Written by Connie of Konnie Kapow!
In the first of my shiny new columns for the Folksy Blog I’m investigating some of the different themes and styles to be found on Folksy. I thought I’d dive right in at the deep end by making my first article about Steampunk!
So what is Steampunk?
Well it would seem that this is a very good question! Opinions on what constitutes Steampunk seem to vary quite a lot. However, if you’ve seen Wild Wild West, Return to Oz, Back to the Future Part III, or any of the films of Terry Gilliam you may recognise the jist of the aesthetic. For some it is a fashion statement, for others a way of life, but no matter who you talk to there are a few common threads running through every explanation.
It would seem that you can split the term in two, firstly there’s the ‘steam’ which relates to the mechanical element. “Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, frequently featuring elements of fantasy that came into prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. The term is of an era, or world where steam power is still widely used – usually the 19th century, and often Victorian era England – but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy” says Natalie of Steamstress.
Secondly, there’s a strong theme of “Do it yourself” or “D.I.Y.”, which is a distinctly “punk” ethos. Jane aka Gaia Noir explains “more than probably any other subculture, the Steampunk scene is FULL of crafters. It’s a bit of a status symbol to say ‘I made it myself” which ties in rather nicely with Glenn of Steam Punk Glass who feels that Steampunk is “a reaction against the throw-away society, where so much modern technology is cheap/badly made and designed to last just until the next upgrade comes out!”
The result says Anne aka Recycloanalyst is “Victorian Gothic fantasy escapism (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories, Jules Verne and H G Wells) the Science Museum in London, the fantastic mechanical creations of Heath Robinson, the drawings of Arthur Rackham (I was brought up mainly on a diet of Fairy Tales from Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen) and the extra-ordinary aspects of very ordinary, everyday objects”.
So now that we have a bit of a handle on what Steampunk is, what does it look like?
From the look and feel of the above mentioned movies, if someone said to me “it’s Steampunk” I would expect a lot of brown and brass and perhaps some pocket watches, goggles or eye patches?
Let’s see then, For Molly of London Fogg, it’s based on “Victorian dress and lifestyles but has to include a sort of waywardness or quirkiness or even darkness. It’s difficult to describe but easy to spot. I suppose one way is to mention its motifs; cameos, filigree, ornate brass laser guns, brass goggles, time travel, steam powered spaceships, top hats, telescopes, brass computers, flying penny farthing bicycles , dragonflies, butterflies…” Yes! I win a coconut! (What do you mean I cheated?!)
BellaDLuna puts it this way; “For me, Steampunk is the Victorian time traveller, with maybe a little dash of pirate thrown in for good measure”.
And what about all of the contraptions you see? Do they work or are they just for show?
SteamPunk Glass is of the view that “gadgets and wearables are always popular as there are plenty of dress-up opportunities, but it has to be well made, well thought out, and interesting. Spraying it brass coloured and sticking some cogs on isn’t enough anymore, but if the cogs work and do something, or that’s a well thought out Victorian ray-gun, then you’re onto a winner!”
Steampunk seems to be gaining in popularity, what makes it attractive and fashionable?
If you ask London Fogg, she says, “Steampunk has produced a fashion genre of its own – much as punk did in the seventies – but lately it’s started to appear in the mainstream. I saw a photo of Kylie a few weeks ago wearing a black dress with chains, cogs and a sort of pocket watch belt, very much the look.”
Steamstress has noticed this too, “if you look at the major fashion stores and catalogues you can now after many years see traces of this once underground movement coming into the mainstream, though the Victorian and American Civil War/Wild West elements of these periods are now visible from hats, jackets, tops, jeans to boots”
I wonder too whether the rise in popularity has anything to do with the recent resurgence in recycling and upcycling which can be attributed in some ways to the recent financial climate?
Ingrid aka Steampunk Storm says, “Vintage watches have the most beautiful components inside, highlighting the pride that watchmakers used to take. The intricate parts that no one would see are still works of art that have been engraved with glorious patterns. A saved balance cock from an antique pocket watch makes a perfect necklace.” For Gaia Noir the recycling aspect of Steampunk is fascinating. She loves “that many Steampunks, through their choosing D.I.Y. crafting and unique items, show a ‘screw you’ attitude towards big companies who tell you to buy/wear/use ugly, throwaway, mass-produced tat.” There is also very much a feeling that people want “things which are unique and one-off but don’t cost the earth. With Steampunk they can have that,” says London Fogg.
From my travels it seems pretty clear that Folksy has some very talented Steampunk sellers and that it is not just a fashion statement but also a fascinating outlook and way of life. I personally love the romantic aspect suggested by the Victorian and Edwardian slant, which has been smeared and smudged a bit by the mechanical elements and grubby shine of metal and recycled components. The juxtaposition of beautiful tailoring for example intertwined with organic looking machinery seems to create a wonderful blend of chivalry and slight menace.
I’d like to thank all of the sellers for their patient explanations and willingness to help, why not check out their shops for something entirely unique, guaranteed to earn you some fabulous compliments?
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