Rebecca Saray photography
Copyright Rebecca Saray

I’ve spent a long time thinking about this. I have a firm belief that steampunk is as individual as the person who considers themselves one. If it wasn’t, we’d all dress the same and the “punk” part of the name would be redundant.

That being said, there’s no denying that we all share a common theme of interest that draws us into this heady world of invention, brass and tea. There’s such a broad field of design and aesthetic across the culture, that it’s difficult to pin point one exact area that one can say: “That’s steampunk”.

There are many elements that make up steampunk and it would be close minded of anyone to think that they shouldn’t all be considered in their own right. However, they are and that’s why this project has been undertaken. The biggest struggle that I’ve seen online recently is the argument over whether anything can be considered steampunk. Annoyingly my answer to that is yes; with a little bit of no. Let me try to make things clearer:

I firmly believe that anything can become steampunk, but not everything is steampunk.

By that, I mean that you can pretty much take anything in the world and by sticking to some basic guidelines, you can turn it into steampunk. I’ve devised these guidelines to combat the many arguments that appear daily on social media. They’re not intended to be taken as rules. Steampunk has no rules and I’m more than happy to keep it that way. However, in the spirit of maintaining some continuity and in order that we don’t start taking over other sub-culture’s eras, we need to keep within certain boundaries.

Please read Concerning Steampunks first. Links to more indepth articles on the guidelines are contained in the blue headlines.

Guidelines to steampunk:

  1. Aesthetics reminiscent of the late 19th/early 20th century
    This would be the Victorian age in Britain and is generally recognised as the “Victorian era”, though it can expand slightly to the Edwardian era. This doesn’t mean you have to dress as a Victorian, but to keep in with the general consensus of the culture, it helps to include references to the those ages.

  2. If someone says they are a steampunk and that their work is steampunk, then they are a steampunk
    Steampunk is so individual, who is one person to say what is and what isn’t steampunk?
  3. Science fiction plays a part in steampunk as much as Victorian
    Many people think that steampunk generally ends in the early 1900s, but it in fact can go on further, way out into the far future. The only limit is your imagination.

  4. Create a background
    By creating a background for your invention, you can explain areas that others may find hard to see the steampunk in

  5. Be nice and thoughtful, but honest
    A lot of steampunk is conveyed through social media. Give your thoughts but be polite and consider they may have a different outlook to steampunk

  6. Steampunk is Victorian Inspired Science Fiction
    Victorian science fiction was written by the Victorians in the Victorian era and therefore differs to steampunk which is written in the modern age. We draw our inspiration from the great authors of the Victorian age as well as others who wrote similar work before the term “steam punk” was coined in 1987

These are guidelines that I consider to be a logical approach, but are not at all definitive. I’ve tried to take an open minded approach that can fulfill as many people’s views on what represents steampunk as possible. There are countless other guidelines for particular areas of steampunk, but these will get you started if nothing else. If you feel they could be added to in some way, then please get in touch.


  1. I still have an issue with “I Steampunk therefore I am Steampunk” and the guideline that if I call myself Steampunk and call what I make or do Steampunk then, ergo, it and I, must be Steampunk. My personal view is that at the very least some other people who are Steampunk must agree with me. I could concede this down to at least one other person says so too; and or the statement “I Steampunk therefore I am Steampunk” is corroborated by at least the first and third guidelines which is to say the prevalent aesthetic combined with punk, non-conformist traits and some sense of Sci -fi/altered history as imagined from a contemporary perspective.

    1. It just struck me that anyone can post on a SP page and someone else will like it. Steampunk is a bit like a fingerprint I suppose; It’s as unique as the person, but has a similar appearance to many others.

      1. Just for fun, toes have toe-prints and toes are similar to fingers, but toes are not fingers. Things that are similar are not the same.

      2. Indeed dear boy, but someone could look at a fingerprint and say “I like that fingerprint because it looks similar to my fingerprint. It must be a fingerprint because it looks like one.” But no-one would say “I like that toe because it looks like my finger. That toe must be a finger.” 😉

  2. However, I do whole-heartedly agree with the principle that “anything can become Steampunk but not everything is Steampunk”.

  3. It’s a tricky one, isn’t it? While I don’t like to say that someone’s efforts cannot be considered steampunk (that whiffs off elitism), if ANYTHING can be considered steampunk, then the word “steampunk” has no meaning.
    I like your notion that anything CAN be steampunk but not everything IS steampunk.
    I agree with Andrew: someone has to agree with you. For example: if I had produced Picasso’s painting “The Fall of Icarus” and declared it was Realism, and declared I was a Realist painter, while you could argue no one has the right to tell me I’m not, the truth is no one would agree with me, and realistically, I wouldn’t be a Realist painter.

    …I feel like I’ve used the word “real” too often now.

    All in all, I think your guidelines are sound – not too restrictiive, but giving some definition to make “steampunk” actually mean something.

    1. Keep it real, my good man! 😉
      I agree with what you’re saying and a certain degree of common sense has to be played. Maybe a follow up article on using common sense may be in order 🙂

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