What is Steampunk?

What is Steampunk?

That’s a good question, as it seems to mean different things to different people. Even the definition of Steampunk alters depending on who you talk to, so for the purposes of this simple guide, I am giving you the definition as I understand it. Any products or accessories from the genre can only be subjective, for that reason. When people ask me what Steampunk is about, they don’t want a long-winded explanation, they just want a short answer, and in that case, I will generally call it ‘Victorian science fiction’. Its more complicated than that, of course, as we shall see.


When did Steampunk start?

Many people believe the genre to be rooted in the 19th Century novels of the French author, Jules Verne. Of course, he didn’t know he was writing Steampunk – or science fiction, for that matter – as both terms hadn’t been invented then. H.G Wells is another candidate for the steampunk storyteller crown, and after the term was introduced – around 1987, there have been plenty of authors actively writing in the genre since.

What elements make up Steampunk?

If you want to write in the genre, or make your own costumes, jewellery and accessories, you’ll want some clue as to where to begin. I don’t think you can go too far wrong by starting in the Victorian era, and then adding layers. Or distorting layers. Corsets, for instance – we all know that the ladies used to lace them up and then hide them under their dresses and bodices. Not so with Steampunk – wear them loud and proud ladies! (or gents, if you are so inclined…) Use bright colours, fancy materials, or moody leathers, and pop them on over your dress or shirt for maximum impact! No longer need they be devices of torture, they can now be fun and sexy.

Time is a prominent component and gadgets feature heavily, too. The quirkier the better. Have them steam-powered, or using technology available in the Victorian era but spiced up as much, or as little, as you want. Fancy having a steam-powered computer? Why not? Its your world – play with it!


Materials for making Steampunk jewellery

The world is your oyster!

Think found objects – you can have such fun scouring car boot sales, thrift stores and charity shops for the items listed below, and once you get your eye in, I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with lots of your own ideas, too.

Think mad scientist – curiosities, test tubes, scientific bits and pieces

Think mechanics – copper, steel, brass, locks and keys, valves, small nuts and tiny machine parts

Think Victorian – lace, cameos, chain, charms, flora and fauna, old broken jewellery and watches (please be careful if you disassemble old clocks and watches with glow-in-the-dark hands, as they may contain radium)

Think stones – amethyst, coral, jet, turquoise, pearls, onyx, ruby, etc

Think colours – black, grey, burgundy, red, purple. Mostly the colours were fairly natural in the Victorian era so not as bright as we’d be used to. Purple was discovered by accident by Sir William Henry Perkin in 1856. He was looking for an alternative to quinine (used to treat malaria) and started the trend for synthetic dyes instead when he discovered mauveine, which was made from aniline.


Is Steampunk the only genre of its type?


Whereas Steampunk is generally Victorian/Edwardian, rough timelines for some of the others include:

Cyberpunk – 1960’s and 1970’s

Dieselpunk – war eras 1920’s to 1945

Atompunk – atomic age, circa 1945- 1965

And then there’s

Solarpunk – a wonderful, positive, Utopian world where everyone is equal, power is clean and renewable. I think I like that optimistic future… lets try for that, shall we?

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