Carny Style: Introduction Part II

This was meant to be posted some time ago as a follow-up to Part I, but both of the computers in my house crashed at once and I have been unable to get on-line until now.  Of course my priority is to update the blog, however, I don’t know how many photos survived the crash so will deviate from the original plan slightly.  With that being said, allow me to present my personal opinion on what qualifies as true Carny Style and how to incorporate elements of this aesthetic into a more casual wardrobe.

Costumes are meant for the stage, and so if you are purchasing an item at a store that either caters to adult entertainers or just happened to spring up because it’s October, chances are that it is cheap and will not make you into whatever the label on the package claimed it would.  There is a time and a place to be in the spotlight, where sequins and over-the-top outfits are perfectly acceptable, but they are not really practical for everyday events .  That certainly does not mean one has to leave everything behind when making the transition from stage to socializing, just that a balance is necessary so that the attention you’re getting is for the right reasons.

There are specific elements I feel make a successful circus-inspired look, where at least one of them have to be present.  This includes: stripes, polka dots, plaid, bold primary colors and over all coherency.  One does not want to be sloppy, trashy or carry the appearance of having fallen into a dark closet, so it is important to experiment at home before taking the final result out into the public eye.  Unfortunately, some people will still mistakenly inquire if you are dressed for a party, but there are plenty of others who will  ask if  you are some sort of artist which gives you the opportunity to promote yourself.  Then there are those rare moments where you come across someone who can recognize that you are a Carny, but that might just be me.

Not everything with stripes automatically qualifies as being ‘circus-inspired’.
This is something I feel is really important for people to understand, because I cannot tell you how often I see something labeled ‘circus’ simply because there are stripes featured.  Here’s a newsflash – there are plenty of striped items that have nothing to do with the circus, so obviously there needs  to be some judgement calls made on what is related to the topic at hand versus what the rest of society wears.  The most common striped articles are stockings, corsets and suits, though certainly  the pattern can be displayed on jackets, skirts, dresses, shoes and even accessories.    Pinstripes can be combined with thick stripes and accented with solid coordinating colors, however, one does not want to go overboard and risk looking like a Tim Burton character.  These lovely ladies of the Yard Dog’s Road Show certainly make use of stripes in a manner that is appealing to the eyes.  Remember, the aim is couture not cartoon.

The same rules can be applied to polka dots and plaid, and the colors should follow the code of being one of the primary colors paired with black or white.  These three patterns can also be mixed with each other, but should be done so with caution.  As it happens, plaid and polka dots are on the list of wearable trends for the 20011 Fall fashion season, and while that means having to see it everywhere, I would like to think of it as a challenge to use the elements in a creative way.

Amelia Arsenic –

This is a brilliant example of successfully combining polka dots with stripes, as one pattern is dominant over the other.  The lovely Amelia Arsenic wrote an excellent article about her take on Circus Girl Chic, and I agree with her notion of reinvention over reproduction.  Inspiration is a wonderful thing, but being a copycat is not a personality trait one should aspire to.  While you might think it’s flattering to want to have a specific image like so-and-so, that person might be offended a style they worked hard to cultivate is being duplicated.  It is always important to maintain being yourself, because this will come out no matter what you are wearing, so a little confidence goes a long way.

Plaid is the most difficult of the patterns, because it can tend to be a little too vintage and can make one look aged.   It is more commonly stereotyped to be worn by punks and hipsters reliving the grunge era, but I assure you that  it can also be the most fantastic outfit anyone has ever seen.  The plaid suit is a  must have for classy Carnies, though picking the right combination of colors along with the appropriate size of the pattern are the main things to look for when selecting such an eye-popping combination.  The addition of a simple T-shirt gives the impression of comfort, while a pressed shirt and silk tie carries a more sophisticated flavor.  The outfit on the right contains all three primary colors without them causing the eyes to bleed.  The pattern from the jacket repeats on the neckerchief without matching it exactly, and I enjoy the simple accessories.  The only thing missing is a nice vintage pipe, and I feel that the sunglasses are misplaced.  Not that they are impossible to be worn with this type of outfit, but they should certainly be in  harmony with everything else, which is one of the most important things to keep in mind when selecting a wardrobe.  Quality should also reign over quantity, though being a servant to labels because you think it makes you cool or whatever is pretty foolish.  Buy things that you like, are well made and crafted from fabrics that are going to last a while.  There’s nothing wrong with splurging on a few key pieces that can easily be built into a variety of  looks, but save those extra pennies for stage wear as well.  That is a whole other topic which I will be covering in the future, but for now I hope that the things outlined here give people a better understanding of what Carny Style is and how one can emulate it.

Please remember that style is always a personal expression and there is a huge difference between inspiration and duplication.  While I do not really follow trends, every now and then I happen to own something which becomes the ‘in thing’, but I will wear it whether others are or not.  That is what I feel separates me from others, and I enjoy incorporating a number of different things into what I wear because I don’t feel that specific buzz words can categorize me.  It is much more fun to keep people guessing than to willingly pigeonhole oneself into a stereotype or scene, but that’s just because I don’t understand the point of them.  After all, I have Carny class and Carny style, and I am perfectly happy with that.

Next Week’s Edition – Style Spotlight and a bonus feature of this Autumn’s hottest hair and make-up trends!

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:


5 comments on “Carny Style: Introduction Part II

  1. woody says:

    Do you know what actual carny style is? Pajama bottoms and an ICP t-shirt.

    • That is your opinion and you are certainly welcome to it. What I presented in this article was my own personal aesthetics based on a number of sources of inspiration. Not really sure where you get your information, but I find it quite humorous and thank you for taking the time to stop by with these insightful words.

  2. woody says:

    No, I get what your going for. I was just commenting on the sometimes enormous differences between what people think of something, what people create in their minds, of what something inspires them to be or what images people link with certain things…and what the reality of the situation actually is.
    I’m not knocking you. I get it, and I think the majority of the population gets it too. I know you’re saying “Carny” as a style, “carny”, “freakshow”, “sideshow”, “circus”, “burlesque”, etc…style for presenting something.
    But if you go to the carny town at a fair, everyone who works and lives there is just walking around in pajama pants and juggalo shirts.
    But I get it, I get what you mean, I hope you get what I mean too. Keep on doing what your doing, I obviously read your stuff fairly regularly and enjoy it.

    • Well I appreciate that you get it, but I have to point out that there is a difference between using descriptive words for style inspiration and personal style of a Carny. Which by the way I do not define as someone who works or travels with the carnival. That’s a whole other entity separate from people who lived and worked with the circus, including sideshow and burlesque. Narrowing down an entire culture based on a small group is stereotyping and I try to avoid that because I like this blog to focus on the positive and unseen aspects of Carny lifestyles.

  3. woody says:

    Maybe it didn’t require a response to your response, (or for that matter a response to the response about the response) I just wanted to be clear that I wasn’t some stupid internet kid attacking you. I like what your doing. That’s all. Keep posting and I’ll keep reading.

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