16 October 2023
The Ringling News
The Ringling Archives collects the history of circus, Wild West Shows and allied arts. One of the most fascinating and unique records of this entertainment world are the costume designs. The Archives holds original renderings of costume design drawings by celebrated costume designers Don Foote, Miles White and Max Weldy. Don Foote designed for the touring entertainment industry including Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and Walt Disney’s World on Ice. Miles White is a Tony Award winner costume designer who designed the wardrobe for the cast in the Cecil B. De Mille production, The Greatest Show on Earth. Max Weldy is most notably known for the designs he created for the Cabaret at Folies Bergere, along with many other circus, Broadway, film, and stage productions.
In addition to the theme of the production, costume designers must take into consideration aesthetics, safety of the performer, function of the garment, durability of the costume, body types wearing the costume, construction techniques and the selection of fabric, fibers, and embellishments for these garments. Technology has influenced materials used and aesthetic choices made from sequined and feathered opulence to today’s spandex and hot-fix rhinestones. The process for creating costumes encompasses the function, fashion, and the labor involved in the design of traveling entertainment garments.
According to Jenny Leigh Du Puis, curator of the exhibition, Dressing the Circus, at Cornell University,“ circus costumes are extraordinary objects – they have to function in a certain way for the wearer while meeting aesthetic needs for the show or act and accommodating for safety. The sewing and patternmaking require specialty knowledge because the costumes can’t impede the movements of the performers and they need to be durable enough to withstand repeated wear and tear while looking great for every show. It’s a balance of safety and aesthetics” says Jenny Leigh Du Puis, Cornell PhD Candidate ’22. “Behind the spectacle lies the function – not every costume will work for an aerialist spinning 30 feet up in the air holding onto an apparatus. Safety has to come first, but you still want the costumes to suit the show”
These factors, along with the creative ideas, influences and inspirations of the artist are brough to life in the design illustrations. Design drawings are conceptual, taking into consideration the functional demands of the costume while displaying the designer’s perception for the garment.