A guide to burlesque style: Get the look

burlesque style


A guide to burlesque style, and how to get a look that echoes the sleek, red-lit and velveted world of burlesque.

Dita Von Teese did not invent burlesque. She may be leading the burlesque revival, but the art of tease has been around for a very long time.

It started in the 1800s theatres and music halls of the nineteenth century, turning the art of the tease into the perfumed, scented, evocative striptease!

In the days when ankles were considered far too racy by half, the art of tease involved a flash of a jewelled stocking, gorgeous corsets, decadence, and *gasp* possibly the glimpse of a thigh. But it also involved imagination. Dance and comedy was important, and – as any modern-day burlesquer will tell you – the attitude is as important as the glamour and extravagance.

Burlesque glamour is all about being a lady, although a lady with a naughty side! Make-up and hair should always be immaculate, and one should stand with confidence, but not be afraid to stand out. Burlesque is all about elegance and what you leave on is easily as important as what you take off. This is the new glamour.

Modern day burlesque wear is all about high heels and old fashioned glamour. If you’re not performing onstage, you can achieve the burlesque look fully-dressed.

Burlesque style must-haves

There are hundreds of different looks you can adopt, but the essentials stay the same.

  • Red lipstick (applied perfectly, of course)
  • Eyeliner (either big, smoky eyes or cat-like flicks at the outer corners)
  • A good set of underwear! Stockings, suspenders – the works. (Try Anne Summers, Agent Provocateur or La Senza. The lacier and more elaborate the better!)
  • Heels (Yes, I’m afraid you must learn to walk with a wiggle – and heels are sexy!)
  • Nails (They can be short, but they must be painted! Any all-over shade of red or pink is perfect, or you can leave the moons and tips natural – that’s what the 40’s pin-ups did)
  • Impeccable hair (see our retro pin-up girl hair tips, and view further retro hair tips below.

Burlesque hourglass curves

Curves are most definitely hot – which is why many girls who have “the look” are seen in corsets, which either give them bubbies and a waist or enhance the ones they have. If you haven’t yet learned to breathe in a corset, either invest in an underbust one (which leaves the bosoms free) or raid the vintage shops for tops and dresses with no boning but lots of lace, satin and textured material.

A bit of skirt

Trousers simply aren’t allowed in the world of burlesque unless you’re going for the boyish rakish look. French knickers, yes… But not trousers (how on earth are you going to flash those stockings under trousers, dear creature?)

You can either go for short and fitted pencil skirts, or go all the way with crinolines and elaborate pieces.

Burlesque jewellery and accessories

It’s not all about the pasties and nipple tassels. Rhinestones are recommended, as are sequins, lace, frills and ribbons. Be inspired by some of the original burlesque and movie stars’ costumes – namely Betty Grable, Bettie Page (the queen of pin-up), Sally Rand, Marilyn Monroe, Mae West and Lili St Cyr. Look at Dita too, because she definitely knows her stuff.

Hot, or hotter?

If you want a daytime burlesque look or are a little shy, you can still get a burlesque feel to your outfit by either wearing just the essentials with it, or adding some rhinestone accessories and bows. You could also style your hair like a 40’s movie star (Read on…)

If you want to take the look all the way, then a corset (and nipple tassels if you’re really brave) is the way to do it! Find the most eyecatching, sparkling breathtaking outfit you can find and set it off with a manicure, perfect red lips, glittering false eyelashes, curled hair and a pair of the highest heels that you can walk in. (Some burlesquers add a small false beauty spot too.)

There is no magician’s secret to perfecting make-up, unfortunately. Just find a picture or style you like and practice, practice, practice. The same goes for hair.

Burlesque hair

You will need the following:

  • Hair pins
  • Hairspray
  • Patience (lots of it)

I’ve left the hair part ’til almost-last because it is the most complicated, fiddly task of all (blame those old-movie stars and their hairdressers). See, burlesque performers and old-movie stars used rollers to create curls and pile their hair up into elaborate styles that literally took hours to achieve. Women in the 20’s and 30’s wore very tight waves made using rollers and the World War II pin-ups wore ringlets at the front of their heads or created one big roll with all their hair.

If your hair is long like mine, you had better make sure you’re alone before attempting to style your hair because this will have you swearing like nothing else will!

I’m going to go through one method of styling hair that is easy for everyone. Well… easy-ish ,anyway!

First, brush your hair so that it is tangle-free, then make a ponytail with the front part of your hair. (If you have curly hair, straighten this part before you secure it). Backcomb it slightly so it stands up like a quiff and secure it with LOTS of pins and hairspray.

Burlesque haircare tip: if you have shoulder-length hair, you could pin the ponytail into one curl just above your forehead and spray it into place.

Then you can use rollers to put the rest of your hair into ringlets, or make a sleek bun at the back of your head. Secure it well so it doesn’t fall out in the middle of the street!

If you want to, you can add false (or real) flowers, gemstones, any accessory you want really to make it stand out. British burlesque performer Immodesty Blaize pins jewelled birds and butterflies into hers!

Good luck with the burlesque hair styling!

A final word to all burlesque girls

Be unique. If you like blue, go for a blue theme. If you have a thing for stripes, find a stripy outfit (or make one if you’re that way inclined). There are plenty of accessories around with strawberry or cherry designs- you could plan an outfit around that, or around your favourite piece of jewellery.

Adapt the look to your own style and you can’t go that far wrong!

If you want to learn more about the world of Burlesque, Dita von Teese’s book “Burlesque and the Art of the Teese / alternative and the Art of the Teese ” is a treasure, with some truly gorgeous pictures and inspiration.