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Why Do Clowns Have Red Noses?

Loved by many and feared by some, the traditional clown has roots stretching back as far as the dynasties of ancient Egypt and China; some estimate the first clown served in the Chinese dynasties in 1818 BC. Even though coulrophobia (fear of clowns) is among the top 10 specific phobias today, the fancifully funny men and women continue to entertain throughout the world at fairs, circuses and birthday parties. The types of clowns and their behavior can vary, but most people will know a clown when they see one.

White-Face Clowns

Most clowns will fall into the category of a white-face clown, which encompasses two smaller groups: the straight clown and the mismatched clown. A straight clown will often behave seriously and will be the brunt of the jokes. Mismatched clowns will act sillier and be responsible for delivering the punch lines.

Other Types of Clowns

The auguste clown is often the silliest and will behave as though he does not know what is going on. The tramp or hobo clown was inspired by the extensive homelessness in the late 19th century and behaves as a sorrowful or sympathetic actor. A character clown will dress and take on the personality role of a certain character, such as a police officer, a baseball player or a certain animal. Also, mimes and rodeo clowns fall into this category. Character clowns can take on the role in the performance of a white face, auguste or hobo clown.


The traditional clown costume is characterized by colorful wigs, makeup, clothing and shoes. A straight, white-face clown will tend to have a costume whose colors will match and flow throughout the costume, while mismatched white-face clowns will often have brightly colorful and mismatched clothing. Auguste clowns tend to wear costumes that are gaudy and mismatched, with very bright colors, usually only in primary colors such as blue and red. Their costumes are also usually oversized, including their shoes. Character clowns will dress as the characters they represent, such as a police uniform or the ears and tail of an animal. Hobo clowns will dress in tattered and patched clothing to match their homeless situation.


In general, white-face clowns use a base-made grease paint. Auguste clowns, on the other hand, will use a bright but flesh-colored makeup as a base. Clowns dressing as hobos will use white paint around their mouths and eyes, a beard made of dark grease paint. There is no set requirement for makeup, and each clown will be distinct.

Red Nose

Much like the baggy clothes and oversized shoes, makeup is used to accentuate certain parts of the clown in a humorous way. The most obvious of these accents is the red nose, a feature shared by most clowns. The red paint is used to make the nose seem larger by making it stand out against the white or flesh-colored base paint used by the clown. Red is also a primary color, making it popular in clothing and wigs as well, and so the red nose will also be used to coordinate a costume and make it flow.

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