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What Is Steampunk? (Exploring the 19th Century Sci-Fi Lifestyle)

Philosophical writer and YouTube creator covering the topics of simplicity, homemaking, and the romantic vintage lifestyle.

What the Heck is Steampunk?

Set in an alternative history of 19th-century Britain or the American pioneer days, this retro future lifestyle plays out the post-apocalyptic world of HG Wells and Jules Verne. 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, and handmade wares 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 is 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.

All About Steampunk

In this article, we'll look at:

  1. Fashion and clothing
  2. Lifestyle and typical days in the life of a steampunk
  3. Gadgets and movies that fit with the culture and aesthetic
  4. Links and information on events and gatherings

Steampunk Clothing

The mainstream appeal of steampunk is its aesthetic. It 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 you're on your way. How about a working Tesla lamp hat, now we're talking!

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 Fashion-Building a Costume

How to Live Steampunk 24/7

Let's look at a typical day in the life of a die-hard steampunk:

Early Morning

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 / Commute

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.

Evening

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.

A Day In the Life of a Steampunk

Here are a few excerpts of one steampunk's "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."

Make: Steampunk Aesthetic and Design with Jake Von Slatt

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."

Steampunk Movies

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 Scissorhands
  • The Rocketeer (1991)
  • Sleepy Hollow (1999)
  • Around the World in 80 Days (2004)
  • The Golden Compass
 Steam Punk Man

Steam Punk Man

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!

© 2013 Rain San Martin

Comments

Rain San Martin (author) from Fort Wayne on April 18, 2019:

Sherlock Holmes is one of my all time favorite works, so I am certainly a fan of Author Arthur Conan Doyle! I have to research A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Gadfly from Olde London Towne on April 13, 2019:

ERROR; for two sisters 'read' two young cousins. For additional info, check out League of Extrordinary Gentlemen. Black dossier.

Gadfly from Olde London Towne on April 13, 2019:

Sir A. Conan - Doyle who endorsed the (what prooved to be a hoax) photo's

of the Cottingly fairies observed by two sisters, circa 1917. Well, there was a war at the time and previously for propaganda purposes, during a retreat

many ghostly soldiers appeared in the clouds. This inspired the troops to stand and fight. What has this to do with steampunk? Conan - Doyle was in the League of extraordinary gentlemen, very steampunkish !

Gadfly from Olde London Towne on April 09, 2019:

ERROR; should read pterodactyl, Darklings. And the reason for commenting on the 'steampunk' topic. To start a 'steampunk' thread !

More to follow .

Gadfly from Olde London Towne on April 08, 2019:

Greetings my little Darklings.

In Sir A. Connon Doyle's 'Lost World' Professor Challenger proudly states having seen his first living pteradactyle.

Be very afraid !

Rain San Martin (author) from Fort Wayne on October 31, 2017:

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

Rain San Martin (author) from Fort Wayne on August 11, 2016:

That sounds like so much fun!

Linda VanDeusen on August 10, 2016:

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. :)

Rain San Martin (author) from Fort Wayne on September 15, 2014:

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.

Rain San Martin (author) from Fort Wayne on August 19, 2014:

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.

Sarah Cumlin from United Kingdom on July 20, 2014:

Excellent article, I enjoyed it immensely.

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

Rain San Martin (author) from Fort Wayne on January 31, 2014:

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 from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on January 30, 2014:

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!

Rain San Martin (author) from Fort Wayne on October 25, 2013:

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

trailrunner7 on October 25, 2013:

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.

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