Aesthetic Autopsy: Fiji Mermaid

For the first time since beginning this series of fashions based on specific characters from Circus culture, I selected one that technically does not exist.  While many sideshow banners are often an exaggerated depiction of a real person or animal, the Fiji Mermaid lives only in myths.  To be more blunt, it is a gaffe – more commonly known as a fake, fraud or hoax.  A few artists have managed to capture the spirit of showmen eager to boast their rare find in taxidermy effigy, but otherwise what has long been reported as a half fish, half human hybrid is nothing more than an active imagination.  However, this does not discount the Fiji Mermaid from being a prominent figure, to the point where just about every sideshow had their own version of this creature, accompanied by an emotionally charged origin story that was too good not to be true.  Their existence can be traced back to the Renaissance and Baroque eras when they were staples in curiosity cabinets.  The exhibit credited as popularizing the concept of a mummified mermaid was owned by P.T. Barnum, an artifact that came into his possession on June 18, 1842.  Since then it has been copied mercilessly by people who claim theirs is the ‘orginal’, with variations appearing in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museums and Coney Island’s Sideshows by the Seashore.  During the brief existence of Curiosities From the Wilds of Weird New Jersey, Jon managed to obtain a brilliant version that was billed as the Atlantic City Mermaid, who had her own merchandise and attracted plenty of curious observers who wanted a picture or two.

Each of the outfits below take inspiration from sideshow banner imagery and the idea that modern wares can be combined with vintage pieces and the right accessories in order to produce unique results.

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MARITIME MAIDEN

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Choosing a nautical theme for this first look felt a bit obvious, however utilizing that inspiration without overwhelming the outfit in too many cliched tropes can be achieved through careful editing.  The striped pattern of Miss Fortune’s Nautical Halter Dress lends itself to being a neutral when pairing it with other items and becomes a versatile piece that plays to both circus and pinup styles.  Picking up on the navy and white colorway of the dress and offering protection from chilly evening ocean breezes is the Nautical V Neck Cardigan, a pair of anchors set on the shoulders.  This detail is also reflected on Pleaser’s Anchor Open Toe Pump where deep blue patent vinyl is accented with white piping, a bow on the heel and another secured to the toe opening by way of a golden anchor charm.  A pop of red in the dress can be found on the interior of the shoe as well; ensure it becomes a part of ensemble with the Floozy Purse by Sourpuss, the vintage influence prominent among the bright red vinyl, giant red bow and kiss lock closure.  Reflecting rays could prove distracting so don’t forget to bring some Cat Eye Sunglasses for fashionable protection and a bit of rhinestone sparkle.  Sailing the seas is a thrilling adventure but carefully coiffed manes could use a bit of taming, the Sail Away Bandana coming in handy when you want to tie tendrils in a pony tail while Nautical Octopus Hair Bows use adorable blue cephalopods mounted on red and white polka dot satin ribbons to wrangle any stray strands.  Kitschy jewelry such as the Sourpuss Limited Edition Sea Horse Earrings are delicately detailed that prevent them from being confused for cheap costume pieces, while a Red Beaded Necklace continues the vintage influence of the outfit.  It is contrasted by the one-of-a-kind Shark Tooth Ring, the two inch tooth surrounded by 18 karat yellow gold and white diamonds; similar pieces can often be discovered in antique stores or custom constructed by a jewelry maker.  Draping yourself in the riches of your kingdom seems to be expected, so don’t forget the Gold Starfish Cuffs before emerging as an amazing mermaid ready to stun mere mortals.

Devious transluscence that enhances the complexion while delivering a refreshing incandescence, Copacabana Illuminator by NARS applies a glistening pearl sheen to the parts of the face you wish to highlight such as the cheeks and bridge of the nose.  The base of the eye art is built on Biarritz, an ideal shade of neutral cream colored matte shadow that is heavily pigmented despite the sheer appearance.  Starting slightly above the natural crease, glide on Dark Rite and slowly blend the smooth navy blue shadow pencil upwards and outwards.  Draw in your cat eye using Via Veneto, the soft black pencil effortlessly delivering plenty of creamy color that does not cake and will last for up to twelve hours of wear.  Take a small brush and tap a bit of Electrum on the inner corners, perhaps even putting a thin layer of the antique gold liquid metal underneath the brows for extra emphasis of an alluring sea nymph.  Don’t forget a few coats of Larger Than Life Mascra to bring your lashes to their fullest potential!  Understated eyes are balanced by the rich boldness of Majella, a decadent garnet Satin Lip Pencil formulated to give lips a long-wearing statement shade to seduce sailors in every port, and the shimmering golden coral tones of Torrid, the blush giving a natural glow to the face.  Prior to engagements, paint nails in Desperado for a lively manicure imparted with vernerable vogue.

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SEAFARING SOVEREIGN

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Sophistication and elegance combine to form a classic silhouette where the bountiful riches of a deep sea mer-kingdom are delicately displayed across this Cream Striped Corset, the mild sweetheart bust line dripping in faux pearl embellishment.  When laced it offers up to five inches of reduction on the waist, putting emphasis on the bust and hips for that alluring hourglass figure.  It would make sense then, to create unequivocal flattery and the illusion of a tail with a Black Jacquard Mermaid Skirt that has distinguishing black inlay kick pleats, a row of buttons allowing you to wear it as open as you would like.  Redirect sun rays and shield your briny pallor in a Gold Bolero, the shiny fabric gathered in ruffles around the collar and cascade down to the cropped hemline.  Choosing to leave the skirt full closed, one can give the appearance of floating in a pair of Pewter Rhinestone Teeze platforms, these Bordello beauties featuring a grey satin pump covered in sparkling gems that just might blind anyone who stares at them too long.  The minimalist shape of this Black Satin Handbag may not be obvious as a shell, but the gathering of the fabric manages to mimic the ridges of those found on beaches.  Procuring accessories that are actually dated may seem as though it defeats the purpose of a polished appearance, but Cat Eye Sunglasses carved from mother of pearl become a sleek way to wear shades.  Once again it is suggested that portions of hair be swept up to capture the movement of waves, an Octopus Cameo Clip offering security for voluminous styles.  This also allows you to show off delicate Starfish Earrings, their golden bodies studded with gleaming stones and perched on a pair of pearls.  Nuzzled together on a sixteen inch chain are Kissing Seahorses, detailed one inch golden charms that will sit nicely between the bolero and the corset to make it seem as though they are sharing an intimate moment hidden in a field where Gold Fish casually swim by.  Counter all that  gold by weighing down wrists in mother of pearl chip bracelets as a reminder of the bounty of natural riches found in the sea.

The palette for the face to go with all of this opulence is dominated by neutral tones, but each product serves an important purpose and together they ensure the time spent on application was not in vain.  Since humans are not blessed with flawless mermaid skin, Illamasqua’s Powder Foundation is there to cover blemishes and provides a shine-free finish.  Take a small brush and layer Servant on the eyelids, building up a solid foundation of pale eggshell that you are going to bring up to just beneath the brow bone.  Then come in with Bronx, applying the pale bronze-gold shadow heavily on the outer corner and then blending it in towards the crease.  Now you can see the shimmer forming, but go ahead and add a bit more using Furore, the champagne peach Pure Pigment giving your eyes the right dose of iridescence, and finish off this enchanting style with a few coats of Lewd.  Drawing attention to the lips,  Bait is a hot candy pink used to create smooth lines that are true to color, which are to be filled in using Scandal, a warm coral pink lipstick that turns up the intensity of your pout.  Complete this look by coating nails in Bacterium – no, not secret lab specimens, the pearlescent ash ochre varnish that won’t distract from other elements.

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SEDUCTIVE SIREN

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Lovesick sailors who have spent far too many hours drinking the brine their weather worn vessel has been traveling on and are likely to be completely enamored by the sight of the Polka Dot Madame Dress, a vintage inspired latex garment that has perforated pink pleats and permanent dots assembled in rows across the front.  Here a grey feather shrug serves as the ‘fur’ often found on some varieties of the Fiji mermaid, adding texture and another color to avoid overly matching accessories.  Confidence is key when wearing and walking in Shoe Republic’s Pink Faye, the deceptively feminine fuchsia satin wrapping around the open toed platform shimmering with silver studs and strapping you into almost seven inches of sculpted heel.  The scales of Liquor Brand’s Hell Kitten Handbag are advertised to be faux snake skin, but they can emulate those found on mystical sea nymphs as well.  For a no fuss hair style that is still glamorous, try this Ruffle Grey Sequin Turban, the soft cotton making it comfortable to wear no matter what your locks happen to be doing.  Decorate your ‘do with some Pearl Gem Hair Clips, 24 karat rose gold plated pins that have a star burst on one end that is flecked in Swarovski crystals, mother of pearl pieces and white opal circles.  Sea-faring fashionistas utilize natural resources for their jewelry, but us landlubbers have to rely on designers such as Michael Spirito to come out with pieces like the Fish Bone Earrings and Shark Bite Necklace, which mix rich materials to replicate bones and teeth.  Slightly more playful though effective in keeping the theme of the outfit are a Black Bubble Bracelet and a Pink Bubble Ring that features a yellow gold band coated in pink resin, cubic zirconia ‘bubbles’ set on top.

One does not have to make a deal with an evil queen to obtain impeccable skin; all it takes is an application of Smashbox Camera Ready BB Cream, a five-in-one formula that has a built-in SPF of 35 and will moisturize, prime, perfect, protect and control oils.  Sephora and Pantone Universe teamed up to release a series of dynamic color palettes, one of them being a Color Theory Shadow Block.  The neutral tones of Elemental makes the Color of the Year available to wear as subtle or dramatic as you choose, universally flattering every iris.  My suggestion is to cover the lid in Caramel [middle brown], apply Appleblossom [light brown] to the brow bone and then blend the two together, using the Emerald Shimmer to outline the eye.  Follow up with Urban Decay’s 24/7 Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner in Woodstock to add hot pink and iridescent sparkles sure to draw plenty of attention, and a few coats of Volumizing Mascara.  Natural is not the first word that comes to mind when describing any sideshow attraction, but it is certainly applicable to Golden Gate, a mauve lilac mineral blush which gives cheeks a healthy glow in just a few sweeps.  If that is not enough illumination, one can always take Moon Beam and highlight specific areas with a golden sheen.  Hydrating lips does not mean sacrificing vividness, and even though Tashkent is a nude beige, it is still a super rich matte lipstick that is easy to wear.  Once again, a pop of bold color is used to generate intrigue, this time by using the bright neon pink of Collide on the nails, its satin finish giving off the right amount of shine to complete this look.

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Aesthetic Autopsy: Strongman

Historically just about every circus employed a strongman to astonish audiences through physical feats.  The image that has become synonymous with the term is that of a muscled man with a curled moustache clad in a leotard made of leopard skin, lips curled into a smile as he elevates a pliable barbell high into the air.  While the displays these men offered fluctuated between marginally humdrum to vastly remarkable, at the pinnacle of competition from numerous colleagues there was a challenge for one to push further in order to garner the most fame.  Such an innovative individual was born October 29, 1845, though John Holtum had a rather unexciting life until enlisting as a sailor when he was 15, where working on deck and in the shipyards formed the brawny body he would be known for in due course.  He held a job as a professional strongman in San Francisco, where he studied and rehearsed the rudimentary feats, but it was upon his return to Europe in 1870 that he developed the plan to catch a cannonball.  Following two years of intense preparation, Holtum refined the act and went on to build both a successful fortune and reputation.  Standing on stage, he would use a pair of gloves and chest pad to cradle the deadly projectile after it was shot out of a cannon.  Though a reward of 3000 francs would be given to anyone who could duplicate his efforts, none accepted the challenge and it was clear the death-defying feat was one only he could perform and fearlessly pioneered.

Friederich Wilhelm Mueller, more commonly known as Eugen Sandow, was presenting strongman stunts in sideshows at age 19, recognized for extraordinary barbell routines as well as the ability to split a chain that had been fastened around his chest.  The allure of his protruding muscles overshadowed the large quantities of weight he could lift, which led to Sandow established a display of poses that are a precursor to what is seen in bodybuilding competitions today.  The combination of his physique and these routines rapidly made Sandow a popular marvel often likened to a Roman god.  Inspired by the sculptures he had viewed in Greece and Rome as a child, his passion to mold his body into these same forms was sparked.  When he finally fostered his body to the precise proportions, Sandow also became one of the first athletes to deliberately remodel musculature to pre-determined dimensions and is regarded as “The Father of Bodybuilding.  Sandow went on to perform all across Europe and came to America in 1893, where his exhibition at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago involved being displayed in a black velvet lined box with white powder covering his body to convey the appearance of a marble statue.  A cultured appearance, high intelligence and well-mannered disposition coupled with dressing well, a charming European accent and hearty laugh were all traits that only increased his popularity.  Reported to be perceptive businessman, Sandow authored five books, owned a mail-order physical instruction/exercise equipment, invented a unique spring-loaded dumbbell and weighted resistance band training system, produced and promoted Sandow Cigars, Sandow Health & Strength Cocoa and a magazine dedicated to physical culture, and opened a Physical Culture Studio in London which was one of the first health clubs which starkly contrasted the ‘sweaty’ gyms at the time.  He also organized the first ever bodybuilding competition in 1901, and in recognition of his contribution to the sport, a bronze statue of Sandow has been presented to winners of Mr. Olympia since 1977.

the-mighty-atom-joseph-greensteinThe man revered as ‘The Greatest Strongman’, Yosselle Greenstein was three months premature when he was born to the poorest family in Suvalk, Poland in 1893 and lucky to have endured such an early hardship.  Though he was small in stature as a teenager, he retained an enormous amount of resolution, heart and purpose.  Drawn to the depiction of chiseled Russian strongman Champion Volanko who was in town with the Issakoff Brothers’ Circus, Greenstein attempted to sneak into the show because he had no money, but was caught, beaten and left for dead.  It was then he encountered Volanko in the flesh who helped him overcome physical limitations and two years later, had a body as firm as his determination.  The beginning of his career as a strongman began in 1914, when he was shot in the head in Galveston, Texas yet was able to leave the hospital the same day, citing his physical conditioning for saving his life.  He became The Mighty Atom and was able to: snap apart chains with his hands or by expanding his chest, bend iron bars or horseshoes with his teeth, curve half inch rolled steel rods into heart shapes, and drive nails through wood with his bare hands.  The Mighty Atom was also a true superhero, known for fighting intolerance which resulted in the hospitalization of six longshoremen after a dramatic fight in 1936.  During another incident that occurred after he tore down a sign that said “No Dogs or Jews Allowed”, it is reported that defeated twenty men, and while he was arrested, he was subsequently released without charge due to the court refusing to believe he acted alone.  During World War II Greenstein volunteered his time and demonstrated his strength which in turn sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of war bonds, and also assisted in the recruitment of New York City’s Police Force without asking for compensation.  The Mighty Atom continued to perform well into his eighties, with a final appearance at Madison Square Garden in 1977, but remains as the “mightiest little man to have ever walked the earth.

Though the choice to be tattooed or a strongman was not a rare sight by the time Rasmus Nielsen accumulated his own collection of ink, he still managed to concoct an act that was virtually unheard of in order to set himself apart.  His septum, tongue and nipples were subsequently pierced, and was able to lift anvils from these piercings through strengthening elasticity and pain tolerance.  It is believed that he also had a surface piercing in his chest, though there is not much information to confirm how, when or where it was done.  An image of him hanging his anvil from this piercing was one he became well known for and was used as a pitch card that Nielsen often signed the back of.  These feats were an instant sensation and his fame quickly rocketed as people came to see the “Tattooed Wonderman”, who went from lifting anvils that weighed 50 pounds to those that weighed up to 250 pounds, allegedly able to lift 115 pounds with one nipple and a 25 pound hammer with his tongue.  He also had a piercing in the back of his neck that was used to pull a cart loaded with spectators or sledgehammers.  Sadly this amazing pioneer who certainly set records few have been able to beat dwindled into oblivion following his retirement in the 1950’s, though he has certainly earned a place in both body modification and sideshow history a memorable and remarkable figure.

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ATOMIC ADONIS

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Filling the proverbial shoes of such extraordinary figures is no easy feat, but as always I strongly urge to use inspiration as a jumping off point when it comes to translating it into wearable fashion while maintaining a prominent sense of self that allows your inner confidence to come forth.  The result combines vintage and retro designs with prevailing trends among alternative fashion to provide a comfortable base that one can add their personality to.  Since the strongman is all about showing off those hard earned muscles, that can be accomplished with a Nat Nast Shaken Not Stirred Camp Shirt, a long name for a short sleeved button down in a classic corvette red that has a unique all over dash pattern which compliments the vertical stripes on each side of the button line.  The high performance technology inside these ClimaLite Classic Plaid Shorts wicks moisture away from skin for quick evaporation to keep the athlete dry, and the colors reflect those of the shirt for a relaxed resort vibe.  No need for socks when you are wearing the Iron Fist Lounge Leopard Oxford, a closed toe brogue that has a tan background covered in orange leopard spots along with pieces of red flowers and blue wings, as it is flamboyant enough on its own.

Moving on to accessories, it was rather difficult to find ones that were quality and not something found on the discount rack for those who want to be categorized as ‘punk’ or ‘metal’ or that were too ridiculous even for my taste.  Minimalism and urbanity are reflected in the Ben Sherman Woven Belt, which is made from black cotton cord with leather trim that makes it both smart and efficient.  These days the strongman can be known for hoisting large amounts of weight with various pierced parts, most commonly stretched ear lobes, and I cannot think of anything better to showcase these anatomical anomalies than with a pair of Anatometal Bullet Eyelets, seen here in ASTMF-138 stainless steel with bronze bullet inserts and a crown of black princess cut CZ gemstones.  Continue to flatter body parts with severe jewelry such as a Black Onyx Ring in sterling silver carved with scrolling vine work, and a Twister Ring that is distinguished by a spiral of silver that cuts through the polished black titanium.  The stainless steel front plate of this Wide Leather Buckle Bracelet merges naturally with soft black leather to form a sleek, novel piece which is easily balanced by kitschy and colorful watch you can use to time workouts.  In fact, you can store your keys on a ring attached to anvil that actually has a bit of weight to it, while your ID, cash and various cards are tucked safely inside of Circus Strongman Case, the brilliant illustration on the outside serving as motivation.

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REVAMP RUCKUS

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If one is going to spend any amount of time working on the body, it is always important to treat your parts right to maintain health and happiness both inside and out!  Get on the right track with these amazing products from LUSH, hand selected for their fragrances and promised performance.

 

1 – Exotic essential oils inside the Ultimate Shine shampoo bar effectively balances the hair and scalp, while aromatic scents such as ylang ylang, violet leaf and elmi oil will soften locks, and a touch of golden glitter add a boost of shimmer.

2 – Rich and moisturizing without weighing hair down, Happy Happy Joy Joy is a vegan conditioner that has a base of almond mild with a mix of rose and orange water to make hair more pliable, leaving behind a cheerful perfume thanks to orange flower absolute, rosewood and grapefruit oils.

3 – While in the shower, revive skin with an invigorating scrub using Rub Rub Rub, an extra cleansing and exfoliating shower gel that uses mineral-rich sea salt, lemon juice and mimosa blossoms to leave you feeling refreshed.

4 – Afterwards reach for Angels on Bare Skin, one of the best-selling cleansers LUSH has to offer that removes all sorts of debris that has been built up in your skin.  Kaolin clay reaches deep to purify pores, ground almonds gently clear dead skin away, then rose and lavender kick in for a soothing finish.

5 – Suitable for all skin types, Gorgeous is an aptly named moisturizer made with quality ingredients like orange blossom honey, fresh pineapple juice, and extra virgin olive and wheat germ oils.  They melt together on your skin wonderfully, and you are sure to see an improvement within four to six weeks.

6 – For a strong hold to your hair style without that stiff, sticky feeling, The Big Tease offers versatility while keeping your mane moisturized and happy with cupuacu and cocoa butters, as orange flower, bergamot, lemon and jojoba oils naturally uplift both your roots.

7 – Combat bacteria that causes stinky sweat by using T’eo, a zesty deodorant that is packed with powders that absorb perspiration and essential oils which neutralize odors.  The fresh scent is powered by juniper berry, tea tree and lemon grass oils, with a touch of green grapes as a natural antibacterial defense system.

8 – Inspired by the mythology behind the Agglestone, the Devil’s Night Cap is part of LUSH’s new Gorilla Perfume line and invokes imagery of wandering through dark oak woods.  This is captured by bitter oakwood andoakmoss, with clary sage to sharpen perceptions and ylang ylang to befuddle the senses.

9 – Before getting dressed, dust with Silky Underwear, a luxurious powder that has been crafted from grated cocoa butter to keep skin supple and kaolin to absorb excess moisture; jasmine and vetivert surrounding you in an aphrodisiac fragrance.

Resources: John Holtum, Eugen Sandow, The Mighty Atom, Rasmus Neilsen

Reading & Research: Oldtime  Strongman, Tattoo Archive, Sideshow World

Photo Credit: 1 – the Adrenalist, 2 – Fine Art America

Aesthetic Autopsy: Madame Electra

There is a personal connection I have with the act known as the Electric Chair, a fantastic display in which a seemingly ordinary woman has the ability to harness the power of electricity and conduct it through various body parts to shock the audience.  Legend has it that Madame Electra was struck by a bolt of lightning and managed to survive, though was left with this mysterious ability that made her misunderstood among her peers.  Much like revealing the secret behind a magic trick, the truth on how this act works is far less fascinating than the presentation and for once I am not going to ruin that.  What I will say is that one can search the tags and find a report on how I was selected to sit in this contraption during a visit to Coney Island one Halloween, and I also had a first-hand look at it when I attended the sideshow school there a few weeks later.  While traveling with the Great American Circus Sideshow I was subjected to what I consider a substandard prop that literally shocked me, leading to refusal of ever sitting in it again.  Nonetheless, knowing the secrets and having been the act myself, I have a great appreciation for those who put on a great performance and really make me believe what is happening.

A memorable scene from Nightmare Alley features the Sheriff coming round with a beef about Madame Electra’s costume because it is too revealing, and he is convinced that is all the poor girl can manage to wear, otherwise there is a risk the clothing might spontaneously combust.  Like all good rubes the Sheriff is persuaded to calm the townsfolk and is indicative how the right words delivered with careful finesse can convince people that the extraordinary is true.  Of course that is a huge premise behind sideshow and translating this attitude into fashion does not have to result in skimpy outfits that leave little to the imagination.  As always the purpose is to take inspiration and find a way that it suits your personal tastes while still maintaining a piece of the original influence.  This can be easily achieved by making a list and then discovering items in your own wardrobe or purchasing something that is on trend yet still versatile enough that it will be used frequently, even when the next hottest thing is making the rounds.

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STRIKING CHARM

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The embellishments of this Pearl & Lace Corset Top accentuate white diamond shaped patterns, the built-in cup offering extra support while the black straps and band offer plenty of comfort.  Flaunt your curves with the Lip Service Fashion Victim Lightning Print Skirt, which has plenty of stretch thanks to a spandex base and elastic waistband that makes it easy to slip on.  Screen printed on the front are stunning lightning strikes that evoke images of the sparks that Madame Electra can emit from her fingertips.  Break up all that black with a Silver Corset Belt, a stylish accessory which has a snug fit and adds a bit of fun with a stay put bow.  The are plenty of elements on this Steampunk Jacket that makes it stand out from ordinary black cotton ones; straps, grommets, buckles, ruffles, velvet trim and antiqued buttons trim the garment in all the right places.  Something about Black Milk’s Muscle Leggings made me want to include them with the outfit, the bright and bold anatomical illustrations playing well with the skirt.  Remember that these are footless and to put on a pair of Skeleton Bone Ankle Socks to keep toes toasty inside this pair of Jeffrey Cambell Dramo Spikes.  The black patent and suede platform has a chunk of silver spikes in the front, a criss-cross pattern up the back of the heel and a firm sole that makes them easier to maneuver in than they appear.  Have the rubes running scared with Iron Fist’s American Nightmare Purse, a black skull print emblazoned across a blood red background, lace up detailing in the front, interior cell phone pocket, zippered closure and removable shoulder strap.  Capture the essence of a classic movie icon with the Bride of Frankenstein Rosary Necklace, a sixteen inch black beaded chain that holds a portrait of the Bride herself surrounded by a silver frame.  Show off your provocative personality with Silver Lightning Bolt Earrings, a Lightning Bolt Double Finger Ring by ASOS, and a couple of Diva Spike Bracelets.

Fierce eyes do not have to be drowning in several layers of black, whereas daring shades of red would convey a far more powerful statement.  After prepping face with your usual routine and applying primer to the eyes, sweep Predator, a pillar box red by Illamasqua that has a slightly cool tone so it is not too intense, across lids and blend slightly into the crease; add a touch under the eye and blend that out as well.  Follow with a few coats of Berber, a Pure Pigment that is a rich auburn with plenty of metallic shimmer, then add Moonflower to the corner of your inner eye and along the brow bone then blending the soft creamy white shadow into Berber.  Keep your hand steady while using Precision Ink in Havoc to line the eye and draw an aubergine cat eye and plump up lashes with Volume Mascara in Nocturnal.  Chisel out cheekbones by contouring with Cream Blushers in Betray a deep plum rose, Laid – bright rose pink, and Lies – pearlescent cool pink, the dewy finish giving your whole face a radiant glow.  Give your lips just as much shine with Facacade, a grey pink Intense Lipgloss that will make your pout appear full.  Complete the look by polishing nails in Vice, a deep cerise that has a rubber finish, topped with Harsh, a glossy finished silver glitter that is going to add plenty of shine to your manicure.

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HIGH VOLTAGE VOGUE

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Often the image of Miss Electra on a huge painted banner is accompanied by plenty of electrified bolts and occasionally a view of her internal anatomy, which is why I chose this fabulous Bones Sequin Dress by Iron Fist.  The silhouette of a black tank dress is a basic shape, but the turquoise skeleton design and sea of sequins makes it wearable at a posh party or chic cafe.  Wear a Knit Stripe Cardigan as a top layer, the ribbed knit, scooped knit and coordinating color paired with accents of grey adding texture; leave the buttons undone and push up the sleeves to leave room for plenty of chunky bangle bracelets.  Sheer stockings can be paired with opaque ones in bright colors for an interesting effect, particularly when they happen to be Lightening Bolt Tights.  Flaunt your Street Cred by way of Jeffrey Campbell’s glitter encrusted heeless platform that is described as “a Mary Jane on acid”, and keep your valuables secure in a Monster Movie Print Clutch.  The retro clutch features cotton printed with the familiar faces of Frankenstein, Wolfman, Dracula and the Mummy, and is accented by white metal-flake sparkle vinyl.  Having kitschy accessories does not mean one is limited to a collection of cheap plastic things that get boring to wear, as these Turquoise Carved Skull Earrings demonstrate.  High quality stone infused with multiple healing powers can dangle from your lobes and grin at those who stop to swoon over their details.  Though it might seem a bit repetitous to wear a Ribcage Necklace having the same print on the top of the dress, but when the bones are made of sterling silver covered with white and black diamonds, the feeling of opulence is undeniable.  At first glance the Lightning Bolt Bracelet might be deceptive as a novelty because it was made for Marvel,  but they are indeed made of silver and accented with real sparkling crystals.  Bring a romantic touch to the ensemble with a Black Cameo Ring, which features the profile of a young lady framed by white faux pearls and is mounted on an adjustable band.  Last but certainly not least, pin long locks away from the face with black Kreepsville Gem Bone Clips,  because no one wants to see Madame Electra set her hair on fire.

As mentioned above, complete your usual pre-makeup routine and get ready to create an avante garde eye, sweeping layers of Illamasqua’s Sex on the lids to build a sturdy base of pure white shadow, and then using the blue green tones of Burst on the outer corner to create the ‘outer V’.  Add a touch of Savage [deep berry pink] to the crease, blending it outwards into Burst, and follow that with a light touch of Pure Pigment in Static, an iridescent silver and pink combination.  Use Chasm [golden turquoise shimmer] under the eye and inner corner as well, and then using an angled brush line the top lid with Superior, a metallic sapphire Liquid Metal that goes on smooth and leaves behind plenty of shimmering pigment; finish with a few coats of Masquara.  Even though the emphasis is mostly on the eyes, one can still balance that with Atomic, a fuchsia violet Lipstick that can be sheer enough your face will not be overpowered by color.  Use the same techniques described above for glowing cheeks provided by Powder Blush in Thrust – deep magenta pink, Tremble – soft lilac pink, and Ambition – shimmering neutral.

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MACHO ELECTRO

 

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Though the instance is rare that instead of a lovely young woman being seated in the Electric Chair one will see a burly man, the act takes on a different tone and the presentation itself changes.  The man convinces his audience that he is mad and ready to subject the physical body to mild torture, which met with fascination as the switch is thrown and he starts twitching in the chair.  Therefor, the final look in this guide is inspired by those unique individuals who played into the dangerous aspect of the act and put on a fantastic show.  A basic black T-shirt is the ultimate in comfort and a wardrobe staple; having the image of Frankenstein flanked by lightning bolts on it gives the eye something interesting to look at while paying homage to the movie monster that was created with electricity.  Described as being “the new and improved Greaser jeans”, the Lip Service Indigo Jeans are 100% cotton and made from rigid bull denim, making them durable enough to wear while dancing or working in the garage.  If one is going to opt for a studded leather jacket, might as well make it one by Versace that also has crystal embellishments, which I happen to think go well with the Laredo Classic Mignon Boot; these amazing cowboy boots have plenty of hand stitched detail up top while the toes are treated with an overlay of burnished flames.  Don’t forget to put on some Broken Bones Socks on first to keep feet warm.  Thread a Hugo Boss Studded Belt through the loops of the jeans, a great causal accessory made from grained leather and covered with cone shaped studs, and secure using a 3D replica of Frankenstein’s Bride with this stunning Belt Buckle.  Being a walking, talking anomaly doesn’t mean one is without a sense of humor, as is demonstrated by the Get Pickled Wallet by Sourpuss that is embossed with a brain in a jar flanked by pinstripe style wings.  With all of these striking illustrations there is not much need to add anything heavy in terms of other accessories, so keep it simple with a Stainless Steel Twisted Bolt Ring and a set of Wide Leather Cuff Bracelets.

Photo credit: `1 – Coney Island Circus Sideshow, 2 – Pop Culture Ninja

Aesthetic Autopsy: Snake Girl

There is no mistaking the claim that comes blaring through loud speakers as the banner comes into view, and while some words may be different depending on what region you are in, one thing will always remain the same – she has the head of a beautiful woman and the body of an ugly snake.  Much like Spidora, the Snake Girl is a simple illusion that utilizes the head of a real woman and is proclaimed as capable of talking or answering questions, though often the popular attraction seems to be sleeping.  Despite the blatant advertisement that she is in fact one of the oldest illusions, people still make obnoxious complaints when they actually see her, perhaps hoping that the banner was some sort of indication of what she would look like.  However, that does not stop the crowds from coming in, and I had the opportunity to see the Snake Girl up close on my visits to the State Fair in New Jersey, which I absolutely enjoyed.  There is a bit of mystery as to why she is usually called Angel, but there is no denying the allure of this mysterious half-woman half-reptile that lurks inside of a dim canvas tent, drawing in the young and old alike to gaze upon an abomination of Nature.  If someone feels duped, all it takes is a simple suggestion that they can play a trick on their friend to turn their scowl into a smile.  Whatever reason people have for being captivated by these types of exhibits, they remain an integral part of traveling carnivals and offer the opportunity to experience a sideshow tradition that is slowly disappearing from midways in favor of more rides or concessions.

SERPENT SEDUCTRESS

 

Translating the bold imagery of a banner into wearable fashion might seem easy considering how many garments are available in snake skin – whether real, fake or a print version of their unique patterns – yet one should also be able to edit and maintain a level of sophistication.  The cinching power of a Snake Skin Corset Dress mimics the masterful power of its namesake’s muscular body to create a curvaceous silhouette.  With Autumn in the air it would be wise to slip on a bolero jacket – the golden denim coordinates with the scales of the corset, white details such as the ruffled collar and pleated power shoulders accent its structured shape.  A pair of asymmetrical cropped black leather gloves would also be a chic way to keep warm without adding bulk to the outfit.  Continue the illusion that the lower half of your body is of reptile origin with Vivienne Westwood’s snakeskin leggings from her Anglomania collection, which features a ruched elastic waistband and has gold detailing that shimmer in the right light.  It would be predictable to wear snake skin boots, and perhaps even tacky considering the muted color palette of the other garments, so instead I suggest these stunning Jeffrey Campbell boots aptly named Runway.  The black leather is decorated with silver studs and a pair of silver-tipped buckled straps which might encourage you to strut your stuff.  Give new meaning to elegance with the Ava Crossbody Snake Bag, the metallic print lambskin and stud detailed tassel shimmering and shining in all the right places.  Establish your reign as queen serpent by wearing the bones of your enemies with a vertebra necklace, matching vertebrae bracelets, plated in black gold and  hinged so each piece moves individually, silver plated Open Bone Cage Rings and Triple Drop Bone Earrings.

The styling should be sharp and sleek in hues that compliment the detailed patterns in the above items, so hair should either be swept back in a ponytail, perhaps secured with a snakeskin cuff, or slicked back on the sides with volume on the top for those with shorter locks.  Compose dramatic eyes beginning with Illamasqua‘s Cream Pigment in Hollow, a warm toffee brown, then sweep on Pure Pigment in Ore, a rich russet bronze, and highlight with Breathe, a white pearl shimmer.  Contour cheeks with Disobey, a soft biscuit shade and blend into Ambition, a neutral shimmer that will give your face a soft glow. Line lips with Hex, a soft biscuit nude, then apply a coat of Utopia, a deep rich brown in a shimmer finish, which seems to be a prevailing theme with this makeup and mimics the effect of sunlight hitting the scales of a snake.  Add finishing touches for details that really pop by lining eyes with Precision Ink in Glister [opalescent nude], fluffing lashes with Raven Masquara and polishing nails with Baterium [pearlescent ash ochre].

CASUALLY COILED

 

When she is not entertaining curious spectators, one would imagine the Snake Girl would want to relax just the same as any other working act.  Slip into the softness of a Snake Print Suede Skirt, wrapping a black leather five buckle corset belt around the waist to maintain that hourglass figure and accentuating assets with a black studded bra top.  Tired of seeing the same generic black and white striped sweater, I was admittedly skeptical to find this Living Dead Souls Crop Cardigan; on closer inspection found that the square studs and collar detail captured my interest.  Not only will it replace relics that need retirement, but also is a great base for customization.  The simplicity of Bordello’s Black Velvet Burlesque Boots should not be underestimated, as they allow the legs to capture attention, especially if they are wrapped in grey snakeskin tights.  Hailed for the attention to details in past style guides, Iron Fist’s Lacey Days Handbag features a lace print on neutral colored background with a black skull in the middle, glossy black handles and a striped bow all make this anything but an ordinary bag.  Tame tresses into a snood and add a few loose rolls in the front, then deck your noggin out in the remnants of your last meal via this macabre  Crow Skull Fascinator.  Sport serpent solidarity via an extravagant Onyx Snake Cameo Pendant that hangs from a sterling silver chain and is trimmed in 14K gold, a glittering Black Enamel Snake Bracelet, a striking White Gold Black Diamond Ring and Snake Stud Earrings.

To avoid detracting from this festive feast of fashion, it is best to have a fresh face and minimal makeup, playing up the power of color contrasted with the precision of a pinup drawn by one of the masters of the art.  This time the selected brand is NARS, taking their Shimmer Eyeshadow in Voyage [golden sand] and working it from the outer corner and halfway into the crease.  From the Douce France Trio, pat the Rose Petal Pink across your eyelid, then blend into the crease color and highlight using the Icy Pink.  Line eyes with Patmos, a shimmering khaki green pencil for contrast and define lashes with a few coats of Larger Than Life Lengthening Mascara.  Add the slightest touch of flush to cheeks with Gold Member Cream Blush, a smooth and velvety texture of golden sunset with a hint of pink.  Go one step further with Copacabana Illuminator, an iridescent glistening pearl that is deceptively sheer and will highlight your best features.  Define lips with Amazon Liner Pencil [cool brick red], fill using Rogue Basque Satin Lipstick [also brick red] and give them a touch of sparkling platinum gold with Moon Fleet Lip Gloss.  Go for neutral nails with Zizi, a clear polish with peach and gold glitter; try it with a vintage style manicure when feeling extra fancy.

VICIOUS VIPER

 

 

The basis for the inspiration behind the first two looks is the illustration that usually accompanies Snake Girl and were built on a limited color palette, though certainly there is room for bursts of bright hues if one feels too muted.  This finial ensemble however, strays away from the earthy tones and has less of a dependency on items that are snake skin or print.  Instead I wanted to use the Eyelash Viper as an influence, since it is noted as the most polymorphic of the New World tree vipers and can be seen clad in scales of orange, various shades of yellow, olive brown and dull to rich moss green; contrasting cross  bands, spotting or flecking may also be present.  The layers of this elegant 1950s lemon chiffon dress are similar to the scales of this venomous snake, and while potential prey is captivated by the deceptive femininity, the predictor can skillfully strike.  Since reptiles are cold-blooded, they depend on heat from an outside source, and when the winds of Autumn kick up be prepared with a vintage faux fur shrug.    Let your hair run wild in deep waves with lots of body or bouncy curls thick as jungle vines, but keep them away from your face with a lime Faux Croc Headband.  Slither your way through crowded parties with Jeffrey Campbell‘s death defying Night Walk Exotic heels in Ivory Python, and protect personal items in a Lulu Tiki purse, complete with retro tiki print and a bamboo handle.  If you are feeling particularly outlandish, try an alluring Classic Latex Feather Neck Corset in olive green with bronze yellow schlappen feathers by Collective Chaos .  Compensate for lack of working fangs with triple tiered gold spike bracelets, gold spike hoop earrings and gold three finger spike rings.

Prime face and eyes as you usually would and then get ready to make your eyes pop with Urban Decay’s Vintage Eyeshadow in Eldorado, a bright sparkling gold that emulates the skin of the Eyelash Viper.  Blend out using Blunt, a subtle golden beige, and highlight with Midnight Cowgirl, a luminous beige and gold sparkle.  Create a precise cat eye by gliding on their 24/7 pencil in Bourbon, a velvety brown with tiny specks of gold.  Sweep cheeks with Score, an Afterglow Glide-On Tint that is a sweet pink peach and has a gold shift.  The lips are the focal point of this look – stain them with Gash, a deep blood red, and add shine by coating them in your favorite sparkling gloss.  Accentuate eyes with 44 Lash by MAC, which are separate bundles that combine for a fabulous effect.

The provocation to compose these types of style guides comes from the hope that they will kindle the imagination of those who want something different than the usual tropes of alternative fashion.  It is not necessary to construct an outfit that is a literal interpretation of its inspiration source, particularly since one risks giving the impression of being cheap or lazy.  While it might take more effort to actually hunt down pieces that not only encompass the aesthetic you are aiming for, but also represent your personality, I feel that the result is far more appealing than something that was manufactured and mass produced for the mainstream.  There is more value in clothes which are suitable to an occasion yet remain unique enough so that one does not blend into the surging crowds that don’t even think about fashion.  Of course the right dose of confidence is the greatest accessory to carry, which will always make others want to gravitate towards you when it is positive.

Aesthetic Autopsy: Spidora

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.

COBWEB CELEB

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.

ARISTOCRATIC ARACHNID

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

Aesthetic Autopsy: Painted Ladies

There was a time when being a tattooed female was quite rare, as seeking to cover the body with a collection of ink was something that men mainly acquired.  Then again, women were looked upon for modesty in general, so sporting tattoos was not really seen as being feminine.  However, there are some women who braved hours under the needle to transform their delicate skin into living artwork, willingly exhibited themselves for the sideshow,  and made quite a substantial income from doing so for curious spectators.  [Even Winston Churchill’s mother had a tattoo of a snake on her wrist, just in case you were wondering if inked ladies were partial to the sideshow world.]  To be quite frank, I enjoy the fact that tattooed women retained a certain elegance juxtaposed with their choice of artwork that covered most of their bodies.  While they may have exposed arms, legs and even a bit of the chest, it was to satiate the inquisitive nature of those who paid the admittance fee.  In order to understand what motivated these woman to not only have their bodies extensively tattooed, but also choose to show them off, there must an examination of history.

According to The Blue Tattoo, Olive Oatman is recorded as the first white woman in America to be tattooed – she had lived as a slave to the Indians who had killed her family, and was traded to the Mohave.  They tattooed her face and raised her as one of her own, the blue marks serving as a cultural symbol and a reminder that she never wanted to go home.  Obviously there are many books dedicated to the discussion of tattooing as an art form, and articles that delve into dates and facts which are highly educating.  However, many of them do not focus strictly on tattooed individuals within the sideshow, and that is why The Tattooed Lady: A History can be described as the first book of its kind.  Written by Amelia Klem Osterud, a tattooed academic librarian with a Masters in history from the University of Wisconsin-Milwakee, there are many photographs inside to accompany a compelling narrative.  One will discover that women with full-body tattoos appeared in the third quarter of the 19th century, and the artwork in general was quite similar to the styles that men favored.

Nora Hildebrandt is noted as America’s first professional tattooed woman and began to exhibit herself in 1882.  It is reported that she was covered with 365 designs from neck to toe, and while it was her father who really laid the ink down, it was common for embellishments to be made when pitching the story to curious crowds.  She was quite a popular attraction among men, but Irene Woodward emerged as another attractive tattooed woman and quickly eclipsed Nora’s fame.  La Bella Angora was a German circus performer from around the turn of the century who enjoyed considerable success as one of the few professional tattooed women of her time.  Meanwhile in America, La Belle Irene strayed from the usual tales of forcible tattooing onstage and instead claimed it was work she wanted that was done by her father.  In reality it had been Samuel O’Reilly and his apprentice Charlie Wagner who were responsible for covering a large portion of her body with tattoos.  Wagner is also recognized as being one of the artists who created and applied over 350 designs on Betty Broadent in the 1920’s.

In today’s society, the tattooed woman is still subjected to exhibition, though it is on a highly sexualized level and as they are often displayed with little or no clothing, which obviously comes down to personal choice and the level of comfort one has.  However, it also feels as though this is expected, as the modified woman is portrayed in a certain way thanks in part to alternative porn sites and competitions where the physical state of the body matters more than the quality of the artwork adorning it.  The fact remains that these images perpetuate stereotypes that are damaging to those women who do not want to be associated with them, because sadly people fail to differentiate between a fetishized fantasy and the real deal.  Instead, the inspiration for this guide comes from the women mentioned here and the numerous others who dared to challenge the perception of beauty and still maintained a sense of glamour and overall classiness.

BLUEBLOOD DELUXE

Capturing the essence of elegance with an early 1900s ‘Victoriana’ Lace Gown might not be suitable for everyone, but I have always enjoyed the contrast between tattooed skin and high quality garments.  For less coverage with an equal amount of modesty, a 1900s bathing suit in white cotton is well-tailored and accented in black – add authenticity and femininity with multiple layers of lace in the Ruffled Calf-Length Bloomers.  Sheer stripe tights are also currently quite popular and would pop with a pair of Funtasma boots by Pleaser, which feature sharp black Victorian style details against gold patent leather. Wearable art is always en vogue, and Ellen Green utilizes vintage leather gloves as a backdrop to her traditional tattoo designs, a fashionable alternative to actually having the hands inked.  Limit accessories to one statement piece, such as this lovely 1920s style black hair band with diamante adornment by Katherine Elizabeth.

POSH PEACH

The sheer pale color of the lace stripes on the You’re a Peach Dress offers the possibility of layering it over a piece such as Theia’s black beaded cocktail dress.  Elevate this style with Jeffery Campbell’s Damesl Spike, as the studded silver spikes adds a tough, chic edge  – wear them with rhinestone embellished lace tights to make legs look extra long and lean.  A detachable chain on this beaded peach bag makes it functional as a purse and a clutch, while Feather & Petals offers simplicity with a black headband.  Highlight tattooed hands with rhinestone triple finger rings and Tilly’s Full Tilt spiked  bracelets.

DYNAMITE DOLL

Mixing assertive patterns with bright colors is something Jessica Louise does well, and this punk-meets-princess Red Sailor Dress balances a black and white striped peasant top with a red skirt, six buttons and an enamel skull applique.  Extra support for those with a heftier bust can be found in the Push-Up Suspender High Waist Corset Belt, and the slightly textured black patent leatherette will also give you a slimmer, voluptuous look!  Soak yourself in opulence with a pair of Turquoise Satin Rhinestone Teeze Shoes by Bordello, a daring hue that brings a contrasting compliment to the dress.  Be prepared to thwart evil sun rays that will seek to fade tattoos with this stunning Cameo Stripe Eliza Umbrella, and store valuables in a red beaded Victorian style purse.  Ornament an elaborate hair style using a peacock feather hair clip complete with glittering butterfly brooch, and brandish this symbol of vanity on the ears with a pair of Silver Peacock Earrings.

 The most important thing to remember is that style comes from within and should reflect an aesthetic that is a testament to one’s character.  After all, simply putting on an outfit because it features the latest fashion trends might result in a comprehensive look, but it lacks depth and the personal touches that make it a statement.  A little confidence always goes a long way, no matter if you are draped in expensive fabrics or a few thousand dollars worth of tattoos from talented artists all across the globe.

Reading and Research: The Blue Tattoo, The Tattooed Lady: A History, Tattooed Women From the Past, Tattooed Lady History

Resources: thehumanmarvels.com, bmezine.com

Aesthetic Autopsy: Gentleman Geek

The legend of the Geek among Carny folk is far different from the image that is often portrayed by works of fiction.  Take for example HBO’s series Carnivale, in which Henry Scudder held mystical powers and appeared only briefly in his tuxedo, which was also seen on a pitch card where the title of this article stems from.  Unfortunately this part of the character was not really developed and so the man in the fancy suit and top hat holding a chicken by its feet remained elusive.  In the 1940s film noir Nightmare Alley, the Geek is an alcoholic whose mental state is less than stable – he performs the act because it is all that he can do, but eventually the bottle takes control.  When the ambitious Stan comes along seeking a job from the boss, jokes are made that he can assume the role left vacant by the booze-loving Pete, and it is during this scene which one of my favorite lines is delivered: “You know what a geek is, don’t you?”  Katherine Dunn examines a whole other perspective of the true sideshow freak in her beautiful novel Geek Love, and I enjoy the fact that Crystal Lil recalls her time spent as the Geek.

geekIn modern society, there is no place for an act which so eagerly portrays violence against animals.  For those unaware, the Geek is one who would tear the heads off chickens [possibly other animals], or a ‘wild man’ of sorts who would sit in a pit of snakes.  The closest things sideshow currently offers are the insectivore – one who eats bugs, and the human ostrich – one who eats/ingests inedible objects such as glass.  Neither one are particularly pleasant but less extreme than what people used to pay for that was considered entertainment.  Those with vivid imaginations and a penchant for creating myths find all sorts of reasons to twist facts into fantasy, and this alternate reality becomes what people believe.  The brutal truth of the matter is that the only individuals who actually know how gruesome this act can be are those who have actually performed it.  My personal experience will not be exploited for the sake of an article about fashion, though there is enough evidence scattered among the archives one would discover through careful investigation.

Simply TC: Photography

There are certainly questions which arise when encountering someone who deliberately subjects themselves to what is perceived as primitive behavior.  This is a topic that is heavily incorporated into my novel, which takes the role of the Geek from one that is undesirable and transforms it into a position of power.  While there is no denying the savagery that is presented in possessing the ability to remove oneself from all proper human behaviors, the notion that this can only be accomplished under the influence of drugs or alcohol is often hastily applied to many sideshow acts.  It is difficult for people to understand what serves as motivation to perform feats which seem physically straining without any apparent outside influence, so of course other substances must be in play.  Beneath the facade of the Geek that is sold to the public, is an ordinary man who makes the conscious choice to assume the role and all it entails.  Therefor, one should reserve judgment without having actually participated in such an act.

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METAMORPHOSIS

An essential part of being the Geek requires that separation between mild-mannered ordinary Joe Doe who goes to the supermarket every Sunday to pick up a quart of milk and the crazed lunatic chasing a chicken around while people are screaming and tying to find the quickest way to an exit is the presentation.  Leaving behind the stereotype of alcoholism and mental depravity, the aesthetic befitting of a contemporary gentlemen is composed of fabrics that are nothing but the finest fashion has to offer.  All Saints’ Brocade Military Tailcoat is made of slim fitting leather – ideal for protection against the talons of angry chickens not wanting to be some madman’s next meal – and features a number of details which keep it from  being mistaken for a cheap costume.  A long sleeve button-down poplin shirt that has stain release, wicks away moisture and comes in a variety of rich, dark colors such as this lovely burgundy ensures that possible blood spatter is not something to worry about.  In the same vein, Wrangler’s black cotton twill work pants offer both comfort and style, while also repelling stains and wrinkles.  The addition of a brown leather Western style vest may seem rather redundant, but here it offers a place to keep handkerchiefs for when cleanup is needed.  Two tone spectator shoes are an endless classic in Carny Style, done here in shades of black and brown to coordinate with the rest of the ensemble.  Being a main sideshow attraction means having to work on a schedule, and so this mechanical skeleton silver-tone pocket watch should assist in minding the time.

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MODERN LOVE

For an interpretation that has less of a dark carnival aspect and can be worn to local restaurants regardless of what is on the menu, trade in the leather for a vintage 1970s dark blue velvet tuxedo suit jacket that gives off more of a casual playboy vibe.  Taking a cue from the Preppy Punk style guide is this retro long sleeve turtleneck sweater, the rib knit wool adding a bit a of variegated texture to the black, grey and white argyle print.  A pair of double pleated black dress pants can be useful in a professional wardrobe as well as with casual looks such as this one, while red leather pointed toe shoes and high quality men’s blue striped socks are a testament of one’s bombastic personality.  Such an item is universal, however, and can also be used with pretty much any outfit to add a touch of personality.  Other accessories to complete a polished appearance include this brown leather tooled center laced belt, a red long silk scarf that can either be knotted around the neck or folded neatly and tucked into the pocket of the jacket, and a smashing vintage 1955 men’s watch which will ensure you are never late for dinner no matter what is on the menu.

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GROOMING

gentleman-geek-grooming-lush-products

When traveling, one seldom has time to take a shower, never mind the proper facility in which one can have absolute privacy to cleanse, and so there are alternative methods that have to be employed.  Thankfully there are companies like LUSH who understand such predicaments tend to arise, and products like No Drought Dry Shampoo that will briefly revive hair until there is time to wash it.  The fresh scent is generated by lemon, lime and grapefruit oils, while corn flour and talc soak up surplus oil to give locks a soft touch.  Of course there are also a line called Dirty which is ideal for an on-the-go lifestyle, where soap is replaced with Body Spray, where sandalwood battles against undesirable odor, and the fragrance of tarragon, lavender, thyme and a hint of spearmint lasts all day.  Feel free to follow up a few spritzes of that with Solid Perfume, where the spearmint is the prominent note accompanied by oakmoss and the same elements found in the spray have been combined into a solid form that can be applied to various areas of the body for an instant dose of this seductive aroma.  No matter what your style, do it up with plenty of Hair Cream, as cocoa butter and coconut oil moisturize and nourish, making hair soft and easy to manage, while rosemary soothes the scalp.  Combat irritation with a blend of oatmilk, shea butter and honey in a  Shaving Cream that will help the razor glide over your skin.  It’s also another layer of the Dirty fragrance, containing thyme, tarragon, spearmint, lavender, and sandalwood.  Top off this ritual with Toothy Tabs, an invigorating burst of spearmint for crisp breath, while neroli oil and baking soda help clean your teeth.

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The very connotation of the word ‘geek’ has evolved from its original definition, and in a sense is reclaimed worldwide by a number of people who want to show their pride of extraordinary skill in the technical field.  Among performers, the term ‘geeking’ is used in reference to things such as eating fire, though there is no actual digestion of flames which occurs and is just a gaffe for rubes who don’t know any better.  The fact remains that aside from munching on things like meal worms and crickets, the fine art of being a Geek is something that gruesome campfire stories are made of.  While chowing down on a squawking foul might not be suited for those without the intestinal fortitude to make it entertaining, one can certainly dress the part in good faith that the aesthetic properly represents the aristocratic tastes of Carny Trash.

Photo credit:  3 – heyrubecircus.com