Female Pierrot with Machine Gun Corps Cap

This week’s image is rather unusual and depicts a young lady in what appears to be the dress of a pierrot, wearing an army cap:SKM_C284e18041711450The cap has the badge of the Machine Gun Corps:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (5)Whilst the dress has distinctive pom-poms on it, typical of the costumes worn by pierrots:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (6)The pierrot show was hugely popular in the United Kingdom throughout the first half of the twentieth century. The concept had been taken from the French pierrot shows and brought to this country in 1891 by the singer and banjoist Clifford Essex. The character of pierrot came from French pantomime and wore baggy clothes in black or white, with contrasting pom-poms sewn on. English pierrot troupes consisted of a number of men who dressed up in distinctive costumes and then put on concert parties with singing, dancing, jokes and juggling amongst their repertoires. They became synonymous with shows on the piers of the country’s seaside towns and throughout World War One soldiers set up their own pierrot troupes as part of concert parties put on to amuse the troops. The popularity of these shows was such, that even the Australians copied the concept creating their own ‘Digger pierrot’ troupes. This young lady would probably not have been one of these troupes operating near the front line, although there were women in YMCA concert parties in France during the war, it is more likely for her to have belonged to a group back in the United kingdom putting on shows for either convalescent troops or even just the general public. Her costume is clearly inspired by the traditional male pierrot costume, but made as a dress rather than as baggy trousers and a jacket.

Happily someone has written on the date, 1917, to the photograph so we can date it:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (7)The girl in the photograph may just be larking around with some props in the photographer’s studio, however I do not feel that is the case and I suspect she was genuinely involved in entertainment as a pierrot of some sort. These photographs are very intriguing, but often throw up far more questions than can easily be answered.

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