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Sweet Heavens – What is that SMELL?! Whiffy Silks, Costumes, and Unmentionable Stinky Bits

Airing our pits in El Salvadore.

As a circus performer, I often find myself playing “Name That Stench”, with costumes, fabrics, luggage, etc. Today, it’s straight talk about the (less awesome) smells of circus. Oh yes – we are going there, so grab your Fe-Breeze, Woolite, and deoderant and follow me.

Story Time

A couple of years ago, we had a gig in El Salvadore. The performance was outside in 99% humidity, and it was about 1000 degrees. After the show, I put my costume back in it’s bag, packed it into my suitcase, and completely  forgot about it until we got to our next gig a week later. I pulled the costume from it’s bag in our dressing area and cleared the room. To say that everyone gave me a wide berth is the understatement of the year. Here’s hoping the following tips will help you avoid such an eye-watering moment!

  • Aerial Fabrics – Honestly? Silks (and so many other things) are best when they’re dirty. Clean silks are slick as snot! Yes, fabrics are whiffy when the weather gets warm, but a little dirt, sweat, and tears make ’em a dream to work on. When you can’t stand it anymore, use a gentle detergent like Woolite, cold water wash, hang dry. Never bleach or put them in the dryer – degrades the fibers! Also, use Fe-Breeze sparingly since the jury is still out as to whether or not it shortens the life of your fabrics. Store them in a well-ventilated spot – you’ll regret it if you don’t.
  • Costumes – fancy costumes and frequent washes don’t mix! Rhinestones, sequins, foil fabrics, etc. don’t weather the laundromat well; generally speaking, turn them inside out & hand wash them (cold water, Woolite). You can also spot clean pits and crotches, or areas with makeup stains, dirt, etc.
  • Performance under-clothes – launder frequently! For shows, it’s best to have multiples of whatever you’re using. Hand wash and rotate. FDS can work wonders on thongs and tights that are being put to work in multiple shows.
  • Working with a partner – If you’ve ever worked physically and heavily with another person in circus, you are well-aquainted with the fun places your head unexpectedly winds up. After you’ve laughed it off (and your partner has promised to buy you dinner), consider that you two will be getting veeeeeeery familiar with one another. Get really comfortable with the idea that not everything is going to be fresh as a daisy all the time. Beyond basic hygiene (see below), get over it. Also, some folks hate scented products; if you’re working with a partner, you’ll want to be mindful of that.
  • Basic hygiene – Showering is good. Soap? Shampoo? Toothpaste? All good. There’s a big difference between “a little aromatic” and “knock-you-on-your-ass BO”. Feet smell like feet, pits smell like pits. Ladies, it’s a vagina, not a rose garden. See what I’m getting at? Don’t sweat it (tee hee!) if you realize that your crystal rock deoderant isn’t doin’ it today, and cut others some slack when it happens to them. (Note: if there’s a real issue here, address it sensitively with your partner – perhaps something like this).

At the end of the day, circus is hot, sweaty, dirty, awesome work. We sweat in lots of places, and on lots of apparatus – it ain’t always pretty. Beyond a basic level of hygiene, there has to be a level of acceptance that sometimes you or your partner (or both of you) will be pretty darned stinky – embrace it! Hell, Angela and I have made a contest out of it (for the record, she always wins). 😉 So jump onto your whiffy fabrics in your stinky costume with your aromatic partner and make some eye-watering magic! See (smell?) you in the air! Love and pull-ups, Laura

Do YOU have any tips, tricks, pet peeves, or stories on this one? Leave them in the comments below!

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9 comments on “Sweet Heavens – What is that SMELL?! Whiffy Silks, Costumes, and Unmentionable Stinky Bits”

  1. Julie Reply

    I vote for plain sweat over perfume or scented deodorizing products.

    Laundry hint: costumes that have terminal stink can be treated with a baking soda paste in the offending spots.

    • Lewitwer Reply

      Tell me more about the baking soda paste! I have a costume with one terrifying armpit that’s defied all efforts at de-odorizing.

      • Julie Reply

        Put the offending costume in the sink or tub, depending on size, add enough water so that it’s wet but not swimming, sprinkle baking powder on the area that needs treatment until you have enough to smush into a paste with your fingers. Rub the paste into the fabric, or scrub with a soft nail brush if the fabric can stand the abrasion. Go away & do something else for a while. Slosh it around until the paste dissolves, sniff to decide if you want to repeat the treatment. A rinse in white vinegar will help to get rid of detergent & baking soda residue & maybe even the remaining sweat.

        I’ve never heard of a freezing the fabric, but I don’t see how it could hurt it if you decide to give it a try. Good old sunshine & fresh air (line drying) help to deodorize fabric also, but UV over time is hard on fabric dye.

  2. Bobby Reply

    Dryer sheets in the bottom of your rigging bag also help keep the stink away. 😉

    Have you heard about freezing your fabric to take the stink away? I heard this recently, and thought… hmmmm? Apparently if you take your stinky fabric and throw it in the freezer over night, it kills any smells. Have you heard that before?

    • Lewitwer Reply

      I haven’t heard it, but my freezer is so small that it’s wildly impractical. 😉

  3. steph Reply

    It is a blessing that we perform way up in the air. No one can smell your costume when youre 16 feet up.

  4. siorghra Reply

    I’m in a ballet company and at the end of a ballet under the lights in those multi-layered, corseted costumes, the whole dressing room gets a tad ripe- not to mention the foot smell and those few -er- European company members who haven’t yet learned about the wonders of deodorant. The costume mistresses come around with little squirt bottles of vodka and give the costumes a quick spray down as soon as they come off, before they dry, and it kills the smelly bacteria dead. They are fresh as rain next time we wear them. And for the foot smell? Dryer sheets in the pointe shoes, flat shoes in the freezer.

    • Lewitwer Reply

      I LOVE the vodka idea – I’m going to try this on my shows next Friday!

  5. Eve Reply

    I use alcohol with a few drops of essential oils on everything. You can use rubbing alcohol or vodka. I spray my underarms and crotch right through my workout clothes, I spray the inside of my costume before and after I wear them (hang them inside out) I use baking soda instead of deodorant, so I refresh my underarms with this at practice, at shows and at home. I spray the feet and crotch of my tights. I spray all the crotches of everything I wear while performing or working out. I use this same spray to refresh stinky silks. I buy the vodka when I can afford it. Label your spray bottles. I use these essential oils, either singlet or in combination. Some can irritate your skin, so for underarms and body spray, limit your oils to lavender and chamomile
    Lavander, peppermint, clove, tea tree, eucalyptus, chamomile, lemon verbena(which smells like furniture polish) avoid things like Rose, sandalwood, and patchouli, since these can be very irritating to people with chemical sensitivities. Good luck!

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