Updated: Jan 26, 2022
One of my favorite costumes in The Greatest Showman is Zendaya’s show-stopping purple leotard ensemble. And while its modern materials and extreme neckline make it anachronistic for the mid-19th century, you might be surprised to learn how revealing circus acrobats’ costumes really were.
This costume from 1871 may look somewhat conservative, but keep in mind that it really closely resembled women’s underwear at the time. Even more risqué, costumes from the 1870s, 80s, and 90s are cut much higher than contemporary underwear, revealing even more leg.
This 1891 costume worn by The Famous Zeo is especially of interest, first because its central triangle design reminds me of Zendaya’s, but also because this was a poster plastered around London, and scandalized viewers felt it commodified sex and would “excite evil passions” in young men.
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