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Jackie Hope: Do you feel the steam, punk?

Know what steampunk is? It is what happens when Goths discover the color brown.

And you are asking what Medieval history has to do with the color brown, aren’t you? We’re not talking about those Goth guys that caused the fall of the Roman Empire. Or those guys who invented the really big cathedrals in Europe — the Gothic cathedrals. Because those guys were French anyway, and the cathedrals were only called Gothic by a snooty Renaissance dude who was using the term as a sort of ethnic slur.

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We’re talking about the 1980s and ‘90s Goth subculture that began as an English offshoot of punk music — Hey, who doesn’t remember those classic artists, The Clash? — which morphed into a lifestyle with a life of its own. Or maybe a death of its own. The Goths are into that sort of thing.

Goths are like moths. They usually appear at night, their identifying color is black, and sometimes they wear wings. On formal occasions. Don’t think they can fly, though. Not legally. Anyway, running into a Goth is like meeting a member of The Addams Family.

The Goth style was cutting-edge cool back before tweens discovered vampires. You know, back when vampires sizzled in the sunlight, instead of twinkled in the twilight. Kinda wonder if Edward, the champ vamp from “The Twilight Saga,” got a little too close to Tinkerbell’s pixie dust.

And now there is, like, a whole generation of chicks who clutch their “Twilight” books to their bosoms and recite, “I won’t grow up, won’t grow up.” You know the ones: the ones who name their daughters and dogs Bella.

Now that Goths are as common as Bellas, some of them have off-shot again, into the steampunk genre.

Steampunk is like Goth, only with gears instead of gore, and with clever inventions instead of — eeeeewwww — ghoulish intentions. Steampunk is the new cool. Steam is hot!

Steampunk has actually been around for more than 100 years, it just wasn’t called that.

Back then it was speculative fiction written by authors like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Fast-forward a century, and you have 20st century punkers speculating about the good ol’ Victorian days. Victorian ideas about airships or anything full of hot air — no, wait, that’s not right — about anything steam-powered, caught the fancy of fantasy and science fiction writers, and by the 1960s authors were creating worlds where Stanley Steemers did a whole lot more than clean carpets.

You are still wondering about the color brown, aren’t you? See, steampunk is also a fashion statement. A wicked cool fashion statement. And brown is the preferred color in a steampunker’s closet. We wear long brown skirts with lacy bustles, brown corsets with laces, laced-up lacy brown jackets, and to-die-for brown boots with more chains than Marley’s ghost, and more buttons than the lost and found at a laundromat. And wait ‘til you hear about the hats we wear. … Oops. Did I say, “We?” What I meant to say was those stylin’ babes who wear smokin’ steampunk threads are strutting in some of the finest swag I ever did see. And maybe there is a brown bustier or two in my closet. And some brown boots under the bed.

Steamers love gears. They wear gears in their ears, cogs on their chokers, and pocket watch parts everywhere. Little watch parts, not the big honkers like Flavor Flav favors. That dude has made Baby Bens into fashion statements.

And steampunk is not just for girls, either. Guys get all this amazing stuff to wear: aviator goggles and caps, riding breeches, brown leather duster coats, and hobnail boots. Guy steampunkers dress a whole lot more macho than Goth guys.

Just think about Hugh Jackman in the “Van Helsing” movie. For that matter, just think about Hugh Jackman …

OK, are you cool enough to be a steampunker? Here is a quick alternate-reality check:

  • Have you eagerly read books by Verne or Wells? Give yourself 1 point for each author you’ve read. No points if you read them on a Kindle.
  • Do you own a real watch? Give yourself another point. If it winds and ticks, give yourself 2 bonus points.
  • Do your shoes have buckles or laces? 2 points for buckles. 1 for laces. Maximum of 3 points, if you have both. Subtract a point if your shoes Velcro themselves shut.
  • Do you wear non-corrective glasses just because you think the frames are cool? Give yourself 1 point. If they are Harry Potter glasses, subtract a point, because Harry Potter is no longer cool.
  •  Do you carry an umbrella? Give yourself a point. If you only carry it in the rain, then you can just forget your point for this question.
  • Do you own a pencil? 1 point. Do you use it? Another point. If you only write with rollerballs, subtract a point. If you only text message, then subtract 5 points, and go back and reread how COOL we steampunkers are.


  • 12 points max: You are steampunk-a-licious! Bet you are a master at “Martian Dreams.”
  • 8-11 points: You are getting up a good head of steam.
  • 5-7 points: You have great skills with a steam iron.
  • Fewer than 5: You are seemingly steamless, and probably live on Cheetos and Mountain Dew, and have never played “Martian Dreams.” So if you are shopping around on eBay for some steamin’ steampunk gear, and you happen to see a brown velvet cutaway jacket in an auction that is closing on Friday, please don’t bid against the current high bidder. Just sayin’.