Among the attractions of a traditional sideshow there lurks a handful of illusions that are presented alongside working acts. There is a huge difference between attempting to fool people with mirrors and creating a huge ball of flame – that being the latter puts one’s life at risk and in no way should be seen as something that is ‘magic’. No doubt there is time and effort that goes into creating an illusion, and they can be quite stunning when they are done right, but I feel they are more of a kitschy gimmick compared to a talented showcase of variety skills. Having said that, I can also recognize that there was a time when these things littered fairgrounds as single-o’s and preyed on those who were susceptible to believe the illustrated banner which proclaimed absurd living creatures were lurking inside darkened tents.
One of the oldest of these exhibits that still draws in large crowds is Spidora, an unfortunate young lady who warrants compassion as she has been snared in the labyrinth of a giant web. Her body has been dissipated by her captor and all that can be seen is her head with mouth agape – though often times what the eyes really beheld when they went in the grind show could cause enough disbelief that anger motivated ignorant actions. Despite this small note of negativity, Spidora is still held in regard as the foundation for the thoughts behind this particular style guide, which also pays tribute to the compelling image of her that has graced sideshow banners for many decades.
SLY FLY SPY
The patterns that appear on a spider make it easily recognizable as a fashionable predator, with brilliant colors and precise stripes that create distinctive marks which dictate a no-nonsense attitude. Translating these elements into something that is chic without being a literal interpretation requires a bit of skill and knowing when to edit your look to prevent it from becoming a giant mess. A contrasting monochrome Paneled Bandage Mini Skirt, for example, can establish the basis of a sleek silhouette, while a black stripe underbust corset will emphasize curves in all the right places. Create textured layers by adding a grey silk bra that has black accents in just the right places to match the lines in the skirt, and a long sleeve black knit shrug that is reminiscent of a spider web without being tacky or too obvious. The black stitched leaves, lace-up back and heart-shaped buckles are just a few of the details that make T.U.K.’s red patent platform shoes a striking statement. Wear them with geometric patterned fishnets or sheer wide stripe thigh highs which would benefit from being attached with some vintage style garters. Other accessories do not have to be big or gaudy, as less is often more and a few statement pieces should make the different between wearing an outfit or being completely styled. For instance, a retro sparkle vinyl purse and vintage red net wrist gloves adds a bit of sophistication to this particular look.
Channel otherworldly elegance a la Morticia Adams with a chain necklace, which drapes nicely across the chest and ties in back with a black ribbon, a pair of Black Death Fly earrings and a matching set of Spider Web Bracelets that are filled with real silver for a touch of opulence. With everything properly assembled, it comes time for those last few finishing touches that will pull it all together. Begin with a polished hairstyle by gathering locks into a slicked back ponytail – secure with eyeball hair bands for a touch of gore glamour – or manipulate them into shimmering finger waves. Compose a seductive smokey eye by blending together Night Breed and Night Life shadows from NARS, and top off lashes with their Larger Than Life Lengthening Mascara. Dust cheeks with Albatross, a highlighting blush that will give them a luminous glow, and treat lips with Illamasqua‘s Maneater, as it is a classic cherry red in a matte finish that is sure to make a statement.
A different approach to assembling an outfit is to utilize simpler items you might already have in your wardrobe and relying a little more on the adornments to signify where the inspiration is being drawn from. While a black 50’s style swing dress seems basic, just adding a red organza petticoat for volume, a matching smocked corset belt to nip in the waist and a black beaded shrug transforms it into evening appropriate attire. What Katie Did is known for their vintage styled lingerie, but they also have a lovely selection of hosiery – the Seamed Fishnet Tights are ideal for this ensemble if one is going to be dancing and would go well with these stunning silver leather high heel sandals. A black leather purse embossed with a web that features an attached cast metal spider is an eye-catching way to tote around personal items. Macabre taxidermy used to be an essential part of sideshow, which one can pay tribute to Victorian mourning style with the Black Death Swarm necklace, a piece that is hand constructed from black chains and accented with black Czech glass beads. Dangle spiders from your lobes as a reminder of the predator you are emulating, and arm yourself with sterling silver bracelets made from coyote bones and snake spines as a testament of your fierceness.
Prep your face as usual and then prime eyes for an assault of Illamasqua shadows: Incubus – deep charcoal grey, Soul – cool silver, and Daemon – bright scarlet red; accent brow bones with Phenomena, a molten silver metallic cream, and add a few coats of midnight black Masquara. Bring a sheer, flush of color to cheeks with Cactus Flower, a delicate shimmering poppy cream blush by NARS that provides a smooth color for luminous skin. A modern tack on bright red lipstick straight from the 1950’s silver screen is Jungle Red, and while it has a semi-matte finish, one can always add some Triple X lip gloss for extra shine. Unlike the previous look, this one allows for nails to take the spotlight, especially if they are varnished with Chinatown, a blood-red lacquer that would really be set off by a vintage manicure. Warm up those irons and toss hair up into victory rolls with bumper bangs and accentuate with crystal studded hair clips, or sweep curls on your crown and hide the rest in colorful snood.
The final look, as indicated by its alliterative title, takes that crucial step beyond mainstream fashion and enters avant-garde territory, making it something that would be worn for a performance or high-profile social event. Vivien of Holloway has been praised in numerous past articles for their iconic halterneck dresses, so it should be no surprise to see the 50’s Luxury Dress here in a rich purple satin with black spiderweb overlay. Intensify a harder edge with a black leather shrug and black patent corset belt, though one could easily duplicate the latter without spending nearly as much. Compliment the golden toned spikes with Razzle by Pleaser, a rhinestone embellished gold peep toe wedge that features details King Midas might as well have carved himself. Lux de Ville is another name that one should be familiar with, as they provide high quality products such as the Atomic Tote Bag – violet sparkle patent leather with black accents and leopard print paneling on the sides, fully lined with enough room to store a few snacks. Jewelry for the modern primitive comes in the form of a gold spike necklace and earring combination, Fireball spiked bracelets, two-finger gold spike rings and Gunmetal Black Bone rings – a clear indication of your warrior status.
After laboring over your favorite pinup, retro or vintage hairstyle only to have it become defeated by Summer heat, fix a black cocktail hat topped with a crystal accented spider web over your tresses and no one will ever know the difference. Amplify eyes with Urban Decay shadows in Blackout – blackest black and Flash – iridescent purple, with a touch of Vanilla – golden pearl. Explore the benefits of having sun-kissed cheeks without actually having to exposure yourself to dangerous UV rays with Baked Bronzer in Gilded, a bronze shimmer with veins of gold for a glamorous glow. To avoid detracting from the precise strokes surrounding the portals to your soul, opt for a nude toned lipstick such as Melt by Illamasqua, which is also flecked with gold shimmer. Plump up lashes with your favorite mascara or either of the products mentioned earlier in this guide, then lay down a line of glue and squeeze on some false lashes. Varnish nails with Boosh, a pure black polish with glossy finish and decorate with precision lines to create mini webs in corners or on the tips.
There is no definitive when it comes to using a particular influence for fashion, because a large part of it comes from inner beauty and confidence. Without it, one is nothing more than a moving clothes hanger and there are already people who get paid to do that so leave it to them. For me, it is easy to discover creativity among sideshow, as there has always been intense imagery associated with its history and they are some of the most compelling works I have ever seen. The world that existed beyond the dime museums and canvas tents is one many get just a glimpse of, yet I am fortunate enough to have experienced it myself, though to a lesser degree than what I imagine it used to be like. When the rest of society insists on telling you who you are and pointing out obvious parts of your appearance as though you were unaware of them, there is a place that embraces you with open arms, where no one judges you and everyone looks out for each other. At least that is how it once was, and I can even find the charm in illusions such as Spidora, because they still incite that bit of intrigue which naturally draws in crowds eager to see what is advertised on an illustrated banner.
Resources: Sideshow World