What is Steampunk?

Several people have asked me "What is Steampunk?" and "What does a Steampunk outfit look like?" In an attempt to find a definitive answer to these questions I went to the internet and was confronted with a bewildering array of answers. To resolve my confusion, I asked none other than the aetherial gentleman who is the inspiration for many of our events: Professor Thomas Alexander.
SVVDS - Professor, thank you for coming to help us out.
Prof. - Oh, think nothing of it; it is no trouble at all.

SVVDS - Professor, several people are asking me about "Steampunk". As a part-time resident of that world, how would you describe "Steampunk"?

Prof. - First and foremost, "Steampunk" is a type of literary fiction and can best be thought of as "science fiction as seen through the eyes of someone living in the 19th Century". Air travel, undersea vessels, instant communication, and life-like automatons are just a few of the technological advances that have become commonplace. Unlike your modern age however, everything in the Steampunk world is powered by that great 19th Century energy source, steam. Hence the name "Steampunk".

SVVDS - Professor, we've also had several questions regarding the fashion of Steampunk and how it differs from Victorian fashion. What are your thoughts on this?

Prof. - Steampunk fashion is intimately related to Victorian fashion because Victorian fashion is the foundation of Steampunk fashion. As Steampunk takes place in the 19th Century, and most often in Great Britain, you start with the styles and fashion of that time and place and modify it to fit the Steampunk world.

SVVDS - Modify it?

Prof. - Consider that, with the exception of automatons, most machinery is open and often its parts are brightly plated and polished. This is because machines and their motion are generally appreciated as things of beauty. Now some ladies have taken this to a daring level where they consider their limbs as a "machine" of sorts and wear short hoop skirts or hoop skirts with a cutaway front so as to best expose the hypnotic motion of their lower limbs.

SVVDS - What about goggles? They seem to be on every outfit, even to the point of being a bit silly.

Prof. - Oh, they're not silly at all. As steam is the main power source for nearly every machine, boilers of every shape and size are constantly producing steam - and smoke. In the Steampunk world, your eyes are under constant threat of being inundated with smoke. The caprices of the wind are often the only thing that stands between you and smarting eyes. Goggles are everywhere because goggles can be needed at any time and at any place. Of course, given the Victorian predisposition to make the functional fashionable, not all goggles will look stoically utilitarian, especially among some of the ladies.

SVVDS - What about colors? The outfits seem a bit drab and to favor the darker colors.

Prof. - The simple explanation for that is smoke. The fallout from all of the smoke and soot in the air is not so apparent on a black or brown fabric as it would be on a lighter fabric. Thus a lady or gentleman can maintain the appearance of a clean and tidy outfit even in the grittiest of environments. However, I have noticed that some ladies tempt fate by wearing light-colored blouses under their corsets.

SVVDS - That brings me to another observation, that the ladies seem to wear their corsets on the outside!

Prof. - Another one of Steampunk's modification of Victorian fashion. I have observed that in the Steampunk world some of the ladies tend to dress a bit more, shall we say "daring", than their Victorian counterparts; the wearing of special dress corsets on the outside being one example. That being said, it must be kept in mind that these ladies are ladies and not to be trifled with. To do so could find yourself being brained with a very fashionable nickel-plated wrench!

SVVDS - Another observation, weapons. It seems that most Steampunk outfits feature one or more weapons. In fact, in some outfits the weapons seem to be the main feature. What's going on here?

Prof. - As a literary genre, there can be as many Steampunk worlds as their are Steampunk authors and costumers. And in some of these worlds, there is conflict. And in these worlds, one needs ready access to weaponry if for nothing else than to defend one's self. 

SVVDS - Professor, I see that our time is nearly out. So how would you summarize Steampunk and the appropriate attire to be worn at Steampunk dances? 

Prof. - Steampunk is science fiction as seen through the eyes of someone living in the 19th Century. The proper attire for a Steampunk ball would be similar to what one would wear to a 19th Century ball, with modifications made that would be appropriate to your particular situation and status in your Steampunk world. And, I might add, it could be entirely possible that no modifications would be necessary at all.

SVVDS - Professor, thank you very much for shedding light on the various aspects of Steampunk.

Prof. - My pleasure. 

(interview taken Feb 15, 2013 / 1876)

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