Post Carnival Withdraw

[Originally written on this date in 2005]

Since returning from the tree lot, I have been eating once a day and drinking myself stupid every night, making a sad attempt to fill up this void and kill the pain that is suddenly plaguing me.  My gut is rotten to the core and just thinking about food makes me ill, but I know I should try to put something in there other than alcohol.  For some reason, when I’m holding that bottle I feel as though I am becoming my best friend, but that might not be a bad thing.  When I’m swimming in whiskey I can clearly see why he has such as distaste for the holidays and why he always avoided them, thinking that maybe I should too.

Drinking always has an effect on my dreams.  Not last night but the previous one, I had a dream that I was still on the road.  After a long afternoon of putting up sidewall in the tent, I go into the bunk house to find Jerry, asking if he can help hold the ladder or something.  If there were any more details, I can’t recall them now, but just having that interaction again made me happy upon waking.  Jerry was an awesome guy, and out of all the people who traveled with us, I miss him the most.  He joined up in Syracuse and took on the role of Bozo, also helping with setup and tear down.  For those that don’t know, Bozo is a clown in a dunk tank that gets paid to insult people.  He often recycled the same handful of lame one-liners, yet still found a way to draw a crowd and keep the green rolling in.

We smoked together on a number of occasions, and he shared lurid details of his life with me for whatever reason.  He was in prison for fifteen years, for having been in a fight and accidentally killing the other guy.  Though it was unintentional, he had a weapon on him or something, but essentially he got charged with manslaughter and away he went.  There are tears tattooed on his face to signify this and one other for the time a fight in prison yielded the same result.  Jerry would joke that he had been a kung-fu master and he just acted on instinct when defending himself, which I’m not sure if I entirely believe.  There were an assortment of other tattoos he had acquired while in prison, and even more that he had done himself, a few which were actually pretty good.  The two pieces I remember was the face on his elbow he had done while looking in the mirror, and the demon on his chest that was supposed to be a Superman style shield.  It came out the way it did because he had been tripping on acid at the time he was tattooing it, which is an important lesson on why drugs and body mods don’t mix.

Jerry also spent his teenage years and early twenties as a skinhead, though I never did find out why he decided not to pursue that lifestyle anymore.  He used to have a website up and said the Feds had it shut down due to the content, then came looking for him.  Again, he wouldn’t go into exact detail about what it was beyond “some heavy shit”, so trusting the validity of the story is not a hundred percent.  However, a liar would be more boastful and have no problem spilling trivial facts, especially unprompted.  He didn’t have a habit of talking with many of the other sideshow crew beyond pleasantries, so why I had that honor is kind of a mystery but cool at the same time.

Whiskey is also a bad influence on spontaneous decisions and there is no such thing as a ‘bad idea’ until you are suffering the consequences of it while sober.  For whatever reason I decided to dye my hair SFX Blood Red last week, and in the beginning the color was brilliant, reminding me of when I had done my hair that shade in junior year of high school.  However, I forgot to wash it in cool water, so the red was  bleeding any time I got my hair wet or any kind of styling product was applied.  This is especially unfortunate since the bathroom and all of its towels are white and the last thing I want to do is touch any of it while crimson dye is running across my skin.

Short-lived success was followed by bleach which removed the majority of the red, though there are still a few orange spots I would like to touch up prior to applying toner.  According to the bottle it’s a white blonde, so hopefully I will achieve the effect I desire.  The front was left red to match the wefted extensions that have already been dyed, red that transitions to black at the tips.  Well, somewhere along the way I set to cutting my hair with clippers and wound up with a Chelsea, though I am pretty happy with the result.  This made the second bleaching come out more even than the first, and the toner took much better than expected.

Though this may seem really trivial to talk about, altering my appearance is something I tend to do to avoid other self-destructive tendencies, which I know I’m not helping with the alcohol.  Besides, my birthday is coming up in a week and I felt as though I needed a change in order to celebrate.  Oh, speaking of such, I tried to get tickets for the Leftover Crack show I wanted to attend, but Vintage Vinyl had none and neither did the venue’s website.  Could be possible that I waited too long, though I am going to try calling Starland directly just to double-check on the sold out status.  While it is not the worst thing in the world, this does make me feel as though the birthday curse is trying to make a return, as silly as that sounds.

Well, I have errands to run which should keep my mind off the fact I haven’t heard from Jon at all since I got back.  His postcards rarely leave my side, and at night when I’ve got the whiskey goggles on, I try to find some hidden message I may have missed before.  Desperation is an ugly beast when your heart feels empty and you find yourself willing to do anything to keep it quiet.

Laura Byrnes: Harlequin Print Shorts

laura-byrnes-harlequin-print-high-waisted-shorts

Favorable to every figure, the Laura Byrnes High Waisted Shorts offer an Empire waistline that has a slight curve, while elastic ruched panels in the rear permits flexibility and comfort.  Other details such as the patch pockets, front seaming and cuffs become part of an overall sophisticated vintage charm, the colors of the print providing a diverse palette to play with when selecting the remainder of the outfit.  For instance, the Sean Top in Olive Green Poplin can stimulate any attire, but here it enhances the art deco vibe with unique seaming, cuffed sleeves, a stand up collar and cross-over darted bust.  Channel vacation sensations in Iron Fist’s Island Vibe Booties, the black and coral printed fabric upper riveted with laces and set off by the black block heel.  Being assertive means that sometimes you have to go big, and the Sourpuss Class Dame Purse is certainly one way to do that!  The over-sized black vinyl studded bag has a built-in mirror, zip top, magnetic closure with lightning bolt pull and a leopard print lining to cradle all of your valuables.  Harmonize your jewelry and go for Chandelier Earrings where black marquis cabochons hanging in a diamond formation, a vintage Oscar de la Renta ring that has faux coral beads nestled in a gold Russian setting, and a Spike Stretch Bracelet with green and silver spikes as an ode to the punk influence which can be found all over fashion these days.

Protect skin while assisting in the reduction of dark spots with Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer by NARS, an oil-free formula that provides a translucent veil of color as it hydrates.  The neutral cream beige of Biarritz Eye Shadow will effortlessly float across your lids for a sheer touch of color, as the intense parrot green of the Celebrate Soft Touch Shadow Pencil increases eye intensity as you glide it on the crease and blend into the brow bone.  Amplify contrast with thick strokes of Black Moon, a dense black eyeliner that really packs on the pigment to leave you with dramatic cat eyes.  Full-coverage lipstick does not have to leave your pout feeling dry, and despite the name, Heatwave actually conditions and nourishes as you wear it, the bright orange red coating lips in a semi matte finish.  The final touch is Gilda, advertised as the perfect coral blush with a hint of red that is sure to make your cheeks radiate beauty, and a limited edition electric orange opaque nail polish called Madness that would look delicious as a vintage manicure and invoke images of sweet creamsicles.

Carny Trash Goes Bindlestiff

[Originally written on this date in 2005]

The day did not begin well for me.  After being denied yet another chance at even obtaining employment, I got back in my car and it did not start.  Cue panic mode, seeing as how I was in Perth-fucking-Amboy.  After the fifth or so try, the car did in fact start, and I headed back to the house in great disappointment.

It seems that no matter how hard I try, there are no employers interested in hiring someone with a positive attitude and eagerness to learn new skills when their resume is fairly empty and they are already in their 20’s.  Also, though I am aware that the jobs I have held thus far have always paid me in cash, that does not invalidate the experiences.  If a location no longer exists, how am I expected to provide a contact for reference?

When I walked out of the interview, irritated that I was wasting my time and gas, all I could think about is how much easier things were hustling with Jon and performing with Outlaw Cirkus.  Sorry I can’t put that on the application because they’re dead right now, but I am sure that you will be able to reach them later in the evening.

As I am driving down Route 1, my car decides that it doesn’t want to go any faster than 25 m.p.h. which is just fan-fucking-tastic.  Quickly I discover that as long as I did not come to a complete stop things seemed alright, though it does this on two other occasions before I could actually give it gas and get up to correct highway speed.  Lurched up the hill towards the house at 5 m.p.h. before the beast literally died.  The electronics still worked at that point, but I was too tired to ask anyone to take a look at it.

The following day I got in for shits ‘n’ giggles and found that nothing worked.  For sale: 1991 Ford Taurus paperweight.

Hoping the rest of my day would go better, I sent Jon a text explaining my situation and nervously awaited his reply I as did a costume change.  Dressing up for interviews is understandably necessary, but I am far more comfortable as myself, even if at times that is slightly exaggerated for fun.   The plan was to travel into the City and hit up Unimax before heading over to First where we’d be seeing the Bindlestiffs.  Due to time constraints that included walking down to the end of the street where Jon came to my rescue like a knight in Chevy armor, and cruising up to Newark in order to hop the PATH into the City, I would have to skip Unimax and get what I wanted elsewhere.

As we are on the PATH it dawns on me that I am sitting there with my best friend who looks incredibly amazing, and I realize that he is the only one who supported me when I decided to volunteer for the Bindlestiffs last year.  He was there with me now to see their show and I could not have asked for a better date.  Our hands intertwine as we depart the train, walk up the stairs and are sharing a blunt minutes later as we duck down side streets that wind through towering buildings.  While distracted by the scenery, I am caught in his arms and drowning in a kiss that takes my breath away before we resume walking up Astor, then cut through St. Marks and eventually came to First, easily finding the theater.

We waited a bit in the lobby before the doors were open, where Jon was entertained by the amount of people filing in and whispered suggestions of thievery into my ear while surveying the growing crowd.  Though I would usually encourage such behavior, I gently reminded him that I used to work for the people we were there to see and requested that he respect the space.  Flashing a toothy smile, he kissed my forehead and ensured that he would resist temptation for my sake, then linked his arm with mine and escorted me into the theater.  Even though pretty much every seat was filled, I felt quite comfortable due to the fact I had Jon right next to me, still holding my hand.  The show itself was great even though I am always ready for one more act.  Jon expressed his enjoyment of Kinko, and who wouldn’t love a masturbating, drunken clown wearing a noose for a necktie?

We were waiting to speak with Stephanie when she suddenly blurts out “Oh my goodness, is that Lenore?” It seems they thought I disappeared due to not having a number to reach me, and so I promptly gave her a business card.  Jon was delighted to introduce himself and engaged her in a conversation where he managed to mention all of the performances I was doing in South Jersey, which she seemed delighted to hear.  Eventually we moved on to chat with various other people, with Jon in rare form as he passed out cards and encouraged everyone to check out the website.  The evening had been wonderful, though it made me miss working for them, as they had treated me with respect and were never bothered by my tattoos or piercings.  It did feel good to reconnect with that part of my life though, especially having Jon there for every riveting second.

The walk back to the PATH felt much shorter, but that was mostly due to smoking the remainder of the blunt without caring if we were in the middle of the street or not.  Seated close to each other, Jon is smiling and telling me that he was having a great time, but hoped I was not in a rush to get to bed any time soon.  There was never a hesitation of going along with whatever he had planned, and as much as my curiosity demanded answers as we rode along the highway in his Chevy, I fall asleep for a while and when I wake up he is helping me to my feet.

When we reach the sand it is obvious we are the only people there, and I decide that was a good moment to tell Jon exactly how I had felt, because every ounce of my soul knew I had the one thing I wanted more than any else.  The Costello to my Abbott.  The Laurel to my Hardy.  For the longest time my greatest desire was to have a male counterpart; someone that gave me that feeling of completeness I had often found myself yearning for, and I just could not shake the notion that there was more for me.  There was someone out there who shared my passions and interests who could look at me with love in his eyes no matter how I chose to alter my appearance, or what I shoved up my nose/down my throat.  Though unsure of exactly when this feeling started, it has lasted with me through the time I wasted with the Asshole and others who were not right for me.

For five years we had developed a relationship that defied social standards and the definitions of love often dictated by greeting card companies.

“I have what completes me”, I said, the words falling out of my mouth without even thinking about saying them.  “You are my other half, someone who loves me, even in the morning when I am still half-asleep, leftover makeup on my face and my hair a mess, yet you think I am beautiful anyway.  You are everything I wanted and possibly more.”

My heart was beating so fast I felt like it was going to explode, his lips and hands easily finding mine as the first hints of daytime began to creep into the sky, and just as I was being taken in by the moment, I was being woken up by an alarm at five o’clock in the morning.

No idea what is going on with my car, but it is supposed to get looked at tomorrow. If it can be fixed, great; if not I am going to have to find something else and that is an entire production I would rather avoid at the moment.  Since my insurance company decided to dump me, I now have to find a new one, and I am worried about having to pay more since my funds are not what they used to be.  This all happened because I was trying to do the ‘right thing’ and get a job where I could use the experience for future references or whatever.

This whole situation has become a huge annoyance and I spend my time dreaming about the days of riding the PATH into the City for my amazing job with the Bindlestiffs, cruising around with Jon during the day and performing with Outlaw Cirkus at night, or wandering the streets to hustle, spange and otherwise prey on the marks or rubes.  Pursuing variety arts always seemed like the natural option, and it still does, so I wonder why I am wasting my efforts when I know what I should be doing.

Swagger vs Stereotype

There are certain things that rub me the wrong way when I see people interpreting what they perceive to be circus or carnival inspired style.  The most offensive are attempts that make it obvious no thought was put into the finished product, but they are tagged with terms which I feel should be reserved for things which properly represent them nonetheless.  At this point it is proper to say everything posted in this article is my own opinion and in no way is meant to be taken as offensive.  However, I have always noticed that there is a certain vision that comes to mind when people think of the circus and carnival, which inevitably carries over to fashion.

My credibility comes from the fact that I am someone who has dedicated a large portion of their life not only to studying the above mentioned cultures, but also has experienced them first hand.  While I understand the desire to have fun with one’s wardrobe, after all they are just clothes so they don’t really need to be taken seriously, I am also of the mind that the way one presents themselves speaks volumes above their personality. Society does not judge you on whether you donate to charity or have a kind heart – it scrutinizes every last inch of your outward appearance and then tells you everything that is wrong with it.  In the same vein, the purpose of this guide is to serve as an example of what is stereotypical garb versus reinventing inspiration into personal style.

UNDER THE BIG TOP

A fashion article that appeared in an issue of Auxiliary Magazine offered insight to ‘circus punk’, accompanied with a hodgepodge of striped clothing that was wasn’t very appealing and looked quite cheap.  The accessories could be considered kitschy, but even that lends itself to being overdone.  In fact, the only items I even considered wearing were the shoes, though I would certainly find an alternative to the expensive ones suggested.  My main beef with the article was the description of the aesthetic, which I personally define as mixture between the two cultures.  Refined Victorian inspired statement garments can be juxtaposed with rustic DIY pieces to create a truly progressive look that has nothing to do with music.  In fact, I wasn’t even aware that such a  genre existed, because I know circus punks as these funny looking stuffed guys with wild fur that you knock down at the carnival for a prize.

The author says “take Victorian vaudeville, mix with punk rock, throw in lots of stripes and Voila! you have circus punk!”  A novel idea no doubt, except I loathe the notion that stripes must equal circus.  Also, the Victorian era was particular to British history, while vaudeville is a genre native to the United States and Canada.  While the two can certainly be exhibited in one outfit, they are exclusively separate identities.   Not even sure how punk and circus as music influence the style represented in this article, as I see no punk at all and very commonly stereotyped circus items.  “There are no set rules for styling circus punk”, the author continues, “but incorporating striped items into an outfit is one of the most popular ways to achieve a carnival-esque ensemble.”  Contradictions are not things I like to read in style guides, and once again, enough with equating stripes to the circus.  Would also like to point out that circus and carnival are very different cultures that while similar in some aspects, have very different aesthetics.  The suggestions of clothes to style oneself ‘circus punk’ come in the form of marching band uniforms, riding pants and more Victorian wear.  It’s one blurb but it sure managed to be packed with a whole of assumption.

The author is certainly entitled to her opinion, though to me it reeks of a lack in understanding the four distinctive cultures that were mentioned.  Surely everyone has been guilty of passing judgment on someone else’s style, particularly when the individual goes out of their way to put a label on it.  In which case I reserve the right to defend my analysis of the article and say it certainly bears no representation of circus, carnival, punk or vaudeville.

BREAKING THE MYTH

Once and for all, I present evidence that early circus tents never had stripes.  If one is to be more accurate, before there even were tents, circuses were held in enclosed buildings that were nothing short of amazing.  The desire for travel and evolution of the acts moved circus under the protection of a canvas tent held aloft by towering steel poles.  As can be seen in the photo on the right, this canvas was one solid color.  Certainly they would have to be patched over time as wear and tear set in, an example of which can be seen on the HBO series Carnivale, but I feel that’s definitely not the same as being striped.  Modern circuses that stay true to their heritage still use plain canvas tents, but even I have to admit that some opt for the more eye-catching striped variety.

Well then, certainly something had to influence this idea.  Perhaps it was the costumes?  They are ostentatious, brilliantly hued and usually have an insane amount of sparkle – after all, the whole point is to draw attention from the crowd towards whatever act is happening at the moment.  One cannot expect to do this in blue jeans and a T-shirt, but even costuming has standards so that it retains that air of fantasy and doesn’t slip in the realm of tacky.  However, those worn by trapeze artists and other aerialists were form-fitting to show off their physique while performing tricks that required flexibility of the body, where as animal tamers have been shown wearing leather boots and looser garments  for easier mobility.  Of course we all know the ringmaster had a flashy costume and the parade of beauties were not without their own charming frocks.  Circus thrived on its lavish presentation even though it may have suffered financially, and I often wonder what happened to this pride.  It seems to have been replaced with competition to be as ‘tacky’ and ‘trashy’ as possible, which could be charming in small doses or paired with the right situation, but those are certainly not words that I want people constantly associating with my image.

With a decent sense of security, I can say that the one place I have found stripes among any kind of circus wardrobe are within images of clowns.  Their depictions often display a number of emboldened patterns on their humorously sized clothes, which also includes polka dots, diamonds and plaid.  Each type of clown has its own specific type of dress, and the inclusion of stripes seems to be something that just happened, perhaps in recycling an old prison uniform.  A pattern can be used on any number of objects, and I do not understand where this knee-jerk reaction came from associating stripes with circus.  If one wants to look like a clown [and I am sorry, but often times striped fashion achieves just that, but not in a good way], that is their decision.  Stripes are also related to goth, burlesque, raver, cyber, steam punk and other scenes, so using circus or carnival as a buzzword to describe an outfit, piece of clothing or even an accessory simply because it has stripes comes across as pretty unenlightened.

SUMMONING SWAGGER

It might sound like a ridiculous concept, but the idea of swagger goes hand-in-hand with having confidence [not cockiness] and is something many desire though few actually master.  Presentation encompasses everything about a person, especially when they want to fill the role of a particular characterization.  The brilliant film noir Freaks comes to mind at this moment, because many of the sideshow performers did not have elaborate costuming, and those who did certainly held an undeniable position of power among the others.  This hierarchy of sorts is  a topic that I have expressed my feelings on in the past, so it comes as no surprise that I continue to maintain this position.

Taking everything that I have written in past articles plus the information presented here, there comes the question of how exactly does one execute a circus inspired style utilizing stripes, but not in a conventional way.  This stunning vintage 1930s tweed jacket features a woven texture and has a contrasting plaid detail on the lining of the sleeve cuffs.  It also happens to have been made by an Italian immigrant who worked as a tailor in Philadelphia, and it is always a nice bonus to have a bit of history to things one owns.  Pair it with a 1950s black wool circle skirt that has simple decorations and this vibrant red halter neck top from Vivien of Holloway to channel the classic pinup vibe.  Finish with red leather Mary Jane’s that have a slight heel, because platforms and spikes are ridiculously mainstream and have no place here.

While it may seem that wearing Cuban heel stockings with such a long skirt would be a waste, sometimes one can feel beautiful without having to put everything on display.  Toss in a black vintage quilted clutch with a golden tassel, fasten up this vintage 1980s blue leather wasp waist belt and you will almost be ready to hit the town.  Personally, I feel no outfit is absolutely complete without accessories and each component must be delicately selected so that they do not take over.  A good hat always does the trick, particularly when the design is simple and allows for a well-executed hairstyle to speak for itself, while Citrine gemstone dangle earrings, an art deco double strand faux golden pearl necklace and a set of thick textured gold bracelets with contrasting metal circle details add the right amount of sparkling glamour.

It is not for me to dictate what others can or cannot wear, nor are there really any definitive rights or wrongs when it comes to fashion.  However, I believe there is sufficient evidence that has been offered which determines what is or is not correct when putting a label on a look.

Photo credit: 1 – macamour.com, 3 – camelphotos.com, 4 – calliegrayson.blogspot.com

6 – weirdrealm.com

Aesthetic Autopsy: the Talker

One of the most crucial parts of any successful sideshow was the talker.  Do not call him a barker, for that is term reserved for those annoying assholes who harass you to play a rigged game for some mediocre prize.  It is in fact a derogatory term and should never be applied to those who have the skill and grace to execute a string of words that captures the curiosity of a gathered crowd and users them into a tent full of mystery, promising that they will be witness to an assembly of individuals that Nature created different, ensuring that these so-called freaks are in fact alive.

The image that immediately comes to my mind is of a fast-talking gentleman wearing nothing but the finest suit, because the point is  to attract attention while stimulating imagination.  In essence, if this is what the guy talking about the acts looks like, then surely the illustrations depicted on canvas banners must be a representation of the people inside.  Than again, once cannot blame the Carny for taking advantage of susceptible thirst for knowledge.  Depictions on sideshow banners may have amplified certain physical attributes, but it was the descriptions that boomed from a microphone handled by the talker that had to convince people to part with their money.  It is for all of these reasons that I feel this embassador should of course best exemplify this title through not only his clothing, but also in the swagger that defines a Carny from someone playing dress up.

The stereotyped projection of what people think a talker looks like include a [red and white] striped jacket, shirt or vest, bow tie, red or black pants, black and white spectator shoes and a straw hat or bowler, sometimes with a curled moustache, megaphone or cane.  While the pieces themselves can certainly be an overall part of Carny Style, I feel the image falls short of actually capturing the unique personality that each talker brings to the bally stage.

THE SUIT

Traditionally, the role of the talker is filled by a man, but inspiration does not have to be limited to a specific gender, and so I will be exploring both men’s and women’s fashion.  The first item to be explored is what I consider to be an iconic representation of a taker – the suit.  For the masculine taste, this particular look begins with a navy and blue striped jacket that is 100% and has a classic fit, which will certainly come in handy when delivering the pitch on a warm afternoon.  It might be tempting to wear pants with the same pattern, but this time simplicity lends itself to versatility with accessories, and so a pair of black men’s herringbone trousers will be appropriate.  Besides, they will certainly coordinate well with the Steamtrunk Vaudevill Vest in black pinstripe.  Finish with a simple but bright striped blue dress shirt and a slim blue silk bow tie – the silver and white pattern ensuring that it doesn’t get lost among the other elements of the outfit.  Replace awkward leather belts and their equally clunky buckles with vintage black leather suspenders.  [Note, if you don’t have buttons on your pants, they can easily be sewn on.]   The one thing that the stereotyped dress of a talker gets right are the shoes, and so I chose a pair of Stacy Adams Matte Finish Bright Navy Specators, while blue argyle trouser socks add a bit of quirky fun to the whole outfit.

The female translation is inspired by a recent episode of Boardwalk Empire, where a scene depicted a talker pitching an act on the boardwalk of Atlantic City.  He was wearing what I believe were soft yellow plaid pants, and since this is intended to be a more visually stimulating outfit, I am basing it on this Hell Bunny corset, which features a sweet heart design and black contrast to a yellow, blue and red plaid.  This time the colors and patterns can be brought to the lower portion of the outfit, achieved with a blue Tartan Mini skirt by Obsidian Gothic Clothing – add a fluffy Hell Bunny black and red tutu for extra volume.  A simple black Victorian style neck ruff is a nice alternative from shrugs and other types of cover ups as cleavage is encouraged on the bally stage.  Red satin opera gloves are always acceptable and should be a staple in any classy wardrobe. Bordello’s black and white Burlesque Ankle Boot is a nice alternative to the more masculine spectator shoe [and better than the stripper version that is always floating around], while a nice pair of lace tights can never be a poor choice to adorn shapely legs.

THE HAT

What one wears with the suit is just as important as all of the elements that create a successful style, and the outfits presented here are just one way to translate it.  The accessories, I feel, should be more definitive since they are what bring the clothes character when they are placed together on stage.  A vintage straw hat with colorful band is always a good bet, or perhaps a brightly hued classic bowler compliments your head shape better.  It is perfect acceptable to try on a number of hats before purchasing one that fits, since once does not want to risk being mistaken for being a clown.  Ladies can never go wrong with opulent cocktail hats, or burlesque style hair clips with feathers and crystals.

THE ACCESSORIES

By now it should be obvious that while these items should also be of good quality, they should never overwhelm an outfit, but rather embody characteristics of the individual wearing them.  Antique pocket watch, sturdy bamboo cane and yes even a bright red Splashproof Handheld Compact Megaphone are appropriate finishing touches for the stately gentlemen wishing to call attention to what’s happening on the bally stage.  Sometimes one has to bring out a teaser to get the audience excited for what else might be on the inside, and so it is beneficial to know how to handle a large snake – pythons and boas are ideal as they can reach large sizes but are quite docile if raised right.  The albinos are obviously more enticing, but keep in mind that these serpents are living creatures and certainly should not be treated like a coat that is just hung up at the end of the day.  Alternatively, reptilian inspired jewelry is recommended for those who want the glamour without committing to the care and feeding of a living animal.

On a final note, I feel that it is important to reiterate that the things listed here are to merely serve as a guide when selecting your own look.  It is very easy to cross the line into costuming that stereotypes certain figures in circus and sideshow.  Showing respect for a culture is not throwing things together and then slapping a label on it, because that totally ignores all of the existing aesthetics determined by those who created it.  There is nothing wrong with inspiration, but keep in mind that your opinion could be wrong and what you perceive as a ‘cool outfit’ might be offensive to someone who has embraced the lifestyle.

Photo credit: 1 – sawdustnights.blogspot.com,

Style Spotlight: Bindlestiff Family Cirkus

There are a number of things that come into consideration when deciding whether or not someone embodies the aesthetics of Carny Style, and as the articles presented here so far have gathered is that these can be clearly defined by a rational guideline.  For me, a large part of this also comes from how one is presented to the public as well as how one acts outside of that realm, because you never know who is watching or what they might see.  It would surprise many to know that it is very easy for a performer to put on a front – after all, a large part of what makes a successful sideshow act is the fine art of bullshit.  However, I have had the pleasure of encountering some genuinely amazing individuals who treated me with nothing but kindness.  Impartial as my opinion can be, I feel confident that others would agree this month’s spotlight is more than deserving of the praise presented here.  They are elevated into my personal collection of Carny Trash Aristocracy and have served as great inspiration for several years, for which I offer my utmost thanks.

BINDLESTIFF FAMILY CIRKUS

My introduction to this extraordinary troupe came in 2004 when I was honored with a position among their volunteer crew that assisted in their Palace of Variety which was located on 42nd Street and had been considered the last vaudeville house in Times Square.  It was not only an incredible opportunity to be a part of this project, but also an intimate experience with some of the nicest people I have ever met.  Their dedication and passion for the arts is something to be admired, and it is certainly not difficult to witness hours of preparation and practice succeeding to entertain audiences with ease.  Presentation is a large part of performance, which is often left to who can do what the best or shout about it the loudest, but I prefer animated words delivered from a character that makes the act interesting.  Throw in a visually stimulating outfit and punctuate the actions with appropriate music, make sure there is ample audience participation and that is what I consider to define a well-rounded production.

They have been together for about sixteen years, performed all across the country and continue to support circus, sideshow and other variety arts in a number of ways.  There are enough people who put on this facade but are motivated by greedier desires which I feel detracts from all of the positive aspects of the community.  It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why the Bindlestiffs have this position in what could be argued as a fictional hierarchy, but I have seen generosity, sincerity and for a brief moment in my life I truly felt that sense of belonging among people I could relate to.  The lack of judgment and genuine acts of courtesy   speak volumes of their constitution and serves as an example of quality which I feel is important when representing any culture.

KEITH NELSON

One of the main components of this troupe is Keith “Bindlestiff” Nelson, who has two distinct characters on stage.  The first is Mr. Pennygaff, a suave smooth-talking gentleman straight from the hottest vaudeville review with the ability to charm audiences, swallow swords, juggle clubs and even presents an amazing top act.  The cut of his suits are slightly exaggerated, but that is to be expected for such a caricature.  The colors are primary hues that are accentuated with pinstripes or plaids.  A collard shirt and matching tie, coordinating bowler and vest along with two-tone shoes complete the ensemble and it certainly stands out when there is not much else on the stage.  Additionally, such items can be translated into contemporary wardrobes by obtaining well-fitted suits and key pieces that can easily be formed into a variety of looks by simply mixing and matching.  The acts themselves are riveting and can be noted for great dialogue that places humor in just the right places.

Kinko the Clown is a silent character, which means he must find other ways of communicating his story of woe to the audience.  The difference between a hobo and tramp clown lie within their perspective attitudes and variations of costume.  A hobo clown is a ‘devil-may-care’ vagabond content with his life on the road and what few personal possessions he may have.  A tramp clown believes himself to be a victim of circumstance and that this condition is caused by others.  It is safe to say that Kinko falls somewhere in the middle of these, and provides some sort of hope in his saddened smile.  The look of this type of clown is directly inspired by the appearance of homeless migratory workers who road freight trains in search of a temporary job or new adventure.  Even the makeup is inspired by the faces of these travelers, which would be covered by soot from riding coal driven trains – after wiping the soot from the eyes and mouths, they would appear white in contrast.  The main difference in costume is that the tramp’s will appear more tattered and dirtier in comparison to the hobo’s,  but they are both composed out of a suit and tie in dark colors, worn and patched with gloves and a hat.  Kinko wears a rope around his neck, perhaps in lieu of a tie or as an means of expression about the corporate work force.

STEPHANIE MONSEU

The other founding member of Bindlestiff Family Cirkus is Stephanie Monseu, aka Philomena Bindlestiff.  She makes an excellent ringmistress and emcee, capturing the audiences attention as they are brought into a world of imagination where circus, sideshow and other variety arts surpass imagination.  Her skills include the bull whip, juggling, fire eating, walking on stilts and singing, not to mention a larger-than-life personality and quite a collection of tattoos that I personally feel prevents her from being just another stage prop as is quite common among the females in this business.  Her style is both elegant and classic, not to mention that she makes quite a few of the outfits herself.  From beaded evening gowns and small top hats to corsets, frilly petticoats and heels, every choice is bright, glittering and overall fits her body well, which is also quite important since ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ are only cute when they are part of a burlesque routine.

THE FAMILY

The other members of this outstanding troupe may change over the years, but each and everyone has their own unique personality and style.  The shows are not strict to adhere to specific genres, but rather utilize acts and to tell a story presented in a variety of formats.  Even budding artists have a platform to showcase talent with a cavalcade that extends the opportunity towards today’s youth.  If circus, sideshow and related arts are to have any sort of future as a certifiable means of employment, then we must learn to respect it and treat it as such.  For me, the Bindlestiff’s have proven beyond a shadow of doubt that this is their lifelong mission, and I can only hope to have a fraction of their success.  Truly they serve as inspiration both on a personal and professional level, but they also set the precedent for the Carny Trash Aristocracy.  After all, it’s perfectly acceptable to be oneself, excel at what you love while keeping in mind where you came from and supporting the future of this culture.

Resources – http://www.bindlestiff.org, http://www.allaboutclowns.com

Photos: 1 – backwashzine.com, 3 – vaudevisuals.com, 4 – juggle.org

All Others – bindlestiff.org

Halloween Harlots

It comes as no surprise that every year for Halloween the adult female costumes leave less to the imagination and seem more like the apparel one would find at a semi-naked drunken party.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to be sexy and sultry, but that does not mean being mistaken for a hooker unless that’s actually the purpose of the costume.  To me, it seems as though purchasing an outfit at an adult novelty store saves the trouble of having to deal with children and teenagers who will be swarming the regular Halloween shops in hopes of claiming the best, and that is why so many readily choose that option.  No imagination required, unless of course your body isn’t exactly like the woman on the package, who  is likely a porn actress and artificially enhanced.  In that case, it might be time to put down the skank wear and exert effort into being a little more creative, especially if you are a burlesque or sideshow performer.

As an adult woman, I find no empowerment in my costume selection being watered down to ‘sexy’ everything.  A black body suit and stockings can be a cat, rabbit or devil with the right bag of accessories and enough alcohol.  Why am I pigeonholed into specific roles of characters that somehow all have apparel which requires plunging necklines, short jagged hemlines and materials that are so incredibly cheap they wouldn’t even be up-cycled into anything more than a rag?

There are a variety of matriarchal representatives of historical note that can certainly be portrayed with pride and without the need of showing off skin because it will get you some lame prize in a contest.  This guide will allow one to be fun and flirty without looking dumb and dirty with suggestions on how to take generic costumes and add a few creatives touches for a new twist on classic ideas.  Also,  utilize items in your existing wardrobe with the right accessories in order to save money on having to buy something prepackaged.

CLOWNING AROUND

While there is a good portion of the population who are afflicted with coulrophobia [fear of clowns], and if you have suffered from bad horror movies that portray clowns as evil villains, than a rubber mask and jumpsuit with floppy shoes will most likely be the best route to take.  For those who are aficionados of the various types of clowns, perhaps selecting a famous face from history such as Emit Kelley’s hobo clown would be more suitable.  Coming up with a female version of such outfits are a bit harder, especially when there are many who done the familiar Harley Quinn black-and-red ensemble that even I have to admit looks killer on the right frame, especially if the bodysuit is made of latex.  Artifice has a lovely rendition in PVC, and both materials are acceptable in a fetish scene.  However, there are not that many clown costumes for women that are nothing more than a cute, short dress and perhaps stockings, a wig or a hat, as seen in the photo on the right.  No face paint is needed because that would mean hiding one’s natural beauty, as enhanced by two hours of careful makeup application.  One of those glitter-coated party masks on a stick would work wonders though.

There is certainly a way one can portray a clown, known for bringing smiles and being a character that works through facial expressions, with flirty flair that won’t get you mistaken for being a Juggalette.  This requires a figure flattering corset, red and black polka dot or striped – or even a well-balanced combination of both – and super full two layer organza petticoat skirt from Sterling and Pearls.  Continuing with the same color scheme, I am partial to the Rocket Mistress tie on show bustle and Rocket Mistress bustle corset jacket from Lovechild Boudoir, as it carries a sort of Dark Carnival aesthetic I prefer over the usual neon colors associated with clowns.  Forget about the floppy footwear and slip your toes into a pair of Bordello Teeze pumps in red glitter, which would go nicely with some red and black layered fishnets, as stripes would be a little too much even for a costume.  Accessories come in an assortment of ridiculous with skewed proportions and funny sounds, though keep them limited to things you can carry as opposed to awkward props.  Good quality wigs are recommended, but please stay far away from afros, particularly the rainbow variety.  While one can find something like this half-and-half Punky Gothic Wig, there are far better options, such as using a cosplay wig as a base and styling it yourself. [Or, have one custom made for you.]  To achieve makeup that won’t send children and adults run screaming in the other direction, keep the face mostly white with curved eyebrows and dainty accents such as dots and diamonds.

MISTRESS OF CEREMONIES

Without a doubt the most popular circus costume that has way too many inceptions is the ringmaster, or in this case the ringmistress.  For some reason companies seem to think that short skirts or dresses with equally short jackets, high-heeled black patent leather boots and fishnets with a small top hat and limp riding crop  is what best represents a ring master.  This is the individual who commands attention from an entire audience, a huge presence that sparkles in the spotlights and is the larger-than-life conductor of everything that happens within a circus.  Certainly history portrays the ringmaster as a refined gentleman in coat tails and a top hat with shiny black leather riding boots, the style of which is reminiscent of circus’ early roots in equestrian exhibition.  How then did it get downgraded into what could be mistaken for the poor-woman’s psudeo-dominatrix outfit?  Cast aside those cheap barely there spandex travesties and treat yourself to the finest textiles that let everyone feel your confidence.

Lip Service’s Division LS II Ambush Military Dress takes styling cues from the traditional ringmaster’s jacket and adds a whole lot of feminine curve with stark contrast in blocked black and white vertical stripes.  Speaking of the jacket, it should be nothing short of spectacular, and seeing as how military-inspired frocks can usually be found at department or surplus stores, one can easily accessorize it with swarvoski crystals and metallic thread.  Bordello’s Lace Up Knee Boot in black and white carries sophistication and is a more feminine alternative to spats over black leather boots.  As with all costumes, the right props are very important, and so to avoid being mistaken for a dungeon mistress, be sure to get a decent bullwhip instead of a riding crop.  Do not be afraid to display opulence in the form of an over-the-top hat with ostrich plumes, geometrically patterned ribbon and other details, not to mention jewelry whose shine rivals that of the sun.  The final touches of course are hair and makeup, which I suggest should follow along with this season’s 40s inspirations, with loose waves and curls perhaps sprayed with a very light dusting of glitter hairspray.  Metallic smokey eyes, glowing cheeks with hints of gold and soft coral lips ensure that the face will be the focus more so than other assets.

SEDUCTIVE SOVEREIGN

The final category I would like to cover is how to radiate royalty as a modern burlesque or sideshow performer while finding inspiration in circus’ Victorian heritage and combining it with personal touches that speak of one’s character.  This extends far beyond the stereotypical corset, heels, fishnets and pasties that everyone thinks they need in order to portray a burlesque performer.  History notes that many wore elaborate stage costumes to compensate for not showing off their figures while singing or dancing.  Sally Rand, Gypsy Rose Lee, Tempest Storm, Lili St. Cyr and  Blaze Star are just a few of the amazing women who managed to turn the striptease into an art.  There is certainly a separation between extravagant ensembles that are meant strictly for sauntering around stage versus what one would wear while mingling with monsters at a Halloween party.

Purple is the unequivocal color of Divinity, though in parts of Japan it is also known as the color of death.  Black is beyond tired as a traditional Halloween color, and jewel tones are in this season for makeup, so it won’t be hard to coordinate a look without being over saturated.  Begin with a purple taffeta corset that has a sweetheart cut and no extra frills or black panels.  The clean lines of the solid material will do wonders for your waistline and photograph well.  A simple black Victorian style fishtail skirt also accentuates curves and would work as a nice addition to basic garments one might want to collect.  Lady Lovecraft’s De Luxe Silk Shrug from Lovechild Boudoir is made of 100% dupion silk, edged with lace and has a layer of soft tulle underneath for extra volume that will help maintain a bit of modesty and mystery.  As with all of the other outfits, so much can be said with the smallest details and accessories.  Satin opera length gloves are a must have, and matching them to the color of the corset will make all of your hand gestures pop, where as Iron Fist Muerte Punk heels are a festive alternative to basic black pumps.  Wearing a pair of skeleton print tights underneath for extra warmth could provide an opportunity to show off those gams!  Staying on trend for fall’s hair accessories, adorn long curled locks with the Vicky Purple Hair Clip, featuring striped purple feathers, a peacock eye and a charming opal and rhinestone brooch.  This brilliant pleated black waist belt with beading detail will add even more emphasis to the cinching of your waist while bringing some sparkle into the outfit.  Luxury becomes personified with a Tahitian Black Pearl Necklace, though it is perfectly acceptable to opt for a pair of Charlotte Russe faux pearl and rhinestone stretch bracelets, as they might wind up being slipped off with those gloves later in the evening.

In the end, one should always wear things that they feel comfortable in, even when it’s acceptable to be anyone or anything you want.  Personally, I am slightly over gore,  zombies and all its ilk that appear on Halloween to scare those who don’t want to spend hours on special effects makeup application.  Not that the genre isn’t without its charm, but I for one would like to see focus shift to glamour and the effortless beauty that seems like it stepped off the glossy pages of a magazine.  It would be a refreshing change from the parade of mid-thigh-length tacky train wrecks that usually swarm the bars.

Photo credit: Sally Rand – vintagemuse.tumblr.com