This photo, taken in 1867, is entitled “The Devil’s Auction” and features Eliza Blasina, my personal hero for the day. As you can see, she’s wearing a PRETTY SEXY GETUP. What’s not to love about the “horse-head headdress, short costume with attached horsetail, double rows of round beads or bells around ankles, wrists and neck, four rows (Ed. note: four rows!) around upper arm“…? For me, it’s Eliza’s sensuously curled, delicately hoof-like wrists and fingertips that set my heart, errr, a-racing.
Eliza was an exotic dancer of her day. This portrait stands to remind us of what once was alluringly, (perhaps) comically, and certainly naughtily – erotic.
Retronaut is featuring a whole selection of photos of these 19th century exotic dancers and burlesque performers. You can also check out the full archive of the Charles H. McCaghy (Ed. Note: Scholarly, I Assure You) Collection here.
It’s so easy to look at these women with our acculturated 21st century dispositions and snort – errr, umm, laugh. We also can’t help but focus our attention (and ire) on the fact that female standards of beauty have taken a century-long turn for the skinnier, skinnier and skin-and-bones-ier. No horse hips to be found on strippers these days! WTF!!!
But truly, I don’t want to laugh or sigh or cry. I want to understand. What was the appeal of seeing women dressed this way? What was the lure of the more doughty figures of women regarded as sex symbols? As a modern woman, I am very curious about these questions, and as WTF?! knows, I watch a lot of porn. Who would have been my go-to sex icons, if I were in the 1800s?
So I scoured Prof. McCaghy’s archives, and here are my TOP 5 HOTTEST 19th Century Exotic Dancers/Actresses/Burlesque Performers:
The princess tiara, the innocently and longingly gazing upward eyes (she’s looking up at you, sir!), the delicately parted lips, the elongated neck and the soft curls around her white shoulders – are they bare? Is she clothed? Either way, her breast is left – by just millimeters – to our imagination. Hot.
A foursome! The fairy costumes, woodland setting, supple bare legs and elegantly raised arms recall the Graces in Botticelli’s Primavera. Too hokey to be sexy? And yet, who wouldn’t want to lounged in the middle of these four nymphs. My mind goes there. Hot.
We’re playing with androgyny here! But in a whimsical, carefree, oh-so-innocent way. Mabel is still wearing her lace stockings and heels after all, despite the knickers, collared shirt, straw-like hat and decidedly unladylike tobacco barrel chair she’s perched upon. Also, doesn’t this pose just kind of make you think about what’s between her legs? One hundred years later, Patti Smith was ANDROGYNOUSLY IN YOUR FACE on the album cover of Horses. I think this is sweetly transgressive and therefore sexier. Hot.
Hats off to diversity in the 19th century. The Victorian Burlesque would like you to know that ethnic is sexy, too. Here we have a woman in traditional (Mexican? South American? Why is her handle Mademoiselle?) garb that accentuates her bountiful bosom and perfectly proportional hourglass shape. She is caught mid-sway between shoulders and hips, with a sultry non-smiling gaze that pierces out of the frame. And she is playing the tambourine. I want to sway along. Hot.
WHAT is going on here? This lady and this portrait certainly seem to be the antithesis of everything “we” would find “sexy” these days. And yet. I feel in recent decades we’ve made a fetish of bad girls in good settings (sluts in Catholic School, for e.g.) Here we have an anachronistic reversal. A matronly lady in a head-to-toe, chin-high, covering-everything-up nightgown posed against heavy, sumptuous drapes and a shag rug. The contrast of “wife at home” and “burlesque theater” is titillating – when you have one, you long for a little more of the other. And who says copious amounts of white sheer lace isn’t ridiculously sexy just on its own. Like a Virgin, anyone? Hot.
More images here and here. If my Hot Sex Prospect shows up one night and I am in full on Horse Gear, then at least YOU will all know why!
Rebecca Coale - aka Becky - is a writer, musician and producer. She and childhood best friend Jessica Donalds created Dating & Hookup and founded J&R Creative Media. Becky blogs about love poetry and modern life & womanhood. She lives with her husband, Howard Coale, and their family in Manhattan and Philadelphia.
datingandhookup.com is a website that explores modern romance in the Millennial era – which, let’s be honest, looks nothing like we were taught to expect. We feature essays, advice and social commentary with humor, compassion and brains, and we vow never, ever to publish a piece called “The 10 Best Ways to Satisfy Your Man in Bed”. Do click to submit your work to us. We love you.
Follow Dating & Hookup on Instagram
Follow Jess on Instagram
Follow Becky on Instagram
Follow me on Twitter