How to make a Traveling Medicine Show costume

Welcome ladies and gentleman to Dr. Snake Oil’s Internationally Acclaimed Traveling Exhibition of Medicinal Wonderment! Here you will find the most amazing tutorial, designed especially to show how you too can create a traveling Medicine Show costume!

During 2007 I was obsessed with the idea of the original traveling circus, sideshow, medicine show, etc. When I was deciding on a costume, the idea of a Snake Oil Sales(wo)man immediately popped into my head. Not only would I get to wear something old tyme, but I would get to create an entire personality, product, and sales pitch for the magic elixir! If a vintage costume and using lots of creativity appeal to you, Dr. Snake Oil might be in your future this Halloween, too.

How to make a Dr. Snake Oil Salesman Costume Since the traveling Medicine Show roamed the land for several decades, you can take a lot of liberty with the details. They were around in the 1800’s and ended around WWII, so you have a lot of leeway. Snake Oil Salesmen often called themselves “doctors” and sold “elixirs” that claimed to cure everything from balding to the vapors. Not the most honest of the bunch, but very entertaining! Here’s my interpretation of the costume idea;

  • Hat: top hat or bowler/derby
  • Handlebar Mustache
  • Doctor’s Coat
  • Old Suit: vest, pants, shirt
    & tie (jacket optional)
  • White Cloth Gloves
  • Bottle of magic elixir
  • Optional: silent era
    movie makeup

I think if you imagine yourself as a cross between an amazing storyteller and a crook just trying to make your way in a tough world, you’ll get the mood just right. I went for a more casual look than what most authentic Snake Oil Salesmen wore because it was hot that year and I didn’t want to be stuck in a stuffy suit all night. A pair of suspenders that attach with buttons or a full 3 piece suit would look amazing though!Looking at old sepia photos of the traveling medicine shows made me think of silent movie era makeup so I also gave myself Silent Movie Makeup Ideassome cupie doll lips and lots of blush on the apples of my cheeks. Lots of dark eye makeup would also be a great touch.

But wait, where’s my elixir and sales pitch, you ask? I scoured the Internet looking for authentic and new school scripts, and cobbled together one that felt fun and easy enough to memorize for a night. Everyone loved it! So step right up and witness the grandest yarn ever spun this side of the Mississippi!

Traveling Medicine Show Snake Oil ElixirMy Snake Oil Sales Pitch:
There is no sore it will not heal,
no pain it will not subdue.
It will drive your ills away, it will make you right.
It has been set before the crowned heads of Europe
and peddled to the masses by the fakirs of India,
been used by persons of all stations.
It removes corns, warts, bunions, and boils!
A healing tonic for man and beast,
designed to edify, amaze and uplift!

How much would you pay for this wondrous magic, ladies and gentlemen? $5? $500? As a special sale for you fine readers of 365 Halloween, we’re giving away this costume tutorial at the fine prize of zero dollars and zero cents! All we ask is that you tell a friend and keep coming back to Dr. Snake Oil’s Halloween website to see what new creations we concoct!

You have to watch out for those Snake Oil Salesmen… You never know when they’ll sneak off and start swilling their own elixirs. I’m sipping some black current juice here because of the outrageously red-black color, but any crazy colored drink would work great. Just don’t try to recreate any of the original recipes as most of the ingredients are now quite illegal.