The 1900s: Costumes Commence, Floats Flourish
P-rade costumes and the 20th Century arrived in Princeton together.
Already in 1900 the Alumni Weekly had observed that “The Reunion regalia is not now confined to badges merely. Hats, balloons and Chinese parasols will help you distinguish the various classes.” Class hats had been pioneered in 1899 by the Class of 1896, who wore them again in 1900, followed by several others. Then in 1901, the inveterate innovators of ’96 also introduced the first complete, full-body costume design, repeating it in 1903.
This set off the fad for increasingly elaborate costumes, mostly among 10th Reunion classes or younger. The youngest—the graduating seniors—adopted early-on the inexpensive trademark of carrying Japanese parasols (a custom kept up until at least WWII). Meanwhile, some (though not all) young alumni classes began splashing out with head-to-foot ensembles. Sailor suits became the most popular—worn by at least seven separate reunions in the first ten years. A few military uniforms also appeared. Ditto various other outfits that personified some sort of “character”—clowns, devils, jockeys, cooks, Dutch boys, Scotsmen, Arabians, and so forth.
Older classes tended to keep on wearing ordinary suits or sport jackets, limiting their regalia to the 19th-Century standbys—hatbands, ribbons, badges, and buttons. But a few classes did introduce a degree of uniformity by specifying white pants and dark coats. And a few carried class canes, while others issued parasols.
In the century’s opening decade, costumes were a Saturday-only thing. They got issued on that morning and were doffed soon after the P-rade or the subsequent Yale baseball game. The present-day custom of wearing full or partial costume throughout the weekend lay far in the future.
But the custom of staging stunts in the P-rade got going right away. Ditto the building of thematic floats. The earliest ones were fairly small and portable, but soon got superseded by bigger ones. The first float on wheels was probably the real cannon that 1896 brought along in 1903. And the most bizarre float—the Class of 1899’s perennial Sacred Bird—went through at least four incarnations during the decade, the largest standing nine feet tall.
The table below pulls together lots of fragmentary details about what specific classes were wearing or doing during specific reunion years. Line-items rendered in orange identify costumes that have already been depicted with a photo on the main page of this Reunion Costume Collection exhibit.
The final column of the table indicates the primary source(s) from which the Info in each line-item is derived, using the following abbreviations:
PAW = The Princeton Alumni Weekly
DP = The Daily Princetonian
RB = Reunion Books issued by individual classes