What is a Carny?
The answer will vary depending on whom you ask. Popular stereotype dictates a Carny as a carnival worker who is an alcoholic/drug addict, and most likely on the run from the law.
In my humble opinion, being a Carny is a full time lifestyle one must be entirely dedicated to. Everything from the clothes I wear to the language I speak is an expression of my own Carny style. This is an honor that does not come easily, despite the fact that many assume the label without understanding the culture. No, I am not some elitist that believes you have to fit a specific criteria in order to proclaim being a Carny. However, it is far more than spending a few hours making use of Google or traveling with the carnival for a couple of months. The term Carny Trash was once meant as a derogatory term spouted by townsfolk as a means to insult those who lived, worked and traveled with the circus or sideshow. Over time, these people usurped the word and readily apply it with pride to themselves with pride, so I personally feel that it is not something to use as a label as though Circus culture is just another trend.
The privilege of being titled a Carny was bestowed upon me by my late friend, Jonathan Lovelace, aka Reverend Saint Jon – the Death Defying Daredevil. Jon was literally born into the Circus world, and it is through him that I learned a greater understanding of what being a part of it really means. He also passed on ideals, morals and an unspoken code that I have carried with me for the past twelve years, and I have zero plans on deviating from this path any time soon. Then I decided that I might as well use the Internet to my advantage in an attempt to preserve the traditions that I proudly uphold, for no other reason than this is what I decided to dedicate my life to. The basis of Carny Style articles stems from all of these things, and over the past few months I feel as though I have efficiently shared my knowledge of basic Circus inspired fashion.
Society has a tendency of stereotyping, and they see Carnies as a specific group of people that deserve to be mocked. As previously mentioned, society is lazy and would rather easily pigeonhole individuals than actually spend a moment being educated. They forget that sideshow performers were one of the main forms of entertainment in this country, particularly the human curiosities. While political correctness prevents them from being put on display, there was a time when they were considered royalty and earned a steady income from doing nothing more than exhibiting that which Nature bestowed on them. The photographs and artistic renderings that I see of these people usually depict them in elegant clothing, which is often a stark contrast to the character they portrayed in the sideshow. Many performers sought the company of one another, often dining and going on outings together because there was solidarity in numbers and people were less likely to make rude remarks. Seeing a congress of working and oddities in their stage costumes or their every day wear is a remind that despite the fantastical claims made to lure in curious spectators, they were still quite human and deserved to enjoy ordinary things without being hassled.
The term Carny Trash Aristocracy is something that Jon and I conjured up one evening while deep in discussion – an oxymoron meant to defy the stereotypes and assumptions that people make about Carnies. One of our favorite activities was to visit a fine dining establishment dressed in proper evening attire, contradicted by body modifications and wild hair. It served as a social experiment to observe how we were treated and the reactions people had. Often we were seated in a section considered to be ‘out of view’ from the usual crowds, but there were also plenty of politeness and generally excellent service that was certainly rewarded. The point is, whether people learned not to judge others by their appearances or spent time trying to get a good look, we actively made an effort to portray ourselves in a manner that would leave a positive impression.
This guide is a reflection of my personal aesthetic, a collection of couture clothing and adventurous accessories, high-class hairstyles and modernized makeup inspired by current trends with a dash of vintage flair, executed with a heavy dose of confidence.
The aesthetic from the 1920’s are among the top fashion trends for Spring, so this pastel pink beaded sleeveless dress from Biba is an excellent example of elegance and can be paired with a classic 1920’s beaded French coat, made from a cotton base to ensure that the meticulous placement of sequins will not budge when this piece is being worn. Local merchant Hats in the Belfry have a nice variety of cloche hats, which is a fundamental accessory when assembling this type of look, and the Betmar Olivia in royal purple exhibits quality craftmanship for every stylish woman. Glittering gold sequin Bordello Cabaret shoes were made to emphasize fancy footwork on the dance floor, and art deco fishnet tights by Lip Service create an interesting silhoutte for legs. A monochrome faux fur stole can be a fun accessory, particularly when posing for photos or creating a bit of a spontaneous puppet show, while a vintage beaded purse not only looks stylish but also comes in handy for storing personal items. Finally, an off-white pair of vintage lace gloves adds the right touch of feminine flair, and is always a nice way to protect a coordinating manicure.
When it comes to channeling authentic flapper style, the Kelly 1920s Pearl Necklace by Stepahnie Browne delivers with three strands of smooth ivory pearls clutched between Swarovski crystal ornaments. For the sake of this guide, lets us pretend that the price tag of this Tiffany’s Art Deco bracelet does not exist, and instead appreciate the hand-carved onyx and thousands of diamonds that compose the eye-catching fan motif. Antique stores are great for finding one-of-a-kind items, such as marquesite and mother of pearl earrings, not to mention a large variety of jeweled brooches. If the cloche hat is not your thing, the Victoria 1920s headpice features Swarovski crystals and faux pearls artfully arranged in swirls, and will bode well to accentuate carefully coiffed curls.
Speaking of hair, styles of the 1920s are most noted for heavy partings, sleek finger waves and precise pin curls in vein of Mae West and other notable starlets of the era. Create a porcelain doll-like base with Illamasqua’s Concealer in CC 105 and Cream Foundation and CF 100, to achieve a blank canvas that hides all your secrets and blends easily for full coverage without it feeling heavy. There are no shortage of color Powder Blushers, but the hues I prefer for this look include Unrequited, Karie, Tremble and Nymph. For more drama, I would also suggest Morale, Hussy, Thrust, Tweak, Chased and Disobey.
Brows should be thin, curved and three shades darker than your hair color, while eyes are treated to a heavy smokey effect, which can be accomplished with Illamasqua’s Eye Liner Cake in Mislead and Precision Ink in Abyss. The bold color is quick-drying and non-smudging, ensuring the endurance of your look while drinking champagne and dancing to big band jazz. Enhance features with the 4-Color Liquid Metal Palette to capture an irridescent glow worthy of any retro-futuristic pin up, and finish with the feathery and fierce Midnight Vixen Lash Duo. Lips are meant to be drawn small with rounded peaks and an accentuated cupid’s bow; be sure to use a pencil liner to keep lipstick in place. Red remains an iconic hue, and immediately Atomic, Blaze, Tramp, Ignite, Maneater and Salcious grab my attention, partially because of the names and also due to the fact they are all fairly classic colors; Faust, Underworld, Howl and Growl are ideal for those who can handle darker shades and really want to exude dark glamour. Add a touch of Intense Lipgloss for some shine and practice that pout!
This is just one example of how to utilize a variety of both vintage and contemporary items, along with a few quality pieces and an arsenal of no nonsense makeup that embodies a certain aesthetic, but also leaves plenty of room for creativity.
Photo credit: 1, 2, 3 – thehumanmarvels.com