Pay Off of Spec—the Good Old Times


In the American circus, the spectacle, or “spec,” developed as a procession that took place around the hippodrome track inside the big top, or circus tent, featuring as many of the performers and animals as the circus director was able to costume. Traced back to the earliest circuses in America, the spec was originally a lavish performance of literary or historical tales intended to entertain and edify the audience. The costumes created for specs were often exotic, representing cultures from all corners of the globe. The costumes also could be whimsical, transforming reality, such as the design shown here for the pay-off float of the 1952 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The pay-off float was the grand finale of the parade, and in this spec, elephants were costumed as lobsters and swans. The costume design is by Miles White (1914–2000), who was known as one of the most talented designers of circus costumes and who also designed costumes for ballets, ice shows, movies, and Broadway shows, including Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! and Carousel.

Last updated: December 14, 2012