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Burlesque Past and Present: Mistinguett and her lengthy legs

The art of the tease is on everyone's lips; with a rising interest in burlesque, cabaret clubs are in full swing and new acts are cropping up every week. At Playful Promises we just adore a bit of cheek, and would love to introduce you to our favourite burly girls, past and present! Keep your eyes firmly peeled, as each week we feature inspiring performers guaranteed to set pulses racing!




Although I am cheating slightly, featuring a lady who wasn't necessarily thought of as a burlesque artist, she did pave the way for many a showgirl; making glamorous, gigantic headdresses and vast skirt trains of feathers a popular performance costume. 

Mistinguett, real name Jeanne Bourgeois, was THE female entertainer of her time, with legs that would make men melt at her feet! 

Determined to make it in show business, she left her humble beginnings as a flower seller in a restaurant and began her career in 1885 after taking classes in singing and theatre. Apparently those classes didn't do much good, as it was noted that she didn't have much of a singing voice, nor could she dance well or be particularly visually appealing, so she made her name the only way she could: a charismatic personality. 
 

 

That and her legs! She explains "the rest had to be created. I had to invent something.... my legs, 'the lovliest legs in the world', [an idea that] came out of my head." Indeed, those legs were the basis of her career; in fact, in 1919 she insured them for 500,000 francs! 

Bourgeois (and with a surname like that, you would most certainly need something catchier for the stage!) experimented with various stage names, such as Miss Helyett, Miss Tinguette, Minstinguette, before finally settling on Mistinguett. She debuted at the Casino de Paris in 1895 before moving on to appear at notorious venues such as Folies Bergere and the Moulin Rouge. 

 

 

Mistinguett was the epitome of showbiz decadence during the turn of the century. Her cheeky performance style became well known; once, while singing, an audience member shouted, "higher!", to which she lifted her skirt (and you can imagine what an uproar that caused!).

Rumor has it that she was romantically involved with Alphonso XIII, the King of Spain and the Russian Prince Orloff, and was BFFs with Jean Cocteau and Oscar Wilde. 

She was also best known for her signature song "Mon Homme", recording it in 1920. You may have heard the popular English version "My Man", which became a staple of the cabaret world for years to come.