Five 1920s Burlesque Icons

Serena Doherty May 30, 2016 Burlesque History
1920s Burlesque

We’ve given you our list of unforgettable 1920s burlesque dancers. Now we take a look at the women and performers of the decade who inspired them.

Five 1920s Burlesque Icons

First we looked at 1920s burlesque dancers to remember then The Great Gatsby movie came along and we couldn’t get enough of the decade. OK, well even more so than before… Now we’re looking at the icons who inspired 1920s burlesque performers.

Traditionally, burlesque is a form of satire and often takes a leaf out of pop culture’s playbook. The 1920s burlesque dancers were influenced by the mainstream just as they are today. Burlesque is also imbued with vintage glamour so these women’s influence on the genre can still be felt today.

From Marilyn Monroe toMadonna and Lady Gaga, strong and successful women continue to have significance in burlesque. Luckily for us, there’s even cross-over from Josephine Baker to Carmen Carrera. Lets be honest, both influence each other. So, lets take a look at the other side of the coin.

The 1920s is still remembered for ground-breaking, iconic women like Coco Chanel. She may not be overtly burlesque-y but bare with us… Karl Lagerfeld recently paid tribute to Coco Chanel in a video starring Keira Knightley. Keira Knightley stripped off in a Chanel commercial. While Dirty Martini was shot by Lagerfeld as the face of the brand. See where we’re going with this?

It all works together. So, get in the mood by watching the Chanel video. Yup, any excuse to see it:

Learn The History of Burlesque Dancing.

Mary Pickford

1920s Burlesque

(Image from Wikipedia)

Canadian-American actress, Mary Pickford has gone down in history as one of the biggest stars of her age. She represents the more cutesy flapper style. Her adorable look has been seen time and time again in burlesque.

Retro chic lovers still can’t get enough of darling frilly dresses and exposed ruffles. Alongside her signature wide-brimmed hats and Mary Jane shoes.

Mary Pickford went onto win the first Academy Award given to a Best Actress in a talkie for Coquette. So she’s not just a pretty face. Though, some claim her win was more for her lifetime achievement, you can enjoy this clip from the ground breaking film:

Get The Wisdom of Katharine Hepburn…

Anna May Wong

1920s Burlesque

(Image from Doctor Macro)

Anna May Wong was the first Asian-American actress in Hollywood. She hit the big time with films, The Thief of Bagdad (1924) and Piccadilly (1929).

Her success and appeal paved the way for burlesque dancers like Noel Toy, Barbara Yung and Jadin Wong. She also introduced the cheongsam to a Western audience which sprung an unforgettable resurgence in the 90s and noughties.

Watch this video to get a glimpse into Anna May’s influence and achievements:

Read our burlesque interview with the lovely Calamity Chang.

Theda Bara

1920s Burlesque

(Image from Flickriver)

American silent movie star Theda Bara was one of the most popular of her time. She was only out-ranked by Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford.

She was type-cast as ‘The Vamp’ but it’s a signature style that has never really gone away. The influence of her Cleopatra role was obviously revived by the great Dame Elizabeth Taylor. We’re also loving this Miss Betsy Rose, Cleopatra photoshoot.

Watch Theda Bara as the star of Cleopatra:

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Louise Brooks

1920s Burlesque

(Image from Fanpop)

The raven-haired beauty, Louise Brooks was famed as an American dancer an actress. She also popularised the iconic bob.

There are lots of ways to burlesque hairstyles for short hair and even ways to fake it. Yet few are as feminine and classic as Louise Brooks and her cropped locks. Still seen on fashion pages and in music videos the world over. Simple unforgettable.

Find out about bad gal Louise Brooks, sexuality and censorship in this video:

Learn How to Burlesque Hairstyles for Long Hair.

Clara Bow

1920s Burlesque

(Image from Fanpop)

American actress, Clara Bow, was known for her appearances in silent films. She shot to fame after starring in It gaining her the tagline ‘The It Girl’. Yes, the original. She became the embodiment of the jazz age and a leading sex symbol of the roaring 20s.

No one says flapper fashion more than this woman. Her presence on a cast list got films made and at the height of her fame she received 45,000 fan letters in a single month. That’s a lot of stamps. Bravo!

Find out what Clara Bow got away with when this documentary discuss’ her, sexuality and censorship:

Find out about the bad girls and headline honeys of 50s burlesque.

Alternative Burly Icon: Gladys Bentley

1920s Burlesque

(Image from Black Tie Guide)

This is our wild card, inspiring woman of the era. Gladys Bentley gained celebrity status with her cross-dressing performances. Her blues singing gained popularity at the height of the Harlem Renaissance.

She performed at one of New York’s most notorious gay speakeasies, the Clam House, according to Black Tie Guide. By the 1930s she headlined at another infamous spot with a chorus line of drag queens. Gasp.

As A. Jasper explains: “She flaunted her sexual orientation and reputation as a ‘bulldagger’ or butch lesbian.”

“She was a 250 pound woman dressed in men’s clothes (including a signature [tailcoat] and top hat), who played piano and sang her own raunchy lyrics to popular tunes of the day in a deep, growling voice while flirting outrageously with women in the audience.”

Gladys Bentley was known for appealing to all races and sexualities. For her time, this cabaret performer was fearless. Her style was later seen on the likes of Josephine BakerMarlene Dietrich and subsequently Dita Von Teese. A woman after our hearts and before her time. For that, Gladys Bentley we salute you.

Enjoy some naughty 1920s burlesque bump ‘n’ grind:

Check out Aurora Galore’s Alternative Burly Icons and our answer to: what is burlesque?

(Main image from Getty Images)