Over the years, we have had the opportunity to work on projects that cross over into the steampunk genre, blending historical Victorian (and sometimes Edwardian) fashion elements with the purely fantastical. Along the way, we have often been asked “just what exactly is steampunk”? It’s not an easy question to answer and while there are, no doubt, many valid answers, below is our take on the genre.
To begin, we have found the following definitions to be useful:
A subgenre of science fiction and sometimes fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th Century industrial steam-powered machinery.
A subgenre of speculative fiction usually set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history setting. Basically, what the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.
For our purposes, both of the above definitions pretty much covers it; simply put, it’s about a future that never was. Because steampunk’s literary origins stemmed from the cyberpunk genre, steampunk is often set in an alternative history of 19th Century Britain during Queen Victoria’s reign, the American Wild West (which itself has, at least in part, given rise to another subgenre known as “weird west”), or some sort of post-apocalyptic future in which steam power has become a central feature. This list is by no means exhaustive and various authors have pushed the genre in various new directions. In explaining steampunk to people, we have found it most useful to refer to Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or HG Wells’ The Time Machine, both which have been made into several movie versions and are readily accessible.
In terms of costuming, styles range widely from historically-based Victorian Era clothing with little suggest anything that’s specifically “steampunk” per se to costumes that are a mix of fatastical and Victorian elements. Also, many costumes are intended to portray a specific movie or literary character or simply a character that the individual wearer created. There are no “rules” per se but there does appear to be several conventions that show up often.
One of the most notable style conventions is to wear googles or some other type of eyewear and it’s almost de rigour (although some people are now avoiding this style due to overexposure or simply because they feel that it’s become too cliche). The choice of color palette tends towards the sepia and the darker earth tones to include various sepia and tan/earth/brown shades which fits in with the dark film noir feel that’s characteristic of much of steampunk and reflects the genre’s connection to cyberpunk. At the same time however, there are those who wish to break away from the confines of the somewhat steriotypical sepia and dark colors and there has been a recent push towards brighter colors to include jewel tones and the like. While the darker colors have not gone away, there has been a trend towards using an expanded color palette.
Below are a few examples of steampunk fashion:
As you can see from just the small selection above, there’s quite a variety of styles that are used and they’ve been modified to suit the taste of the individual. But interestingly enough, while steampunk draws heavily on Victorian Britain, there are other interpretations that take the genre in diverse directions:
An Indian take on steampunk…
And another “Indian” take on the subject…actually, Native American… 🙂
The above is only a small sampling but it’s obvious that steampunk draws on a number of influences that are only limited by the participants’ imaginations. 🙂
So, in the end, we applaud the amazing diversity that this genre has given rise to and we look forward to seeing more in the future.