On Valentine’s Day, secret admirers and sweethearts give one another heart-shaped boxes and lockets, red roses and bouquets, and candies with little love notes like “BE MINE.” Stores sell clothes and even lingerie with red hearts emblazoned across it. While our object of the week may look almost like a Valentine’s Day-themed lingerie set you could buy at Victoria’s Secret, in reality, it was once worn on the burlesque stages of downtown Minneapolis.
The Minneapolitan strolling down Hennepin Avenue on a weekend night may choose their vice: cocktails, dancing, or the sort of night clubs where bouncers stand menacingly outside. Strip clubs, some rather dingy in appearance, dot the downtown streets, and many visitors come and go from these places unaware of their connections to the burlesque clubs Minneapolis’ earlier years. While burlesque clubs were far from scandalous by today’s standards, they faced much of the same stigma as strip clubs experience today.
In the early 1900s, downtown Minneapolis was far from a bustling metropolis. Yet the variety of theaters in the Gateway District promised visitors plenty of opportunities for a good time. Theaters like the Alvin and the Gaetty held variety shows with comedians and headline acts performing alongside burlesque dancers, who were accompanied by musicians and chorus girls. “Candy butchers” sold treats to visitors in the lobbies, akin to the concession stands and bars of today’s theaters. These were places for all kinds of people; men and women, husbands and wives, and even parents and children. While some performances took place in dive bars, many were held in lavish theaters–real “class acts.”
This particular burlesque outfit, which was homemade by a woman who worked in one of these burlesque clubs, sports a lovely red heart sewn delicately across the breast, and a silky beaded ruffle of fabric across the lower piece. It’s not hard to imagine stockings being held up by the elastic straps along the side, the ruffles shaking, the performer wiggling her hips, and the audience watching and listening to lively music play. For a long time, burlesque performers fell out of fashion in Minneapolis in favor of go-go dancers and topless acts. Today, while it appears that strip clubs are more present than burlesque in Minneapolis, burlesque performances continue around the city and are respected by many as one of many forms of performance art.
We hope you happen upon heart-shaped treats of any kind this week, and that you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day!
Written by current HHM intern Caitlin Crowley.