Steampunk Genderplay

Editor’s Note: This post is from the original Genderplayful Community Blog, back when we were also a marketplace.
A sepia photograph of a person wearing a beret and a flower-adorned suit standing in front of dinosaur bones.

Oxford Steampunk Art Exhibition. Photograph by Amanda Scrivener / flickr.

In the first issue of Neo-Victorian Studies in 2008, Rebecca Onion wrote: ‘Steampunk, a multi-textual aesthetic which first began to form in the late 1980s, imagines the world as it was during the early Victorian era, when steam power still fuelled machines.’ The steampunk aesthetic, which began as a subculture, has moved progressively towards the mainstream, helped in part by its appeal to crafters with the growing trend of DIY design. (Yay! – For example, see Sugardale’s How to Make a Petticoat: I can’t sew but feel so tempted to try, nonetheless!)

Our first Genderplayful post, ‘Introducing Genderplayful,’ had a shout-out from Emily about her fondness for fashion that can be steampunked, and this is a sentiment by no means limited to the Genderplayful team. Steampunk offers the opportunity to be ever-so-slightly outré, to stand out from the crowd, and to catch admiring gazes with stylish couture (at least in theory).

At the same time, the –punk suffix often goes ignored in the rush towards shiny gears and leather goggles, which is a real shame. After all, as Diana Pho points out, ‘Steampunk, because it’s an aesthetic & a subgenre inspired by a time period fraught with a complex social and political history, is never apolitical.’ The definition I began this post with reveals how iffy steampunk can be when it’s restricted to a Victorian style – ‘Victorian’ being a label limited to a specific place and time and culture with many inequalities. And, as Genderplayful Blog readers will know, fashions of that spatio-temporal context were also heavily demarcated by gender binary.

So how do we put the –punk back into steampunk? Jeannette Ng Chi Lei, the Costume Mercenary, has a dazzling multicultural array of steampunk and other pseudo-historical garments from tunics to skirts. Monique Poirier draws on her Seaconke Wampanoag heritage to come up with beautiful Native steampunk. And, a little later in history, Emma Goldman has suggestions on how to incorporate anti-fascism into dieselpunk.

In expressly gender/queered steampunk, Marimacho produced a Steampunk Collection in 2011, and the ‘Out from Behind the Curtain’ group at Steampunk Empire has threads collating members’ own interpretations of the style. And Offbeat Bride has simply wonderful showcases like this Renn Faire wedding party, a wedding with Edwardian-inspired tailcoats, and a delightfully eclectic article on wedding drag.

Are any Genderplayful friends here members or fans of the steampunk subculture and/or aesthetic? Any vendors you want to recommend? Any vendors who have just the thing for steampunk dressers? Or else let’s talk historical-inspired garb of other forms and other movements, like we discussed in ‘Gendercultural’ – whether caracos, hanfu, or even chitons and peploi!

5 thoughts on “Steampunk Genderplay

  1. Betty Nikia

    Omg…thank you SO. MUCH. for this post. I can’t wait to sit down and digest all of this when I’m not at work!

  2. JD

    This is late, super late, and I want to take time to check out all the links in the article – but I definitely love Steampunk!

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