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  • Writer's pictureMiss Mary Steam

What the Heck is Steampunk?

So what the heck is steampunk? Steampunk is the most famous, new trend that you've never heard of. To those in the know, it's been around for years. For others, it's "Steam what?"

It's actually not new. The first steampunk convention took place in 2006 and the word has been actually added to The Oxford English Dictionary, but it's yet to hit the media or the mainstream.

The term itself comes from science fiction novels. But it's grown into a whole visual style, and even a philosophy. It's all about mixing old and new: fusing the usability of modern technology with the design aesthetic and philosophy of the Victorian age. Or as fiction author Caitlin Kittredge put it: "It's sort of Victorian-industrial, but with more whimsy and fewer orphans..."

Steampunk is a whole way of looking and living: and a colorful protest against the inexorable advance of technology itself. And it's a trend that's sneaking its way into loads of different sectors: from fashion to film, interior design to video games. You can have Steampunk weddings with mechanical cakes. It has reignited a love of "old fashioned" materials: brass and copper, wood, glass, mechanical workings, ornate engraving. It has also co-opted the re/upcycling aesthetic in its love of the old, the repaired, the reworked and the imperfect. And it has done so across a range of sectors.

The look is also starting to influence street fashion. Steampunk clothing typically adds the 'best' looks of the Victorian era - explorers, soldiers, countesses, lords - to today's most relevant street styles: goth, burlesque, the lace and leather of pirates, and the frills and capes of vampires. Some say it's the inspiration behind the current vogue for men wearing rolled up trousers with loud socks.

It might seem counter-intuitive that the Victorian era should appeal to young people who've grown up in a world of high tech gadgets. But actually, being raised in an era of new freedoms, where boundaries are constantly blurring, and by parents determined not to impose "stuffy rules" or prejudices on their offspring, can be a disorientating experience. Many Millennials are therefore drawn to eras and trends with rules and boundaries: hence the appeal of the more defined, black and white attitudes of the Victorian age. The age also seems particularly exciting and mysterious, with its glamorous clothes and uniforms, intrepid explorers, dastardly villains and dusty labs: especially for a younger generation whose interests are increasingly retro. There is even a present day environmentalist element to it all: a harking back to a time before smog and global warming, when the worst emission was the steam from steam trains.

Steampunk's retro-tech style isn't completely limited to Victoriana though. Styles can be taken from anywhere in the giant dressing-up box of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the broadness of which is part of the trend's appeal. One of the most popular looks is the Edwardian era, where clothes are very Downton Abbey, and spies, airships and flying goggles are all the rage.

Whatever the era they prefer, steampunks share common interests: they all relish retro-looking technology, making things for themselves, and the romanticism and stability of the long ago. And they're going to be the next big youth and style trend - Steampunks!

Gadgets, gizmos and flying machines

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