I am a relative newcomer to the world of Steampunk, having recently made the jump from Victorian Magician to Steampunk Author (it’s a long story and one for another day). As part of my initiation I attended the New Zealand Steampunk Festival, the largest such event in the southern hemisphere. While wandering the streets of Oamaru’s Victorian quarter, surrounded by a dashing and eclectically dressed mixture of likeminded souls, I had a certain epiphany. The majority of the costumes I saw, while wonderful, had little similarity with those in the fictional Steampunk worlds we read and write about.
In cosplay, the starting point for the costume is a character from a book, film or comic-book but in Steampunk, this is not the case. I initially wondered if that is because we don’t have enough readily available or easily identifiable Steampunk heroines and heroes to ape. There may be an element of this but I feel the reasons go deeper.
A quick Wikipedia, ahem, I mean Encyclopedia Britannica, search of the word punk divulged the following – One of Punk’s main tenets was a rejection of mainstream, corporate mass culture and its values. So, do Steampunks adhere to the values of Punk and reject the mainstream? I guess we probably do, but not for political reasons like Punk. Also, I dare say that if a fictional Steampunk world ever gained the popularity of Harry Potter our ranks would be swelled by characters from that world, and not necessarily the worse off for it.
One of the initial fashion statements of Punk was the rejection of fussy and elaborate clothing. However, over time the addition of non-functional adornments, safety pins, chains, padlocks and studded leather became common place. Many of the costumes at the Steampunk festival were similarly embellished with clocks, tea-cups, keys, tentacles and myriad cogs, springs and mechanical parts, all of which served no purpose other than in decoration. In fact, much of the decoration rendered the costumes almost completely impractical, not that the Victorian crinoline, corset or bustle were ever designed with comfort or functionality in mind.
I have no doubt that I am less widely read in the Steampunk genre than many of you. However, in the Steampunk stories I have delved into, although corsets, goggles and bowler hats are very much in evidence, the adornments are not. So, what has brought about this disparity between the Steampunk Fact of the costumes we wear and the Steampunk Fiction we read? And does it matter? I have no idea. Please feel free to enlighten me as to your thoughts on the issue below.
About the Author
Gareth Ward, a.k.a. The Great Wardini is a magician, hypnotist, storyteller, bookseller and author. He has worked as a Royal Marine Commando, Police Officer, Evil Magician and Zombie. He basically likes jobs where you get to wear really cool hats – as writer and compere of Napier City’s inaugural Steampunk murder mystery evening he wore a rather splendid bowler.
His first novel ,The Traitor and the Thief, a rip-roaring young adult Steampunk adventure, won the 2016 Storylines Tessa Duder Award.
You can find out more about him at www.garethwardauthor.com