How steampunk got its name
Having slowly and steadily worked its way into pop culture over the last several years steampunk has now firmly established itself as a concept which includes both fiction and fashion, and for the most devoted fans, general lifestyle. It’s strange then to think that the term itself was first coined back in the 1980s as a kind of joke.
Science fiction author K.W. Jeter started it all by raising the point that writers like himself and his peers – who usually set their fantasy based stories in Victorian Britain, and leaned heavily on grand masters like Jules Verne for inspiration – surely deserved their own, clearly labeled subculture. After all, he pointed out, if those producing sci-fi fiction set in a tech-heavy future were classed as ‘cyberpunk’ writers, perhaps those who worked with 19th century innovations such as steam could be known as ‘steam-punks’?
Jeter may have engineered the term which quickly came to represent a thriving sub gene of mainstream science fiction novels, but neither he nor his contemporaries producing similar work ever claimed to have invented the actual concept of steampunk. Throughout the 1960s and ‘70s there were plenty of others publishing fiction which drew on both sheer fantasy and re-interpreted history, exaggeration, and steam powered technology. However, it cannot be denied that Jeter’s playful, possibly flippant challenge to the artistic world brought steampunk, and all it stood for, to the attention of mainstream culture in a way it may not have been able to otherwise.
Why is steampunk so popular?
There’s no one clear answer to this question, but a few of the possible reasons for the continuing growth in interest in a steampunk lifestyle are:
- It lets your creative streak go crazy as you mash up your favourite aspects of modern and historic life.
- Steampunk is all about expressing your individuality, so the guidelines are fluid and supportive rather than restrictive and constraining.
- The general setting is of a more peaceful, less fraught, more straightforward world, one where the discovery of amazing new things like steam was exciting and triggered gain and growth. This can compare badly to modern day innovation which is more focused on individualism and personal gain. More and more younger people are growing disillusioned with pressures to strive and consume at top speed; craving instead to hark back to a period when simpler things had value, and advances where something to marvel at rather than instantly dismiss in the search for whatever could push things further.
- Steampunk resists definitive categorizing – which basically means fans can adopt one of many thousands of approaches to it, and identities within it. It bursts boundaries beyond sci-fi. Make it horror, or romance, wild-west or Indiana Jones – the key features lend themselves to pretty much anything.
- Steampunk creations are visually appealing. From transparent machines displaying their working innards to more solid creations pimped up with all kinds of mechanical and decorative additions, there’s something earthy and exciting about these things, and shiny, steel, minimalist and futuristic machinery will never be able to compete.
- Steampunk crosses global boundaries – uniting fans and enthusiasts from all around the world who collaborate on everything from design and invention to stories. The fluidness of this sub-genre allows people to take an create whatever suits their city, background or interests and still create something legitimate.
- Finally – for many people steampunk provides a voice to depict and challenge inequalities between people based on income – after all, the Victorian era had very clear class divisions – and to embrace a more green approach to life by both recycling old items to create costumes and accessories, and appreciating the value of things which were made to last.
Breaking down boundaries – the growth of steampunk fashion
Full on steampunk outfits
It’s no surprise that typical steampunk clothing draws on popular Victorian fashion styles. Think floor length skirts and either frilly high necked blouses or laced bodice tops for women, all underpinned by corsets to pull in the waist. Men, on the other hand choose between top hats and frock coats, safari suits and waistcoats, always formal and well put together. Most fans will customize these pieces with a range of item such as cogs, time pieces and buckles they have salvaged from various sources.
As these outfits are so distinctive they tend to be saved for specialist festivals and get together. However, aspects of steampunk fashion are now appearing more often in more regular, everyday clothing items, along with accessories which are a great way to combine your interest in the genre with more wearable items.
Wearable steampunk clothes and accessories
For everyday clothing it’s more about adding a hint of steampunk inspired design than full on Victoriana (or wild west gear if that is the strand you favour). Look out for items such as leggings with bold and quirky designs, lacy blouses with modest necklines, dresses with petticoats and sumptuous bustiers and corsets which are so gorgeous they can often be used as both outer and inner wear.
No outfit would be complete without a few accessories, and both men and women will find plenty to choose from, like lovely antique fob watches and other time pieces, Victorian style jewelery, and amazing steampunk inspired sunglasses.
Steampunk can only become more and more popular as the years roll on, and people become more dissatisfied with throw away consumerism and clinical advances in technology. The waves of affectionate nostalgia for both the fashions and achievements of a bygone era are showing no signs of being a mere flash in the pan.