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Steampunk, Definition And Evolution.

14 min read

Welcome dear reader!

Whether you are a total novice or just a beginner, this article aims to make you discover Steampunk in a few minutes! Travel through this fascinating Steampunk Universe and discover the growing community that lives this passion. Steampunk is now spreading to all the arts and means of expression.

Discover the Steampunk style of clothing for women and men. By the way, you'll see the incredible accessories, immediately recognizable, and the DIY that can be used to personalize everything.

So, put some coal in the steam engine because we're going to travel fast!

Finishing the Steampunk Style

It is not easy to define the style, so we propose several to satisfy the purists to the most permissive.

  • The inventor of the word is the science fiction author K. W. Jeter. W. Jeter. He created it to differentiate his works from other science fiction authors at the end of the 1980s (in reference to cyberpunk). So the most fastidious will tell you that before this date (1987), it's not steampunk.
  • It's a Uchrony which likes the mix of popular culture of the end of the 19th century and historical events of the Victorian Era. We are between futuristic imagination, modern aesthetics and industrial revolution.223
  • Steampunk is a conceptthat comes from literature where technology has never progressed beyond steam engines. It has therefore existed for a long time, well before the invention of the word, we can say that Jules Verne or H.G.Wells are related to Steampunk.
  • Steampunk is also called Victorian science fiction. Note that the genre focuses on technological aspects, but can include magic and fantasy.

Why the word "punk"?

Steampunk is punk not in its dystopian vision of the world, nor even in its ruthlessness. It comes from going against convention, with real values. It is a counterculture that is unrestrained and unrestrained. Its marginal, anti-consumerist thinking is very much based on DIY. The Do It Yourself which took its rise precisely with the creation of the punk movement. The idea is to use the past to better build the future (no future?). It is now done with the green economy, we save, we recycle and we consume less for the common good.

So what characterizes a world that is part of the futuristic universe?

1) The Steampunk Universe

The natural background of the genre often goes back to the time when England was an empire. During this period, the foundations of technological advancement, science, society, industrial revolution and colonization were laid.

Many authors are associated with the style well before the invention of the term" Steampunk". We find there Jules Vernebut also others like H.G WellsAlbert Robida or Mary Shelley. And they are numerous to have influenced and structured this nameless movement. Just like me, haven't you been amazed by Captain Nemo and his Nautilus ... or by Dr. Frankenstein's time machine ... or the one that resurrected him.

At the risk of repeating itself, it is in the 80s that it became a recognized literary genre. Some authors like Tim Powers and James P. Blaylock , William Gibson and Bruce Sterling have created a rich and bewitching universe. The Victorian era has found colors thanks to the steampunk current. We have an article on Victorian and steampunk books, ideal readings to impregnate yourself with the genre.

All this ambiance indescribable with this outdated but yet so efficient technology, with bolts, gears...steam coming out everywhere. The materials with their warm colors like copper, brass and steel of course. All of this is the result of fashion, architecture and myths of the Victorian era.

These universes steampunks abound with inventions, ça smells good vintage, the do-it-yourself, we often see mad scientists or mécanos with their surrealist tools. The planes are like zeppelins, mechanical computers, etc... A kind of future rhetoric that sometimes overcomes our era.

It is a matter of combining elements of the Victorian era to create something meaningful that would explain modern complexity in a simplistic way. It is not just smoke and mirrors, but an uchrony with enough logic to support the concept.

This literary genre is therefore an ideal means of expression to criticize technology and the man who uses it. Beyond the aesthetic, it is a kind of reflection and sharing on the evolution of the world. We bring a little bit of what we want, which makes Steampunk a period that stretches from the 18th century to the Roaring Twenties, and sometimes even to the Second World War with Dieselpunk (Captain Tomorrow).

The genre has therefore neighboring and rival universes and creates tasty mixes, like western-punk (Wild Wild West) or dreampunk (Arthur and the Minimoys), raypunk (Flash Gordon), atompunk (Fallout games). Cyberpunk was dominant, but has almost disappeared (maybe because it is too similar to our era...).

But back to classic steampunk, a very thin line between the real and the imaginary universe makes it fun. The genre is clearly fantastic; the sight of incredible machines that cannot function in a normal world. The genre's purpose is to mix time travel with Egypt (The Ways of Anubis) or Excalibur (Morlock Night). It is common to add the myths of the Victorian era, such as Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes , Dorian Gray, the invisible man or Dracula... the fantastic also accompanies the gothic and enriches the form as the bottom. The real Steampunk style is for me the one that ventures into the unknown and reveals the mysteries of this late nineteenth century universe.

But all this is more thrilling when you bring all this imagination to life!

2) The Steampunk Community.

Long treated as a literary subgenre, steampunk culture has become very mature. Objects like googles, top hats and pocket watches are now a distinctive sign of the genre. But steampunk is also a philosophy, a lifestyle. The first images of every facebook group, forums or amateur illustration sites dedicated to steampunk are always of the same type.

First we see costumed people, cosplay, where black, brown, beige, white, dominate the fabrics. Their arrangement immediately evokes another era, other postures. The steampunk is not read, it is lived, it is embodied in the bodies, in a way of life, in a will of permanent creativity and in a will to break the codes of our daily life.

A good example is typically the festival Burning Man, which takes place every year in the United States during a whole week. Thousands of participants live in autarky in the middle of the desert. The opportunity to give life to the craziest projects, especially artistic ones, with giant floats or sculptures.

A thread of exhibitions to the most incredible costumes. It's also funny to see how the visual codes of the festival have been inspired by Mad Max, with notably the thunderdome which can be found in Burning Man and in Mad Max, before becoming a source of inspiration for the last movie released in 2015. In short, this festival is full of futurism.

Beyond the conventions and other events, the community also extends into the virtual. For example, you can learn to build your own steampunk house in the giant sandbox that is the game minecraft. Many blogs give advice to dress steampunk. This inscription in the bodies seems to be at the heart of the evolution of this movement.

What emerges globally from the numerous amateur cosplay creations, objects, drawings and other digital creations, is that unlike other genres, it is often not a question of taking a work belonging to a genre as a frame but the genre itself as a whole. Science fiction fans, if they choose for example to make a cosplay to present in a convention, will not generally dress up as a science fiction character, but as a star wars character, as a star-trek character or as a stargate character etc... yet in the steampunk culture it is much more common not to make any reference: I have created a steampunk character. Of course, there could be a little bit of Jules Verne, a little bit of Lovecraft or Tesla, we think we are Sherlock Holmes or Dracula in vampire mode. The mix of more real works and especially a lot of amateur works for inspiration feed everything, it is a total mash-up, a hybrid form that is not directly influenced by a character, a specific universe. So it happens of course just as it can happen in the other direction to become totally imaginary science-fiction characters, but the proportion of this type of creation not clearly met in steampunk is normal.

Five minutes in any convention will show you that, the better it is very common to steampunk (yes I'm making up words), other universes. As if steampunk is not a genre in which to inscribe occurrences, outstanding works for example, but a purely transposable aesthetic with blurred boundaries.

A current argument among writers is that the growing commercialism has diluted the "punk" aspect. Their argument is that steampunk has become a romantic backdrop, complete with codes such as the famous goggles and brass fixtures. Instead of works like The Machine or Homunculus, where social criticism and dystopia are in the center of attention, steampunk remains only a shiny and sparkling backdrop as we can see in more light-hearted works like Soulless or Girl Genius.

It is now time to move on to the artists and professionals who have also taken over the genre.

3) Steampunk Art.

The steampunk universe is extended to all the known Arts, beyond the literary universe.

The cinema for example has popularized the genre with many Steampunk movies. At the beginning of the 7th art, Georges Méliès rises masterpieces that we can now qualify as steampunk, just like the adaptations of the books of Jules Verne a few decades later.

More recently Christopher Nolan's Prestige or Jean Pierre Jeunet's films, with the city of the lost children (among others), have been greatly influenced by the style. Hollywood tried to popularize Steampunk with films of high quality like Wild Wild West or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (a disaster). More recently Mortal Engines (Machines Infernales) was released, an adaptation of the book of the same name that received a mixed reception.

There is also a whole musical universe. The steampunk genre normally influences pop culture, with bands claiming to make steampunk music.

Cover Steam Powered Giraffe, a sensational band in the Steampunk style!

There is also a rétrofuturist art that has been able to develop thanks to its very visual universe and its very recognizable codes. The style has evolved to be mainly a graphic and scenic style and more globally an aesthetic that is transmitted in painting, architecture or sculpture. Discover some incredible artists in our article dedicated to Steampunk Art.

The youngest among us have known several styles of contents that have also monopolized the genre:

  • Steampunk video games with Final Fantasy 6, Dishonored or Bioshock and other less known but quite ambitious titles.
  • Steampunk TV shows also know the influence of the futuristic style for our greatest pleasure with Penny Dreadful, Warehouse 13, Dr who or more recently Carnival Row.
  • Steampunk mangas also learn the genre, we no longer count the references to steampunk in the films of the greatest, Hayao Miyazaki not to name him. The most famous work in French comics is Adèle Blanc sec (also adapted into a film).

And now, let's move on to the aesthetics of movement in everyday life.

Le Style Steampunk

On the vêtements in the first place, we can distinguish several influences such as Victorian England from which the genre feeds. Moreover, the gothic is also inspired by this period and mixes quite well with the steampunk. Other trends such as rock and punk are sometimes relevant, as in post-apocalyptic steampunk.

This is becoming fashionable since the 2000's with Kit Stollen, who likes to end up as an anachronaut. The punk for him in Steampunk represents the individuality of the designer through his representation of art. Like craftsmanship, combining beauty and functionality, fashion must be wearable according to him. He has popularized steampunk elements in our everyday outfits, accessories like necklaces or steampunk influenced glasses fit in better.

Of course you will always be looked down upon if you wear a top hat to a job interview, but you must dare to cultivate your differences. Kit Stollen's message is to stop conformism, it oppresses us and prevents us from re-evaluating ourselves.

1) Steampunk Style for Women

Everyone has in mind the Victorian corsets and dresses, the skirts and all those old clothes that find a new freshness by mixing industrial or fantastic elements.

The article on Steampunk Cosplay for women could guide you on the best ways to make your look rétrofuturist, and that even in everyday life.

At the level of accessories: Steampunk Jewelry also takes its source in the vintage with the metallic colors of the style as silver, gold, bronze, copper or brass.

But beware! Women are independent and strong in this universe. The modernity allows to wear anachronistic clothes like pants and even leggings. This is in a way the great strength of the movement, everyone brings a part of himself.

2) The Steampunk Style for Men

 The most common image is the one of the nobleman with his top hat and googles incorporated. The costumes of Victorian influence again, but not only those of the aristocrats. The Scotland Yard police and the army of his majesty have very popular costumes for their spectacular effects. You can consult the men's clothing guide, you will be surprised to find ideas for your future outfits.

3) Steampunk Cosplay and DIY.

These fictional universes provide a framework, a space, in short a sandbox which is the most basic definition of the game. It is this link between games, passions, fictions, and imaginary worlds, as a framework for the expression of individual and collective identity, that drives participation. To take part in what is happening and thus to be part of a collective or a community is jubilant.

But it is also by appropriating objects and building one's individuality that one takes on extremely numerous forms in the case of steampunk. The participative activities abound in particular, this genre has taken all its rise and its dimension through the plastic and visual arts even more than in the fan-fictions and podcasts.

One finds normally visual or fabricated elements that make the steampunk cultural movement. This is, to my knowledge, the only example where when you type the name of a literary genre on amazon the first results are all objects and not books. On all the amateur illustration websites, on facebook groups, or on twitter, the simple fact of typing the keyword steampunk offers us a profusion of works of incredible richness.

I can only encourage you to spend some time if, like us, you are learning these aesthetics. Everything goes through it but we find, of course, as for the cyberpunk, a great presence of urban landscapes, from the machine to the objects, still objects.

One of the big impacts of the style has been this creation of bridled objects. People reappropriate old things left in attics or flea markets to restore them or adapt them to the steampunk style. The old models that used brass, wood, copper, metalwork and engravings are brought back to life. The opinion on old / recycled products has changed, or how to combine the steamers (vaporistes en français) and the cologistes. Simple things like a coffee table, a giant clock, a penholder to complex products like watches or clocks become works of art. Even crazier, we also adapt our current technology to its Steampunk version. The copper Smartphone with its gears, only steam is missing... and why not the mechanical USB key.

 Moreover in this culture, the costumes are always completed with various accessories: cane à pommel of copper and silver, glasses rétro ... the famous googles and other jetpack. They pay homage to the first superheroes or to movies like Joe Johnson's Rocketeer, a little gem signed by Disney, which unfortunately flopped like all the steampunk movies or almost.114

Then the design blogs talk a lot about customized objects. Guitars, books (every steampunk fan likes old books with leather covers), computers, jewels, cars, game consoles (not minitel, it is steampunk) and a lot of other everyday objects. These images of objects transformed or created by amateurs make the happiness of image sharing or illustration sites. In particular tumblr, facebook, and even more the social network pinterest whose principle, the fact of pinning images on a digital wall on a theme is quite adapted to this type of collection where everyone can change the most beautiful visuals.

It seems that even stores like Steampunkstore are developing to expose and sell Steampunk decoration. There is also the DIY scene, i.e. "do it yourself", a kind of learning cooperation that forges a very strong community feeling. Each little customization, each costume is not only the object of a series of images, but also of a tutorial with explanatory videos and photographs that show the intermediary steps of the creation.

On the specialized forums you can find quite general conversations about how to age a leather jacket, how to transform a commercial train into a majestic representative of the Victorian imagination, how to build a zeppelin model, how to draw a steampunk robot, how to equip a steampunk pirate etc... There is no shortage of questions or answers, everyone has their own advice, their own expertise according to their skills.

Steampunk is now a rich universe, used in a lot of media and especially transmitted by the creativity of its fans. It influences all styles, so what is the next step?

What is the evolution of the Steampunk Style?

This genre works particularly well because the era in which it is anchored is a real founding era. From the historical point of view but also from the point of view of popular fictions, its birth perfectly reflects the contemporary period. With the steampunk one plays more and more with what the public knows of the fiction and of its codes and therefore where the innovative speeches meets a big success.

The 80's, which saw the birth of steampunk, are therefore a period in which one seeks to enchant the world no longer by utopias but by recycling, the future as it was realised by the previous generation. This is what some call postmodernity, a concept that remains debatable. The direct jump from 1880 to 1980 is the specificity of each of these moments, they make the genesis of this genre. Everything has made steampunk an exciting and rich genre to analyze, it has become for some a culture and a real way of life.

Especially when coupled with the internet and digital tools that allow to cut, mix, contextualize everything. We can think for example of people who replay star wars scenes on youtube, who write Harry Potter fan-fictions or who dress up as manga characters during conventions.

By the way, when we think about Steampunk, we don't immediately think about a specific work, as it could be the case for another genre, nor a specific trend, but the global aesthetic of the genre. I imagine zeppelins, copper submarines, and men wearing colonial hats. There is no specific universe, no founding work, no film that immediately comes to mind. Steampunk didn't have its star wars, didn't have its lord of the rings... no work that was both appreciated by the fans, but also that immediately suggests the themes and the aesthetics of a genre to a wider audience. So it's an inconvenience to criticize the genre to non-experts, but then again, it also provides a great deal of creative freedom.

I know who the founders of the genre are, I've read their books, if I concentrate I can name a few films of the genre, like Steamboy or Wild Wild West for example... but I don't have a very situable and dense memory of imaginary reference. If I think fantasy, very quickly I can imagine dwarfs, hobbits, elves, I will dive into the bestiary of dungeons & dragons (forgetting the adapted movie). I'll also think about middle earth graphics or Terry Pratchett's humor. When I think science fiction, I hear the sounds of lightsabers and see the sprawling city of Blade Runner. In the case of steampunk, it's less the case, I don't see one particular work, it's the genre that is a universe in itself.

This absence of universe of references other than the historical period on which it is based, and the fictions of this era, have made it a very particular genre, and it is far from being a handicap. The fans of the genre can even more easily than the others get rid of the canons linked to the respect of a work.

This also explains in part the participative pride that animates these enthusiasts, when the genre is the world (and vice versa), and which is not represented by some central works, makes it more fragile. It is necessary permanently to give it body, consistency, life and to illustrate it to make circulate then the imaginary which results from it. What in the end becomes its strength, then maybe one day a work will change the deal, in the meantime the genre and its playful evolutions remain exciting and enjoyable.

And by now, you'll be convinced, as I am, that most learn about the trend, used in so many works, without knowing about steampunk. Since the style has attracted many people for various reasons. Some are simply attracted by the Victorian era, others by industrial, vintage, or the powerful imagination of steampunk.

Here you go, thank you all for reading this post, share, visit the store if you are looking for steampunk items. I hope you want to know more. For my part I give you an appointment for a future article ...

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