Harry’s Ramblings; Steampunk Oddities
If you Google in the word Steampunk, the definition comes up as “ a style of design and fashion that combines historical elements with anachronistic technological features inspired by science fiction”. Are you any the wiser? No, neither am I.
Eastbourne on England’s south coast between Brighton and Hastings has an annual September weekend Steampunk convention. They hope for the best weather, because it gives them the opportunity to stroll along the promenade in their finest clothing, visit the stalls selling different wares, and parade so people can see them wearing long coats, black top hats with goggles on top but not over the eyes, and sun umbrellas of different hues and shades.
A lot of the internet is confused about steampunk. Its origins, its aims, its definition. Definitions include “a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery”. This needs breaking down a little. There are two areas of steam punk, those related to Victorian costume, and on the other hand a fantasy world involving steam power.
The early exponents of steampunk were in the 1960s, basing their hobby on literary works from writers such as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Mary Shelley – meaning a fantasy world. That is why their style of dress reflects this, please see the photos that accompany this article.
Some explanations of the form relate to the arts and crafts movement, as there are similarities in design. But I don’t want to get bogged down with the history of the movement, as I am sure that most people involved these days are more interested in the ability to dress in an eccentric way in public with spectators envying their life style. In reality, they are ordinary people who have an unconventional hobby. Nothing unusual there, then.
Western steampunk is part of the mainstream popularity, with clothing relative to popular conception of the American Wild West. These exponents will parade with goggles over a top hat while wearing appropriate styled dress. Ladies tend to have skirts and dresses, not jeans, men wear waistcoats, long tailcoats like the old gunslingers.
Steampunk as a culture and lifestyle is becoming more popular with mature adults worldwide, people admiring the way of life that can be adapted as well as adopted. The entertainment industry has not been slow to pick up on steampunk’s popularity. Sherlock Holmes on BBC has featured, as do some of the later Harry Potter. If it doesn’t feature in the north London studio tour, then they will have missed a trick. The character in Back to the Future Doc Brown is very much in the steampunk mould. Video games based on the genre are prolific, so more youngsters are becoming aware. Disney with its theme parks in Tokyo and Paris have included steampunk themes as well.
I Googled in ‘steampunk weddings’. The main answer was based on the clothing guests can wear. These would include three different themes, aviator, adventurer, and traveller. For the ladies, gowns, corsets, petticoats, and bustles, with the front of the dress open to reveal as much underwear as possible. This would mean a low top showing maximum cleavage, even during cold weather. Men should always wear waistcoats, military uniform very acceptable, with some kind of headwear. Top hats are common, green felt officer’s Boer War can be worn with a feather. As well as goggles, binoculars are frequently worn on the outside of the top hat. The more bizarre the more noteworthy. This returns to the exploration theme.
Now to music. If you attend a steampunk event, do not expect any kind of music to be played. Goth is more common, but also don’t be surprised to hear Justin Bieber, David Guetta, or Panic! At The Disco. Happy to display ignorance at not being aware of the last two. However, there is a group called Steam Powered Giraffe, based in San Diego California and formed in 2008. Professor Elemental originally comes from Ipswich, now Brighton, England, had headlined at steampunk festivals and fairs,
The 2020 Eastbourne steampunk festival was held over the weekend of 5th and 6th September. Lots of stalls along the seafront, music on the Western Lawns, beer tent, children’s fair, and a masked ball on the Saturday evening. There are others, just Google in Steampunk festivals 2020 to see what’s occurring in your country.
But don’t confuse steampunk with cyberpunk. Or dieselpunk. Or biopunk. or nanopunk. Things are complicated enough already, and I am not sufficiently erudite to even guess at the differences.