Building Steam: Why is Steampunk so popular?

By Rachel Flynn

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Watching my roommate Meghan walk by in a handmade dress was my first real introduction to the steampunk subculture – I was puzzled. The baby-blue dress was decidedly unmodern, with a black lace corset, hoop skirt bottom, and black lace trim. The gloves and small hat fit the victorian ensemble, but the toy gun certainly didn’t. To me, it seemed to be just an unnecessarily complicated mix of old, British fashion, industrial-age accents, and gadgetry given a 19th century makeover. In reality, the movement represents a different kind of innovation.

What is Steampunk?

When asked, my roommate simply says, “steampunk is historical science fiction.” OK, easy enough to understand when put that way. It turns out my roommate is just one of a surprising number of people enthralled by the steampunk aesthetic, a highly stylized mix of Victorian fashion, technology, and retro-futurist fantasy.

Steampunk is more than fashion

It’s not just fashion, aficionados inject the signature style into many modern gadgets. A quick survey of the web reveals a stunning array of otherwise modern devices – such as computers, electric guitars, and covered in the dials, gauges, leather, and brass tubing and rivets that define the style.

My roommate explained steampunk this way, “You take the period of the past, generally accepted as the Victorian era spanning up to the Industrial Revolution – though some people will debate taking it that far – and you add a lot of technology that did not actually exist at the time. Because much of the period predates electricity, steam is commonly used in its place. The technology can be things that did not exist until much later, or it can be something that has never existed at all.”

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Steampunk Lifestyle: A Peek into a Parallel Universe

In this way, steampunk is a peek at a parallel universe in which electricity never completely surpassed steam and the digital age never progressed past the vacuum tube. In such a world – where Jules Verne and H.G. Wells defined the limits of technological imagination – the pace and refinement of steam technology would continue and advance. In a real-life analogue, consider how the internal combustion engine – another piece of 19th century technology – has been continually refined for modern use. Steam power might have taken a similar route, although steampunk devices usually take a bit of creative license, if they function at all.

Steampunk conventions happen all over the country and it’s growing quickly. AAC, for instance, is a steampunk convention in Nashua, N.H., that brings many people to the Radison Hotel. It is a weekend of panels, shopping, dressing up, showing off, and for some, drinking. It’s a very friendly atmosphere and a place to show new ideas.

…a lot of what is created in the name of steampunk is art.

When asked if steampunk is art, Meghan answered, “I don’t know if you can call a movement or a subculture art, but a lot of what is created in the name of steampunk is art. People invent machines and create sculptures out of old machines parts, and others like myself take pleasure in reworking the fashions of the day in to something modern and yet still historically accurate.”

Read more about steampunk and view more steampunk pictures right here at Nvate: Modern Ideas!

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