Steampunk: the science fiction subgenre which jumped time and cultural lines to become a hot trend.
The word “steampunk” was coined by American science fiction writer K W Jeter in 1987, but as a genre, steampunk started happening in the 1800s, when writers imagine their own era with futuristic technology. The novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne is a quintessential example of the genre that spawned the aesthetic and the trend we see today. Many of the elements that combine to make “steampunk” have been around for some time independently– such as embracing steam technology and machines, fascination with the natural world, and a dapper and fashionable way of dressing, the idea of making things onesself by hand. Now they have combined into a modern voyage to a glamourised Victorian/Edwardian past with a distinctly futuristic twist.
There are steampunk games like Bioshock II, steampunk graphic novels –League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for one, and even steampunk movies such as the recent Sherlock Holmes.
“To me, it’s essentially the intersection of technology and romance.” – Jake von Slatt
The steampunk aesthetic is firmly rooted in the British Victorian and Edwardian periods, which ran from 1837 to 1901, and 1901 to 1910 respectively. There was a cultural transition during this time away from rational ideals toward romanticism with regard to social values, arts, and religion. One key development during this time was that trains became ubiquitous and they became a huge factor in ordering society, with ‘railway time’ becoming the standard by which clocks were set throughout Britain. In the modern steampunk movement, clocks are a widespread motif, decorating anything from boats to hats. Clock gears and mechanisms are parsed out to decorate glasses, jewellry, and even shoes.
The Victorians were impressed by science and progress, and felt that they could improve society in the same way as they were improving technology. Science and industrialisation were seen as hopeful pursuits that would bring a golden future to mankind, rather than the threatening or ominous ways they are portrayed in modern media. During the Victorian era, science rapidly grew into the discipline it is today. Continental Europeans such as Max Planck and Albert Einstein were beginning to produce some of their great works during this period. In addition to the increasing professionalism of university science, Victorian gentlemen devoted their time to the study of natural history. This study of natural history was most powerfully advanced by Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution first published in his book On the Origin of Species in 1859. The details of flora and fauna that pervade the steampunk aesthetic reflect this part of history.
The steampunk movement has a philosophical angle, which is a combination between the maker ideals of creativity and self-reliance and the Victorian optimistic view of the future. Some say that steampunk includes a fair amount of empire worship, or that steampunk focuses on the best of the past and quietly sweeps the bad under the rug, such as overpopulation, pollution, child labour, etc.
“It’s sort of Victorian-industrial, but with more whimsy and fewer orphans.” – Caitlin Kittredge
Perhaps steampunk provides a fantasy that we need to counteract modern life?
Yet steampunk has become a lot more. With so many cool contraptions and fanciful inventions in stories, it was a natural progression that some people would decide to make some of them, or at least things like them. Thus, steampunk gadgets came into the real world. People have “steampunk’d” everything from computers, desks, telephones, and guitars to cars, motorcycles, and entire homes. These objects can vary from a dirty and distressed look of a forgotten antique to the shiny overwrought newness of a Victorian gentleman’s club. Think brass and copper, glass and polished wood, engraving and etching, and details for the sake of details.
Let’s talk about the clothes.
Steampunk fashions are not literally and completely Victorian, because they add in technological bits, sometimes futuristic and modern materials, and hints of a more adventurous life than a typical citizen of that period likely enjoyed. Not everyone had a hot air balloon and travelled the countryside, but in the modern fantasies, you can be all that and more!
Steampunk fashion provides an opportunity for men to dress more flamboyantly and elegantly than they have generally been allowed to since the early 20th Century. Women are allowed to forget about modern androgyny if they wish and dress in a more womanly and female-distinct way (yet not be subject to the social restrictions and discomforts that women in the Victorian era experienced– corsets are even more comfortable nowadays). True steampunks often invent a persona along with a costume, and pay attention to every detail top-to-toe.
This niche genre, design sense, philosophy and costume-play that we call steampunk has gradually crept into the mainstream, so even if you are not “totally steampunked”, you might find yourself embracing parts of this quirky movement and style.
The mid 2000′s saw a rise of steampunk in the mainstream with the movies “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, and this corresponded with darker and more Victorian/Gothic looks coming down the runways, especially at Alexander McQueen.
The Olympics and Para Olympics entertainments contributed to the trend, and in 2012 Steampunk hit the catwalks, especially seen in the Prada men’s collections. We expect 2013 and 2014 to yield even more of this influence in the high street shops as well as with the high fashion designers.
Men’s steampunk footwear includes biker boots, military style lace up boots, and gentlemanly brogues and pointed dress shoes. A creative way for men to “steampunk” their shoes is the use of spats.
Spats, a contraction of spatterdashes, are a type of classic footwear accessory for outdoor wear, covering the instep and the ankle, and fastening with a row of buttons. These were used as much for fashion as they were to protect shoes. One could easily sew a pair to “Vicky” their modern shoes.
Most steampunk favors metal hardware made of brass or copper rather than chrome or steel, but it can come down to personal preference rather than historical accuracy. The more hardware, the better!
For women, there are many choices from the traditional victorian kitten heeled shoes or ankle boots, to chunky Mad Max type boots. Modern steampunk can contain a great deal of “punk” as well as dainty styles, so don’t be afraid to finish your outfit with a pair of steel-toed biker boots or lace-up Over the knee boots.
We have put together a wee steampunk collection for your enjoyment from our catalogue of styles. It contains shoes, boots, sandals, and beribboned fancies, so that when you’re looking for something to go with your miniature top hat, your ruffled blouse, your catsuit and corset, your dandy 3-piece suit, or your Amelia Earhart shirt and trousers, you can find the perfect thing to compliment right in our collection.