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Circus Costumes Across the Decades: A Visual Thematic Analysis of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bai

The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus (RBBB) was an American institution for 146 years, criss-crossing the country to bring performances to audiences nationwide (Albrecht, 2014). Of particular value due to the longevity of the company’s history, the show programs of RBBB are especially important to this field of study because they not only track one circus over time, they also provide an unparalleled visual history of circus costume in America. The use of these types of archival materials enabled study of apparel silhouettes and materials trends as well as insights into the designers’ processes and aesthetics related to the show themes. Further context is provided through written features, interviews, and the copy that accompanies the performers’ photographs.


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