The Performed Self on Display
Merging Audience and Activity

     At Coney Island, part of the experience was the interactive and transcendent nature of the roles of performer and spectator. Not only did visitors go to Coney to watch shows, they went to be part of the show themselves. Coney Island was in some sense a huge window display of a human parade open to the public view. People came to see and be seen and people-watching from benches and the pier could be just as intriguing as any of the available rides. Working girls came dressed up and played games to see who could get their date to spend more money on them throughout the course of the day. Finding a man who would indulge in a $5 splurge would usually win the competition.
     Although many people dressed up in Sunday clothes to come to the Park, there was one democratizing feature of fashion: the bathing suit. Men, women, and children, old and young alike all wore the uniform dark-colored tank outfit to splash around in the water. Not many people actually swam at the beach; it was too crowded, and not many people knew how to, anyway. But the bathing suit was essential for playing in the water and cooling off. The suits were quite modest by modern standards, but they made everyone look the same and showed much more skin than you would see on a city street. They also encouraged much freer movement than restrictive city clothes, and the combination of these factors freed up inhibitions.

 

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