Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

I like the look of the 1930s and 40s, as I´d imagine do many people on here. It will probably never come back as a whole, but perhaps we can steer things in the right direction anyway. I was wondering if we could perhaps discover what it was that gave the 30s/40s that great look in clothes, architecture etc. Find out what the essence of the look really was, and try to recreate that going forward. I for one like the colour scheme, the way muted colours seems to have been rather common. Pastel colours was one of the big things that was wrong with the 80s. For the cars, I feel that having a hood that was long and flat, with a large grill in front gives a car a certain dignity. The clothes had a great combination of practicality, while being neither too prudish nor too whorish. However I´m not sure apart from that what it was that made them look as good as they did.

Does anyone have anyone thoughts? Is the first step just to unleash plastic-eating bacteria on the world?

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I think we're missing each other here, Larry. I'm not talking strictly socioeconomic "causes" (and I never really bought the whole "hemline" theory anyway...if anything it's coincidental based on underlying root causes) but talking the underlying root philosophies and visions that influenced the pen of the arcitects and designers. The fashion reflects the vision the people of the time had for themselves, and I'll still say that understanding the "why"s of the aestetic is vitally important if someone is going to make the modern incorporation of those 1930's elements relevent. If one plans on truly "reconfiguring" the elements into something relevent for today rather than just "reinacting", then one needs to remember what you're building upon...this is particularly relevent for our makers. Knowing the "forward" mindset that drove streamline design will help one design a new prop or outfit that captures the soul of Dieselpunk, rather than just grabbing elements from old designs wily-nily and creating something Vegas-like that captures the elements of the "look" but leaves the "soul" behind. 

Dr. Steel, for example, plays with Diesel Era Mad Scientist and World Conquest tropes, but incorporates that underlying contemporary belief in a technology-driven utopia in a relevent and ironic postmodern way to satirize our current souless and hopeless cubicline existence. Take away that core philosophical base and you get a musician that dresses like Dr, Frankenstein, which, while entertaining, loses the social aspects that elevate the Good Doctor to something truly meaningful for our society.

On the other hand, the recent Green Hornet movie had a lot of the "look" of the Diesel era thanks to some good visual design work, but ignored that core philosophical element, and in the end was a souless farce that was at best forgettable.

I guess for me it's like the difference between Justin Timberlake wearing a fedora on M-TV to look "trendy" and your own personal vintage style with it's underlying efforts at restoring true "classiness", Larry. ;-)


But I'm digressing; if this is strictly a "what did the 1930s look like" thread, then I'll leave it to that and quit my insane ramblings. ;-)

Okay, it seems my original question has been misunderstood a bit. I wasn´t asking why the 1930s looked the way they do, or about the spirit of the 1930s. I think the 1930s generally looked good, and I´m interested in knowing what it was about it that made it look good. As an analogue, take a look at a beautiful, sexy woman. You think that she looks good, but what about her is it that gives you that opinion? Bodywise, it is probably about how close she is the a certain proportion between the hips, waist and bust. Facewise, well some scientists say it is about how symmetrical a person´s features are. Now these are things that are good to know if we wanted to create the perfect woman in our lab, and who doesn´t? It´s the same kind of analysis I want to apply to the 1930s when it comes to clothing, architecture etc. So if we create something new for the 2010s, we know what we should do to make it look good.


Incidentally, someone mentioned the clothes company Diesel and I remembered their logo is a guy with a mohawk. I guess he´s the Diesel punk.

Please look at this ad from the Flight magazine (1937):

Nothing redundant or extravagant. Minimum detail. The composition is perfect. Everything is proportioned in a way that won't make any Classicist shy. Simple but not primitive. Elegant without pomposity. This "modern" image (brought to us by x-ray delta one @ Flickr) has decades of study and skill behind it.

Atterton said:

Okay, it seems my original question has been misunderstood a bit. I wasn´t asking why the 1930s looked the way they do, or about the spirit of the 1930s. I think the 1930s generally looked good, and I´m interested in knowing what it was about it that made it look good.

Yes, sleek, minimalist, classy...exactly the result of a zeitgeist for moving ever forward fast.

All I've been trying to say is that.

I'm not talking philosophy to hear myself talk, I'm trying to answer the fundamental question of this thread which is "what it was [about the 30s] that made it look good", and the answer to that was a design philosophy built on forward and upward momentum. Think sleek and steamline, motion over stasis, fast, vertical, ever forward into glory. That means straight lines, minimal adronment, and a feeling of movement even when standing still. This core value is inseperable from the designs.

The point is that IMO you need to remember that core philosophy, at least at the back of your head, or you just start carbon-copying the discrete elements of style Edsel-like while forgetting the point. That woman from the lab? If you just attach idealized legs, breasts, hair, lips, etc. to an idealized torso you end up with a Barbie Doll, not a woman.

If you just want to make a list of "fedoras, yes, bustles no" I fear you run the risk of just making a "theme park version", but if that's the goal and my advice isn't helpful, I'll step out of the way.

Very good feedback from all both. I'm gonna have to chew on this one some more.

It's hard to think of the big picture, as far as style is concerned, without looking at what influenced that style at the time.

Futurism and "wish-fulfillment for a better future" are big influences, especially after WWI and the worst days of the depression.

Futurism (the theory, not the practice) is a big influence on my dieselpunk fashion; sharp, clean, efficient lines mixed with a bit of militaria or a sense of effortless motion do it for me.  I want my outfit to work with me, not against me.

I agree with Tome here. Fact is, we are in 2011, not 1920. And even in the era we admire so much, there were areas of darkness and things not so much attractive. On the other hand, I think that we have passed from a "Winner - Can do - I'll make my future better" mentality to a "Looser - Impossible - Everything is relative therefore no thing is better than the other" mentality. A futurist car is a bold statement against human limits, not simply a car bigger than that of your neighbour; a plane is a powerful machine shot straight to the heart of a foreign land, instead of a flying box full of bored and fearful men. 

So we're talking about design elements of the fashion that make something give off that 30's vibe? I'd have to say men's suits are probably the most dificult piece because the suit has changed that much. There are extremes like the zoot suit, padded shoulders. and tailored waists. But didn't these design elements come back in the 80's and 90's? Very noticeable pinstripes and thicker naturl fabrics seem appropriate as well. Is this more along the vein of what the intended thread topic?


Don't forget about the "Colonial Style" which made a brief comeback in the 70s as "Safari Fashion" (sans cork helmets, though). Less formal, lighter, brighter.

Virgil Briggs (Samuel Crowe) said:

Very noticeable pinstripes and thicker naturl fabrics seem appropriate as well.


I toght colonial style in the '30es to be mostly an Italian thing. It was Italy that made its colonial expansions in Africa during that era, when colonialism tout-court had become politically unacceptable in the international arena.

Colonial style had adherents around the globe as part of the whole "Explorer-Adventurer" thing. In the Americas and South Pacific I think it manifested more in Panama Hats and white linen suits than jodpurs and strap-jackets.


Italy was more into Futurism, "Romanita", and Militaria at the time, leading to strange mixes of neoclassical, art deco, Roman triumph, and sleek cut but overly-adorned uniforms. If I get the opportunity I'll try to post some of the strange schizophrenic "new but old, and old but new" look and feel of Fascist Italy resulting from Mussolini's attempts to appeal to both conservative reactionary elements and progressive futurist elements at the same time. The Nazi look borrows heavily from it, but gives it a distinct Teutonic slant.

The Nazis did have some great design work as well.


So you would say the important elements are a minimalism, while attempting to give a sense of movement to objects? Random streamlining and such I suppose.

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