Circus Fashion is a hub for exhibitions and resources developed by Jenny Leigh Du Puis, PhD '22, Apparel Design as part of her dissertation research into circus costume and training attire. This site includes a main exhibition, Dressing the Circus which explores the history, fashion, function, and labor of circus costume; a page for resources including references with a suggested reading list, programming information and links to upcoming and past webinars, and a page for the upcoming Bon Spectac! A Circus Costume Research Exhibition which will launch in April 2022 in the Jill Stuart Gallery on level T of the Human Ecology Building at Cornell University.
The intention of this site is to provide information on the topic of circus costume through visual, audio, and text resources for educational purposes. Circus costumes require considerable attention to safety and function while upholding the aesthetics of the larger show or act, and are informed by prevailing trends, materials, and the historical or cultural influences that persist across centuries. By investigating these garments, it is possible to draw conclusions about wear patterns, construction techniques, and identify changes in fabric and embellishment technologies over time. This is a critically under-researched area that has potential impacts for broader fields. Circus artists are athletes performing often superhuman feats and the clothing they wear must enable and protect their movements - yet these garments are also works of art in their own right. From vests encrusted with beads to digitally printed unitards, custom headpieces to costumes at the end of their usable lives, each object featured in these exhibitions can tell a story about its origin and use.
This exhibition site is currently in progress, with more content and images coming soon.
Dressing the Circus
From the glitz of the stage to the grit of the physical performance, circus costumes must serve multiple needs from protection to storytelling, visual enticement to second skin. These garments and accessories are designed objects whose forms are impacted by their intended use, and whose silhouettes and construction methods are informed by long histories. From flexible contortionists to inverted aerialists, grand entrances to acrobatics and beyond, the costumes of circus are intentionally designed to support, protect, and enable the body through extreme movements while providing visual clues about the performance and doing it all with panache and poise. This exhibition has been organized into four main themes: history, fashion, function, and labor. Each vitrine is curated to highlight one of these themes, however it is important to recognize that in circus costume, each theme is intrinsically connected and informs every garment and accessory.
In addition to showcasing exhibition content, the Circus Fashion site is intended as a repository of resources for the further exploration of circus costume. From information about artifacts related to circus held by Cornell University Library Archives to suggested texts and video links, the Resources page houses possibilities for further exploration into circus costume.
Part of a larger mission to highlight the work (and workers) behind circus costume, the Circus Fashion site also includes programming content ranging from activity packets for critical design thinking to a schedule for webinars and roundtable discussions with circus costume experts across fields. This is a dynamic page with a schedule that will be updated across the coming months.
Bon Spectac! A Circus Costume Research Exhibition
"Bon Spectac!" is a phrase uttered backstage as a way to wish each other to have a "good show".
Highlighting the many artifacts developed over the course of curator Jenny Leigh Du Puis's dissertation research, this exhibition features design research garments, posters, videos, engaged scholarship, and garments from the circus community.
Running concurrently during the month of April, both exhibitions Dressing the Circus and Bon Spectac! provide a holistic view into the field of circus costume, framed through the curator's experiential knowledge and professional career as a designer and technician.
Stay tuned for more info!
Dates: April 14 - May 6, 2022 | Location: Jill Stuart Gallery, Human Ecology Building, Level T
Gayogo̱hó:nǫ' Land Acknowledgment for the Ithaca Campus: Cornell University is located on the traditional homelands of the Gayogo̱hó:nǫ' (the Cayuga Nation). The Gayogo̱hó:nǫ' are members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, an alliance of six sovereign Nations with a historic and contemporary presence on this land. The Confederacy precedes the establishment of Cornell University, New York state, and the United States of America. We acknowledge the painful history of Gayogo̱hó:nǫ' dispossession, and honor the ongoing connection of Gayogo̱hó:nǫ' people, past and present, to these lands and waters.
Funding: Dressing the Circus is funded in part by the Cornell Council for the Arts, the Cornell Fashion + Textile Collection, and the Department of Human Centered Design.
Dedication: This exhibition is made possible through support from the circus community, and is dedicated to those for whom the circus is Home.
A Tremendous Thank You: Circus Culture, Circus Smirkus, Circus Vargas, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Archives, the Milner Library Special Collections at Illinois State University, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus courtesy of Feld Entertainment, Inc., Ellie Altman-Sagan, Catherine Kueffer Blumenkamp, Rainie Themer Bosquet, Gail Brassard, Maureen Brunsdale, Tricia Camacho, Amy Cohen, Heidi Connor, Tulasi Elangovan, Loren Fjord, Lila Frost, Judy Gaeth, Denise Green, Katarina Goodge, Sara Handerhan, Mia Hause, Ashlyn Lee, Genevieve Martineau, Trevor Maynard, Helen Mclallen, Andrew Melissas, Julie Michael, Mattie Nguyen, Dawna Oak, Sam Parelli, Alli Park, Huiju Park, Izzy Patrowicz, Tad Payne-Tobin, Nicole Paynich, Jennifer Lemmer Posey, Eva Lou Rhinelander, Kat Roberts, Leah Rosenkranz, Mark Schmitt, Josh Shack, Alan J Silva, Bethany Nordstrom Silva, Christina Simon, Karen Steffy, Heidi Taylor, Susan Vonderheid, Christianne White, Lynda Xepoleas, Joanne Wilson, Kathy Wusnack
Curator: Jenny Leigh Du Puis, PhD ‘22