Am I Steampunk?

My first discovery of Steampunk was through film, mainly because of Terry Gilliam to be honest, but also from having seen Metropolis very young. Only dimly remembering this film until many years later I searched & was not disappointed upon seeing it for a second time. With Return to Oz, Brazil, parts of Baron Munchausen & Brothers Grimm & more recently Sherlock Holmes & Adele Blanc Sec, the fascination with Victorian style & design has been bubbling away as a subculture for many years now.

The Return to Oz, The Adventures of Adele Blanc Sec & The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

In trying to discover what people think is at the heart of Steampunk I have come across many different answers. I had been exceptionally worried that, in describing what I am creating as Steampunk, I was wrong. After reading further however; I have come to the conclusion that for me at least, Steampunk is more of a feeling. I am starting with the Victorian era & redesigning it using Victorian aesthetic principles for the modern Lady or Gent. Constantly calling back to the reference style but mixing up the uses and imagining what may be useful or necessary for today’s Sci-Fi world.

Obviously I am aware that the first adventurers into this filed were Jules Verne, HG Wells & George Melies. It’s termed as retro-futurism (for example the 50s & 60s vision of the future with flying cars), & any time period can be seen through the filter of futurism. . . it’s just Victorian style & design through the future-filter is so beautiful!

Cover for Jules Vernes’ ‘Voyages Extraordinaires’, a still from George Melies’  ‘Journey to the Moon and a still from a 1960 adaptation of HG Wells’ ‘Time Machine’.

Historically the Victorian period was arguably the period to see the most technological advancements in such a short space of time until recently. Many aspects of our modern world were invented & designed then, & the line between period Victorian clothing & Steampunk is very narrow, oftentimes indistinguishable. Victorians imagined their own science fiction with flying machines, submarines & all manner of time & world travel. I think that what we are trying to do today is re-imagine this world into ours, translating things into a Victorian context so Steampunk becomes a blending of an alternate history & Sci-Fi, with a sprinkling of our own more interesting inventions, such as the airship, along the way.

‘The genre possesses a life of its own that draws in fans from countless directions and backgrounds into a world where fashion is tailored to the individual, goods are made to last, and machinery is still regarded as a thing of visual majesty.’


And so I question why I am so fascinated. As a costume designer I am naturally drawn to the historical aspects of this genre, I adore the Victorian period. The adornment, pleating, silks, satins, new adventures in modern dye techniques, the manners & social decorum, the ridiculously long yet elegant mourning rituals, the ribbons & bows, the corsets & undergarments with their uncomprehendingly beautiful embellishment. I could go on & yet I could also wax lyrical for several other time periods also so again I ask: why the fascination? Could it be the fault of seeing Back to the Future Part III at an impressionable age? Maybe, but it may also be because of the diverse challenges and opportunities it represents.

Some extant illustrations and photographs showing the wonderful aray of decoration available to the Victorians.

I am a great fan of up-cycling and the neo-vintage movements &, unlike with so many other time periods, pieces from the Victorian era are readily available. I regularly use extant fabrics, ribbons, lace & other pieces in my work for Laura After Midnight, & the feeling of being able to work with these beautiful pieces is a genuinely humbling yet exciting one. I believe this may be at the heart of my love for the Victorian era.

And so I turn back to my current stitching masterpiece, a mini silk top hat complete with bias cut oversize silk bow and button on veil with vintage buttons. Adorable!

Happy stitching!


All images from Google searches and Tumblr.

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