Types of Steampunks

As yesterday’s post mentioned, there was a panel at A-Kon 21 called Steampunk 101 run by the crew of the Delirium of Grandeur. In this panel, Captain Simon Taineous presented the notion that there are different subsets of Steampunk, and they are, by his definition, not mine:

Lifestylers– Lifestylers see Steampunk as a lifestyle (duh). They believe in a strong political element to Steampunk and are living the Steampunk life on a daily basis. The have huge amounts of money to spend on Steampunk, drive modded cars, live in Victorian manors, and look down on everyone else.

Cosplayers– Cosplayers “dress up” in Steampunk fashion. They often have alternate characters with back stories that make up their Steampunk persona which is entirely separate from their real life.

Dark Steam– A considerable portion of Steampunk also appeals to the Goth community. Even Abney Park used to be labeled a Goth band for lack of a better descriptor. In Dark Steam, black is the primary color of choice, rather than the brown of traditional Steampunk. They also tend to have a darker outlook than Steampunks.

Purists– Are obsessed with functionality and authenticity. They hate plastic and items that ultimately don’t have a function. If its only purpose is to look cool, Purists don’t want to have anything to do with it.

Makers– Are the inventors of Steampunk. They make all of the cool clothing and gadgetry that is the hallmark of the Steampunk look. They cannot go into a store without thinking about items as components to the latest Steampunk project.

Ooh Shiny– Nearly everyone who likes Steampunk falls into this category. These are the people who like Steampunk because, well, nothing quite tops cool like shiny brass.

I think that this is an interesting list, though the presentation of the lifestylers did offend me a bit. I felt his view of lifestylers was a bit distorted.

I see myself as a Steampunk lifestyler. I live the Steampunk life every day in the music I listen to, the things I buy, and the political movements I support. I do not, however drive a Steampunk modded car, live in a Victorian manor, or have exponential amounts of money to spend on Steampunk. I work a very low paying job wherein I am not allowed to wear clothing outside the explicitly business professional. Does that make me any less of a Steampunk lifestyler? I personally don’t think so. I always find ways to slip Steampunk into my wardrobe, in the form of a piece of jewelry or some edgy thigh high stockings, but there’s a point where my budget and reality puts a stop on making all aspects of my life Steampunk at all times. Believe me, though, if a path presented itself to me wherein I could be Steampunk all of the time, I would do it.

Perhaps one of the things that disappointed me the most about A-Kon was realizing just how many people view Steampunk as a cosplay event. As a lifestyler, I can’t understand how you can approach Steampunk as a dress-up party. It is the angle through which I approached Steampunk which makes it hard for me not to view Steampunk as a lifestyle; much of what I was doing before I heard the word was Steampunk, and having a name to call it gave me a social and cultural niche to frame my viewpoints and actions.

I suppose I’m also something of a purist. I like to know that all that fancy gadgetry you’ve created actually does something other than look nice. If Steampunk wants to be seen as legit, I personally feel that functionality is important. There’s nothing quite as disappointing as admiring a Steampunk gadget only to realize it’s only for looks.

What do you all think about these different subsets of Steampunk, and where do you fall? This really interests me because of the discussion going on at the Great Steampunk Debate right now and the difference between the two narratives.

4 comments on “Types of Steampunks

  1. Larry Amyett says:

    Very good description of the different types. I’m lucky in that I have one foot in each genre. I love steam and diesel. So it’s easier for me to dress diesel.

    As a steampunk I lean towards maker and lifestyler. If I could afford it I would love to walk into my closet and say, “Hmmmm, do I want to be steam or diesel today?” And craft stores along with antique and thrift shops are like crack to me. 🙂

  2. Jack Horner says:


    Apologies for the late reply, but I only just found your blog this evening. I to consider myself a lifestyle steampunk. I would be very interested in hearing more about how you interpret lifestyle steampunk. Like you, I do not feel unflattering view of the lifestyler that Cpt. Taineous has proposed is at all analogous to my experience.

    Also if I may, I’d like to propose a different scheme that I’ve been thinking about. There are multiple types of Steampunk but two great camps. Although they look a lot alike, they are not actually the same thing. The difference between the two is the approach to the source material.

    One, the literalists, which include literary and cosplay steampunks, look to the source material and interpret it literally as science fiction and the domain of fancy.

    The other are the figuratives. These include lifestylers, practical steampunks(my term for the purists) and the punks. They interpret broad themes and attempt to put them into practice. Being bounded by such annoyances, like actual physics (what a bother!) means that their presentation is much less flamboyant than their literalist cousins.

    • aeflint says:

      Mr. Horner,

      Thank you so much for visiting my blog! I think you have a fascinating perspective on Steampunk at present. I’d be very interested to chat with you more about the Steampunk lifestyle.

      For a brief introduction for how I view it, I might I be so humble as to recommend viewing my collection of posts tagged with “Steampunk Philosophy”? I hope this can better illuminate my stance on the Steampunk lifestyle, and perhaps, spark a lively conversation.

      Here’s the link if you are interested: http://en.wordpress.com/tag/steampunk-philosophy/


  3. Kate says:

    At this moment steampunk is giving me a headache (but similar to Goth and Gothness I just have to not obsess over it for —-amount of time and I’ll be fine)

    I like steampunk but it hasn’t been till now that I’ve gotten into it more I would definitely count myself as a cosplayer more then life style although I haven’t actually cosplayed as a steampunk character yet. For me steampunk is interesting and something to fangirl and obsess about but similar to Goth it is not a fad and I can’t see it as a fad either you like steampunk or you don’t there’s no in between but really what’s it matter if someone is a steampunk lifestyler or a cosplayer? so long as everyone likes and has some know how of it isn’t that all that should matter?

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