So, You're a Steampunk… Now What?
But now what do you do with yourself?
You can sit there, patting yourself on the back, but that gets lonely after awhile. Your props will look nice decorating your house, but that isn't any fun. I can speak from personal experience when I say that carrying props on your day-to-day errands is uncomfortable both because they're bulky and hard to carry, and because people will stare at you as if you were wearing your underwear on your head. I don't have experience going out in public with my underwear on my head, in case that wasn't clear. Don't listen to anyone who says otherwise.
Photo from Undercap, which is actually a real thing. I don't own one.
So what do you do with your props? Do you have to ascribe to any specific ideology, or wear your Steampunk clothes every day, or learn a secret handshake? The answers to all these questions and more are below, because this article will teach you how to get the most out of being a Steampunk!
This is a sticky issue for some people, but the crux of it is that no, there is no special ideology required in order to be Steampunk. In case you don't know what an ideology is, it's a set of beliefs, or a set of philosophies, that govern how you look at the world.
Some people argue that Steampunks have to be for or against certain things, but that's nonsense. You can be black or white, Democrat or Republican, religious or atheist, and none of that matters.
Photo by Margaret Killjoy of a few Steampunk gentlemen ironically crashing a Steampunk pro-labor rally.
That said, there are certain characteristics that tend to be prevalent among Steampunks not because they're enforced or required, but just because the Steampunk aesthetic and community tend to attract a certain kind of person. Your average Steampunk is a creative individualist who has a keen interest in history, though of course Steampunk is made up of all kinds of people.
The short version is that you can believe anything you want and still be a Steampunk.
The best way, bar none, to make friends in the Steampunk world is to frequent online communities. The Steampunk online scene is kind of fractured right now, but I recommend Brass Goggles, Steampunk Empire, Steampunk Revolution, and of course, Steampunk R&D.
These forums are the best chance to get your voice heard, rather than drowned out in the crowd. Your specific area may also have its own Steampunk community, so try doing a search on Facebook or Google for your city with the word "Steampunk". There's no better way to learn about events in your area than on the internet, so search around!
These events are really your bread-and-butter as a Steampunk, because steam-central events allow you to bust out your finery that you've worked so hard on (or spent so much money on, or both) and show it off to people who will appreciate it. Not only that, but you can sit down and have a drink with people who probably share some, if not all, of your interests.
Steampunk events can come in all different types, from an informal gathering at someone's house to a fancy tea at a teahouse to a Steampunk night at a local club. I live in Atlanta, and we're lucky to have one of the best Steampunk scenes in the country. The Artifice Club hosts quarterly club nights, as well as other fun events from time to time. We have two primarily Steampunk conventions, AnachroCon (for which I'm the Culture Track director) and STEAMFest, as well as a ton of other Steampunk-friendly conventions such as DragonCon and Anime Weekend Atlanta to name just a few. There's hardly a month that goes by that we don't have at least one Steampunk event to go to, if not two or three. For example, yesterday there was a Victorian festival at a local historic cemetery, and there was a Steampunk meetup.
Photo by Cristian Duran. This is a Steampunk meetup in Chile!
I say this not to make you jealous, but to give you an idea of the variety of events that you can attend. I also said in the above paragraph that we were lucky to have such a great Steampunk scene here in Atlanta, but that was a lie; luck has nothing to do with it. We have some really awesome people who work very hard to put these events together. They don't even get paid to do it; they do it because they love it. So if you find that your local scene is lacking in organization, make a community! If it's lacking in events, organize some!
There's no need to start out with big, multi-day conventions, either. You can start by organizing Steampunk meetups at local historic sites, tea houses, restaurants, or even art museums. Steampunks are usually a pretty cultured lot, so consider things like symphonies, science museums, and the like. It's much more fun to do those things in a group than it is to go it alone!
You don't have to get all kitted out in order to be Steampunk, either. It's something that's on your inside, not your outside, that counts. Now, that said, you can still let a tiny bit of your freak flag fly (so to speak) by wearing "casual" Steampunk clothes.
These outfits are much more toned-down than your average con-going outfit, and are designed to fit in more with the rest of the world. Or perhaps just be a bit more comfortable. Perhaps a gentleman could wear jeans, a button-down shirt with an open collar, and a vest with a pocket watch. And for a lady, perhaps a Steampunk-friendly skirt, brown boots, a nice blouse, a vest, and a pair of goggles as a hair accessory. These are just suggestions, of course... The idea is to blend Steampunk with modern fashions in order to create something that looks nice but doesn't summon the aforementioned underwear-on-head syndrome.
Photo from the New York Times. These are some great casual Steampunk outfits.
Props would be out of place in a casual Steampunk outfit, but you can get away with Steampunk-looking bags and pouches sometimes, depending on the outfit.
This is a good way to identify yourself in the real world as a Steampunk, which also happens to be a good way to meet other Steampunks. When you look the part, you're more likely to be approached by people who are into that sort of thing.
I highly recommend attending big regional or national events, once you've screwed your courage to the sticking place, as Shakespeare said. National conventions like DragonCon or San Diego Comic Con can be pretty intimidating, and they can give you sensory overload, but they're absolutely worth it. You'll get more inspiration and meet more people and see more things than anywhere else, not to mention that you'll have a chance to meet some of the real movers and shakers in the scene.
Biiiig photo from San Diego Comic Con by Chrononaut Club.
Also, D*C and SDCC are very costume-heavy conventions. Professional costumers will break out their best work, and it is absolutely a sight to behold.
It's often a very expensive undertaking as well, but it's totally worth it for me because it's pretty much the only time of the year when I can see my long-distance friends. I don't know very many people who go once and then decide that they didn't like it, so give it a try!
There are plenty of ways to enjoy Steampunk without even leaving your home. In this earlier article I listed a few books, movies and TV shows that are practically required reading, but there are plenty of more recent books that might tickle your fancy, such as Cherie Priest's "Clockwork Century" series, Scott Westerfeld's "Leviathan" series, and many more that can be found on the List of Steampunk Works page on Wikipedia.
Interestingly, I've found that the average Steampunk is just as likely to have read some random history book as they are to have read some random Steampunk book. If you're interested in odd history books that relate in some way to Steampunk, I highly recommend The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage, and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. They're both really enjoyable reads, and Short History is laugh-out-loud funny at times.
Broadening your knowledge base is a good way to better appreciate Steampunk, and it will give you more common ground with your fellows!
This section isn't about doing the creep, but is instead about the propensity of Steampunk to creep into all aspects of your life. It's a slippery slope because once you realize how easy it is to start crafting and decorating, it's only a matter of time before you start trying to make really bizarre things Steampunk, and you start shopping for appliances based on how Steampunk they look.
The above picture is not what I'm talking about.
Before too long, you'll be acquiring all kinds of tools and incorporating Steampunk into every part of your life. You may even need a Steampunk toothbrushing timer.
Just accept it. It'll be easier for you that way, trust me.
It's pretty much impossible to finish one project and then just not go on and do others, so I recommend also resigning yourself to the idea of making a ton of Steampunk things. That means that you should find a crafting group. Working in a group is a great idea because you can draw on other people's experience and skill as well as their opinions. My advice is to try to think of crafting as a group activity, because it can be a lot of fun to work with others, provided that you all have your own projects. Having multiple people work on the same project can be really frustrating unless you know you work well with someone else.
A bunch of Steampunks making their own goggles in Chile. Photo by Steampunk Chile.
Sometimes it helps just to have another set of eyes look at something you're working on, whether it's writing, crafting, or even simply assembling an outfit!
You may be familiar already with the idea of "Steamsonas", that is, Steampunk personas. It's when someone creates a whole character for themselves when they're in costume, and while it isn't by any means necessary, it can be a lot of fun. Further than that, there are a variety of Steampunk role-playing games (RPGs) or live-action role-playing games (LARPs) out there.
Handily-captioned photo by Smosh.
People will get together and either sit around and roll dice (RPG) or actually act out their characters (LARP), but either way, it's a very fun social experience that can break the ice and help you meet people. If it sounds like the sort of thing you'd enjoy, consider asking around to see if there's a game near you! If there isn't, you can always do the research and start one yourself.
If you combine all of the things I've listed above, you'll end up with a pretty satisfying Steampunk experience! There's always a new project to work on, or a new event to go to, or something to do. As I said in the very beginning, you don't have to do any of these things: Steampunk is something that lives in your heart. But if you want to get the most out of Steampunk, these are all some pretty good suggestions for how to do it!
If I've forgotten anything, please let me know in the comments section!