One of the most crucial parts of any successful sideshow was the talker. Do not call him a barker, for that is term reserved for those annoying assholes who harass you to play a rigged game for some mediocre prize. It is in fact a derogatory term and should never be applied to those who have the skill and grace to execute a string of words that captures the curiosity of a gathered crowd and users them into a tent full of mystery, promising that they will be witness to an assembly of individuals that Nature created different, ensuring that these so-called freaks are in fact alive.
The image that immediately comes to my mind is of a fast-talking gentleman wearing nothing but the finest suit, because the point is to attract attention while stimulating imagination. In essence, if this is what the guy talking about the acts looks like, then surely the illustrations depicted on canvas banners must be a representation of the people inside. Than again, once cannot blame the Carny for taking advantage of susceptible thirst for knowledge. Depictions on sideshow banners may have amplified certain physical attributes, but it was the descriptions that boomed from a microphone handled by the talker that had to convince people to part with their money. It is for all of these reasons that I feel this embassador should of course best exemplify this title through not only his clothing, but also in the swagger that defines a Carny from someone playing dress up.
The stereotyped projection of what people think a talker looks like include a [red and white] striped jacket, shirt or vest, bow tie, red or black pants, black and white spectator shoes and a straw hat or bowler, sometimes with a curled moustache, megaphone or cane. While the pieces themselves can certainly be an overall part of Carny Style, I feel the image falls short of actually capturing the unique personality that each talker brings to the bally stage.
Traditionally, the role of the talker is filled by a man, but inspiration does not have to be limited to a specific gender, and so I will be exploring both men’s and women’s fashion. The first item to be explored is what I consider to be an iconic representation of a taker – the suit. For the masculine taste, this particular look begins with a navy and blue striped jacket that is 100% and has a classic fit, which will certainly come in handy when delivering the pitch on a warm afternoon. It might be tempting to wear pants with the same pattern, but this time simplicity lends itself to versatility with accessories, and so a pair of black men’s herringbone trousers will be appropriate. Besides, they will certainly coordinate well with the Steamtrunk Vaudevill Vest in black pinstripe. Finish with a simple but bright striped blue dress shirt and a slim blue silk bow tie – the silver and white pattern ensuring that it doesn’t get lost among the other elements of the outfit. Replace awkward leather belts and their equally clunky buckles with vintage black leather suspenders. [Note, if you don’t have buttons on your pants, they can easily be sewn on.] The one thing that the stereotyped dress of a talker gets right are the shoes, and so I chose a pair of Stacy Adams Matte Finish Bright Navy Specators, while blue argyle trouser socks add a bit of quirky fun to the whole outfit.
The female translation is inspired by a recent episode of Boardwalk Empire, where a scene depicted a talker pitching an act on the boardwalk of Atlantic City. He was wearing what I believe were soft yellow plaid pants, and since this is intended to be a more visually stimulating outfit, I am basing it on this Hell Bunny corset, which features a sweet heart design and black contrast to a yellow, blue and red plaid. This time the colors and patterns can be brought to the lower portion of the outfit, achieved with a blue Tartan Mini skirt by Obsidian Gothic Clothing – add a fluffy Hell Bunny black and red tutu for extra volume. A simple black Victorian style neck ruff is a nice alternative from shrugs and other types of cover ups as cleavage is encouraged on the bally stage. Red satin opera gloves are always acceptable and should be a staple in any classy wardrobe. Bordello’s black and white Burlesque Ankle Boot is a nice alternative to the more masculine spectator shoe [and better than the stripper version that is always floating around], while a nice pair of lace tights can never be a poor choice to adorn shapely legs.
What one wears with the suit is just as important as all of the elements that create a successful style, and the outfits presented here are just one way to translate it. The accessories, I feel, should be more definitive since they are what bring the clothes character when they are placed together on stage. A vintage straw hat with colorful band is always a good bet, or perhaps a brightly hued classic bowler compliments your head shape better. It is perfect acceptable to try on a number of hats before purchasing one that fits, since once does not want to risk being mistaken for being a clown. Ladies can never go wrong with opulent cocktail hats, or burlesque style hair clips with feathers and crystals.
By now it should be obvious that while these items should also be of good quality, they should never overwhelm an outfit, but rather embody characteristics of the individual wearing them. Antique pocket watch, sturdy bamboo cane and yes even a bright red Splashproof Handheld Compact Megaphone are appropriate finishing touches for the stately gentlemen wishing to call attention to what’s happening on the bally stage. Sometimes one has to bring out a teaser to get the audience excited for what else might be on the inside, and so it is beneficial to know how to handle a large snake – pythons and boas are ideal as they can reach large sizes but are quite docile if raised right. The albinos are obviously more enticing, but keep in mind that these serpents are living creatures and certainly should not be treated like a coat that is just hung up at the end of the day. Alternatively, reptilian inspired jewelry is recommended for those who want the glamour without committing to the care and feeding of a living animal.
On a final note, I feel that it is important to reiterate that the things listed here are to merely serve as a guide when selecting your own look. It is very easy to cross the line into costuming that stereotypes certain figures in circus and sideshow. Showing respect for a culture is not throwing things together and then slapping a label on it, because that totally ignores all of the existing aesthetics determined by those who created it. There is nothing wrong with inspiration, but keep in mind that your opinion could be wrong and what you perceive as a ‘cool outfit’ might be offensive to someone who has embraced the lifestyle.
Photo credit: 1 – sawdustnights.blogspot.com,