Cyberpunk is like cyberspace: instantly recognizable, but so ubiquitous as to be intangible. An aesthetic movement and a commentary on capitalism, it can be a genre, a subjectivity, an adjective, a political approach, a time period. (Though the same could be said of the words Renaissance or Victorian.) It can tackle artificial intelligence, embodied identity, digital immortality, or simply, in the case of Pat Cadigan’s Synners, whether a marriage can survive electronic pornography addiction. Like the best fiction, cyberpunk still slips on like a pair of fingerless gloves, even if—in the 21st century, partially situated in the future it imagined—it’s hard to see where fiction ends and reality begins.

Despite all of this, cyberpunk often gets reduced to an aesthetic: black leather, mirror shades, implants—pieces of flare that look cool when lit by neon and computer screens. But to define cyberpunk by its look is to do it a disservice, especially since those sartorial choices are the whole point in the first place: armor against a world in collapse. In a future so hostile that no one is fit to survive, those who do have been fitted for something new—new brain, new heart, new nerves—perhaps in exchange for a lifetime of indentured servitude. Cyberpunk foretold a desperate world of unlicensed physicians doing back-alley body modifications, and while so far all they do is perform illegal butt lifts, with Crispr, who knows?

Perhaps the genre gets pigeonholed by its look because, going back to old testaments like Neuromancer or Snow Crash, it seemed allergic to any talk of feelings. Ideas, sure; sentiment, no. Like the noir fiction with which it so frequently overlaps, cyberpunk is full of wounded characters whose pursuit of physical invulnerability keeps them emotionally unavailable to everyone but the audience. It’s telling that people turned against the Matrix films when they had the audacity to be lushly, erotically romantic—when climaxes hinged on a hero knowing how to reach inside his partner and touch her just right. Viewers weren’t ready for a Wife Guy who wanted to walk away from his messianic power; it was like watching an entire trilogy of The Last Temptation of Christ‘s final 15 minutes, right down to the long hair and linen.

Still, 40-ish years since its incept date, cyberpunk maintains a vast claim on the aesthetic landscape—one often ironically divorced from the dark, anti-capitalist messages those visuals sought to convey. It has inspired video games like Cyberpunk 2077 (naturally starring Neo himself, Keanu Reeves), an Urban Decay eye shadow palette characterized by deeply ’90s duo chromes, a collaboration between Yohji Yamamoto and Adidas, and roughly 4 million posts on Instagram. For everyone who watched Stand Alone Complex on Adult Swim (or, let’s be real, a DivX player), there’s now a bespoke keyboard aglow with bisexual lighting, a liquid meal plan, or a “smart” vibrator. For everyone else, there’s cottagecore.

Here’s a fun game: First, check out Mondo 2000‘s tongue-in-cheek 1993 piece “R.U. a Cyberpunk?” Note the abundance of straps, holsters, and handheld cameras. Then, go look at photos from January 6, 2021, or the bow-and-arrow-wielding protesters who took to Hong Kong’s streets in 2019, or MRAPs rolling through Portland. Ask yourself: If a specific future has already happened, what happens to stories about that future? Now that time has caught up with them, are these visions simply contemporary literature, no more speculative than stories about donated kidneys and grown men dating high schoolers?

“Above culture, clothing, and genre, cyberpunk is a lifestyle that blends a combination of ‘low-key living’ with a deep understanding of social fabric backdoors and full access to high-tech gadgets,” fashion writer Mandy Meyer wrote in The Vou. Yossy, the founder of Japanese cyberpunk fashion brand Helvetica, has stressed that the clothing should use innovative materials yet be functional, telling Shell Zine it “should strengthen the wearer, like an exoskeleton, and at the same time be comfortable and not too stuffy or formal.” Mostly this means dressing like you live in Seattle, because in cyberpunk it’s always raining.