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

Updated on November 21, 2019
rainsanmartin profile image

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

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, 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

Steam Punk group
Steam Punk group | Source

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.


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.


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 | Source

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!

Questions & Answers

    © 2013 Rain San Martin


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • rainsanmartin profile imageAUTHOR

        Rain San Martin 

        13 months ago from Fort Wayne

        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.

      • profile image


        13 months ago from Olde London Towne

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

      • profile image


        13 months ago from Olde London Towne

        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 !

      • profile image


        14 months ago from Olde London Towne

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

        More to follow .

      • profile image


        14 months ago from Olde London Towne

        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 !

      • rainsanmartin profile imageAUTHOR

        Rain San Martin 

        2 years ago from Fort Wayne

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

      • rainsanmartin profile imageAUTHOR

        Rain San Martin 

        3 years ago from Fort Wayne

        That sounds like so much fun!

      • Linda VanDeusen profile image

        Linda VanDeusen 

        3 years 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 imageAUTHOR

        Rain San Martin 

        5 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.

      • rainsanmartin profile imageAUTHOR

        Rain San Martin 

        5 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 

        5 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 imageAUTHOR

        Rain San Martin 

        6 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 

        6 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 imageAUTHOR

        Rain San Martin 

        6 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


        6 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.


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, bellatory.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)