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History of Circus Costumes

You wouldn’t believe it, but Fly Circus and Aerial Arts annual Cirque Macabre aerial show is fast approaching. Performers have chosen their songs and apparatuses with many practicing their routines already. An aspect of a performance is also choosing or becoming a character which can be a person, an animal, a feeling or an emotion to emulate. In order to achieve this, a costume or outfit is worn to help the audiences to connect with the performers on an emotional level and enhance the overall performance.

In circus history, which can be dated back to ancient civilization in Greece and Rome, performers wore elaborate costumes & masks to represent God’s & Goddesses as well as animals and mythical creatures. At the time, costumes were generally made from natural materials like leaves, bark and animal skins to other materials such as linen or wool. Over time, especially in the 19th & 20th centuries, costumes became more elaborate and decorative with the use of various materials chosen for the specific needs of the performer and performance. Materials such as natural fabrics (cotton, wool, silk), synthetics (nylon, polyester, spandex & Lycra), leather, feathers, sequins and beads, furs and skins have been used depending on the character or role of the performer.

The early characters, or figures of a (circus) performance were known as a bourgeois, the buffoon, the ballerina, the gymnasts and the warrior. These later became the Riding School Master, the clown, the horsewoman, the acrobat and the tamer. Today, we may know them as the aerialist, the animals (which mostly are being removed from the circus circuit), the clowns, a Ringmaster, the circus performers (acrobats, contortionists), and fantasy (cosplay). All of these roles play an integral part in the circus and each will have their own specific costume.

For the Fly Circus Cirque Macabre Halloween Show, there tends to be an array of characters that provide a sense of spectacle and entertainment for the evening.

Each performer has their choice of costumes which are usually simple and practical to allow full range of motion and safety during their aerial performance. In addition, their costumes establish a sense of narrative and flow .

For further reading, check out

Circus Through Time: A History of Circus Fashion

By Freya Adeline Mercer

Circus Through Time: A History of Circus Fashion

(Can be found on Goodreads as well)


The Circus Costume

By Pascal Jacob

Written by Alicia Schroder

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