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1900s reunion costumes

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 young alumni classes began splashing out with head-to-foot ensembles.

That first full costume in 1901 was a sailor suit. This nautical look went on to become the most popular theme of the decade—worn by at least 7 separate reunions in the first 10 years. A few military uniforms also appeared. Ditto other costumes that facetiously personified some sort of “character”—clowns, zouaves, priests, devils, cooks, jockeys, veterans, suffragettes, Pierrots, Dutch boys, Mexicans, Scotsmen, Arabians, and so forth. In 1908 the Roman legionaries of ’98, wielding swords & shields, may have originated the practice of issuing theme-specific accessories to carry in the P-rade.

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. A few also carried matching class canes, while others issued parasols or pennants. And a few introduced a practical degree of semi-uniformity by telling classmates to bring their own dark coat and white pants from home.

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 The earliest ones were fairly small and portable, but soon got superseded by bigger ones pulled by classmates or horses. The first float on wheels was probably the real cannon that ’96 brought along in 1903. The most bizarre float—’99’s perennial Sacred Bird—went through at least 3 incarnations during the decade, the largest standing 9 feet tall.


This essay hits many of the decade’s sartorial high spots. But even more profuse details are available on file. Interested readers can find the data arrayed in this Table of Tiger Attire.

It systematically pulls together scads of fragmentary research findings about what specific classes were wearing, carrying, trundling, or performing during specific P-rades. (The unavoidable spottiness of the available info reflects the perennial haphazardness of P-rade reportage.) Many entries are enlivened with verbatim snippets of primary-source prose.


The final column of the spreadsheet 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

Other abbreviations or punctuation used in the grid:

NFI = Not further identified
“ “ = Direct quotes from the Sources listed above
[ ] = Info summarized/paraphrased from Sources’ text and/or inferred from photos

Line-items rendered in orange identify outfits that have already been depicted with a photo on the main page of this “Reunion Costume Collection” exhibit.