How to make circus costumes

Written by laura gee
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Whether you are making quick costumes for a circus afternoon in your backyard or creating performance wear for a local performing group, the basic principles of how to make circus costumes remain the same. The materials and skills you will need depend on how elaborate your plans are, but most people should be able to come up with something suitable with a little effort and creativity.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Decide on a visual theme for your circus, because not all circuses look the same. Are you going for a classic circus look, for something more reminiscent of circuses of the past, or maybe for something futuristic and avant-garde? Are you inspired by a particular time period, natural setting, or style of fashion? Will all the costumes match, or will they be different? This step can also be as simple as picking out a colour scheme for your costumes.

  2. 2

    Figure out whether you will be able to make circus costumes from clothing items you already have. This is certainly the simplest option if it's possible. Do participants have appropriate leotards, tights, leggings, tight shirts, shorts, trousers, and/or short skirts? All clothing should be fairly closely fitted so as not to get in the way of movement, and should be flexible enough to move freely in. If you don't have basic items that are appropriate, you will need to choose and buy some.

  3. 3

    Make modifications to your basic items. These modifications should not make major structural changes, but could include dyeing, printing, or painting on clothing, plus adding trim, sequins, buttons, patches, or any other decorative flourishes.

  4. 4

    Accessorise with costume jewellery and other props that are bold enough to see from the audience. This could involve shiny necklaces, bracelets, arm bands, hair pieces, hats, flowers, scarves, belts and boots or shoes. Again, all of these items should be well-attached so they don't fall off or cause interference during the performance.

  5. 5

    Don't forget make-up and hair styling. Usually all performers should wear at least basic make-up so that facial features are visible from the audience. However, you can also create a lot of unique looks with unusually dramatic make-up or even full face or body painting with creative designs.

  6. 6

    Be sure to have a dress rehearsal after you make the circus costumes. Have the performers go through the entire act wearing the costumes and see if any alterations are required to make the costumes work with the routines they need to go through.

Tips and warnings

  • Involve the performers in creating the costumes. They may have specific types of characters in mind that they would like to portray.
  • If your circus involves fire, make sure that you use appropriate materials. Highly flammable materials, especially from synthetic fibres, should be avoided in case of accident.

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