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Filtering by Tag: Burlesque

Elegantly Pastied – A Brief History of Striptease & the Emergence of the Nipple Pastie!

Pasties, and their whimsical cousin the nipple tassel, are the decorative body accessory du jour. Usually associated with burlesque performers, they've recently been spotted on the likes of Miley Cyrus, Rhianna and Nicki Minaj, marking an explosion in their popularity since they were originally brought back into mainstream consciousness by likes of the lovely Dita Von Teese in the 90’s. But don’t be fooled – they’ve been around a lot longer than that, and have a history intertwined with  art, censorship, moral outrage and cultural paradigm shifts…read on to discover more about the history of the humble pastie. 

Most people with an interest in cabaret history will know that burlesque wasn't always about the art of striptease – in fact its roots are more in a British music hall tradition of comedy, satire and song.  The fact that it was often performed by young, attractive women wearing costumes considered at the time to be revealing, telling ribald jokes and reciting material that was somewhat sexual in nature, gave the shows a thrilling edge in an otherwise repressed Victorian society.

The transition to a striptease element did not come for some time, with various dancers claiming to have invented the art with stories ranging from a snapped strap onstage to a performer who absently started changing out of her costume in view of the audience as she finished her act!

While it’s hard to put a finger on when exactly the pastie became part of the history of burlesque costuming, we can look as far back as the late 19th century to see photographs of dancers decked in exotic garments that resemble the smaller, modern-day equivalent. During this period a popular fascination had emerged with the study of ‘Orientalism’ – a largely imagined (and today recognised as being a fairly racist and colonialist) view of the history, traditions and mysteries of the East, which included Middle Eastern, Asian, and Egyptian culture.

Of course, not all of this interest was entirely academic, and titillating tales of harem girls, concubines and courtesans hinted tantalisingly at a licentious libertinism found in the far-flung corners of the world – feverishly gripping the imagination of a society characterised by its expectation of sexual constraint and moral forbearance.

Of course, various enterprising individuals realised quickly that sex sells, and hit on a way to monetise this fascination with a series of exhibitions at World Fairs, showcasing performances by  exotic-looking women displaying what was known as ‘muscle dancing’- an art form similar to belly dancing, which would have been an unthinkable show of eroticism were it not rendered innocuous by its presentation as an educational exhibit.

A distinct trend was emerging: dancers, presented as Eastern Princesses but frequently locals girls from Vaudeville backgrounds, would shimmy and shake their bodies onstage in dances such as ‘Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils’,  ‘Arabian Nights’, and ‘Temple Dance of the Priestess’ at shows with names such as the ‘Algerian Village’ or the ‘Persian Palace’.  

The most famous dancer in this style is undoubtedly the notorious Mata Hari, but other performers such as Little Egypt and Loie Fuller were also part of the movement. These dancers would wear risque costumes and remove items of clothing, but were rarely if ever fully nude, their modesty being preserved by bodysuits, elaborately jewelled bikinis and metal discs covering their breasts.

However, while this was happening in respectable establishments across Europe and America, the circus sideshow tradition had picked up on it and were presenting their own ‘educational exhibits’ in ten-in-one shows across the United States where dancers would undulate in costumes which left little to the imagination, to the delight of male audiences. Over time the pretence of these sensual displays being for purely educational purposes was dropped, the themes became looser, and the Danse du Ventre of the Victorian era made way for the ‘hoochie cootch’, where a fully nude finale was common if, when and  where it could be gotten away with. 

However, when the art of the striptease started making its way out of the sideshows and into Vaudeville shows in cities across America, so the sense of moral alarm grew and new nudity laws were enforced in venues wanting to showcase ‘burlesque revues’; nights which featured comedy, music, and beautiful, scantily-clad women.

These shows, such as the famous Ziegfeld Follies and the Minsky Brothers’ National Winter Garden, were no longer the male-centred spit-and-sawdust tents of the travelling sideshow fairs, but theatrical venues which attracted both men and women of all classes. The move from lowbrow to highbrow attracted the attention of police and politicians, who would wage a moral crusade on the nascent industry.  

Burlesque clubs were regularly raided, and dancers were often arrested if they were deemed to be showing too much skin. Here the pastie became a weapon in the fightback against the censors, and allowed dancers to perform nearly-nude with the addition of a g-string to cover their modesty. Different states had different laws, and burlesque dancers were particularly ingenious in getting around them – attaching a piece of string around the pasties in a halter neck style was enough to get them classified as a bikini, and is still known as wearing them ‘Boston Style’ due to the particularly strict laws in that state!

The pasties became an iconic image of the burlesque dancer. The performer Carrie Finnell is credited with inventing the nipple tassel – a woman of ample bosomage, her shtick as a ‘mammary manipulator’  saw her shaking her ‘educated bosom’ to spin her tassels up and down, left and right – a gimmick that has become so popular that it’s synonymous with the image of the bump-and-grind burlesque performer now. 

Striptease enjoyed a roaring golden age of prosperity and notoriety, its stars being celebrities of the day with tabloids reporting on their love lives, extravagant lifestyles, and their run-ins with the establishment.

Burlesque shows were a main staple of American entertainment from the 20’s to the 50’s – however its decline in the mid-1960s, when go-go dancing and miniskirts replaced the ubiquitous pasties and a g-string, marked the end of an era until the recent burlesque revival.

However, the pastie lived on, albeit in slightly less recognisable format – marketed as beachwear or a tanning aid with an occasional catwalk appearance under sheer garments.

However, like anything associated with the taboo and forbidden aspects of a woman’s body, the allure of the pastie has never quite gone away, and can be seen in fetish photography and fashion pictures from the 70’s to the present day, whether in the form of the jewelled and sparkly sets that go all the way back to the origins of the garment, or the instantly recognised punk aesthetic of strips of black tape crossed over the nipples.

These days burlesque dancers still wear pasties and tassels not just to circumvent venue licensing issues – a special permit is required to host events where nudity occurs – but also for the rich history and tradition they represent.

In fashion, lingerie trends are allowing women who love the look of pasties to buy them in all sorts of shapes, colours and designs. Whether they are worn to clubs or under sheer garment, or just a bit of boudoir naughtiness, we love pasties, especially when matched with open cup and quarter cup bras!

Here’s the PP selectionwhich will you choose?

WIN a pair of tickets, drinks and pizza at THE BURNING BEAT



The Burning Beat is back for a Bank Holiday special on the 25th August in the heart of Shoreditch!

Taking place in Concrete, almost directly opposite our shop (so do pop in beforehand!), The Burning Beat is bursting with Cabaret Curiosities, Masterful Musicians and Devilish DJs.

Prepare to be entranced by unforgettable exotic goddesses of ambiguous eras and fascinated by feats of incredible dexterity!

Acts include:

- UBERKABOOM! - Rock 'n' roll and ska tones from Musical Meastros Uberkaboom!

- VICKY BUTTERFLY - Part Burlesque starlet, part innovative performance artiste, part music hall Vaudevillian, and all dreamer!

- AURORA GALORE - Winner of Miss Paris Burlesque Festival 2012 - A Petite Powerhouse of Peculiar & Passionate Performance!

- THE ROUSTABOUTS - Cabaret's finest Dapper DJ Duo return to the decks to subvert your expectations with an impressive set of classics and guilty pleasures, old and new, mashed in manner like you've never heard before! 


Vicky Butterfly


We have a pair of tickets to give away for you + a friend!

Tickets include:

2 x Delicious Whole Pizza from the Pizza East Kitchens

2 x A glass of House Red/White Wine or Bottle of Beer

2 x Reservation at one of the best tables for the performances


All you have to do is:

Like The Burning Beat on facebook


Comment on this post telling us you have done so! 


Entrants must be over 18 and able to get to London on the 25th August 2013. A winner will be picked on 16th August, good luck!


The Burning Beat: Win a pair of cocktails

Over the next 3 weeks, we've teamed up with the debauched Saturday night cabaret event, The Burning Beat! 



Calling All Denizens of the Demi-Monde! 

THE BURNING BEAT is a new Saturday night cocktail of cabaret curiosities and bold, brassy bands, swaying to the rapturous rhythm of wild-eyed, tavern stomping gypsy carnival rock n' roll. 

A broken ballet of debauchery, performed every week across three floors of decadent decor, and set to an eclectic soundtrack of Electro-Swing, Balkan Beats & Vintage Jukebox Gems. 

All of which is brought to you by the night's hosts - distinguished DJ duo The Roustabouts, and David Harris of the infamous Boom Boom Club. 

From bygone eras to the furthest flung corners of the globe, THE BURNING BEAT goes on....


Over the next 3 weeks, we will be giving away 5 pairs of experimental cocktails, which can be redeemed at any Burning Beat event throughout April or May!


 Each week we will announce 2 winners (and 1 winner for the last week) from those that have entered at least one of the ways below!


1. Like The Burning Beat on facebook and comment on our facebook post letting us know!

2. Follow The Burning Beat on Twitter and tweet "I've entered the @playfulpromises comp to win cocktails at @Theburningbeat" with a link to this blog post.

3. Email with the subject line "THE BURNING BEAT COMP"


 Each entry gives you one chance, so you have up to three chances! 

The first two winners will be announced on the 10th, the next two on the 17th, and the final on the 24th.


Burlesque Past and Present: Josephine Baker

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!

In our rip-roaring burlesque series we just couldn’t miss out one of the true icons of the 20s and 30s. With nicknames such as the “Bronze Venus” and “Black Pearl”, Josephine Baker was the first African American female to star in a major motion picture and become a world-famous entertainer. And if that wasn’t awesome enough, she used her status to kick political ass both during the Civil Rights Movement in the US and World War 2, becoming the first American-born woman to receive the French military honour, the Croix de Guerre.

Freda Josephine McDonald was born on June 3, 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri, she soon became fluent in both English and French. When she was 8 she was sent to work for a white woman who abused her, burning her hands because she put too much soap in the laundry.

Times were evidently tough, as Josephine dropped out of school at 12, turning to life on the streets. She made her living dancing on street corners, and at 15 was recruited for the St. Louis Chorus Vaudeville show. Her budding career sent her to New York, where she began to perform in the chorus of popular Broadway revues.

Josephine took last place in the chorus line, a traditionally comic role, which required the dancer to act as if they had forgotten the routine. Then, in the encore, they would not only perform correctly but with added complexity, outshining the other members. She became so well known for this that she was described as the “highest-paid chorus girl in vaudeville”.

She gained popularity, opening a show at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees on the 2nd October 1925 in Paris. Her skimpy costume and erotic style of dancing was an instant success, catapulting her into fame. Josephine went on to star at the Folies Bergères, performing the Danse Sauvage in her iconic banana costume.

Her success was perhaps complimented by the explosion of Art Deco and a renewed interest in ethnic art; her African descent of particular interest. Of course, she played up to this, often allowing her pet cheetah, Chiquita, on stage with her. The animal would often escape into the orchestra pit, terrorizing the musicians and adding an element of excitement to the show.

Ernest Hemingway even called her “...the most sensational woman anyone ever saw”.

Josephine married four times, her first to Willie Wells in 1918 when she was just 13. Needless to say, the marriage was very unhappy, and they divorced a short time later. Three years down the line, she suffered another short marriage to Willie Baker. The surname stuck, and she became known as Josephine Baker by audiences worldwide.

It was possible that her marriages didn’t last long because of the numerous lesbian affairs she had. She was known to be bisexual, and it has even been reported that she was involved with Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

Despite Josephine’s popularity in France she didn’t receive the same response in the country of her birth; upon a visit to the United States in 1935, her performances received poor opening reviews.

In 1937 she married once again, to a Frenchman, Jean Lion, renouncing her American citizenship without difficulty.

In fact, she loved her adopted country of France so much that when WW2 broke out she volunteered as a spy. She began to work for the French government as an “honourable correspondent”, using her celebrity status to report any gossip she heard at the numerous parties she attended, including those at the Italian embassy.

If that wasn’t impressive enough, she used her cover of a jet-setting entertainer to smuggle secrets around Europe. How? Using invisible ink on her sheet music and pinning notes on the inside of her underwear!

In 1941 she went to the French colonies in North Africa, claiming it was for her health, but she in fact set up based to help with the resistance. She also took the time to entertain troops with her performances.

The War finished, yet the struggle for equality continued with the American Civil Rights Movement. Josephine was no stranger to being treated differently due to the colour of her skin, both positively and negatively.

In 1951 she was refused service by Sherman Billingsley’s Stork Club in Manhattan. Although one of Baker’s sons contests the incident was exaggerated, it is said that the actress Grace Kelly was also in attendance. Seeing the situation, she rushed over to Josephine, taking her by the arm and storming them both out, vowing never to return.

Josephine protested in her own way, adopting 12 multi-ethnic orphans, calling them the “Rainbow Tribe” and refusing to perform for segregated audiences.

So impressive was her spirit, that she was offered leadership of the movement by Coretta Scott King in 1968, following Marin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. After much thought she turned the position down, saying her children were “too young to lose their mother”.

Josephine’s actions were honoured worldwide, with different countries inviting her to perform. She took to the stage in Cuba, Yugoslavia and a 1973 stint at the Carnegie Hall, where she received a standing ovation. 

On 8 April, 1975, Josephine starred in a retrospective revue celebrating her 50 years in show business. The audience was jam-packed full of stars desperate to see the glorious icon, and the critics were raving.

It was four days later when Josephine was found lying peacefully in her bed, surrounded by the glowing newspaper reviews of her performance. She had slipped into a coma after suffering a cerebral haemorrhage, and died at the age of 68.

At her funeral she received full French military honours, and will always be remembered for her beautiful smile and good heart.

Burlesque Past and Present: The glamorous Dolly Sisters

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 one could argue they weren't technically burlesque dancers, I couldn't help writing about The Dolly Sisters! While other performers were taking off their clothing, the Dolly Sisters put theirs on, adorning themselves with the most extravagant finery of the 1920s. Decked out in furs, feathers and haute couture, they perfected the single-sex "tandem" dance act. 

Glittering stars of their time, The Dolly Sisters rose to the top of their game. But at what price? Their critics claimed that their act was nothing special, and the way they treated men was questionable, however their elegance broke through social barriers.

Born in Budapest, twins Janszieka (Jenny) and Roszicka (Rosie) looked so alike that even their mother couldn't tell the difference and they were immediately given pink and blue ribbons to differentiate them. Times were tough and they were eventually brought to America in 1905, at the age of 12. 

They loved to dance, and at the age of 15 began to make money to support their family by dancing in beer halls. Once they were barred for being underage they instead turned to the vaudeville where they danced until 1911. At the age of 19 they were signed with the Ziegfeld Follies. 

The Dolly Sisters were extremely exotic for the time, with their dark skin and alluring eyes. Combining this with their novelty appeal, stunning costumes and impressive choreography, and they were bound to hit the big time. It is said they were named thanks to a theatre producer's wife calling them "The Dollies". 

The sisters certainly knew how to get what they wanted, and they went about it shamelessly. Men flocked to the girls, and the Dollies particularly enjoyed the attention of the rich and lonely. Legend has it they would remove their expensive jewelery when a wealthy man approached, hoping that he would lavish them with more, seeing their necks and wrists devoid of sparkle. 

Throughout their lifetimes they took five husbands between them, but were constantly pursued nevertheless. One such admirer was Diamond Jim Brady, who, as you can imagine, was the flashiest man in New York! At 20 years old the girls received diamond rings and a Rolls-Royce wrapped in ribbons, among dozens of other gifts. 

In 1920 the sisters came to London to star in a Charles Cochrane stage show, performing dances accompanied by a troop of dogs, calling the act "The Dollies and their Collies". 

The London socialites were enamored, and soon Edward The Prince of Wales, the world's most eligible bachelor, was attending their performances. Later at a private party he rushed up to shake their hands, telling them they were wonderful. They danced together, and continued to regularly cross paths throughout Europe, fueling gossip. The Dolly Sisters refused to comment on their friendship, leaving one reporter at a loss; "If the Prince of Wales ever kissed the Dolly Sisters, they're not telling on him!"

Gordon Selfridge, the founder of the famous Oxford Street department store, fell hopelessly in love with Jenny that he squandered a large part of his fortune on her. Despite being almost twice her age, he fawned over her for ten years, giving her anything and everything she desired, including ice cream flown daily from London to Paris. Some say he eventually lost financial control of his business due to the money he lavished on the Dolly. 

The Dollies caught a taste for the cards, and soon became recognizable as the most extravagant gamblers in Europe. They bet recklessly, winning and loosing colossal amounts of money, with poor Selfridge picking up the tab. 

Then, in 1927, reality hit. Rosie nearly died from appendicitis and intestinal poisoning, a sure sign that in their mid-30s it was time for them to retire from showbusiness. The Dolly Sisters was over, but as for the sisters themselves, they continued with their high-lives, gambling and social prominence. 

In retirement the sisters finally began to live separate lives. Jenny opened her own couture house in Paris, which resulted in a flop, then adopted two five-year-old girls (things never change...), claiming she had found them in an orphanage in Budapest. Bizarrely, and possibly in an attempt to fill her sister's absence, she claimed the girls were twins, and that she was teaching them to become the next Dolly Sisters. On the other hand, Rosie had found the supposed love of her life, Irving Netcher. 

Jenny wallowed in her loneliness, until she fell in love with a french aviator, and shady character, Max Constant. One morning they were in a horrific car crash, leaving Jenny in a coma for 5 days. She awoke into her worst nightmare; a punctured lung, fractured skull, and worst of all, the right side of her face was in bloody ruins, and with it her wealth and fame. 

For the rest of her life she wished she hadn't survived the crash, and sold most of her jewelery to pay for countless plastic surgeries in an attempt regain her lost beauty. She became a shade of her former self, feeling constantly flawed and broken. Her solitude consumed her as her friends deserted her and her marriage fell apart. What finally drove her to the edge was the mistaken belief that Rosie had turned her back on her also, after failing to invite her over for the Memorial Holiday Weekend. 

In May 1 1941, Jenny put herself out of her misery, hanging herself with her dressing gown tie in the shower of her hotel room. 

Distraught over her sister's death, but determined to carry on, Rosie lived long enough to see a biopic made of their lives in 1945, inevitably called The Dolly Sisters. However, in 1962 she also attempted suicide using sleeping pills. She lived for another 8 years, finally passing of heart failure on 1 February, 1970.

Not long before she died, Rosie gathered her friends around her, telling them, "It's been a beautiful life. Life has been grand to me and I thank God every day, every night, that he's given me a beautiful, wonderful life."