Occasionally I am either gifted or find glorious dresses that would make fantastic burlesque costumes, but since my rack-ready body has never arrived, I’m unable to use them as they are built and have to get creative. The blessed day these beautiful vintage gowns arrived was actually years ago. That lovely little… and I mean little… blue number on the bottom of the photo waited patiently for several years before inspiration and motivation stuck on how to morph it into a haute couture Bearcat dream.
The original lining, shoulder pads, and poofy tulle sleeves were sent out to pasture and I also cut off one sleeve entirely to have some spare pieces of the sequin applique to spread around. I thought I would be able to just add a slit down the back and up the leg and that would be enough to give me room, but oops… I gained like 50 pounds since the first time I tried it on and it didn’t fit then so no amount of butter and wishful thinking would slide me into it now. I had to keep slitting lower and lower down the back, higher and higher up the leg, and add another slit on the opposite side to make space for my body. I was left with flaps of old beaded blue gown sadly flapping on my body like a shredded kite. Some spare “nude” fabric later and I was able to make some kind of structure happen. I added some godet type features to the bottom to give shape. I used a yard of fancy fabric to create “applique” by cutting the shapes away from the mesh, a cost friendly alternative to buying dozens of applique. I realized that my beautiful abstract dream dress had several peep show treasures where my body showed, which was part of the objective, but also a serendipitous feature of how much I had to reveal to make it fit on me. I wanted to get the most of these parts, so I added tear-away pieces over a few fleshy spots. They aren’t the best in regards to construction, but since they were made with scraps and as an afterthought, I’m still pleased with it.
Gloves – it’s a burlesque staple, so why not? I wanted another item to remove besides just the dress. But what do you do when you shove your meaty forearm into a glove and it splits like a hotdog in the microwave? Well… just make the glove as abstract as the dress I suppose. I had to trim the edges with extra pieces of the applique to make a purposeful peep hole on the side. Then I thought, “While I’m at it, I’ll just cut off some of the fingers since the entire finger area was snug on my rockbiter hands”. I was delighted with the beautiful absurdity of the glove. Not need for gloves. One was perfect.
By the time I got around to the shoes, I had no money to spare. I shopped around until I found a pair of used shoes online and spent my eBay bucks. I dyed them blue with a homemade dye of sharpie innards and alcohol, and rhinestoned them to the point of obliterating any recognition of their former selves, like they were entering witness protection. Lately, I’ve been replacing all buckles on shoes with snaps. it’s proven a valuable asset since I neither want to 1: attempt to contort my achy potato sack body to buckle shoes in a graceful manner, nor 2: ask for help (It’s a problem I have. It mentally hurts me to ask for help. I’m working on it.)
I built the feather fans myself, so they aren’t perfect, but I’m pleased with how they turned out. I didn’t have enough money to get feathers as long as I would have liked, but I had four layers worth, making these very full in the middle, better to hide me with my dear. (Feather fan building tips post will happen in the future.)
I wanted the under layer to be just as odd as the outer layer. I just started forming things together and ended up with a situation on the side that reminded me of the necklace from The Goonies I coveted as a youth. As it turns out, I did not grow up to find pirate booty, but I subconsciously built myself treasure panties.
I wanted to challenge myself to be more serious and sexy, or at least not to be funny or default to my usual self. I also wanted the challenge of pairing this glamorous costume with an unexpected song. So shuffling through my music, I landed upon “Tear You Apart” by She Wants Revenge. Perfect. Also perfect because I had to tear the dress apart to make it and would be tearing it apart on stage.
I have had the fortunate opportunity to perform this act for several different producers in the MD, DC, VA, PA area and I hope to continue to find opportunities to share it. I was able to use this act repeatedly in an immersive theater series. It was a rare opportunity to do an act over and over in front of an audience to actively refine it. I am so fortunate to have been part of TBD Immersive’s Cabaret series, and will forever remember and appreciate the people I met, the unique venues where I performed with them, and the stores told within that series.
I was thrilled to have this act accepted to the 2019 Smoky Mountain Burlesque Festival. On top of that, I would be performing at the Bijou, a beautiful historic theater in Knoxville. Those feelings of excitement and terror jiggled inside of me for months. As it turns out, they’d be amplified by learning that DOLLY PARTON would be watching the show. We share a birthday and now we’ve shared space. The festival is amazing enough, having Dolly Parton there was gilding the lily, and the magnolia. One of my favorite moments was backstage after the show, just before taking a group photo when she said “I haven’t had this much fun since filming Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” and hearing this subtle, but charming collective breath that the performers all took after she spoke. It was the audible evidence that this moment would be remembered and valued proudly by everyone huddled in that sparkly heap of entertainers, all with eyes glued on one of the best entertainers and people around. Thank you Dolly! Thank you SMBF!