What is Steampunk ? Definition, origin and illustration

In a broad sense, steampunk could be called a cultural movement. It combines the aesthetics and technology of the 19th century with futuristic elements. It is sometimes referred to as science fiction from the past or as retrofuture.

His literary and audiovisual works display very particular stylistic codes, mixing gears, cogs and other mechanical elements with raw materials like copper, steel and leather.

All technological developments are based on steam energy, giving a unique character to these creations.

The editorial staff of would like to share with you all its knowledge related to Steampunk, an intriguing, alternative fantasy universe with a real identity.

What is Steampunk, what is its literal definition and what is its exact origin? We will also see how this chronic genre, sometimes apocalyptic in some aspects, is expressed.

Make yourself comfortable and equip yourself with your mask dear vaporist… The vapor that emanates from this 100% Steampunk item might be heavy 🧐

What is the Steampunk genre and what is its origin?

Although the fundamental inspirations of steampunk go back to the Victorian writers of the 19th century, to the founders of science fiction, such as H.G. Wells (The Time Machine) and Jules Verne (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea) in particular, it is during the last decade, in the 1980s to be precise, that steampunk developed its own culture. 

Originally, it is a literary genre, clearly fantastic

The term steampunk was created and popularized by K.W. Jeter and his associates James Blaylock and Tim Powers in 1987 in order to differentiate their works from other science fiction authors and as a parodic reference to the already existing Cyberpunk. 

This movement pays tribute to the industrial era.

Historically, the 19th century saw the development of industrialization, thanks in particular to urbanization, technological advances and telecommunications. The steampunk movement, taking this structure as a starting point, imagines an even more futuristic 19th century. 

This gave rise to Victorian-inspired inventions such as steam-powered airplanes or mechanical computers, for example. 

What is steampunk
Photo by Josh Redd

In France, several authors started to work in the genre at the end of the 90s.

Finally, steampunk has gradually spread to all the arts: illustration, photography, fashion, music, object design, etc.

This leads us to wonder how Steampunk art developed and especially :

What characterizes Steampunk?

A subgenre of punk culture, steampunk appeared in the field of literature in the 1980s. The term steampunk is composed of the word “steam” which literally means steam and the word “punk” which refers to cyberpunk, a science fiction literary genre. Steampunk is sometimes translated as steam future or more literally as steampunk.

This alternative style is composed of elements inspired by 19th century steam engines and the aesthetic codes characteristic of the Victorian era. Steam, which is the energy base of the Industrial Revolution, is the main element characterizing steampunk

The steampunk universe adopts a crazy retro style that mixes modern technology with steam as an energy source.

What is steampunk
Photo by Lucas Santos

The atmosphere of steampunk is inspired by the Victorian era, the Industrial Revolution, extraordinary journeys and futuristic discoveries such as steam airships, Captain Nemo’s Nautilus or Frankenstein’s time machine or resuscitation machine. 

Among the other key elements of the steampunk universe, we also find mad scientists, inventions of all kinds, surreal tools, crazy inventors, outdated technology, vintage clocks, gears, bronze, copper, steel or leather, etc.

What is steampunk

Also, the steampunk universe often integrates myths of the Victorian era, such as Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Jack the Ripper or Dorian Gray.

Steampunk stories are usually set in London or Paris.

Aesthetically, let’s remember that three periods influence the steampunk genre:

  • The Industrial Revolution in England, from 1760
  • The American Civil War, 1861 to 1865
  • The Belle Époque in France from 1871 to 1914

But what about the inspiration and influence of steampunk culture in fashion?

Steampunk and fashion, what is the Steampunk style?

Inspired by the Victorian era, steampunk clothing mixes gothic, burlesque, but also retro futuristic style.

What is steampunk

The followers of this steampunk style, often called “steamers”, are usually very creative people with a great imagination. They are eccentrics, Cosplay enthusiasts, who have the will to stand out and know how to combine Victorian era fashion with steam engine inspired elements to create a unique and original style.

Their outfits usually consist of a top hat, a pair of round sunglasses, a long-sleeved strapless dress, skirt or pants and brass jewelry such as pendants, pocket watches, earrings, rings…. 

So let’s take a closer look at how to dress Steampunk.

Steampunk clothing style for women

To create a steampunk look for women, all you need is a Victorian era dress, a vintage corset and knowing how to choose the right shoes. This is what makes the basis of this style of dress

Corsets are a must and are available in different styles, colors and materials (lace, leather, silk, etc.). 

Leather boots, heeled boots or lace-up waders are the boots to adopt. Also, steampunk shoes usually have metal ornaments. 

The most used colors in a female steampunk wardrobe are dark and warm colors such as brown, red, black, etc. 

Finally, to finish the look, it is possible to add a jacket or a coat. The choice generally depends on the taste of each woman and the character that inspires her (pirate, aristocrat, explorer, adventurer, scientist …).

Steampunk clothing style for men

First of all, it is important to remember here again what makes the basis of the steampunk style for men: an outfit of the Victorian era with a futuristic touch.

The typical look for men consists of a classic suit with a vest or shirt with suspenders, a jacket and a long coat. The choice of fabric is important and should be appropriate for the time. For example, cotton, tweed or velvet are options to consider in order to create an elegant suit with a traditional look. 

In addition to this, leather shoes and boots must fit the chosen character.

Man or woman, it should not be forgotten that steampunk clothes must entertain the person who wears them, and at the same time, seduce the viewer. It is by adding the right accessories that you can succeed and perfect your steamer look.

The essential accessories in a Steampunk wardrobe

Steampunk fashion is inspired by literature and film characters. In order to create a steampunk look, you need to know how to match the right accessories to your dress or costume. This is what makes it possible to reflect a retro futuristic style. 

The most basic accessories are hats and fingerless gloves (leather or lace). 

However, let’s remember that the steampunk style goes beyond the common and allows for eccentricities, such as incorporating materials specific to steam engines or making a steampunk tattoo based on gears. 

Among the most famous accessories are clocks, pocket watches, vintage aviator glasses, etc. 

It is even possible to add mechanical or futuristic elements such as machines or a robot arm, to stay true to this uchrony.

Steampunk objects and decoration

Again, it’s all about adopting a Victorian decor with industrial accessories. Old rustic wooden furniture or leather furniture offer a steampunk atmosphere to the house. Old metal clocks, globes, elements that remind of machines, are also an integral part of this style. 

In addition, you can make your own decorative objects inspired by all that this era has left us.

It is now clear that steampunk is a way of life. Let’s discover the steampunk community.

The steampunk community and steampunk as a way of life

Steampunk is a cultural movement based on creativity and imagination. 

It has its own followers all over the world who share the same values, the same philosophy and especially their love for what is vintage, unusual and futuristic. In other words, the steampunk community likes to combine the past with the future in a creative and free way. The goal is to take what is good in both worlds and bring it into the present.

The steampunk community is autonomous, creative and prefers to make, DIY and reuse. In a consumerist society, it must be said that we need such values in order to create a balance.

Many cinematographic works have made Steampunk popular. We think especially of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Wild Wild West. These movies are not totally faithful to the codes of Steampunk, but they have nevertheless the merit to reveal the atmosphere of this emblematic universe.

Some vaporists even dare to get married in Steampunk, to keep a memorable souvenir of this unique day!

In another genre, Steampunk manga and anime are also particularly inspiring works to feel the retro futuristic atmosphere.

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