With steampunk being hailed as the next big thing in several media (yet again) it seems like a good moment for a post like this, to give out some information to people interested in the movement but not yet part of it.
Steampunk is a subculture that has skirted on the edges of mainstream for years, sometimes in the media as the current hype, sometimes a fringe movement, yet always present in literature, cinematography, fashion, lifestyle, all kinds of games ranging from computer games, board games to roleplaying games etc.
Defining steampunk is probably the hardest part of the movement due to its immense diversity. You may very well find that in a group of just a handful of steampunks opinions on what exactly IS steampunk may differ, sometimes quite radically as is to be expected from a subculture where there’s very little in the way of rules and even those are more like guidelines anyway, and despite of this these steampunks still get along smashingly. So instead of giving my opinion, I will tell you the things, the basics if you will, that most everyone can agree on.
Steampunk is a retrofuturistic style in nature, based on a future past that never was, because things simply didn’t evolve throughout history the way steampunks would have liked. So they make them up ourselves, resulting in stories where the Victorian Age is different, never ended and so much more, movies full of marvellous machinery (think Wild Wild West, Hugo, Treasure Planet or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to name but a few). Steampunk largely takes its basis from, as you probably already guessed, the age of steam, it has nothing further to do with the punk movement, let’s be clear on that. History wise this ranges from the late Regency when the rise of the industrial revolution started, throughout the Victorian Age and into the Belle Epoch (Edwardian era), stopping just shy of the start of the gay twenties where flappers and gangsters take over and steam turns into diesel and steampunk into dieselpunk.
They take the things from that era which they love: adventure, exploration, science and fuel it with their imagination, resulting in new things ranging from fashion to home décor, movies, games and stories.
Famous for its sepia photography, bustle skirts and splendid suits reminiscent of the days that Queen Victoria ruled the empire are the images mostly associated with steampunk, alongside goggles and gears. And whilst it is true that steampunk fashion is mostly sepia, earth tones and Victoriana, colour and other eras can be used as accessories and silhouette are the things that make the outfit rather than browns.
Fashion is probably exactly where the aforementioned diversity becomes abundantly clear: ranging from Victorian aristocrats, explorers, steampunk samurai, (sky) pirates, weird west prospectors and pioneers, aviators taking to the skies in their experimental flying machines, (mad) scientists, the list goes and the possibilities are endless. It’s like that with anything within steampunk, not just fashion. Or to say it with the words of Jules Verne, one of the grandfathers of science-fiction and steampunk: all that can be imagined can and must become reality.
This group shot taken at the first edition of Emporium Vernesque, a Dutch steampunk convention, nicely illustrates the diversity in steampunk fashion.
Should you want to find out more about this awesome subculture then go and browse this blog and read our issues of The Gatehouse Gazette, they’re full of good information. And if you have questions you would like to see answered, either leave a comment or join The Smoking Lounge forum and ask there.