Style is defined by being a particular type of appearance or character, a distinctive mode of acting, a mode of living with respect to expense or display, and an elegant, fashionable, luxurious mode of living. It can certainly be argued whom or what determines these in a distinct enough manner that there are clearly defined lines as to what is or is not acceptable. Considerations to personal aesthetic aside nor how confident one is, there are legitimate ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ when it comes to fashion as a whole. Learning how to use garments to accentuate ones figure as opposed to disguising or hiding it behind unflattering cuts and spectacularly hideous accessories does not come easy, and I am certainly not any sort of expert on the subject. However, I believe I knew enough that I can see the difference between fashion or personal style and poor costumes or nightmarish clusterfucks.
Before continuing, I want it to be clear that these are all of my personal opinions and should not be taken as an attack on anyone. This is meant as entertainment and perhaps might even inspire others. Photographs will be credited as much as possible, but if you see your work here and want it credited or removed, please just ask.
The history of circus costumes date back to the Victorian era, when corsets and long skirts were the norm and certainly were present on the female performers. They evolved over decades to become more elaborate, brightly colored and covered in sequins. Obviously these ostentatious artifacts were not dragged around the mud or worn during off hours, as they were specifically reserved for paying audiences. It goes without saying then, that the performers and workers alike had their own way of dressing, which often spoke for their status among the community. The American circus came to existence in the late 1800s and blossomed frequently for a number of decades, often spurring invention among the towns it visited. Personally, I have no doubt the circus became its own culture, as it certainly exhibits the behaviors and beliefs of a particular social group. Now I make it no secret that I consider the individuals of circus and sideshow to be Carnies, which describes those who lived and worked with either for an extended period of time. Of course not everyone was born into such a lifestyle, however, I can argue that there are definitive guidelines for what does and does not equate to being one. Stereotypes and bored kids playing dress up need not apply. An interesting article on the history of circus costumes can be read here.
My aesthetic for personal style and stage presentation is based on a few solid concepts that can easily be found in a number of fashions. Corsets, jackets with structured shoulders, striking geometric patterns, primary colors, flattering cuts and appropriate accessories are included in features that I draw inspiration from. Each of these things are strong enough to stand on their own and can certainly form various looks. Combined, they must be used suitably so as not to clash or have people mistakenly accuse you of wearing a trashy costume. Much as the hot rod and custom car enthusiast agree on specific credentials that represent their societies, so too do I feel that I hold enough comprehension of the topics at hand to offer an insightful opinion.
If we can all agree that Carnies are in fact a part of a culture, then I propose to take things a step further in suggesting that the display of certain items worn with respect and represent an individuals rank or accomplishment are significant enough so as not to be appropriated for the purpose of fashion. Wearing a costume on stage is acceptable, as most performers carry a separate identity and are not making an attempt to portray something they are not. However, if one is simply dressing up in what could be considered an offensive outfit, then I feel justified in pointing out these errors. While people can defend their choices or invalidate my opinion, I stand firmly on facts and make no apologies.
Having said all of that, a new feature being added to this blog are articles that cover a few subjects that I repute as meeting the requirements for what best serves as examples of Carny Style, whether it is vintage costumes, modern wares or haute couture reserved for the elite Carny Trash Aristocracy. The term itself is a complete oxymoron that counteracts the typical stereotypes that Carnies seem to be constantly accused of. The idea is to present a refined version of personal style mixed with high fashion to create a juxtaposition of self-expressed art. In effect, those who are exclusive to this level of the overall hierarchy are revered for their confidence and looked upon to properly represent the culture. For example, many of the born freaks on display in sideshows were often decked out in the finest apparel of their time so as not to appear destitute or looked upon as unfortunate because of the way Nature made them. It is a well-known fact they were among the highest paid performers, as were heavily tattooed men and women, which manifested in the guise they donned while on stage.
Once a week, a new article will feature various aspects of the things discussed here. Style profiles will spotlight specific performers who serve as archetypes of Carny fashion, inspiration galleries display a collection of items that illustrate how to coordinate a classy appearance for specific occasions, along with the difference between what is acceptable versus what is just an extremely cheap costume, and tutorials on how to create hair and make-up to compliment specific outfits or themes.
Finally, if you make or sell any product that is relevant to this article and would like to have it reviewed, please feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Next Week’s Edition: Introduction Part II – what qualifies as Carny Style, how to properly put together a look and what my current personal style is.