Clown Fashion: Unleashing the Circus Freak in All of Us

Love them or fear them, clowns have been a staple in American media for decades. From Pennywise to The Joker to Ronald McDonald, there’s something about circus freaks that gets our blood pumping. Maybe it’s the way clowns reject any form of subtlety in favor of the outlandish and flamboyant. Clowns embody all things exaggerated, taking human emotion and twisting it into a smile that stretches past their lips onto their cheeks.

With this look, I paired a polka dot pussy bow with my cobalt houndstooth blazer as an homage to the collared circus clown, a friend of mixed patterns and oversized accessories.

Surprisingly, clowns have existed since ancient Egypt and held important roles in many societies. The very existence of clowns speaks to a universal desire for comedy. We all want to be in on the joke, and clowns have traditionally acted as important performers that unite audiences with comedy that needs no introduction or translation but exists in the moment and for any audience. Modern clowns are associated with the circus, a festival that has lost its importance in society but remains an inspiration due to its phantasmagoric legacy. In this post, I will conflate both harlequin and clown hallmarks, but the clown exists as a foil to a harlequin’s more refined pantomimed comedy styles. For my purposes, I have grouped them both under the clown category.

Artist AK Kidd depicts whimsical clowns in their art (found on Instagram @goatpierrot)

Some recognizable clown trademarks worth mentioning are as follows: ruffles, bows, polka dots, bright colors, mixed patterns, and face paint. All of these together would make for an outrageous outfit that might not be wearable in public, but in small doses they work together to blur the boundaries of dress and costume. Fashion is all about pushing into new territories, designers working to inspire and be inspired by the world around them. Clowns exist to captivate large crowds, so their iconic costumes can teach us how to explore our own definition of fashionable.

I love this outfit because nothing about it matched but somehow everything worked.
At the Dolce and Gabbana 2021 show, harlequins are seen lounging beside the runway

After many years of hating polka dots for being too delicate, I now embrace them as a pattern that grounds vibrant colors. Exaggerated silhouettes are another staple in a clown’s wardrobe, and my closet has found plenty of puffy sleeves to satisfy that. My wardrobe is where I play and explore different aspects of myself, and perhaps it’s that desire to perform that drives me to seek inspiration from costumed cultural icons like clowns. Fashion is the intersection between art and performance. Our clothes speak for us, and I’d like mine to captivate. 

Zig Zag Goods, a retailer featured on Urban Outfitter’s online market, produces clown inspired apparel for the fun fashion girl.
Lazy Oaf is another retailer that features oversized prints and punchy patterns, especially with their knitwear, that offer a more wearable ode to circus freaks.

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