What is Steampunk? Exploring the 19th Century Science Fiction Lifestyle

Updated on October 10, 2017
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I'm a YouTuber, composer, photographer, writer, and homemaker. Living in Fort Wayne, IN with my husband, Sage, and two children.

Asian Steampunk Lady
Asian Steampunk Lady | Source

What the Heck is Steampunk?

Set in an alternative history of 19th century Britain or the American pioneer days, the retro future lifestyle plays out the post apocalyptic world of HG wells and Jules Vern. According to Wikipedia, the term Steampunk was first used in 1987.

Steampunk has been described by others as, what the past would look like if the future had happened sooner. An alternate timeline in history if the industrial revolution had not happened. Handmade wears and gadgets with attention to detail, as opposed to products mass produced in assembly lines.

The following quote from Wikipedia explains much of the design goals.

"Steampunk design emphasizes a balance between the form and function.Like the arts and crafts movement, this blurs the line between tool and decoration. Various modern utilitarian objects have been modified by enthusiasts into a pseudo-Victorian mechanical "steampunk" style. Example objects include computer keyboards and electric guitars. The goal of such redesigns is to employ appropriate materials (such as polished brass, iron, wood, and leather) with design elements and craftsmanship consistent with the Victorian era, rejecting the aesthetic of industrial design."

But in the article: Steampunk: A Present-Day Way of Life, Not Solely Anachronistic Fashion, the best case was made for the Steampunk lifestyle. Sometimes you have to go back to go forward. As time has progressed, there has been a more lackadaisical attitude toward speech, writing, manners, and the craftsmanship of clothing and other objects. We have had more tendencies to live the disposable lifestyle, marching through our days in a mindless hurried frenzy.

How to Live Steampunk 24/7- A Day In the Life of a Die-Hard Steampunk


You wake with the sunrise at 5:30am. Walk into your kitchen to boil a kettle of water over the gas stove for your french pressed coffee. You read the news from the morning paper, yet catch a glimpse of the headlines while checking your email in your laptop which is ensconced in Steam-punk intrinsic design. The steampunk culture allows for modern technology as long as it's disguised with ornate 19th century design.

Getting ready for work you put on a late 1800's inspired earth toned suit. Piecing together nice brown slacks, vest, dress shirt, and polished tan shoes (This ensemble can be adapted for a male for female). Your ornate pocket watch allows you to express your steampunk style without human resources having to pull you aside for a chat, which is why you left your goggle in your bag. But you don't assume your co-workers aren't having a laugh. You know that having style this refined and unique from the social norms gives you a creative edge on life. You entertain yourself as your eccentricity's bewilder those around you.

Mid Morning:

In the break room you pull out your copy of SteamPunk Magazine, further deepening your reputation as a complete freak, out from your leather messenger bag. Yes you have a laptop, but no need to pull it out just now. You'll be the one laughing as you deposit your first check from Etsy.com as a Steampunk ring vendor.

Afternoon / Transportation

You get ready for your ride home on an old fashioned bicycle, equipped with trumpet style brass horns, several large clocks and an over-sized compass. You made a DYI helmet, and finish your look with goggle sunglasses. As you ride a few kids yell "look at that weirdo" as you pedal on, yet nothing detours you. Vision's of grand inventions swim in your imagination, if only there were more people whom you could share your passion with. Goodness me, that is what the fair is for!

When you arrive home you unwind with a light dinner as you consider acquiring brass binoculars from Steampunkemporium.com for The Steampunk World's Fair.


You read Tesla Coil Design by the flicker of a gas lamp, gathering ideas on how to build Tesla Coil inspired jewelry. You jot a few notes in your leather bound journal.

Steam Punk group
Steam Punk group | Source

Steampunk Fashion at a Glance

19th century brown sepia toned:

  • Vest for him
  • Corsets for her
  • Pocket watches
  • Detailed jewelry with gears
  • Goggles
  • Granny boots for her
  • Boots for him
  • Old west guns
  • Suspenders and braces (for him)
  • Articulated folding brass monocular
  • Brass binoculars

Steampunk Clothing

The mainstream appeal of Steampunk is it's aesthetics. It's gives niche followers an outlet to live out their creativity within the confines of the Victorian Era, mechanical craftsmanship, Tesla electrical technology, and steam engine design. The hues are most often brown, black, brass & tan, like an old sepia toned photograph. Some say Steampunk fashion will be the next big trend.

A typical Steampunk outfit for a man would be tan pants, a fundamental work shirt in cream, and sable trousers held up with leather buckle suspenders. A vest is imperative to give it that 19th century look, accented with a mechanical pocket watch. As you see, if only these items were worn you would have the makings for a Victorian era reenactment ensemble. But we need to go to the next level to make it look decidedly Steampunk. Throw in a little mad scientist into the scene and your on your way. How about a working Tesla lamp hat, now we're talking!

Steampunk Fashion-Building a Costume

Steampunk Gadgets

Some niche artisans specialize in Steampunk design. It's not imperative the object functions, as aesthetic design is the chief goal. One Steampunk lifestyler buys parts to encase his modern day laptop.

In the article, "WHAT'S WITH STEAMPUNK?" the author states:

"Steampunk is like cyberpunk's retro cousin. Its art, fashion and trinkets are lavishly anachronistic, like what you might find on the submarine in Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea".... Old clocks, gas lamps, dirigibles, submersibles, goggles, helmets, compasses and small machines are common items produced by its artists, usually made with brass, mahogany, leather and rivets. Steampunk inventions don't always work; aesthetic often trumps function."

Make: Steampunk Aesthetic and Design with Jake Von Slatt

A Day In the Life of a Steampunk

Here are a few excerpts of one Steampunks "average work day" on the Steampunk Forum at Brass Goggles:

" 6.25am - Make sandwiches for luncheon.

06.30am - Check for messages on the aethernet.

07.10am - Fire up my horseless contraption "Ellen" for the journey to my place of employment.

07.25am - Clock in and begin the days employment, constructing Electric lamps.

10.15am - Morning beverage break and general chat with the "chaps".

6.00pm - Cook a delicious supper and eat it all up "like a good boy!"

6.30pm - Clear away the dishes and wash up.

6.45pm - Back to the aethernet.

9.30pm - Time for coco. "

Steampunk Fairs, Events and Gatherings

What's a Steampunk fashion enthusiast to do once they have pieced together a detailed ensemble? Well go to a fair of course!

Steampunk Movie's

What makes a film Steampunk? Basically it follows the rules of technology. If electronic computers and Star Trek style technology are present, it would not qualify. Look for mechanical machines & steam operated devices. Listen for the sounds of gears turning, steam blowing & electricity buzzing. Watch for mad scientists, people dressed in Victorian clothes where some kind of invention is the center of the plot.

Steampunk Wikia has a page with steampunk films including:

Metropolis (1927)

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

The Time Machine (1960)

Young Frankenstein (1974)

Return to Oz

Labyrinth (1986)

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)

Back To The Future 3 (1990)

Edward Scissor Hands

The Rocketeer (1991)

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Around the World in 80 Days (2004)

The Golden Compass

 Steam Punk Man
Steam Punk Man | Source

© 2013 Rain San Martin


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    • rainsanmartin profile image

      Rain San Martin 6 weeks ago from Fort Wayne

      Yes, it has been said that it inspired the part of the Steampunk movement.

    • profile image

      Gadfly 2 months ago from Olde London Towne

      Though not in the 'steampunk' genre, i do regard Captain Nemo and his submarine the Nautilaus in Jules Verne's 20,000 leagues under the sea to be classic 'steampunk'!

      Check it out.

    • rainsanmartin profile image

      Rain San Martin 16 months ago from Fort Wayne

      That sounds like so much fun!

    • Linda VanDeusen profile image

      Linda VanDeusen 16 months ago

      I just recently discovered steampunk and I am enjoying it immensely as I learn. I have made an "alternate" me as Madame VanDeusen. I made a facebook page on steampunk as well.

      I always felt out-of-place in "modern" society. I feel like I belong somewhere in the 1950's or earlier. I love the Victorian period with all it's romantic ideals (and yes, I know life was not romantic by any means). It's just the idea of something different that appeals to me.

      I hope to make some new friends as I journey through this. This is something uniquely me that I can solely enjoy. :)

    • rainsanmartin profile image

      Rain San Martin 3 years ago from Fort Wayne

      Gadfly, Thankyou for adding to the list of Steampunk films. May you enjoy your observations of life as you journey through London's fogbound alleys and underground tunnels.

    • profile image

      Gadfly 3 years ago from Olde London Towne

      Greetings my little Darklings!

      Might i add to to the list of films in this genre

      'The Assassination Bureau Ltd' by Jack London

      and released in the 1960s as the Assassination Bureau.

      English actress Dame Diana Rigg portrays Sonia d'Winter

      Oxford graduate, journalist and also a Suffragist.

      Setting is 1914 and has anarchists, zepplins, ladies fashions

      ot the Edwardian era (bustle & whalebone corsetry) and the

      mythical country of Ruthenia.

      keep the faith


    • rainsanmartin profile image

      Rain San Martin 3 years ago from Fort Wayne

      Mother Ninja, I was fortunate enough to experience my first Steampunk store at the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Wisconsin, USA, just over a week ago. It was the highlight of our trip. I also noted many vendors had a least one Steampunk item in their Renaissance shop, even though it is set in a fictional late 1800's time era.

    • MotherNinja profile image

      Sarah Cumlin 3 years ago from United Kingdom

      Excellent article, I enjoyed it immensely.

      I love the steampunk aesthetic and your hub is very informative, thank you.

    • rainsanmartin profile image

      Rain San Martin 3 years ago from Fort Wayne

      Your friend said it succinctly. It was only recently that I learned more about the lifestyle involving Victorian aesthetics merged with steam and Tesla technology.

    • Earl Noah Bernsby profile image

      Earl Noah Bernsby 3 years ago from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

      I love Steampunk! I remember playing Final Fantasy VII in 1997 or so, and thinking: "Wow! They really have a cool design idea for this game!"

      It wasn't until later on that I learned of the broader Steampunk themes that were incorporated into the game, and of the actual genre as a whole. A friend at a job I was working described it to me thus: "With Steampunk, everything is powered by steam, fire, combustion, etc. There are no circuit-boards, or really any type of computer technology as we understand the concept. Everything is machine-powered, with pedals, pipes, levers, and/or gears."

      I enjoyed reading your Hub, rainsanmartin!

    • rainsanmartin profile image

      Rain San Martin 4 years ago from Fort Wayne

      It's certainly a more refined look, and there is plenty of room for personal expression. You can look classy or geeky.

    • trailrunner7 profile image

      trailrunner7 4 years ago

      Never heard of Steampunk! I had no idea there were so many sub cultures out there. It's an attractive look and and I do see the appeal.