Starting Out In Steampunk: Part 3 -Misconceptions You Should Probably Know About Your New Lifestyle and Friends

YOU’RE STILL NOT TALKING ABOUT CLOTHES!
I Know! We’ll get to it!

So, having found yourself a nice community to join and a group of like-minded people to hang out with, you’ll probably want to start hanging out with them! Thing is, there are a lot of preconceptions about Steampunks and what they do, so before you go running in, it is worth considering some of the top rumours that you may have heard.

Myth 1:
There Are No Rules in Steampunk

I’ll start with the anomalous one first, because this one is the perhaps the single most misused piece of information about Steampunk!
In the UK, the full saying is “There are no rules in Steampunk, except Be Splendid”, though sometimes there is a byline added which goes, “Steampunks are accepting of everyone”. And in many ways, this saying is true, but there is a certain element of ambiguity about it. There are no rules as to how you should dress, or wear your make-up, or do your hair. There are no limits on age, religion, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin or political leanings. There are no expectations for you to like certain music, films, art or artists thereof.
HOWEVER… There are certain rules that Steampunks expect you to abide by without actually having to tell you what they are, and that’s where the “Be Splendid” comes into it. These rules, which I like to refer to as the Four Commons, are common law (and other legal regulations), common courtesy, common decency and common sense rules. The expectation here is that you behave in a manner befitting of a “Splendid” community and do nothing to damage the good reputation that they are trying to build – basically, obey the law, don’t do anything stupid or dangerous, and don’t act like an arse. Just because Steampunks are accepting of everyone, doesn’t mean they are accepting of bad behaviour – I myself have witnessed many examples of bad, disruptive, stupid and downright dangerous behaviour that people have then attempted to justify by saying “you can’t have a go at me, there are no rules in Steampunk and you have to accept everyone as they are”. No, actually, we do not. Steampunks are accepting of everyone into the community – we will allow anyone to join in with our lifestyle – but we do NOT have to tolerate bad/dangerous behaviour, harassment of any kind or actions that willingly or intentionally cause offence to another party. Certain groups also have more specific rules that they expect you to abide by, as do Facebook groups, community websites and forums. You are expected to abide by these rules, because they are there for a reason – safety, legal protection, and to keep the group a pleasant place to be.

So the bottom line is, while Steampunk does not have rules regarding lifestyle, common likes, design, etc, societal, cultural, legal and behavioural laws still apply.

Myth 2:
Steampunk is dress-up for Middle-Class Elites and people with money

The short response to this is “Ummm… No”. But there are two parts to this.

Firstly, Steampunk is not limited to people of a certain social class, and it certainly doesn’t require money to be involved in. Many of my friends live on limited budgets and either charity shop, upcycle or make their clothes. I have only one family of friends that I would consider “well off” (and make no mistake, they worked bloody hard for it) and the others are all regular, everyday people. Teachers, H&S Officers, Nurses, Self Employed, Tech Support and Civil Servants, just to name a few, and none of them particularly high up the pay ladder. They save up for events that they want to go to, and don’t attend those that they can’t afford. Simple logistics.
The idea that Steampunks are all wealthy stems from the fact that a lot of the big events can become quite expensive, but this fact is the same anywhere. Putting on an event costs money, and the organisers can’t be expected to foot the bill all by themselves – that simply wouldn’t be fair. So ticketing comes in to play, and Steampunk is not the only lifestyle that does this. Gothic festivals, Lolita events, Conventions and gigs all cost money, so what organisers of Steampunk events are doing is no different to what other lifestyles and groups have been doing for decades already.

On top of this, there are many outfits that are lavish and extravagant, but don’t let their opulence fool you. That amazing jet pack was made from a recycled wooden case and some bits of metal rescued from a skip. Those huge glimmering wings? EVA foam, which can be bought in stores like JTF for £8 for 10 square metres, and a gold spray paint. That stunning dress with the full skirts? That material came from a bargain bin as an end-of-line roll! Gems, pearls and embellishments are often plastic and people spend months making their outfits look that good on a tiny budget. Not everything that looks expensive actually is, so don’t be fooled into thinking that people are rich just because they look it. And even if an outfit is actually expensive, don’t just take it for granted that they bought it that way. I know some people who spent years making a single outfit, just because it was going to cost them a lot of money. I myself have an outfit that I have been working on for a year and a half, simply because I have to take my time collecting the materials.
Talking about clothing, there’s the part about “dress-up”. Steampunks may become offended if you refer to Steampunk as “dressing up” or “Cosplay”, because for many of them, it’s not! Steampunk is a lifestyle, just like Goth, Punk, Lolita, Hippie, New Age or Nudism, and referring to it otherwise basically belittles their choice to live in a certain way. Sure, you can dress like a Steampunk and not be a Steampunk, just like you can dress like a surgeon and not have a medical degree. But actual Steampunks may take offence if you refer to them as Cosplayers and people playing dress up, so it’s not worth taking the risk on the off-chance that they’re actually just Cosplaying. Don’t worry too much if you do slip up, most real Steampunks will laugh it off and correct you in a gentle fashion, but if you do actually hurt a Steampunk’s feelings, please be sure to apologise!

Myth 3:
It’s not Steampunk if it doesn’t have cogs/goggles/insert other random Steampunk visual icon here…

This one is just flat-out untrue, full-stop. End of.

Sure, cogs and goggles are something of a visual icon in Steampunk, and it is very easy to get dragged into the idea that the only way something can be Steampunk is if it features one or other of these items in some way. The fact is, there are many Steampunk visual icons, including but not limited to: airships, penny farthings, kraken/squids/octopi, top hats, moustaches, teapots and cups, silver teaspoons and Queen Victoria. Yet, it is still possible to have a Steampunk outfit that features a grand total of none of these items. Just because they are icons, does not mean you have to use them, and to be completely honest, after a while, the inclusion of such items can feel like a cliche. Where is the “punk” and individuality if everyone is wearing goggles and stitching cogs to their hats? (That being said, I will concede that cogs makes great buttons!) A great many Steampunks have crafted outfits that simply wouldn’t make sense with goggles, and adding a cog for the sake of having one isn’t the way forward. But then again, I have never been a fan of functionless cogging.

Myth 4:
You must wear Steampunk clothes to go to a Steampunk event

While dressing the part does help, there is no need to dress Steampunk to go to a Steampunk event, particularly if the event is something like a small local meeting. Many Steampunk gatherings I have been to have included numerous “Steam-curious” and newcomers who have not gotten around to creating a complete outfit yet. Many people feel shy or uncomfortable about attending a Steampunk event and not wearing a complete outfit, but the community as a whole understands that sometimes it simply isn’t practical for someone to go all-out on their first, second, or even third event. People have money problems, health issues, travel concerns and all sorts that could potentially put a dampener on their ability to don a full outfit, and the majority of Steampunks you meet will be completely accepting and sympathetic of your situation.

That being said, you may come across a few who try to tell you that it’s “not done” to attend a Steampunk event in non-Steampunk attire and that you should “make more of an effort or just not bother coming”. This kind of behaviour to anyone attending a Steampunk event, Steam-curious or not, is generally frowned upon, as it goes against the ethos of being accepting.

There is absolutely nothing to prevent you from attending a Steampunk event in “civvies”, unless the event specifically requires a certain dress code. If this is the case, the event will usually say so. There may also be limitations to what kind of Steampunk items you can wear or take, and this will also be mentioned on the promotional material.

Myth 5:
Steampunks must eat cake, drink tea and imbibe gin

This is again a bit of a silly one that seems to pop its head up every now and then. Some people seem to have this belief that Steampunks exist purely on gin, tea and cake. Fact of the matter is… we don’t! I also eat pizza and drink Irn Bru!

While I can’t say for a fact where this idea stems from, I can guess that it derives from the tea party culture that surfaced in the Victorian era, where tea was served in delicate, fancy china cups and tiny sandwiches and cakes were the norm. Rest assured, you are not required to partake in any of these items if you choose not to! The inclusion of these kinds of small gatherings as part of Steampunk culture was pretty much a given, considering how popular they were at the time of their initial inception. But the inclusion of tea, gin and cake as a Steampunk staple is more of a piss-take than a serious belief – the idea started as a myth but has since been adopted as a fun way of taking the mickey out of ourselves and encouraging others to join in our silliness (“come to the Dark Side, we have cake“, that sort of thing!).

I myself am not a fan of gin (I prefer a good Scottish Single Malt!), though I am particular to a lovely cup of Earl Grey and a slice of Mr Gearing’s Chocolate and Cherry cake. My husband is an occasional gin-drinker, a lover of Gold Blend and cannot even be near Mr Gearing’s Ginger Cake without inhaling the whole thing! Our friend is a coffee-lover, beer-drinker and prefers biscuits to cake. What I am trying to say is, don’t feel as though you have to partake in any kind of food or beverage that you don’t want to. It’s your choice, and nobody will (or at least, they shouldn’t) try to force you otherwise.

***

So, those are some of my top myths about Steampunk! I have neglected to include my favourite myth, simply because the whole concept is incredibly complex, and could have an entire post of its own. Perhaps I will delve into it some other time.

Are there any myths you’ve heard about Steampunk that you’d like clearing up? Perhaps someone has said something to you and confused you a little? Or are you just looking for a bit of a giggle? Why not send me some questions, myths or little snippets and I’ll have a chat about them some time in the future?

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