I have noticed recently a general interest in having rules; or perhaps not rules, but a framework in which to explore. I suppose this makes sense, for people are generally most comfortable if they have a structure to be free in. Often people post here wondering if their outfits are "steampunk," or if there is a way to integrate their personal style into the steampunk environment.
Given this situation, I would like to offer those of you interested in having some basic rules the following list of points to use as guidelines. Those of you who are already confident in your steampunk style have no need to dwell upon these, but anyone who is concerned or hesitant about how to approach a "steampunk outfit" should feel free to use these points as reference. I hope that they are useful.
As a disclaimer, I should like to state that these points are based upon my own experiences, observations, reading of steampunk literature, and academic understanding of history. I will confess that where other people often spend an evening watching American Idol to relax, my idea of "vegging out in front of the TV" involves First World War documentaries; so I am very much taken by the historical aspect of things. However, given that I am the author of the Steampunk Style Quiz, which has been taken over 10,000 times with very positive feedback, I do feel that my observations are generally acceptable.
Rule One: Steampunk fashion is a real-world reproduction of the clothing that is or could be found in steampunk literature. It's that simple.
Rule Two: When in doubt, dress Victorian and then add. The Victorians were the first people to fully capitalize upon steam technology in a way that affected everyday life, so it is no surprise that most steampunk writing either takes place in the Victorian world or is strongly inspired by it. If you're afraid that your outfit is "too Victorian" you're probably doing it right.
Rule Three: Steampunk fashion is about creating an outfit that delights the senses, entertains the wearer, and engages the viewer. Never feel obliged to take away from the style or appeal of an outfit simply because you fear it will be "not steampunk enough." Do not be misled, coerced, or second-guessed into including a collection of "steampunk status symbols" (goggles are the most infamous, though we do love them) if they do not fit with the outfit, or with the vision you are attempting to produce.
Rule Four: There is no "steampunk color." Some people have claimed that steampunk is only brown, or only black, or only white, or only light, or only dark. They are wrong. Virtually any color can be steampunk (though perhaps one might balk at neon). If you like to wear black, there is a steampunk justification; if you like to wear brown, there is a steampunk justification; if you like to wear bright colors, there is a steampunk justification. Remember, steampunk is set in a world of comparatively advanced technology, so it is perfectly reasonable to have vibrant colors and complicated machine-made patterns.
Rule Five: You are allowed to like other genres. If you like a style of fashion that does not fit into steampunk (Enlightenment era, Pulp Adventure, Mod 60s, Medieval, etc.) be proud of it. Do not feel compelled to try and wedge it under the steampunk caption. These are all genres that people have worked very hard to create, expand, and explore; so we rather owe it to them to respect the diversity and uniqueness of their differences. You are all diverse and well-rounded people with differing interests. Let that be a source of pride.
Rule Six: Have fun and be yourself. That's what this is about. Don't feel compelled to conform with everyone else. Don't feel shy about posting just because you don't want to dress like the other people who you've seen post. And don't post with the question "do you guys think this is steampunk enough?" Post with the statement "I feel that this is steampunk, and here is why I think so." At worst, someone will disagree and then the two of you can discuss your conflicting views, get to know each other, and come to an understanding; or, you can simply feel free to ignore them, and you have every right to do so if you don't feel like arguing over a simple difference of opinion.
I hope that those of you looking for this sort of thing find it useful. Above all, I would like to emphasize that the point here is that you should be proud of having your own opinion and your own unique style.
-G. D. Falksen