I have to admit I was a bit confused. I had noticed some stuff on the Internet - Macs modded into typerwriter cases, steam engine contraptions, and assorted weirdness - over the last year or so. Bart's passed a lot of this information along. Thanks Bart! However, I didn't think a subculture was building.
The first time I heard of Steampunk it was in regards to manga - Kia Asamiya's Steam Detectives comes to mind. In 2004, Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy came out. It wasn't bad but really didn't do much for me. A new Vampire Hunter D movie came out around that same time.
Side note: I remember a sci-fi/fantasy/Victorian series of books back in the late 80s/early 90s (19 not 18) called Philip Jose Farmer's The Dungeon. The books featured British guys with mustaches commiting acts of derring-do. Actually the books were awesome and I'd like to reread them.
I suppose in the early/mid-00's there were several other pop culture releases: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, del Toro's Hellboy, Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Firefly, the reprinting of Robert E. Howard novels, and some other items that escape my memory.
Oh yeah and there was the absinthe craze too.
I kind of dig the current style of Steampunk but I don't know what exactly to think. A snarky part of me scoffs and thinks that it's a sepia-toned neo-Goth/Victorian shake & bake movement that's a knock-off of Harajuku fashion. Maybe it's just an excuse to wear Abe Sapien goggles. The not so snarky part of me thinks Steampunk fashion and it's brass gewgaws are pretty fucking darn cool. I have to admit that if I could get away with dressing like an aeronaut and waving around a steam-powered repeating firearm I would be pretty happy.
There's definitely more to Steampunk and I'm going to look into it. There's a sensibility beyond the fashion that is appealing that I can't quite put my finger on yet.