"Steampunk" refers to a sci-fi literature genre inspired by industrialization, the Victorian era and the work of writers such as H.G. Wells. It's characterized by romanticism, fantasy and optimism about the possibilities offered by technology. Heavily featured in steampunk literature are homemade inventions with grandiose scope, such as machines for time and space travel. Steampunk literature has in turn inspired steampunk fashion, resulting in a quirky style of dress that mixes traditional Victorian clothing with futuristic accessories and a bit of rebellious, do-it-yourself flair.
Steampunk fashion takes its basic cues from Victorian and Edwardian fashions, so start with an outfit inspired by turn-of-the-century trends. For girls and women, this means corseted tops, velvet blazers, full skirts and bustles. Boys and men wear waistcoats and top hats, cravats, bow ties and formal jackets such as the morning coat.
The "steam" in steampunk comes from an embracing of steam-age industrialization and the possibilities of technology, including futuristic sci-fi technology. A steampunk look will often include one or two accessories that stand in for sci-fi gadgets, such as magnifying spectacles, driving or aviation goggles, or a pocket watch. These items signify a belief in the ability to manipulate time, speed and vision for the bettering of humanity.
Despite the word "punk," steampunk fashion does not contain any elements of the music-inspired punk rock style as we know it today. Rather, the punk in steampunk refers mostly to a rebellious spirit to protest against technological oppression, as well as to a homegrown, do-it-yourself approach to science and invention. Steampunk fashions often include accessories with a DIY element, such as a hand-sewn or patchwork garment, or jewelry made from gears or other mechanical parts.
The Role of Fantasy
Fantasy lies at the heart of the steampunk subculture, and informs the way steampunk fashions are worn. While Victorian and Edwardian clothing trends were strictly prescribed in terms of color, fit, and construction, steampunk fashions can be highly personal and limited only to the wearer's imagination. Therefore, steampunk fashions often make use of bright colors and patterns that wouldn't normally be found in Victorian and Edwardian clothing, and accessories that go beyond the realm of jewelry or function, such as mechanical wings.
Because the steampunk aesthetic can sometimes be hard to grasp at first, refer to a few films that exemplify the look, as well as the ethos. "The Prestige," the "Back to the Future" series and "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" are films that represent steampunk style.