Is Clown Core The New Chic? We Put The TikTok Trend To The Test (Literally)

"Dressing has become less about comfort and chicness, and more about cheerfulness."

The circus is in town. No, seriously. The Great Moscow Circus has pitched its tents two blocks from where I live in Darwin. It’s auspicious timing as I’ve just discovered the TikTok trend of clowncore – a primary-coloured corner of the internet where ruffles reign supreme.

Bella Hadid
Bella Hadid walking Moschino Spring 2020 show in Milan. (Credit: Getty Images)

“I think the clowncore look will suit you,” says the features editor at marie claire, who clearly sees me as a joke. Granted, she’s not wrong. I did learn how to juggle when I was 10, I’ve been told I could join a freak show with my identical twin, and I do date some absolute clowns. Stuff it, I am the girl for the job. Sign me up.

The first stop on my clowncore journey is Australian label Alémais. Every piece in its pre-autumn ’22 collection is a circus-lover’s wet dream.

I throw on a high-neck, puffy-sleeve, quirky-print dress and curl my auburn hair into tight ringlets (which is as close as I’m willing to get to wearing a clown wig) and head to the pub, where locals dress in the official Darwin uniform of thongs, footy shorts and (non-ironic) Bintang singlets brought back from Bali. I’m prepared for a few sideways glances. I am not prepared for … compliments?

“I looooove your dress,” says the woman standing behind me at the bar. “That’s my dream outfit,” says the friend I’m meeting for a drink, who has fantastic taste in fashion. “Those shoes are … interesting,” says a man whose opinion I did not ask.

Alley Pascoe
All the world’s a circus big top, and Alley Pascoe (aka ‘Scalleywag’) is its ringmaster. (Credit: Photography: James Evans. Hair by Graeme Cumming/ Viviens Creative.)

There’s something thrilling about standing out from the crowd, getting dressed purely for fun, and flipping a finger to the male gaze that we as women are taught to prioritise. I’m emboldened. Where normally I’d be embarrassed to wear something that makes strangers do a double take, my clown alter-ego (who I’ve named Scalleywag – get it?) feeds off the stares.

My most daring – and favourite – outfit is a fluoro-pink chequered denim jumpsuit by Emma Mulholland on Holiday. In it, I walk with a swagger. Partly because I feel like a goddamn ringmaster but mostly because my undies are riding up my bum and I can’t pull them out without undressing completely. Such is clown life.

It’s not all novelty flower squirters and painted-on smiles, though. My harshest criticism comes from a four-year-old. When I ask my friend’s son what he thinks of my bright orange top and wide-leg lemon pants, he looks me up and down. “I hate them,” he says. “I hate this snack. I hate the sun. I hate everythinggggg,” he continues, as his mum declares it’s time for his nap.

It might be the rose-coloured glasses I’m wearing but I start to see nods to the circus everywhere: a girl in a bright green dress with a pink cardie, a cashier with fake nails that remind me of fairy floss, a bloke in comically large Crocs. No, wait, that’s just Darwin.

At the op-shop, instead of heading to the white linen section I peruse the pattern aisle and find a purple and yellow top that’s utterly ridiculous and absolutely fabulous. I forgo my usual neutrals for a blue eyeshadow. And in my wardrobe I find myself reaching over the little black dresses for the metallic lilac shirt I’d forgotten about.

Dressing has become less about comfort and chicness, and more about cheerfulness. It turns out clowncore isn’t just a hashtag, it’s a feeling.

This story originally appeared in the January issue of marie claire.

Related stories