What is Steampunk and What Does it Mean?

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If you haven’t heard of this term before, then you might be one more who is wondering, what is steampunk? There’s even gonna be some that will scream in anger what the hell is steampunk. This is because there has been an outburst of steampunk as an artistic movement in the last decade. Steampunk is much more than you can imagine right now, so keep reading to find out more.

Steampunk Definition and origins

The definition of steampunk: A concept

The definition of steampunk is not hard-coined by anyone. Steampunk can be defined as a cultural or artistic movement that arises during the XX century thanks to the work of various literary authors. Steampunk does include victorian designs as a general principle. Additionally, much of the cultural influence and visual aesthetics arise from the development of steam-powered machinery.

Steampunk Dude by nathanmac87. Licensed under CC.

Steampunk origins

Steampunk is a term that was originally coined by JW Jeter in order to describe a cultural manifestation that was present in Tim Power’s and James Blaylock’s writings. He comes to this term trying to make a separation between the traditional cyberpunk aesthetics, fashion, and ideology.

He noted that there were substantial differences in the development of the plot, the fantastic elements that were involved, and the results. That is why The Anubis Gates and Homunculus could not be classified as cyberpunk literature.

Originally, there were two main authors which inspired the steampunk movement and gave birth to it. These steampunk influencers were J Verne and GH Wells. Their two most influential works of art were 20.000 leagues under the sea and The difference machine.

Why are these two books so influential? Because these two authors arose during a post-victorian period. There are many aesthetic considerations that have been integrated into their novels. And, from there on, with a little creativity, the most magnificent steampunk machines were born. Machines such as the Nautilus, which were the later insignia of an era.

What does steampunk mean?

When we talk about a steampunk movie, film or even a costume, we are talking about a group of characteristics that gather in this particular thing we’re talking about. Usually, there are some common visuals that can be found. Expect to find steam, pipes, tubes, gears, advanced mechanized accessories, and devices.

For example, if we are talking about a movie and you read in the plot summary that is steampunk but also has some fantastical theme, then you can even find flying airships, hot-air balloons, zeppelins, submarines, and Da Vinci-like flying devices.

If the movie doesn’t have fantastic elements on it, then expect normal machinery with additional mechanized modifications, such as steampunk trains, ships, and planes. That is one of the wonders of steampunk. Not everything has to be magical.  You must remember not everything is magical.

Steampunk Station by Stephane. Licensed under CC.

What does steampunk mean in fashion?

Steampunk can also mean certain things as regards aesthetics, fashion, and design. By definition, steampunk is a retrofuturistic post-industrial art movement. So you will find lots of flowered sown jackards, high heel leather boots, blue victorian long-tailed jackets, and long tail hats.

To sum up, steampunk will make its appearance in the goggles, monocles, pocket watches, satchels, and canes. There is a confluence between Victorian and mechanized brass, copper and leather. That is the meaning of steampunk in a couple of words.

What is steampunk cosplay?

So Steampunk cosplay means that you are gonna get everything that we were talking about in fashion, and you’re gonna place it on yourself as a costume. Steampunk cosplays are amazing due to this wide variety of details that these costumes have.

Steampunk cosplay is great for Halloween and for other parties. It is easily recognizable, and it’s not spooky at all. You can even dress up in cosplay your own kids. And that is great.

We recommend you to check out our post about steampunk character ideas, so you can grab one steampunk archetype to try it out for your next cosplay design.

And if you run out of costume ideas, check out our costume section at the store. You can also add up masks, some gadgets, and you’re good to go.

What does steampunk mean in literature?

Steampunk meaning in literature is broad and there are multiple answers. You will find those steampunk novels and fictions even have subgenres by themselves. In steampunk, you will have certain books that are: postapocalyptic, Western, Hybrid goth, Hybrid cyberpunk, Victorian Horror, Victorian Romance, Asianpunk, and the list goes on.

Steampunk in literature means that there will be steam-powered machines spread across the novel. It means that you will find Victorian characters too. There is a probability you can find mystical elements too. But this last thing you won’t be sure about it until you’ve read all the book.

What does the punk word mean in steampunk?

This is a great question because the punk word is quite strangely placed after the steam. I mean, after all, we’ve explained to you, you can understand why the word steam is out there. But what about the word punk? Keep reading to find out.

As we’ve previously stated, this term is coined by KW Jeter in order to describe a couple of novels that did not fit into the cyberpunk scaffold. That is the original reason for the word punk. Born and raised as the stepbrother of the cyberpunk culture, steampunk has inherited this suffix as a kid inherits his old man last name.

But the true story behind it lies in the meaning. Cyberpunk culture was created as a Sub-punk genre. This means that its born as a critic to all the technological developments that were about to come. Or at least that was what they thought in the XX century.

Cyberpunk is about how technological developments will advance and step over humanity at a certain point. And its also about the human race trying to defeat this robotic domination.

Steampunk, in a way, reflects a retrofuturistic scheme where the development of technology and society is different from what it finally has been. In steampunk fiction, you will find a continuation of some sociological and political ideas that were state of the art in the XIX century.

Thus, Steampunk is born in a subtle way as a critical phenomenon of what we are today, but in an indirect manner. In steampunk, you will see what we could have been and we are not.

These are the two main reasons why the word steam and punk have been bonded together into a single term that describes a whole artistic movement.

If you liked our post but wanna know more about steampunk, then check out our steampunk store main page. In there, you’ll find are many answers to all of your steampunk questions.


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