"Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, step right up to the most amazing show on Earth!" If you're going to be a convincing circus ringmaster for a costume party, you're probably going to want to practice repeating that phrase a lot. It's the ringmaster's job to get the audience excited about the circus and introduce the acts, so this isn't a costume well suited for anyone who's shy and retiring. The typical ringmaster outfit is flashy enough to be seen from anywhere in a large circus tent. Putting together an accurate circus ringmaster costume is probably going to get you a lot of attention.
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Basic Circus Ringmaster Costume
A ringmaster outfit tends to be elaborate and includes a lot of embellishment. Few people will be able to put this ensemble together using things they already have in their closet. That's why some people may decide to buy a prepackaged ringmaster costume. The success of "The Greatest Showman" may have contributed to this costume's popularity, so it's fairly easy to find a ringmaster outfit for sale wherever you buy Halloween costumes, but if you're crafty and willing to put some time into your outfit, you can customize your own look.
Each real ringmaster wears a unique costume, but the standard uniform has long been black pants and a tuxedo-style jacket with tails in a bright color with lots of embellishments. People generally think of a red coat when they think of a ringmaster's costume, but if you're shopping in thrift stores and online discount stores, you're probably going to have an easier time finding a black tuxedo jacket than a red one. That works too. Just add color and sparkle by sewing or gluing on strips of sequins and ropes of corded trim in bright colors and sew gold epaulets to the shoulders.
Wear the jacket open over a white shirt and brightly colored or sequined vest. Wear your own black dress pants or grab a cheap pair of black pants and sew a line of sequins up the outside of each leg. You can choose to skip black altogether and wear pants in a shade of red, purple, yellow or any bright color. There's no such thing as too much color and sparkle for a ringmaster.
Ringmaster Costume for Women
While the position of circus ringmaster has almost always been held by men in real life, at least one woman has done the job for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus – and anyway, Halloween usually isn't about historical accuracy. People of any gender can rock this costume.
If you want to make a more feminized version, there are a few ways to approach this. One option is to embellish a traditional men's tuxedo coat with tails, preferably one that's been altered to fit you well. A real ringmaster always looks crisp and tailored, and tuxedo jackets made for men won't always fit women well without some adjusting. Wear the jacket open over a sequined top with black leggings and tall boots.
Alternatively, convert a women's red trench coat into a ringmaster's jacket by removing the buttons and belt, shortening the bottom and adding embellishments. You can also skip the jacket altogether and embellish a short red dress with sequins and gold shoulder epaulets worn over black leggings and boots.
Ringmaster Costume Accessories
It's OK if your DIY ringmaster jacket doesn't look exactly accurate. As long as you have the two most famous accessories, people will immediately know what you're dressed as.
The first is a top hat. This kind of hat was in style when circuses first gained popularity in the 1800s and early 1900s, and it has endured as part of the classic ringmaster outfit. A black top hat will work, but sparkly is better. Glue on sequins or coat the entire hat with glue and sprinkle glitter over it.
Ringmasters also traditionally carried whips that they could use to direct the animal acts in the circus. Other guests at your costume party might be uncomfortable with someone walking around flicking a whip, so carry a staff or walking stick for dramatic flourish instead.
- NPR: From The Big Top Into The Big World: A Ringling Ringmaster's Final Bow
- Smithsonian Folklife Festival: A Ringmaster’s Gift Embodies the Magic of Circus
- Cosmopolitan: Get That Life: How I Became the First Woman Ringmaster of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
- The University of Sheffield: George Lockhart