Because life is a joke
Clowns. Loved by some, loathed by many. Known for their brightly hued hair, chalky white faces, round red noses, exaggerated smiles, and bold geometric blocks of colour around the eyes, clowns date all the way back to the 1800s, though their court jester roots go back centuries further. Fast-forward to the 80s and 90s, and clownish tropes are popping up outside the circus tent, with club kids such as Michael Alig, James St James, and Leigh Bowery incorporating them into their outlandish looks. Now, thanks to the rise in popularity of things like Ru Paul’s Drag Race, and the assimilation of all the drama and extremism of drag into mainstream culture, clownish tropes are finding new meaning amongst Instagram’s young creatives.
Dazed Beauty got chatting to keen wearers of everyday clown paint to discover what got them into the trend in the first place and why they think more people are visually running away with the circus.
Twin bandmates Fletcher and Wyatt Shears, aka The Garden are frequent wearers of jester make-up in their performances and album artwork. “We always admired the jester, whether it was displayed as medieval entertainment, or otherwise,” they say. “It’s just always been a vibe we could identify ourselves with.”
A longtime adopter of clownish tropes, LA-based Instagram icon Princess Gollum takes inspiration from nu-metal legends Slipknot and Insane Clown Posse. “We all wear masks of our own,” she says. “It takes time, love, and empathy to get to know the true being underneath the facade.”
After model Demi Scott moved to London as a teenager and started hanging around friends with impeccable make-up skills, she began experimenting with dots and triangles around her eyes as well as other circus designs that didn’t require too much intricate detailing. “I think clowns have always been a distorted mirror into our own society, they’re the duality of man,” she explains. Though a longtime fan of the Joker (the main inspo behind her green hair) her favourite clowns are Pierrot and a Swiss clown named Dimitri who was prominent in the 60s.
For make-up artist Elle Vatel, playing with different face painting techniques isn’t about impressing other people. It’s about expressing her true self. After experimenting with bold colours, she slowly began adding dots and lines before incorporating full blown clownish tropes into her make-up looks. “Make-up is about expressing yourself and the love for art, creating a community of honest individuals with influential love and creativity.”
London-based hair salon owner Tuttii Fruittii has been clowning around with circus looks as long as they can remember. “It’s hard to put my finger on my biggest influences but you must check out Slava the clown, he’s a Russian performance artist clown who creates spectacular shows,” Tuttii says. “I find clowns extremely fascinating, for me the make-up and style is my language, mixing different patterns and fabrics that maybe people wouldn’t often put together! It’s everything I can relate to.”
Everyday clown tears became British fashion student Ellie Connor-Phillips’ thing after various teenage eyeliner experiments. Upon leaving school she decided she was done trying to fit in and wanted a signature look that expressed her apathy. It borders on being both funny and scary. “That's what a lot of people want to be: ambiguous and exciting,” she says.
Artist Tomasyn Hayes, who goes by the username Luststick Puppy, first mimicked the clown make-up style from a giant artwork of a Juggalo she painted for an event at the Superchief Gallery. After meeting someone who encouraged her to wear the face paint more casually, she began to incorporate aspects of the circus-inspired metal aesthetic into her everyday make-up routine.
Having grown up with a father who worked with SFX make-up, spooky influencer Samhain started experimenting with face paint and prosthetics as a young teen. Obvious inspiration came from horror legends including Pennywise from Stephen King’s IT, Hellraiser’s Pinhead and Eric Draven from The Crow. “I personally think that when it comes to clown-style make-up the look and presentation of your ‘character’ makes the look what it is, so personality coupled with the make-up is paramount.”