Of all the questions I get about Steampunk costuming, the most frequently asked is perhaps “Why do Steampunks wear goggles?”
This is particularly interesting because, of course, most Steampunks do not actually wear goggles. That is, they have goggles on their person…but the goggles are seldom on their faces. This is especially important because most of us have goggles that you cannot actually see through. Or if you can see through them, you simply see much worse than everything else. as you are probably peering through blurry plastic (or, if you’re fancy, blurry glass). Add to that the fact that the goggles are almost never actually protective nature, and you have what other people might consider to be totally useless. But as Seampunks, we know the truth:
These damn goggles are totally useless.
That’s actually the point.
Seriously, what are our popular images of people who have goggles, but don’t place them over their actual fields of vision? Cut to that clip in your mind of a scientist looking through goggles at some particular thing, then pushing them up on her for head and announcing a discovery. Picture the dashing World War I flying ace, coming out of an airplane with goggles strapped tightly around their neck. And think about all of those movies where top hats develop eyes and need goggles! Okay, that last one never happens. But that’s not the point right now.
The precise point of the goggles is that they aren’t intended to have a direct physical function. The goggles are signifiers of imagination. They remind us of all of the adventures and possibilities and inventions which might happen in an essentially limitless universe of storytelling. And that, in turn, reminds us that the real world is actually also an unlimited universe of storytelling. The lines between truth and fiction tend to blur when it comes to human consciousness, because we are at heart makers of tales and designers of new ideas.
So the reason why Steampunks bear goggles, particularly goggles that are not functional, and especially goggles which are never intended to be functional, is that the function is not to take on the role of normal eyeware in a normal world. Instead, they are, not costuming, but magnets to attract and fire new neurons in the brain–in the mind of whoever wears them, and in the mind of whomever sees them.
Steampunk is a continuous redefinition of reality as envisioned by the maximum potential of human thought… with a large dose of the ridiculous thrown in. That’s why we wear, and sing, and do, things which aren’t always practical or “realistic”–because the goal isn’t to do something we would normally envision; it’s to envision things that can access far beyond our definitions of “normalcy”.