Sunday, May 13, 2012

Betty Medill, Snake Charmer: Tales of the Jazz Age (2)

I'm still enraptured by the circus ball in Fitzgerald's story "The Camel's Back."  In particular, I love the costume his accidental-on-purpose bride Betty wears as a snake charmer!  Fitzgerald describes it thus:

"She was dressed in the costume of an Egyptian snake-charmer: her tawny hair was braided and drawn through brass rings, the effect crowned with a glittering Oriental tiara. Her fair face was stained to a warm olive glow and on her arms and the half
moon of her back writhed painted serpents with single eyes of venomous green. Her feet were in sandals and her skirt was slit to the knees, so that when she walked one caught a glimpse of other slim serpents painted just above her bare ankles. Wound about her neck was a glittering cobra. Altogether a charming costume--one that caused the more nervous among the older women to shrink away from her when she passed, and the more troublesome ones to make great talk about "shouldn't be allowed" and "perfectly disgraceful.""

How fabulous! I do always approve of sparkle, and body-paint snakes sounds pretty cool.

A 1920s postcard
I a firm Slytherin (although apparently now I am a Ravenclaw), and so I also tend to keep an eye out for snake-related things...I bet Betty could have used a few of these! Actually, so could you--the first two are currently for sale on Etsy.

1920s gold core bracelet

1920s mesh snake bracelet, Whiting and Davis

1835-1840 necklace, Victoria and Albert Museum
Also, while I know Betty is described as wearing a dress, the Met has a fabulous collection of "harem dresses," which are the look I would go for if dressing as a circus performer! They move in a really interesting way, and I bet would be neat for dancing.

harem suit, 1919

harem skirt design, 1927

harem dress, 1920s
If you are ever invited to a circus ball, you could be just like Betty! (although hopefully without the accidental marriage...)


  1. my great grandmother was a snake charmer in the circus. How much information do you have one snake charmers from the turn of the century?

    1. That's a great connection! Unfortunately I don't know much about snake charmers, besides images (many of them appear to have been connected to the sideshow). However I really recommend On the Road with the Circus, by William Thompson (1905) and The Circus Age: Culture and Society Under the American Big Top, by Janet Davis (2002).

      There's also some great research on this blog:
      and here:

      Hope this helps!