What is Steampunk?
Considered a subgenre of science fiction/fantasy, steampunk takes its inspiration from the steam-powered machinery of the 19th century industrial movement by utilizing the technology and aesthetics from the era. Steampunk often is depicted during the British Victorian era, the Wild West of Americana, and sometimes post-apocalyptic or dystopian futures, which is sometimes referred to as neo-Victorian.
The steampunk aesthetic was conceived by people during the 19th century that turned their theories on the future of fashion, architecture, culture into a unique perspective. Notable names featured from the steampunk movement include H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Stephen Hunt. The genre also incorporates distinct elements of horror, historical fiction, fantasy, and other branches of fiction, with many referring to it as a hybrid genre. The first known reference of the term was 1987 and there are many fine art pieces that have been credited to the genre, including Remedios Varo’s paintings, which merge Victorian fashion and fantasy imagery.
Steampunk first appeared in written works in modern times with Paul Di Filippo’s 1995 Steampunk Trilogy, which incorporated a fantasy setting where Queen Victoria was reimagined as a human clone. In films, Walt Disney is often credited with incorporating the genre into several productions, including 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Time Machine, and in several of their current theme parks: Tokyo’s Disney Sea, and Disneyland Paris’ Discoveryland. In architecture, France features aspects of steampunk in their Parisian metro station – the ‘Arts et Metiers’ is renown for its steampunk aesthetic.
Steampunk in Fashion
In the fashion world, the steampunk aesthetic has no general rules but generally incorporates style guidelines used during the Victorian era, including corsets, waistcoats, bustles, top hats, and military ensembles. In modern times, steampunk has evolved to include technological accessories such as cell phones, flying goggles, ray guns, gas masks, and other advancements of the 21st century. The Lolita look, goth subculture, and high-end couture all have elements of steampunk featured and several major fashion brands (Christian Dior, Prada, Versace, Chanel) have introduced the look on their runway collections.
In the music world, steampunk has a broad definition and encompasses several genres of music, including folk rock, opera, hip hop, EDM, and big band music. One of the common themes musically is mixing in classic Victoria sounds and elements from the 19th century.
The fantasy aspects of steampunk have elevated with the advances in technology and are fully represented in computer games, with Skies of Arcadia, and the wildly popular World of Warcraft creating societies and spawning trends that have been adopted and embraced worldwide. These hypothetical futures are considered hallmarks of steampunk and represent the ever-evolving sub genres of steampunk in the modern world.
As it grows in popularity, the steampunk movement has evolved into a lifestyle adopted by many adults and encompasses the fashion, architecture, and other aspects associated with it. At its best, steampunk is considered a combination of Victorian aesthetics and modern technological advances.