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August 22, 2011

Burlesque & pinup fashions are suddenly all over the Internet. The original burlesque designs with their risqué overtones have become the fun fashion, being adapted and adopted by rockabilly. Almost every city now hosts regular burlesque events where not just the performers, but the audience gets to dress the part as well.

Origins of burlesque
The literal meaning of burlesque is to “send up” and the term is derived from the Latin word burra.
, which describes a piece of slightly outrageous, humorous art. The term burlesque originally applied to shows intended for middle or lower classes. These shows lampooned upper class niceties and parodied upper class entertainments like opera and dance. Such music and comedy shows and plays grew in popularity on both sides of the Atlantic during the nineteenth century. In Victorian England, where even “a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking”, burlesque challenged its audience by offering rather more than a “glimpse of stocking” – the lure of young ladies appearing in tights and lingerie! Certainly demure by today’s standards these slightly suggestive interludes certainly boosted the popularity of burlesque.

When, in the late 1860’s Lydia Thompson took her burlesque troupe, called the British Blondes, to New York they were an immediate hit. At first they were feted by the press, but before long strident voices, from the pulpit and the papers were complaining of loose morals and indecency. The result of all this adverse publicity was to spread the word about burlesque far and wide in America effectively having the reverse effect to that desired by burlesque’s critics – female burlesque troupes with close copies of the original British act sprung up around the country.

These shows owed a great deal of their structure to the minstrel shows of the time and generally consisted of three parts – the initial section featuring the ladies, the middle section was a mix of male comedians and specialty acts and the final part the grand finale. Copying Lydia Thompson’s lead, most of the troupes had female managers. However towards the end of the nineteenth century, as male managers took over, they switched the emphasis away from comedy to push boundaries, determined to show as much uncovered female flesh as the laws would allow.

This form of entertainment metamorphosed in the early twentieth century into a mix of music hall, satire and striptease. During the twenties the bias continued inexorably towards striptease and away from the accompanying elements. This shift doubtlessly was burlesque’s downfall; by the thirties the popularity of burlesque dropped away probably reacting against what had become slightly tawdry striptease shows. Local authorities were no longer as tolerant of this entertainment, which had lost much of its music hall variety flavor.

New Burlesque

Burlesque is a theatrical entertainment of humor that involves parody and parabole. Modern burlesque is generally associated with striptease variety shows while early burlesque is more closely associated with theater performances and poetry. The art of burlesque has undergone some significant changes throughout history.

Dita Von Teese is the biggest name in burlesque since Gypsy Rose Lee and Sally Rand.  She is known for her classic vintage glamour and for playing a fundamental role in reviving a near-extinct art form.

In the mid nineteen nineties the genre was resurrected, with troupes in the USA, and the trend has snowballed over to the UK. Now, once more all over the world, it is possible to see shows equal in glamour, bawdiness and variety to equal the art form in its heyday in clubs and theatres in major cities. Arguably the Internet has played a major part to spread the interest in the genre. There are websites numerous websites dedicated to promoting it, to teaching dance, makeup and fashion.

Burlesque lingerie fashion
The mainstay of this style is lingerie and modern burlesque generally concentrates on the fifties and to a lesser degree the forties look. This extends not only to clothing, but hats, footwear and makeup too. There have always been fans of fifties silk and nylon stockings. When pantyhose all but killed the stocking market vast numbers of stocking mills closed. Their huge stocking machines were destroyed and along with it the expertise to manufacture fully-fashioned stockings. Now the few remaining machines are being reconditioned and brought back into service to once more produce copies of the fifties seamed stockings. However a few companies trading online still have limited supplies of the original fifties stockings so the purists can satisfy their need to the ‘real thing’ rather than the modern copies. Sadly, once that depleting stock is exhausted, they will only be viewable in museums and private collections.

However, for burlesque stage performance it is the fishnet tights or pantyhose that are still really popular. Companies are making exact copies both of retro costumes and burlesque accessories, from ostrich feather fans to bullet bras. , sensing an opportunity not to be missed, are enticing, Even well-known burlesque artists are being enticed by lingerie brands to lend their names and expertise to burlesque-inspired lingerie designs.

Burlesque is eagerly embraced by all physiques, from plus size to skinny-minny, proving how empowering it can be to women – all physiques are equally welcomed, but there is not set ‘burlesque costume’ either. It is very common for burlesque artists to take everyday lingerie, adapt it by sewing on sequins to devise their own unique take on burlesque. However the common thread that runs through the new outfits, going right back to the earliest days of the art form is the element of ‘tease’, the showing of rather more lingerie and stocking tops that would normally be seen in everyday life.

Rockabilly fashion
To sum up Rockabilly chic, you want to aim for Novelty prints, bold colours, patterns including cherries or anchors….halters, strapless and backless dress silhouettes. Wiggle dresses, trump full skirts. Pencil Skirts, cigarette and capri pants, short sleeved vintage blouses with ruffles and polkadot designs. And the most important things, Bold coloured hair & Red lipstick!

Over the years a number of fashion styles have grown towards each other, oft times overlapping. The word rockabilly was used around the mid forties and was a blend of hillbilly and rock and roll music styles. Those styles have overlapped with the more couture styles of the fifties to be used by current pinup photographers recreating imagery from the fifties and now burlesque has appropriated the rockabilly style too. It is not de rigueur to have tattoos and piercings for rockabilly, although many fans certainly do.


Pinup fashion
The term pinup also has blurred origins, covering photos of movie stars from around the thirties and forties, but also the airbrushed fantasy women gracing men’s magazines by such exponents as Petty and Elvgren. The fashions often featured nylons and lingerie, sometimes being exposed by a sudden unexpected gust of wind or other ‘mishap’ that befell the model. The style was to tease and to reveal very little by today’s standards.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 22, 2011 11:05 pm

    Burlesque is the ultimate. It is titilating and glamourous and seductive. Where beauty is truly shown and the art of movement can excite and amaze. The true way of showing how a womans body is at one with their spirit,. stunning.

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