Steam Punk is an alternative reality where society and technology made a different turn than the one that produced the 20th century. In our reality the analog gave way to digital, gas and electric to nuclear, and the abacus to the computer. The gears, clockworks, and industrial machines become something of beauty. The dirigible is dominant along with steam, gas, and electricity; a portable phone created by different technological advances, a ray gun inspired by Tesla’s daring electromagnetic experiments, or chemical additives to enhance the power of the steam engine.
One way Steam Punk people portray this smash-up of elements is shown in the way the corset moves from being under the garment to worn outside the garment. It therefore exemplifies not the restraint, control, and tempering of women’s mobility as it did in Victorian times but becomes a symbol of liberation and female power. Some even attack it as being gender specific and men might also don the corset (men actually did wear corsets for health reasons). Another way may be the mixing of cultural elements – what if the Chinese had reached North America and established a trading center in the area of California? Pirates might fly the skies in airships carrying an assortment of men and women – Arab warriors, African Bandits, English dockworkers or soldiers. Alternatively, a mixture of all three!
Add to this the gadgets and contraptions of steam technology:
Goggles may be because of all that airship flight in the open cockpits or it may be because of the recent natural calamities, or as Cherie Priest explained in her novel, Boneshaker, it protects from a poisonous gas.
Clocks, gears, etc. symbolize craftsmanship in a time when the ordinary person could still make things, tinker with things, and create the extraordinary as ‘armchair amateurs.’ The sturdy materials, the polished work seen in the smallest workings of a watch or the gigantic functions of steel, bronze, or iron, all reflect that desire to return to a more anchored reality,
--Marilyn A. Hudson