For the uninitiated, Steampunk might sound like a new band — or perhaps a hip clothing brand.
But the notion of Steampunk has been around since 1979, when Morlock Night author K. W. Jeter used the term to describe a speculative fiction genre where steam drove technology.
“Steampunk involves the speculation of alternative history — a ‘what if’ attitude, where the technological advances do not occur along the historical timeline we know. Rather, they progressed along a timeline where steam, Tesla's experiments and inventions, and the speculations of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells become manifest and determine the future,” says David Manning, owner of the Steampunk website Melancholy Romantic.
THE STEAMPUNK CULTURE
A relatively new cultural phenomenon, Steampunk is rooted in the respect for — and adherence to — Victorian values and craftsmanship.
“As a whole, I find a spirit of innovation, creative invention, and a high standard of individual creative values [in Steampunk creations]. This is what I would term the Steampunk Aesthetic,” Manning says.
He adds that Steampunk attire, gadgets, and jewelry cannot only serve their intended functions — they must also look beautiful.
“I have found that the people who are the Steampunk community possess social values similar to Victorian ones, which include politeness and a sense of decorum,” he says.
Steampunk also encourages a do-it-yourself attitude, according to Manning.
“[Today], one finds very little originality and much similarity in what is produced both commercially and artistically. Individual creativity is quite apparent within Steampunk, especially in the gadgets and gear [that are frequently displayed] at Steampunk conventions and on many Steampunk websites and blogs,” Manning says.
Manning believes that “what if” thinking leads Steampunk artists to push the boundaries of creativity and individuality, especially when it comes to fashion.
“There are no set rules, but one can look at an outfit and know that it fits within the term Steampunk by certain factors, such as aspects of Victorian styling, certain accessories which have become associated with the culture, and an
outfit's general overall feel,” Manning says.
Manning believes that Steampunk has the potential to create interesting waves in women’s fashion.
“The alternative history aspect of Steampunk involves women who are scientifically intelligent and gifted, action-oriented, and innovators and inventors,” he says.
In Steampunk, women work as heads of state, airship captains, pirate captains, scientists, inventors, explorers, and mechanical engineers.
“Many styles coming out of Steampunk women's clothing display an aura of being ready to take on the world [without] losing the feminine [feel],” Manning says.
Other fashion trends within Steampunk include corsets, long skirts, leather armor, leather accessories, and various brass and metal gadgets.
“Much of the jewelry created around Steampunk and Neo-Victorian themes has a high standard of craftsmanship, as well. Attention to detail and materials with highly decorative Victorian motifs abound,” Manning adds.
Steampunk has made a name for itself on etsy.com, a site specializing in homemade and vintage items. Over 117,000 Steampunk items were listed during a recent search — featuring everything from a dragonfly bracelet to a mermaid corset.
THE STEAMPUNK EXPERIENCE
Sean Purucker, a costume fabricator at Le Chef Costumier, recently attended a Steampunk masquerade ball in Los Angeles.
“[The Steampunk style] has a look that, even though it resembles a few other looks, you definitely can tell what it is,” he states.
Purucker, who in 2005 earned an Associate of Applied Arts degree in Fashion Design from The Art Institute of Seattle, describes Steampunk as a blend of historical, period piece, industrial, gothic, and rustic futuristic looks.
“If you combine Queen Victoria with Darth Vader and then oxidize the result, Steampunk will be the product,” he quips.
Purucker believes that Steampunk fashion is still a niche market, but acknowledges his appreciation for particular elements of the style.
“I don't know if you will [see a] person walking down the street totally decked out head to toe in Steampunk fashion, but parts and pieces, [such as] boots, gloves, jewelry, clothing, and backpacks can add touches of flair to an outfit,” he says.
Like Purucker, Manning believes that the key elements of the Steampunk experience are creativity and invention — and the questions that evolve from looking at “what if” scenarios.
“It throws us back to that initial surge of the Industrial Age which brought us to where we are. By its mere existence, Steampunk poses the question: what if we had done things differently, where would we be now?” Manning concludes.
Written by freelance talent for Ai InSite
Contributing writer for EDMC.