We could not be more honored and excited to present Pastie History at The Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender! Thank you to Jo Weldon and BurlyCon for asking The Pastie Project to participate this year. Tickets are just $10, and proceeds go to The Burlesque Hall of Fame! Here is a link to info and tickets! All Community presentations on Thursday, June 1 are held in Bienneville Salon J, and you can get a discounted pass to attend all four! Pastie History is from 3:30-4:30! Can’t wait to see you there!
Here’s a blurb about the presentation:
“This presentation is all about pasties! How has the construction of pasties changed over time, and how have they evolved in the neo-burlesque movement? If you want to know more about the history of the pastie and why the smallest costume pieces in burlesque are some of the most significant, come listen to Rosey La Rouge, author of The Pastie Project, discuss all of the above. You’ll see beautiful examples of historic and modern pasties from around the world, all part of The Pastie Project photo archive. Bring a notebook and writing implement if you wish, we’ll be covering a lot of info, and you may want to jot it down. There will be time for Q&A at the end of this presentation. Get an up-close view of pasties inside and out, and get inspired!”
This timeline, lovingly illustrated by Fyodor A. Pavlov, is meant to show the progression of the pastie and it’s design in America from early burlesque of the 1860’s through the present. The women we showcase here are all undoubtedly iconic, but several are also representative of something specific to the history of pasties, and the elevation or preservation of burlesque costume history. The captions and close ups below give more detail about the contributions these special ladies made to burlesque and pastie evolution.
Little Egypt, a character seen at the World’s Fair in 1893, represents those who came first in burlesque on this timeline. Her illustrated costume is reminiscent of the predecessor to the pastie- the metal breastplate “bras” commonly seen on belly dancers, and in theatrical productions and “burlesques” as early as the 1860’s with Lydia Thompson and her “British Blondes”.
Carrie Finnell is known to be the first to use pasties with tassels. Her performance “hook” was that she could make her breasts jump in and out of her dress with pectoral manipulation alone. Her use of nude, nipple-like pasties was first to bypass the nudity laws, but her use of them as a decorative item was an innovation of the the 1920’s.
Sally Rand represents the art of the fan dance on this timeline. As the years have gone on, Miss Rand’s fame is still more widely recognized, despite the fact that fan dancer Faith Bacon preceded her. Miss Rand is also a representation of other “gimmicks” besides pasties created to skirt the nudity laws of the time. The fan dance act did not reveal any illegal nudity at all until a final, still, pose at the end of the act. In many places in the 1920’s and 30’s nudity was legal in still life representation on the stage. Of course, in some states, nude body suits or bras and bottoms were still required behind the fans.
GYPSY ROSE LEE
Gypsy Rose Lee is arguably the most famous burlesque performer of all time, and should be represented on any burlesque timeline, especially for her breakthrough to the mainstream in the 1930’s and 40’s. She is famous for getting around nudity laws by very rarely taking much off, and being known as the “intellectual stripper”. Gypsy often wore (and made for her chorus members) net bodysuits with strategically placed decoration over the breasts and nether regions. With her lifelong theatrical background, she made many of her own accessories. Gypsy is also famous for adjusting her pasties on stage, as a tease.
LILI ST. CYR
If Gypsy was the star of the 1930’s and 40’s, Lili was the icon of the 1950’s and 60’s. Her narrative acts and her presentation of elegance and wealth on the stage elevated her art and expanded her audience reach. Lili was creative with her theatrical concepts, but still maintained an unattainable air in her performance. Once famous, her costumes- including pasties, were built by artisans and set the standards for the time.
Jennie Lee, “The Bazoom Girl” was famous for her tassel twirling skills in the 1950’s, and 60’s, but she is also part of this timeline because of her dedication to rights for exotic dancers and the preservation of burlesque history. She was the founder of The Exotic Dancers League, and The Exotic World Museum. The Burlesque Hall of Fame was born from her desire to keep retired burlesque dancers connected, and to showcase the history that they were a part of.
JO “BOOBS” WELDON
Jo Weldon represents burlesque educators in the neo burlesque movement on this timeline. Jo worked in strip clubs in the 1980’s, was part of the neo movement in the 1990’s, and has become one of the most respected authorities on burlesque education in the United States. She has been teaching pastie making to new performers for more than ten years, she started the New York School of Burlesque in 2003, and she wrote The Burlesque Handbook. She is not alone in her mission to educate- Miss Indigo Blue, Michelle L’amour, Bella Blue and many more, run nationally recognized burlesque schools from coast to coast.
DITA VON TEESE
Dita Von Teese is the mainstream-reaching representative of burlesque today and a modern icon for the art form. She is the most recognizable burlesque performer in the United States if not the world, and her opulent costumes, often designed by legend-in-her-own-right Catherine D’Lish, have defined the new silhouette of “classic” burlesque. We credit Dita with the popularity of the “illusion” style pastie, a must have for the classic performer.
We hope that you enjoyed this Pastie Timeline breakdown, and that you find the descriptions helpful in understanding why these are the people and pasties chosen to represent this part of costume history. The captions should give any interested burlesquer or historian a jumping off point in which to do deeper research. Special thanks to Fyodor for his impeccable and original artwork!
All text and imagery copyright The Pastie Project, Rosey La Rouge and Fyodor A. Pavlov. Please do not duplicate, quote, or use imagery without permission from Rosey La Rouge.
Do you want to know more about the history of the pastie and why the smallest costume pieces in burlesque are some of the most significant? Come listen to Rosey La Rouge, creator of The Pastie Project, discuss all of the above, and see beautiful examples of historic and modern pasties from around the world. Get an up-close view of pasties inside and out. This is a promotional event for The Pastie Project book- we hope you can make it!
My experience discovering the burlesque community in New York City was a lot like coming upon a magical field of unicorns, and then, turning into one. Like a lot of fellow performers, I had life experiences that led me to look for an outlet of artistic expression through performance. Unlike a lot of performers, my day job was as a costume designer, and I had been involved in the theater and entertainment industry for my entire professional life, behind the scenes. The combination of my love for colorful, sparkly, extravagant costumes, and the desire to personally express myself artistically through performance came together, and the early connections I formed with some of the most brilliant people in burlesque made me fall in love with this art form, and it’s history.
Finding my place
I would attribute the beginning of my burlesque career to a handful of performers and producers who instructed me, hired me, taught me magic and self confidence, and helped me understand the business, and what it means to be a good producer. To Veronica Varlow, Albert Cadabra, Gal Friday, Jo Weldon, World Famous * BOB *, Legs Malone, Runaround Sue, and Joe the Shark- you made me Rosey La Rouge. After being under your tutelage and gaining your friendship, I have performed everywhere I ever dreamed of in New York City and beyond. I have produced shows made with love and art, and with some of the most amazing artists I have ever seen. I have conquered my fear of singing thanks to Shelly “The Singing Siren” Watson, The Burlesque Choir, and Peter Aguero. I have met the love of my life and my artistic partner Ben Trivett. I have seen burlesque grow and change exponentially in just nine years, and I am excited to see it continue to burst into the world by way of new schools, festivals, and via The Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas.
I have always felt that I was a good performer, and I love being on stage, but I know that when it comes to performance, I am a hobbyist. I was never the most famous, and I never strived to make a full-time career as a burlesque performer, but I now know that I have a very important and different role in burlesque. As a professional costume designer and historian, I feel that it is my personal calling to document the costumes of this art form, in a way that has not yet been done.
The history of burlesque has been documented by many historians, women’s studies experts, and in the biographies of individual performers. “Horrible Prettiness” by Robert C. Allen should be called the bible of the early history of burlesque. Gypsy Rose Lee, Georgia Sothern, Ann Corio, and many more, have fantastic biographies and burlesque books. There are even some writers and lovers of burlesque who have delved into the costume aspect of the art, most notably, Liz Goldwyn with her book “Pretty Things” and Jo Weldon with “The Burlesque Handbook”. It seems though, that no one has comprehensively photo documented pieces, and focused on construction and innovation through burlesque history.
As a costume designer, I understand construction and fabric. I understand costume history in depth. As a performer, I understand movement, reveals, and styles of burlesque. I believe, with my qualifications, that I am one of the most capable people to take on the challenge of documenting burlesque costume history. I also believe this is a formidable task. It is this daunting thought that led me to focus for the moment, on one part of the burlesque costume: the pastie. The most important part of what makes a costume ensemble “burlesque”, and a piece that was created because of laws about nudity ,many of which originated in New York City. The pastie is a part of what makes burlesque a truly American art form. Burlesque history has been a source of pride or shame depending on who you ask. Regardless of whether you think that burlesque is a legitimate part of American Theater History (clearly I think it is, and deserves documentation), there is no denying that the costumes themselves, and more specifically, pasties, are works of art. They are pieces of body jewelry as varied as the performers who wear them, and are influenced by their time period, and place of origin.
There is no way to document all of the pasties throughout time, and all of the wonderful artists who wore them. (In fact, pasties seem to be the hardest costume articles to track down when buying vintage pieces) There is no way to showcase the thousands of performers who currently take the stage with brilliant ideas, classic storytelling, legendary tributes, and boundary breaking acts. There is, however, a way to tell the history and evolution of the pastie and its construction that will inform and inspire. That is the goal of this project. Whether you are interested in The Pastie Project to learn more about costume history, or you just appreciate the art form that is burlesque, thank you. For the rest of you, who already know and love burlesque and this community, it is a pleasure sharing this beautiful world with all of you magical unicorns.
The Pastie Project is fundraising for the upfront costs of production on their book project. Please donate here if you can, and thank you in advance!
Copyright, Rosey La Rouge, 2016. All rights reserved.
Students entering the world of tassel twirling recite this before they make their first attempts. Special thanks to Jo for letting us document her class today, to her students, and to the talented Bettina May for capturing it all on camera!