Continuation of Steampunk Discussion (#3)
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In this continuing discussion of Steampunk, I’m plumbing the depths. What is the draw of Steampunk? In the previous post, we explored the sense of exploration and wonder, of the frontiers of science and science fiction.
However, not every fan of Steampunk chooses the alter ego of a wilderness explorer, mad scientist, or air pirate. The sense of wonder entices, but the appreciation of ornamentation engages at both a visual and visceral level. All share the love of ornamentation and gadgetry. When choosing an ensemble, the hallmark features of the visual aesthetic include a combination of embellishment and tributes to science, whether real or fantasy. In the Victorian and Edwardian eras both science and science fiction blossomed; their fusion in the genre is a natural outgrowth.
What distinguishes the Steampunk fan is the love of ornate decoration and mastery of workmanship. In a world that has devolved to the lowest common denominator in production and diminution of scale, Steampunk embraces grandiosity, complexity, and ostentatious craftmanship. Gears are exposed; furnishings are substantial in weight and hand-crafted in appearance. Embellishments proclaim the individuality of the maker and the investment of time and craftsmanship, even of the most mundane objects.
For example, consider the humble cash register. Today’s implementation is sleek, simple, functional. A Victorian rendition would be a work of art. Extend this to a Steampunk computer conversion. Instead of the sleek and smooth plastic, a converted Steampunk laptop might include mahogany and brass flourishes. Steampunk aficionados eschew the cheapest materials that get the job done.
When it comes to fashion, Steampunk thrives on the concept that more is more. Look around at the average assemblage of people today. With some exceptions, streamlined functionality is the mantra of the designer of daily wear. T-shirts, jeans, and hoodies are often drab, with only silkscreen decoration. Even the little black dress serves to cover scant portions of skin. Hats are limited to the utilitarian baseball cap and an occasional fedora. Steampunk, on the other hand, relishes adornment: lace and layers, chains and gadgets, ruffles, elaborate hats, brass buttons and brocade. Not all Steampunk-wear is elaborate, but all suggest tailoring and individuality of personal style, despite common elements that associate the fashion with a time period.
In discussions of the Steampunk genre, individuality–personal panache–figures in again and again. No two Steampunk conversions or Steampunk ensembles will look alike (although I did see matching twins at a Steampunk concert once). As Steampunk invades the mainstream, there will be incursions of mass production, but those who have steam-driven hearts will always be adding he next flourish, the next gadget, embellished by their own imaginations.