Professional burlesque costumes tend to include a collection of established basics and accessories that are specific to the genre. Any burlesque costumes can be a unique ensemble created by the individual or simply a much enhanced version of traditional costume like a saloon girl or can-can dancer. Here’s a brief introduction to the history of burlesque, its revival, and and aspects of modern day burlesque costumes.
Burlesque, a form of expressive, often erotic, dancing, evolved from the cabarets and music halls of the nineteenth century. Originally a form of satire, it developed over time into a sensual and sexually charged art-form, with its peak popularity occurring in early twentieth century America. While it became unpopular during the middle of the twentieth century, its revival in the past couple of decades has led to a huge increase in the number of burlesque dancers, both professional and amateur, preserving and developing the form. This revival, begun and led by a handful of strong women, has now spread widely, and has influenced popular culture as well as inspiring retro fads.
Modern burlesque is seen by its aficionados and participants as being a way for women to express their confidence and sensuality. While it is often sexually charged, any performance in this genre should principally be about firing the imagination. It is often recommended as a more subtle, empowering and low-impact alternative to pole-dancing, and it is certainly less rampantly sexual, favouring subtlety and glamour over blatant display, despite its associations with the (related, but not identical) art of striptease. However, as with striptease, what is NOT displayed is generally the key to a dancer’s success.
Professional burlesque dancers are generally well respected within the entertainment industry, as the form requires a level of discipline that speaks volumes about their dedication. From the almost mandatory corset training to the rigour of impeccable daily grooming, as well as physical training for the dancing itself, these dancers must dedicate a great deal to their art. Of course, on a more amateur level, it is possible for women to gain a great deal of pleasure from the art of burlesque without committing to these levels of dedication, and many amateurs become excellent dancers over time.
As well as seeking to emulate the best burlesque dancers in terms of performance, many women also choose to incorporate aspects of this striking art form into their everyday style by adopting touches from their professional burlesque costumes into everyday or party wear. These dancers are to thank for many previously shy women developing the confidence to wear striking and suggestive vintage-inspired fashion.
Although the burlesque of the 1950s is often depicted as a mere striptease, it was a colourful, satirical form of performance art. It featured tease and seduction rather than merely showing skin, making it a cheeky and witty form of live entertainment. The genre traditionally encompasses a variety of acts, including dancing girls, mimes, comedians and contortionists.
Burlesque often involved dramatic music, lighting and sets. Most important, however, were the elaborate professional burlesque costumes, which is why the term is often associated with specific garments like corsets and garters decorated with sequins and feathers. When stockings were introduced, they became a shocking part of burlesque costumes because they allowed women to reveal much while at the same time staying covered.
Although burlesque has waned since its peak in the 1950s, it has deep historical roots. The term dates to 17th-century Italy and France. It originally meant comedy in an “upside down style”, and it was used to describe the use of two opposing images to create a comedic spoof.
It gained popularity when used to describe a form of risqué and bawdy theatre in 18th-century England which relied on innuendo and double entendres. It then became famous in America in 19th-century music hall entertainments and vaudeville, where the term became more strongly associated with dancing rather than the comedy shows of Europe.
Burlesque drew a great audience in America, however, in the 1950s. One reason for this surge in interest was the great exposure to the genre brought by film. The 1950s was an era of voluptuous beauties, including Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot, and over-the-top Hollywood glamour. The 1951 production of French Follies is a good example of burlesque on the big screen. Professional burlesque costumes were also part of the inspiration for the famous 1950s pin-up girls. Bettie Page is an example of one model that became a burlesque star in the early 50s for her iconic pin-up look and jet-black hair.
There has been a recent worldwide revival of burlesque art and dance, often called neo-burlesque. This movement honours the witty style with retro flamboyance. Stars like Dita Von Teese have brought the term back into the mainstream and breathed new life into 1950s burlesque.
The Burlesque Revival
To many, the term “burlesque” evokes a colourful image from the past: the bawdy humour, the lively cabaret, the playful stripteases, and — who could forget — the elaborate, extravagant garments worn by performers. Yet while burlesque may have roots in an earlier era, with its popularity waning after the 1950s, the movement is far from over. Thanks to renewed interest from modern audiences, burlesque is busy making a comeback in many parts of the world, once again offering entertainment for those who yearn to experience the glamorous performances of the past.
The burlesque revival — often called “new burlesque” or “neo-burlesque” — honours the fashion traditions of the original movement. Because burlesque focuses on tease and seduction rather than simply showing skin, wardrobe takes centre stage in a performance. Each layer of clothing, from complex costumes to intricate undergarments, is chosen with the utmost care and consideration.
Both traditional and modern performers often design their wardrobes themselves, using stylistic choices to build a unique on-stage persona; many performers even make their clothing by hand. Popular burlesque garments — corsets and bras, hats and gloves, garters and stockings — are frequently adorned with rhinestones, sequins, feathers, lace, and other materials to create the dazzling designs burlesque is known for.
Burlesque icons from the past, such as Tempest Storm ad Lili St. Cyr, have inspired a new generation of burlesque artists across the globe. In the UK, the burlesque scene is rich with both established troupes and up-and-coming performers. Immodesty Blaize, who has been performing burlesque shows since the mid-1990s, is widely considered to be the “queen” of British burlesque.
Other performers, such as Londoners Amber Topaz and Fancy Chance, are also emerging as burlesque starlets. In the United States, the burlesque revival has produced well-known troupes such as “The Velvet Hammer” of Los Angeles and the “The Shim-Shamettes” of New Orleans.
While the neo-burlesque movement is strongest in the UK, the US, and Canada, rekindled interest in burlesque is growing worldwide. Burlesque, complete with its saucy performances and extravagant clothing, is sure to captivate audiences for eras to come.
Professional Burlesque Costumes: Performances
Burlesque costumes combine sensual style with wit and fun to create a unique fashion aesthetic. The key to assembling a creative burlesque costume is to centre your entire outfit around a theme.
One common theme in burlesque costumes is vintage. Corsets, garters, stockings, draped silk, feathers and lace can be layered to recreate the classic appeal of a slow teasing routine. Accessories include long satin gloves, feathered boas, umbrellas and hats, which can all be used as props during the show. You can use your costume to recreate a famous historical burlesque routine or design your own routine inspired by the classics.
Modern burlesque can take a show in almost infinite directions. A nurse, teacher or policewoman burlesque routine may involve elements of classic style along with props or designs associated with these professions. Unlike a more sexually oriented stripper costume, a burlesque version of these themed outfits is designed to slowly reveal the body throughout the performance instead of being overly skimpy to begin with.
Many burlesque performers create uniquely individual themes for their routines and costumes. A theme revolving around 1950s housewives may use fluffy A-line skirts and streamlined corsets in primary colours along with props such as martini glasses or kitchenware. A 1960s go-go theme may involve layers of psychedelic fabric that is removed to the tunes of the era. Anime, 1001 Arabian Nights and geishas are other potential themes. You can also draw from popular culture, basing your burlesque costume on pop stars, cartoon characters or political figures in the news.
The holidays are another potential source of inspiration for creative burlesque costumes. While a sexy female Santa or frisky elf costume can be fun, don’t stop at the winter holidays. A St. Patrick’s Day ensemble in shades of emerald and mint or a Fourth of July burlesque outfit in red, white and blue are just two of the many holiday options that you can design a burlesque costume around.
In the end, a burlesque costume can be designed around almost any theme you can imagine. By matching the colours, materials and textures of the entire outfit, a burlesque performer can create a costume that displays her own personal style and flair while adhering to a recognizable theme that will excite and entertain audiences.
Professional Burlesque Costumes: Dresses
Burlesque dresses were and remain an integral part of the burlesque performance since burlesque dancers were skilled at luring their audiences through the movements as well and not be merely showing skin. Burlesque dancers were famous for their bright clothing, extravagant performances and live cabaret.
Most every burlesque dress featured a corseted waist. The inspiration for this look was drawn upon from medieval times when a tiny waist was the fashion. Corseted waists enhance the female’s natural figure and make her hips and bosom blossom even more. Since burlesque was all about being sensual and seductive, it is natural that a primary element of burlesque dress would include a corset.
Feathers and ruffles are also common elements of burlesque dresses. Burlesque dresses were designed to be flashy and adding feathers and ruffles to them made them just so. This influence too came from previous times when feathers and ruffles were popular and almost always found on the dresses of upper-class women. Such accents were considered feminine and dainty, even girlish, and they drew even more attention to the burlesque dancers on stage.
Dresses with slit skirts were also popular types of burlesque dresses. Slit skirts allowed the dancers to reveal their legs in a taunting fashion by not showing the entire leg but just glimpses of it. Slit skirts were also derived from previous centuries, but in previous centuries slit skirts were considered indecent and were not work by women of the upper class. Slit skirts are designed to show the shape of the woman as well, which is why they were employed by burlesque dancers.
The hosiery, stockings and tights that accompany burlesque dresses are perhaps one of the first components of burlesque dress that one thinks of when presented with the term “burlesque.” Burlesque dancers were known for fishnet stockings, garters and lace because these all drew attention to their legs, which they used to dance with. These also added a feminine and seductive appeal to the performance, some think more than any other aspect of their burlesque dresses.
Much of today’s lingerie is derived from burlesque dress. Women still wear stockings and garters accompanied by corseted bustiers to achieve sex appeal in the boudoir. Although burlesque dancers were primarily at their prime in the 50s, it is no doubt that their influence lives on today.
Professional Burlesque Costumes: Skirts
Burlesque clothing is not for anyone who is of the shy and retiring kind. Burlesque skirts are in a word daring when you consider the little or nothing bit of cloth in the front. However, it is one of the most famous fashion statements that were popular as early as the 1950s or probably even before that. The clothing is glamourous, sexy and flirtatious, so get ready for an image makeover with this type of outfit.
Burlesque takes people back to the 1950s when anything and everything was popular. A time when a person could eat, drink and be merry without worrying about cardiac arrest or any of the million other ailments in circulation today. This time of romanticism encouraged some of the most fashionable styles and the décolleté neckline, burlesque skirts, sheer stockings and high heels that rocked the fashion world.
There are different styles of burlesque skirts like the ruffle petticoat skirt. It is perfect for on-stage wear as well as being ideal for the underskirt of a circle skirt. The circle skirt is generally worn as jaunty evening attire. Worn in reds, blacks and pink edging, the multi-layered skirt has the same fashionable effect as net petticoats but is as authentic as they come.
Skirts enhance beautiful legs drawing attention to them. Stockings can also be worn to contrast the skirt and show off the leg shape. Feminine shoes ought to complete the outfit and stilettos are generally the preferred choice. The shoes help the skirt to swing just right when walking and give the body a whole new shape. Don’t forget the suspenders; they are to skirts what corsets are to these dresses. Handbags, hairstyles and jewellery are some of the accessories that need to be paid attention to as part of the overall look.
There are also bustles and bespoke skirts that provide a totally cool look apart from making the wearer look attractive and sexy at the same time.
Long skirts come with ribbon ties that can be adjusted, and the skirt can be tied up to show lots of leg or tied down for the decorous, ‘I’m a good girl’ look. Wearing these skirts makes a woman feel very feminine and attractive. Walking in this style of outfit adds a touch of the diva to the overall appearance of the person.
Burlesque is all about sparkle and glamour and honestly so long as the curves are seen, it is considered fashionable. Get out the sparkles and high heels, add a few feathers and step out in ultimate style.
Professional Burlesque Costumes: Lingerie
Burlesque lingerie is all the rage. If you enjoy the look of the legendary burlesque pin-up girl, Bettie Page, your dreams have come to fruition. Lingerie inspired by the art of the burlesque show has returned with a vengeance. Bustiers, bustle skirts and corsets, like those worn by burlesque performers for ages, have re-emerged as a fashion trend for all.
Lingerie sets that reminisce about the sexual dances and the style that emerged from them are a popular option in the styles of today. These sets of lingerie can bring an air of naughtiness to the private bedroom or lend a secret sense of sexiness when worn under business suits in the boardroom.
The styles of burlesque lingerie are plentiful. Hot pants and bra set or long line briefs and pasties are all a part of this lingerie fashion. Bustles are a visual reminder of the saloon girls of the old wild, wild west and even girdles take on a sexy side when worn in a burlesque fashion. Garter belts that secure stockings are a must for a complete burlesque style. Whether worn in the privacy of your bedroom on under the most modern of suits, these items of lingerie are sure to thrill and entice the men in your life.
A boned corset is a classic look of burlesque. Steel boning is the best type of boning to choose. A steel boned corset that is properly made is an investment that can last for years. The back panel should have a lace up over material option to conceal any skin after it is laced up. Corsets can serve the purpose of waist reduction or can just be a fashion statement. If the goal is waist reduction, choose a corset that uses proper lacing. Ribbon laced corsets are for fashion only.
If you want to pay homage in your dress to the styles of Gypsy Rose Lee, Tempest Storm, Sally Rand and Bettie Page, wearing burlesque styles in your lingerie will surely accomplish this goal. The style and glamor of these ladies brought burlesque lingerie to the forefront and put it on display before the masses of admirers who, continue even today, to be fans of the style and beauty that is displayed while wearing burlesque style lingerie.
Professional Burlesque Costumes: Shoes
With performers like Dita von Teese who performs burlesque strip teases and embodies a classic pin-up girl style, and even a movie focusing on burlesque shows released in 2010 (entitled Burlesque and featuring singers Cher and Christina Aguilera), burlesque is quickly becoming a popular form of entertainment again. Even outside of the shows, the style that is embodied from burlesque shows has hit the runways and streets, with many women wearing clothes that are reminiscent of a previous era.
One of the most popular burlesque items are shoes. These shoes can be worn during shows, but many women choose to wear them to perk up their traditional wardrobes. The beauty of burlesque shows is that almost anything goes, offering a wide variety of styles and colours to enhance any outfit. With burlesque shoes, there is something for everyone that can make an outfit more fun, exciting and even sexy.
Heels are a must with burlesque shoes. While sky high heels (some with platforms) may be the choice of some, there are many other heel sizes that offer consumers a wide range of comfort options. A woman should select a shoe that fits her style, but is still comfortable for her to walk or dance in.
Burlesque shoes come in a huge variety of patterns, colours and fabrics. It is not unusual to see glittery gold shoes, floral printed peep toes, boots with corset laces up the back, or bright colours incorporated with rhinestones, feathers and other decorations. Burlesque shoes come in such a wide variety that almost anything can be worn, as long as it is fun, flirty and helps a woman look stunningly beautiful while wearing them.
Burlesque shoes can be purchased to match colours in an outfit, or a bright pair can be used to add punch to a neutral coloured outfit. When worn in shows, shoes typically match the outfit, giving the performer a polished look that is envied by both men and women. The wide selection makes it easy for this look to incorporate on the street and able to be pulled off by any woman with confidence.
Burlesque style shoes are a great way to add emphasis to an outfit. They can help a woman look beautiful and sexy without trying too hard. These old styles, mixed with elements of new and trendy styles, are all of the rage for women of all ages for adding extra style to anything that they put on and by helping them bring a little bit of the sultriness of burlesque into their own wardrobe.