What is Steampunk?
Even though it has an unmistakable, Victorian yet futuristic style, the definition of steampunk is kept vague because its followers or admirers create their own flavor of steampunk that appeals to them, taking parts of Victorian-era style and modern technology and mashing them together.
Unlike traditional cosplay where people dress up as specific characters, steampunk followers dress up as a concept, perhaps inventing alter egos for themselves. In an article on steampunk fashion in 2008, the New York Times says that steampunk is “a phenomenon with the potential to capture a wider audience, offering a genteel and disciplined alternative to both the slack look of hip-hop and the menacing spirit of goth”. The style of steampunk has seeped into the mainstream subconscious, and can be seen in movies such as Howl’s Moving Castle, Hugo, the somewhat recent Sherlock Holmes films with Robert Downey Jr., and as recent as Mortal Engines, and games such as Bioshock and Professor Layton.
There is a sense of childlike wonder to be had by steampunk admirers, whether it be to escape from their mundane day job or to chase after the nostalgia of mysterious and complicated machinery. The steampunk subculture not only gives its passengers the privilege of exploring a fictitious era, but allows them a trip back to their childhood where they were curious and mystified by electronics. In the same article for the New York Times, Robert Brown, the head of Abney Park, described that steampunk is “sort of a dream, the way we used to daydream. It’s like part of your childhood’s just bursting forward again”. “Today satellite photos make the planet seem so small … where is the adventure [in] that?”.