The Circus has undergone a number of changes over the years, having to move with the times. The legendary names of Billy Smart and Bertram Mills are in the past and there has been a move away from animal-based acts, thanks to Animal Rights organisations. Touring circus’, albeit on a smaller scale, still exist and internationally, the art of circus has been redefined by the likes of the Chinese State Circus and Cirque du Soleil, who produce an entertainment that combines aspects of gymnastics and ballet, with circus skills, extravagant costumes and make-up (hitherto just the province of the clowns).
Circus as we know it can be traced back to 1778, when one Charles Dibdin used the word to describe an entertainment devised by Sergeant-Major Philip Astley: He had discovered that standing on the back of a moving horse was easier if it was travelling in a circle, so he created a 42-foot diameter ‘ring’ for it to do just that, and filled this space with all types of street entertainers in between his displays of horsemanship. On the other side of the Atlantic, the names Barnum & Bailey (P.T. Barnum founded ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ in 1871) and the Ringling Brothers were the major forces, especially as, being American, they had to do everything bigger and better. At their height, they featured the all-singing/dancing non-stop entertainment of a four-ring circus Big Top with a capacity of 10,000. 1,400 people were employed (plus hundreds of animals) and the circuses travelled to venues in trains totaling over a hundred carriages.
One might expect Circus to suggest itself as a theme for a children’s party, but the Circus is not as mainstream an entertainment as it once was and there are more hi-tech amusements available to distract the Small Set. Also, clowns are not always a sure-fire entertainment, with some children (and adults) finding them quite scary or grotesque. However a more general Circus theme offering opportunities for circus-skills can prove to be quite popular. Obviously depending upon the age of the participants and the activities involved, there could be need for extra supervision, but items such as juggling, plate spinning and balance skill activities such as unicycling could add amusement. A face painter or two could also add to the fun by turning the participants into circus performers or animals, or showing them how to do it themselves.
At Props & Frocks we have a wide range of costumes which can work for a Circus theme. Not only that, but were in a good position to help with ancillary matters such as wigs and make-up essential for many a circus performer! Despite the earlier comments, when thinking of circus, wigs and make-up, most people will inevitably think of clowns, so we might as well deal with them first. (If you are a coulrophobic (person with a fear of clowns), you might want to skip the next paragraph).
For most, the white-face clown is the stereotype in that if the make-up is done well, no-one will recognize you: It is felt by some its the very fact that you start with a blank canvas white face and draw on a new one that is the basis of much of the concern about clowns the make-up blocks the usual visual signals. Anyway, enough of the psychology. To get a decent white base, for an adult, youre best working with either a crme or grease-based make-up this is one area where water-base products might not work so well. Obviously for sensitive skin or delicate child faces, different considerations may apply but were happy to advise you on the options. We would also say its a good idea to have worked out your clown-face design beforehand and even have a dress rehearsal to make sure the look works, rather than throwing it together at the last minute it takes practice to look effectively chaotic! And if the idea of covering your face in white gunk does not appeal, there are plenty of minimalist make-up designs possible. The same is true of the costumes; jumpsuit, two-piece, hooped, tailcoat, etc., and the wigs and the accessories shoes, boots, squirty flower, hooter – the opportunities to mix and match are endless.
More Circus Costume Ideas…
And so to the other circus characters: At the centre (almost literally) of the action is the Ringmaster/mistress. The costume here usually echoes the equine-based origins of circus, with a dressage-style top hat, tailcoat (usually red or black, but glitter is not unknown), breeches, boots and perhaps a bull whip. The ringmaster acts as the MC, announcer and controller of the supposed mayhem and thus may be a suitable role for the
host(ess), although in many of todays smaller circuses, most performers multi-task so the MC could just as well be any other circus character.
We have mentioned that animals do not have so much of a role to play in circus nowadays, but in the circus party environment, this may not be such a problem: There are an impressive range of animal costumes on the market and its really a choice of whether you want to go fake fur or cat-suit-based. Chances are most males would opt for the fur option, if only for reasons of appearance and practicality, in which case the second decision is the usual one between overhead animal mask or balaclava and face-paint. Regardless of the comments about the ringmaster as central character, weve found the animal and trainer combination can prove quite popular a choice for couples, but who is who is down to you. Of course another type of couple animal costume is the pantomime horse (or camel or zebra) but that brings about a whole different discussion on who does what! Finally we could perhaps also mention the novelty costumes involving animals. The ride-on emu (or ostrich) has been a firm costume favourite for years, but also available are ride-on horses (saves the above problem!) and gorillas, the latter being a popular choice.
For males, if the macho ringmaster role is taken, the alternative might be the traditional circus strongman with leopard-print leotard and curly moustache. If your six-pack isnt quite up to standard, we have Chippendale cheststo amaze your fellow party-goers, and
that is before you demonstrate your pick-up technique!
If the animal option is not for you, then it is down to the other circus skill characters acrobats, jugglers, stilt-walkers and so on. Obviously some of these are skills cannot just be picked up overnight, but it is an opportunity to show-off (or discover) hidden talents, and if all else fails, cheat (screw the plate to the top of the stick, put the juggling balls on a wire arc).
Other Circus costumes include:
- Knife Thrower – normally portrayed as an Indian Chief (throwing the knives) and a Squaw (knives thrown at) – we have some lovely American Indian costumes to buy and hire.
- Horse Trainer – Can be portrayed wearing a cowboy / cowgirl costume
- Bearded Lady – Ideal if you do not want to do too much. Ideal for males and females as a jokey costume ideas
- Acrobats – wear a leotard with a cape
If you want to stretch the boundaries even further why not look to the Cirque de Soliel for more costume inspiration? Characters include:
- Cleaning Woman
- White Rabbit
- Victorian Nobel
Finally, for females who like the glitter option, showgirls might be a possibility. These are obviously not seen as often as they used to be in the heyday of the big circuses, where they would be either part of the parade of artistes, or as riders of everything from elephants to liberty horses, but they can definitely add a touch of glamour to a circus theme evening. Roll up and come and see what we can offer at Props & Frocks.