version of that lovely blue coat lined in black fur. It looks so warm.

  3. Kiyoshi on February 16, 2013 at 6:36 am

    I like the 1830’s. Now, I can’t say that all of the fashion plates and modern interpretations of those costumes look good, but there are a few really excellent (and not cringe worthy) renditions of 1830’s clothing.
    Someone above mentioned the movie Young Victoria. If there was any good example of 1830’s fashion, it was this movie. The dresses worn by young queen Victoria (at least, in the first half od the film) look excellent and not disproportionate at all.
    And there’s my two cents.

  4. Naomi Lazarus on April 22, 2010 at 1:15 am

    I’m a costume designer for theatre and film, and a fashion historian.

    And, you’re absolutely right. The 1830’s were rather horrific, fashion-wise. Fortunately, I’ve only had to design one show in that period ( Unfortunately, it was a drama, which provided a serious challenge, because when you dress someone in slope-shouldered poofy sleeves, it’s really hard not to laugh at them.

    I’ve been exploring designing some steam punk costumes, but have found it very hard to do. The traditional (by which I mean not your) female steam punk character seems to be dressed in her underwear (visible corsets and bustles over pantaloons, etc. Blech!). This is not something I’m terribly comfortable with. An alternate reality where people build steam-powered computers, and soar above church steeples in DaVinci-esque flying machines is perfectly rational to me. An alternate reality where women wander about in public in their underwear is just too far-fetched. Fortunately we can give great thanks to Amelia Bloomer and the “Rational Dress Movement” ( which introduced the concepts of split skirts and trousers for women. Although, since Mrs. Bloomer was only fifteen years old in 1833, I suspect Ada wouldn’t have been taking advantage of this fashion statement, and it never really went anywhere until after Bloomer’s death, in ’94. It really hit around 1850, where it received enormous mockery, tinged with enormous defensiveness, from men, and the press. (

    I, however, will take full advantage of the fact that “steampunk” can cover pretty much any period in the 19th Century, and dress my ladies in bloomers. Not Mrs. Bloomer’s bloomers, which are actually rather dorky harem pants, under a knee-length skirt, which puts regular 1830’s fashion to shame for sheer ridiculousness, but the smart jacket-and-breeches numbers ladies subsequently wore for cycling. But with goggles, and a toolbelt. And some gratuitous and purely decorative gears glued on, here and there. Sexy…. ;)

  5. Joanne Renaud on March 25, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    I’m really enjoying this comic, but I gotta say I do like 1830s fashion a lot. Yes, it is silly and ridiculous, but to me that’s what makes it fun to draw. Have you seen “The Young Victoria” or “Wives and Daughters”? There’s lots of fun ’30s costuming in both of them.

    My own take on 1830s fashion:

  6. David on March 4, 2010 at 4:00 am

    Lovely stuff, Sydney. I am now the proud owner of the Brunel shirt, which I intend to wear to job interviews, and my sweet geeky daughter (who found you on the web in the first place, after we had gone to see the Difference Engine at the local Computer History Museum) has the Difference Tubes shirt.

    As others have pointed out you have quite a few other images that would make terrific shirts and mugs. For example, your “Brunel, for no reason.” All it needs is a caption

    Caption contest! Maybe, “Where the hell is my Computer?”

    You have done just right in evading 1830’s fashion, and I must say Ada looks just right in trousers.

  7. Kit on January 22, 2010 at 7:10 am

    Fashion historian here, just saying that I agree. The 1830s are hideous. Except the giant lapels. I love those things, combined with a nice pleated frock coat that gives men an hourglass figure…as to men with hourglass figures, your mileage may vary. Women’s fashion really doesn’t get much worse, excepting the 1970s and ’80s. The loathsome shoulders and giant sleeves reappear in the 1890s, but at least they’re on rather austere dresses with balanced skirts.

  8. Sarah Kauthen on December 8, 2009 at 12:49 pm

  9. sydney on November 8, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Craig, Kobold, inconstant reader– noted. At some point I’ll get my act together and put up another tshirt or two..

    musiccaptain– how about puffed sleeves AND tartan trousers? Mmmm… 80s…

    paul– drawing? what drawing? that is a figment of your imagination..

    Carol- oh god, trust me to find the only person in the internet offended by an insensitive slam at 1830s fashion community. I’m a ‘she’ btw, and no fashion plate myself, not even an 1830s one.

    John- Ada’s looks got mixed reviews– I think she was one of those people whose looks vary greatly with their mood.

    Richard– ‘WTF?’ sums it up.. the only thing worse was that weird decade where women tried to make themselves look like pieces of furniture.

    Emily, Minivet- the difference is of course that Thackery is wrong and I am right about which was the more fabulous period.. though he has a point about the bonnets.

    Douglas– omigod, your steampunk tardis is AMAAAAAZING!!!!

    Smallpotato– although, Ada’s maid was better dressed than she was..

    RoseRed, Kirsten– corset flame war!!!! Was the recent Little Dorrit adaption set in the ’30s? I couldn’t quite place it. The only big costumer I can think of set in the 30s was the Pride and Prejudice with Greer Grason.. and I think they said they changed the period because the clothes were more ridiculous!

    Patron Vectras– I’m starting to think Babbage is from whence the crazy-inventor stereotype sprung…

    Bob Berman– goodness, thank you very very much!! I keep meaning to do things the proper way and write a script and then draw the comic… to date I seem to do a bunch of random drawings and then try to unite them with words. Couldn’t give you an exact production timeline.. the Oxford two-page comic, which is the only I’d consider really ‘done’, took about a week to draw. All the rest I do some drawing after work when I have the energy.. not really keeping track of the time though!

  10. Bob Berman on November 8, 2009 at 1:37 am

    Sydney, you’re a gem — a witty and talented cartoonist who brings at least a smile and often a guffah! Certainly Einstein might enjoy playing an anchronistic part in your saga, and please remember Richard Feynman a more recent Nobel physicist & joker. You also have the opportunity to include more of the contemporary Ada programming language. I second the referal to xkcd comics as a kindred soul — only stick figures w/o clothing, but geeky humor. Pi in the sky humor is very good. You haved fantastic artistic expression — how long does it take to draw a cartoon once you have the script?

    Many thanks from a 1960s era programmer.

  11. Patron Vectras on November 6, 2009 at 5:02 am

    Hawaiian shirts, eh?

    remind you of anyone?

    |Flux Capacitor| = |Difference Engine| ?
    those are encased in absolute value symbols, in case they do not survive the jump ;]

  12. Kirsten on November 4, 2009 at 7:36 am

    I… love you. That is all.

    Actually it’s not all. To the comment regarding corsets – they do too hurt! You get fitted for one, you gain some weight, and suddenly it’s like a pair of jeans that’s two sizes too small. :( And that hurts.

    Of course, if you stay the same size, there’s not that problem…. But who stays the same size, really?

  13. RoseRed on November 2, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    I heartily agree that the 1830’s fashion was one of the ugliest in costume history. I love 19th century fashion with the exception of that one era. I know many Dickenson theatrical performers and costume geeks and not ONE of them will wear the dress of the 1830’s! They always fudge it and go for the 1840’s even at times dipping into the 1850’s because, well—to be blunt, the 1840’s costume tends to make a girl look a bit “matronly.” Large drooping sleeves that expose the creamy shoulder are not considered as sexy as they once were. As for the 1830’s—why professional costumers don’t often use that period, even for movie adaptions of classic Dickens stories such as “A Christmas Carol,” is for a very simple reason. It’s a B*TCH to sew. The ruffles and the pleats and the ribbons are a colossal pain to stitch and the hours required to make it look right are ridiculous. Not to mention the sheer COST of such materials. And to add insult to injury you can stitch and pleat your little heart out, spend hundreds of dollars and STILL the miserable wearer of the finished design will–between the hideous top knot hair style and all those ribbons—resemble a shih tzu puppy. Ghastly.

    As for the corset comment in the above replies I’d like to lay to rest a myth once and for all—corsets do NOT hurt! If your corset is hurting you it is fitted incorrectly and you should complain to your corsetmaker immediately as a poorly fitted corset can indeed injure your health if laced tightly. Please see the link for the Romantasy website, a reputable corsetmaker which also offers waisttraining for those who are determined to have that perfect wasp waist.

  14. musiccaptain on October 31, 2009 at 3:06 am

    And one further comment on the ladies’ couture of the 1830s: pp-p-p-p-puffed sleeves!

  15. Inconstant Reader on October 30, 2009 at 12:21 am

    Another vote for “Let us crunch some numbers!”, preferably b/w “It shall be done by steam!”

    Oh, and this is possibly your best non-episode blog post ever. I adore your “fabulousness” graph.

  16. Smallpotato on October 29, 2009 at 10:16 am

    As for the fashion thing – in every era of time there will be people who follow the fashion religiously, who indeed *set* the fashion, and there will be people who simply a) don’t have the money (the poor will buy their clothes from second-hand, or even third- or fourth-hand clothes shops, which means that the poor will always look at least twenty years out of date. Clothes were made to last in those days :-) and b) who do have the money but are excentric or old enough to stick with the fashion they’re comfortable with.

    Seriously. Trust me, I’m a historian.

    The function of clothes is to keep you warm. The function of fashion is to conform and at the same time impress by standing out. The conformity is about ‘belonging to a group’ but within that group there will always be people who will dress differently, and sometimes those people will form a new fashion (Beau Brummel, Stephen Tennant, punk..) but there will also be people like Sybil Vimes, the richest woman in Ankh-Morpork who dresses in her granny’s old tweed skirts and sensible vests and puts on rubber boots to feed the dragons. (and there are a lot of ‘Sybils’ around – in fact, it is now a genuine fashion known as ‘British Country’)

  17. Douglas on October 29, 2009 at 1:05 am

    I read the article, so just let me say that…

    Not only is this the Greatest Comic in the Whole of the Known Universe ( and maybe even in a few I know nothing about ), it might also stand a very good chance of invoking the power of mathematics, and Quantum Comics Consciousness, to alter the past, and in so doing to change the present and future for the better! Seriously!

    Also, sent the letter off to Rosemarie, yesterday, and suggested that they might consider Bill Murray to play Babbage.

    And as far as 19th century fashion is concerned… well, an illustration I recall from my 1856 bound copy of “Fliegende Blatter”, showing a woman sitting in a public cafe with her chair propped up by supports to prevent her from toppling over, seems to say it all.

  18. Kaptain Kobold on October 28, 2009 at 5:45 am

    ““Let us crunch some numbers!” would make a good T-shirt for your store…”


    Along with ‘It Shall be Done By Steam’. I made my daughter a poster for her bedroom with those two panels next to each other, and that combination makes a great introduction to the characters.

    Now, personally, I think the 1830s frock Lovelace has on is really nice, but then we tranny geeks have never been famed for our dress-sense :-)

  19. Minivet on October 28, 2009 at 2:18 am

    Emily – I was about to provide a link to the exact same page (though on Google:! Oh, my pride.

  20. Emily on October 27, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Completely fabulously, W. M. Thackeray felt the same way about Regency clothing to the extent that he provided an illustrated footnote to Vanity Fair explaining exactly why he refused to dress his characters in those garments and insisted on dressing them in his contemporary era, the 1840s. The Victorian Web has a reproduction of his footnote illustration here:

  21. Richard on October 27, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    fashion FALLS OFF A CLIFF
    That, and the illustration, are just brilliant. Thank you. I like to think the figure turns towards us in disbelief, looking for sympathy. She’s going “you see this? No, I mean, WTFFFF?” She does it a bit in 1805, too – like “are you messing with me?” By 1860 she’s “I don’t want to talk about it” and 1877 is just heartbreaking – especially after she hurt her back getting corseted in 1868.

    Poor thing. Trowsers it is.

  22. John on October 27, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    The Babbage waistcoat story brings to mind not just Hawaiian shirts, but showing up to special events in the iconic powder-blue tuxedo. Although I can sympathize with the “no, I’m not going to change my clothes at lunchtime just to keep up with the times” attitude.

    Also, I think it’s a little bit interesting in the Ada story, in that it appears that “clothes made the woman.” I mean, we have pictures of her, and she was quite attractive. Yet her clothes are common, so she “was not beautiful.”

    As to the bit about being back at her father’s estate, I–sniff–hang on, it’s awfully dusty in here. Something’s caught in my eye…

  23. Carol on October 27, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    A person capable of writing the following: “… she would totally have worn them …” might profitably devote his energies to putting his own house in order before seeking to criticize, or even with all the good will in the world to improve, the dress habits and style of another.

  24. Paul on October 27, 2009 at 11:55 am

    Also, I don’t wish to be pedantic, but inevitably I must: You say “There is just no way I’m going to draw clothes like these:” followed by a drawing of some clothes. The quickest volte-face ever? :)

  25. Paul on October 27, 2009 at 11:50 am

    “lowly cartoonist”? You mean “creator of the greatest comic ever”!

  26. musiccaptain on October 27, 2009 at 4:49 am

    I had a pair of trousers like those in the early ’70s. Ah, those were the days–the Bay City Rollers and a’

  27. Ceridwen on October 27, 2009 at 1:50 am

    Those fashions are hideous! Badly proportioned – I’d hate to be a bride in 1834. And what was with those narrow, pointy feet in the drawings? Ugh, might as well have bound the feet.

    Am awaiting The Organist. Wish I could add “with bated breath” but school keeps on trying to intervene. It’ll be Monday and suddenly it’s Thursday. Is it because of the Giant Monsters?

    I’m all for the poofy shirts and waistcoats. I think you’ve salvaged the fashion of the times, at least in this little off-shoot anomaly.

  28. Craig Stuntz on October 27, 2009 at 1:17 am

    “Let us crunch some numbers!” would make a good T-shirt for your store…