Before Dita Von Teese became a household name, and way before there was Cher and Christina Aguilera sporting twirling tassels on the big screen, there was burlesque aficionado Liz Goldwyn. “In the mid-’90s, I was working at Sotheby’s and collecting burlesque costumes and researching them. And I realized there was no comprehensive book about these women or their costumes. So I decided that I would research and create an archive so these women could be remembered,” she says. The fruit of Goldwyn’s labor —“Pretty Things: The Last Generation of American Burlesque Queens,” now out in paperback — reveals all on the women who never exposed too much.

“A lot of them were really reluctant to talk with me. When I first started [the research], burlesque wasn’t going through its mainstream revival, so these women were never given their due. They had been labeled as dirty strippers and felt ashamed,” says Goldwyn on our changing perceptions on the art form.

She continues: “I think very few looked back and were proud of it. They didn’t feel legitimized by their careers.”

A peek inside

The flexible ladies

“This is a great example of the dexterity and flexibility required to make a great ‘peeler,’” says Goldwyn of this photo of an unidentified burlesque dancer, taken in the mid-1940s.

Meet the Girlie Girls

“This is a prime example of the burlesque chorus girls in the ’20s,” says Goldwyn. “They’re not quite as highbrow as the Ziegfeld girls in the sequins and feathers — note their decidedly un-sexy black ankle socks and tap shoes — but still a feminine feast for American audiences hungry for a taste of flesh.”

Design details

“This is a collage of notes and sketches from costume designer Rex Huntington,” Goldwyn says. “The middle image is the standard measurements taken for a burlesque costume. It gives you an idea of how elaborate a costume was — every inch counted.”

Latest From ...