Dressing Steamfunk can be fun, but it can also be frustrating without first having a concept of who the character you want to portray really is.

Steamfunk characters can be broken down into a few basic archetypes. Choose your character’s archetype and then develop a persona based on that archetype and create your persona’s back-story. This will help you determine what he or she should wear and make picking a costume much easier and more enjoyable.

My persona is Ogunlana, a Hunter / Fighter. He is the Aare Ona Kakanfo (“War Chief of War Chiefs”) of the Oyo Empire, who brought down an invading British airship with his war-drum, which emits powerful and destructive sonic waves. Ogunlana wears the trappings of the crew of the downed airship with his traditional African clothing to warn others what will befall them if they dare invade his homeland.

Here are a few archetypes. I have included suggestions for what they can wear. Add to or take away from them as you will, but most of all, make them your own…and make them funky!

Air Pirate: One of the quintessential Steampunk characters.  Air pirates are bad, bold, and armed to the teeth.

An Air Pirate can look scruffy, or he or she can be a dashing and daring swashbuckler-type.

Gear for an Air Pirate could include, but is not limited to, a tricorn hat, corsair boots, tailcoat, ruffled shirt, brushed cotton trousers, a telescope, eye-patch, cutlass, blunderbuss and neckerchief.

Adventurer/Explorer: Their reason for being is to boldly go where no one has gone before; to experience new things; and to discover new places.

Dressed for the wild and unknown, Adventurers / Explorers should wear utilitarian clothing, with sturdy footwear, equipment, such as a compass, map and wineskin, goggles and perhaps a safari vest and a pith helmet. Khaki is a great material for them and jodhpurs (horse riding tights) also work well. Accent your look with leather – add a leather belt, pouches, holster (and revolver) and other leather accessories.

Aviator: Whether military, or a rogue; whether they’re flying a bi-plane, a zeppelin, or a space ship; they are tough, brave, and even a bit gallant, especially in contrast to Air Pirates.

A pilot would wear goggles, a flight helmet, and sturdy boots, and would most likely have a military bearing, or the personality of a  rogue, depending on your preference.

Dandy/Femme Fatale: They use their wiles and charms to get what they want, sometimes at the expense of others.

Dandies / Femme Fatales wear very stylish, well tailored and flattering clothing. Suits, or a formal tuxedo or gown and well chosen accessories are the norm. Form-fitting and slightly revealing clothing in rich fabrics, rakishly worn hats, and bits of lace also work well.

Hunter/Fighter:  Monster hunters are all about firepower and skill in combat. They stay armed with stakes, silver bullets, and strange, arcane-looking weaponry.

The Hunter / Fighter will be a walking arsenal. The chosen weaponry would depend on its prey. Monster hunters would be armed with stakes, silver bullets and arcane-looking weaponry. They would wear leather or canvas clothing and accessories. The western look would fit this archetype well.

Mad Scientist/Inventor: Another quintessential Steampunk character, they embody the steam in steampunk, discovering new things, solving problems, and occasionally blowing things up.

Goggles and other tools of the trade, such as work gloves, practical clothing (so pants would be appropriate for women), a lab coat, tool belts, tools and light weaponry should be worn and wondrous inventions carried.


Mechanic/Tinkerer: A bit of a twist on the Scientist/Inventor.  Where the Inventor is creating things from scratch, the tinkerer is improving on things, often on the fly, or perhaps just trying to get things to work; making do with what they have. 

Your dress is similar to the Mad Scientist / Inventor, above, however, eliminate the work gloves and replace the lab coat with a grease-stained, leather apron. Don’t forget to add a few smudges of grease and/or dirt to the face and hands.

Philosopher/Scholar: They like old, rare books and wax poetic about the classics; they talk too much about things no one cares about or prefer books to people.

A philosopher or scholar would most likely wear a man’s or woman’s two-piece suit (the woman’s suit would replace trousers with an ankle-length skirt), a woman’s boater hat or a top-hat, a blouse or shirt, dress boots, a floppy tie and spectacles or a monacle.

Socialite/Lady/Gentleman: Often based on Victorian aristocracy, they can often embody the refinement and social norms we associate with the upper class of that era.  Many times they serve as patrons for the scholars, adventurers, and inventors.

Socialites would dress in a more sophisticated manner, with rich colors and materials. They would be well accessorized with gloves, parasols, or a cane, and a nice hat. For women, corsets worn on the outside and short skirts are also appropriate.


Street Sparrow/Scrappy Survivor: These are the street urchins, your pickpockets and beggars. This archetype also includes runaway slaves.  Hungry and dirty, they do what they need to do to survive.

Wear soiled, tattered clothing and scuffed shoes. Add a bit of dirt to your face and wear your hair disheveled. If you rock an afro, braid it the night before you cosplay and then unbraid it when you are in costume for a wild, unkempt look. 

Reformer: They could be abolitionists, suffragettes or an activist seeking to get rid of child labor or protesting imperialism. Reformers work to make the world a better place, often loudly and not always peacefully or without scandal.

Women could wear a suit, a hat, granny boots and maybe carry a derringer, tucked away somewhere in her suit.

Suggested wear for men includes an overcoat, waistcoat, John Bull top-hat, brushed cotton trousers, an ascot, a dress shirt and boots.



About Balogun

Balogun is the author of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within and screenwriter / producer / director of the films, A Single Link, Rite of Passage: Initiation and Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at https://chroniclesofharriet.com/. He is author of eight novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the Urban Science Fiction saga, Redeemer; the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika; a Fight Fiction, New Pulp novella, Fist of Afrika; the gritty, Urban Superhero series, A Single Link and Wrath of the Siafu; the two-fisted Dieselfunk tale, The Scythe and the “Choose-Your-Own-Destiny”-style Young Adult novel, The Keys. Balogun is also contributing co-editor of two anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology and Steamfunk. Finally, Balogun is the Director and Fight Choreographer of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, which he wrote based on the short story, Rite of Passage, by author Milton Davis and co-author of the award winning screenplay, Ngolo. You can reach him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Afrikan.Martial.Arts; on Twitter @Baba_Balogun and on Tumblr at www.tumblr.com/blog/blackspeculativefiction.

7 responses »

  1. […] with creative partner Milton Davis, Balogun produces the popular annual events, the Mahogany Masquerade: An Evening of Steamfunk & Film and the Black Science Fiction Film […]

  2. tiberiusfunk says:

    Love this article. I’m a black guy living in the UK and am thinking of doing a steampunk version of Scarecrow from DC comics, incorporating elements from the Batman animated series and the Arkham Asylum video game. One question; I have a pair of dark brown boot cut leather trousers (originally from Gap) that I was thinking of using in my costume. I’m thinking it would give it a western frontier kind of look, but with the formal waistcoat and shirt (and a Van Helsing style monster hunter hat that I’ll be making myself). Would leather trousers be completely inappropriate? (this will be my first cosplay costume I’m assembling/making and my budget isn’t massive).

    • Balogun says:

      Leather trousers are absolutely appropriate and would make proper Scarecrow trousers, as well!
      Please, send me a photo of your finished costume. 🙂

      • tiberiusfunk says:

        Nice to know that leather trousers will be appropriate. Been trying to find an answer to that question everywhere. I’ll definitely send a picture through once it’s ready.

  3. Clio says:

    Really good archetypes and keep up with the good work you’re a doing.
    Will you doo the same about dressing dieselpunk 😀

  4. Fujimoto says:

    Great archetypes to keep in mind while writing steamfunk stories. Would work very well with a role-playing game, Maybe a steamfunk supplement to Ki-Khanga?

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