In the Victorian Age, although separated by wealth and privilege, both society’s elite and working class indulged in exotic entertainment. Women went to great lengths to hide their physical forms beneath bustles, hoops and frills, and so the idea of young ladies appearing on stage in their silk stockings and bustiers was a controversial temptation. 18th Century ladies of the court danced at banquets, using beautiful fans to accentuate their suggestive movements.
During this time, burlesque houses were also gaining popularity. The term ‘burlesque’ was applied to a wide range of comical performances, which were satirical impressions of operas, plays and the social habits of the upper class. Chorus lines of scantily clad women danced in theatres throughout Europe, Great Britain and the United States, and shows occasionally involved flirtatious one-on-one interaction with audience members.
Although its origins lay in bawdy humour, it became apparent that the main attraction of burlesque was sex appeal, and shows came to rely on the display of curvaceous women to keep audiences coming back for more. As a result, over time, shows became more focused on sexually suggestive material.