Steam-powered fashion.

Steampunk. It’s a puzzling term—one of those words that makes people scrunch up their face and contemplatively scratch their head. So here’s a tutorial:

By definition it’s an obscure genre of Victorian-influenced fantasy fiction. But what it’s become is, quite simply, an aesthetic, completely fantastical and surreal. One that’s taking the fashion world by storm [or perhaps more appropriately, steam].

These steampunks throw a bit of western twang alongside their neo-Victorian leather and lace.

It’s gears and cogs; corsets and buckles. It’s a Victorian gentleman who fell into a giant industrial mechanism and emerged with gear-operated limbs. It’s bizarre. But right now, it’s fashion.

“Steampunk is like, a world where people from the future time travel between the Victorian era and the present,” Boston steampunk designer Elena Sanders told me in an interview. “Or if electricity had never been invented and everything had gone forward with steam power.” How whimsical.

At Boston Fashion Week 2009, Sanders showed an entire collection of steampunk looks filled with metal wings, chicken wire caging, corsets and lots and lots of gears, all dissected from the hearts of skeleton clocks. Yes, the collection was out there, but somehow, quite tastefully done.

Check out her segment of The Launch show here:

[there’s no available video of her individual show.]

A couple of years ago Sanders read an article about the phenomenon and decided she’d quite like to be steampunk. But she didn’t have any steampunk clothes. So, true to the DIY nature of the trend, she made some!

In an MTV News article by Andrew Ross Rowe, Evelyn Kriete, co-founder of steampunk pioneering website jaborwhalky.net, attributes most of steampunk’s rise of fashionable fame to the inventive steampunker, Kit Stolen.

He invented these hair falls, which almost appear like he’s wearing electronics in his hair. There is a famous photo of him taken by Nadya Lev. She posted it to her Web site, and it started to get around. People were like, ‘That looks good. What’s this steampunk thing?’

Steampunk-wares are now available from a vast array of specialty vendors. Just Google “steampunk fashion” and you’ll be up to your nose in hits to low-quality websites from steampunk designers selling one-of-a-kind pieces out of their basement.

But aside from those specialty niche dealers, steampunk and it’s neo-Victorian aesthetic have begun to steadily bleed into the fashion world at large.

Since their start, Comme des Garcons has been deemed ‘conceptualists,’ constantly dabbling in the neo-Victorian aesthetic with exaggerated silhouettes, Edwardian wigs and bookoos of buckles and straps.

Designer Byblos recently declared their Spring 2010 line “Victorian Punk,” and up and coming label Skingraft showed some tasteful yet steamy goggles and leather at LA fashion week. [just beware of Googling skin graft when you go to check them out, ick]

Steampunk bloggers are even saying that Christian Dior’s over-the-top Spring 2010 couture line has a certain steampunk flare.

Style.com recently compiled this feature that pulls together some of the most epic ne0-Victorian looks from the past decade.

With these neo-Victorian, otherwordly aesthetics pulsating throughout the fashion scene right now, it seems everyone is donning their aviator goggles and gear-operated pocket watch for a ride [if ever so brief] on this steampunk locomotive. And I say, good for them, a little off-beat pizzaz never hurt anyone.

Photo (cc) by Anne Fischer and republished here under a Creative Commons license.Some rights reserved.

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