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The Early Faces (& Shapes) of Exotic Dancing: 22 Photos of 1890s Burlesque Dancers

1890s exotic dancer

Yeah, baby

It’s common knowledge that the pin-thin models gracing runways and magazine covers today are unique to this period in time as representations of ideal beauty.

One glance at Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, and even Cindy Crawford, who was a size 6 at the peak of her modeling career, and you know that once upon a time, women didn’t need to exist on a diet of air and pipe dreams in order to be considered sexy.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, women were considered attractive if they had meat on their bones. It meant they could bear children and came from a background of means. Organ-oppressing, waist-pinching corsets aided in offsetting thicker body parts. And showing a little leg was the equivalent of come-hither, bedroom eyes.

Take a glance at what it took in the 1890s to put on a sexy display, and consider whether any of these ladies would make it as mainstream models or dancers in the present day, 120+ years later:


  • Whoa, Nelly! 1 of 22
    Whoa, Nelly!
    Who said fetishes were exclusive to modern day?
  • Huh 2 of 22
    Huh
    He never has a second cup of coffee at home.
  • I’m single-handedly bringing sexy back 3 of 22
    I'm single-handedly bringing sexy back
    If I can find it, that is.
  • Wait, I was supposed to dress as Maid Marian? 4 of 22
    Wait, I was supposed to dress as Maid Marian?
    Because the Robin Hood costume looked like a lot more fun.
  • Whaddya mean I gotta change? 5 of 22
    Whaddya mean I gotta change?
    Since when aren't athletic knee socks sexy?
  • You lookin’ at me? 6 of 22
    You lookin' at me?
    Because I can hardly blame you.
  • The bridal fantasty 7 of 22
    The bridal fantasty
    Actually, more like a wedding cake topper. But still.
  • I’m sexy and I know it 8 of 22
    I'm sexy and I know it
    Admit it: You know it, too.
  • Ride ‘em, cowboy! 9 of 22
    Ride 'em, cowboy!
    Giddyup!
  • Am I an angel? 10 of 22
    Am I an angel?
    Because looking at me is like heaven, am I right?
  • Is my shift over yet? 11 of 22
    Is my shift over yet?
    Because I'll be needing to take off this corset and take a breath any second now.
  • Let me see here 12 of 22
    Let me see here
    You mean to say I'm the only one who dressed as Little Lord Fauntleroy?
  • What, this old thing? 13 of 22
    What, this old thing?
    Doesn't everyone where their sexy nightclothes while standing around waiting for the Pony Express?
  • Raise your hand if you’re sure… 14 of 22
    Raise your hand if you're sure...
    ...that the statue behind me doesn't need some deodorant.
  • Is that an arrow in your pocket? 15 of 22
    Is that an arrow in your pocket?
    And does that mean you're not happy to see me?
  • I know you want me 16 of 22
    I know you want me
    And I can hardly blame you.
  • Nothing to see here, folks 17 of 22
    Nothing to see here, folks
    Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain
  • Back when androgyny was in 18 of 22
    Back when androgyny was in
    And all big sticks weren't phallic (if you were just using them to walk softly, that is).
  • A sheer nightie… 19 of 22
    A sheer nightie...
    ...better to see me with, my dear.
  • Act casual 20 of 22
    Act casual
    Because who doesn't dress like this to chill out down by the shore?
  • Attention! 21 of 22
    Attention!
    Clearly on the lookout for anyone who's been super-naughty.
  • Wait! Don’t shoot! 22 of 22
    Wait! Don't shoot!
    I'm already head over heels (despite the heel-looking thing over my head).

All images courtesy of Retronaut.co

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