ABC How To: Dress for a Burlesque Show

Burlesque shows have connotations of glamour and sophistication and that doesn’t just apply to the performers, but the audience too. Many burlesque events encourage audience members to participate; to go all-out in their own fabulous outfits, which gives you the perfect excuse to dig out your best dress and get glammed up to the nines.
But what is good etiquette when it comes to getting dressed up to attend a burlesque show? Burlesque itself is a huge source of inspiration. Throw in the vintage revival and you have a seemingly endless number of options. If you’re attending a themed event eg. 1920s then that makes it a little easier, as it gives you a specific starting point, but if there’s a wider choice of options, where do you begin? We’ve put together a list of some ideas to get you started.

Many attendees at burlesque shows opt for vintage styles. If you’ve not got much experience in hair styling, YouTube is a great place to start. There are thousands of how-to videos to help you achieve your perfect vintage look. American pin-up star Cherry Dollface does twice-weekly video guides on hair styling & makeup which are super-informative. Styles covered include the classic victory rolls, Marilyn Monroe-inspired styles plus up-does and more.

Here are a couple of classic burlesque outfit ideas to give you some inspiration…

1. The Corset / Fitted Skirt / Seamed Stockings Combo
An absolute classic, you can’t go wrong with this. When choosing your corset, consider if you want the waist-cinching abilities of a classic steel & spiral-boned number, or a less restrictive plastic boned piece. Obviously, the former will give you a fantastic shape and lift for the bosoms, but bear in mind if you’re going to be sitting down it could be a bit uncomfortable. Team it with a nice pencil skirt or similarly fitted skirt and you’re sorted. Add a pair of Seamed stockings a la Bettie Page-style, and unleash your inner pin-up!

2. Vintage-Style Dresses
Our second suggestion is equally glam, but a bit less restrictive than a corset. Many companies these days are offer reproduction vintage-style dresses fit for any 1940s siren or 1950s prom queen. Whether cotton or satin, a bold bright colour or an unusual print, a beautifully fitted vintage-style dress is a perfect choice to bring out your inner vamp.

Here are some of our favourite UK-based vintage-inspired dress brands:

Tip: If you’ve opted for a lovely, full 50s style circle skirt or dress (a popular vintage style shown in the pic above) don’t forget a nice puffy petticoat to give your dress some lift and swing!

Your choice of accessories are what finishes off your outfit and complements your ensemble, so don’t forget these important finishing touches such as…

*Hair flowers – perfect for finishing off that fabulous vintage do. Pick a colour that complements the colours of your clothes, but make sure it stands out from your hair and doesn’t clash.

One of Le Hat Noir's stunning creations.
One of Le Hat Noir’s stunning creations.

*A Fascinator or Fabulous Hat – another option instead of hair flowers, fascinators let you go a bit more OTT and will always be a talking point. Think feathers, glitter, veils and oomph! English-based designer Pearls & Swine has an amazing and ever-expanding range of styles which have gained a huge following on the burlesque and cabaret scene over the last few years.
Edinburgh-based Le Hat Noir is also well worth paying a visit for stunning, handmade hats in custom designs.


*Elbow-length satin gloves – to finish off your ensemble and add an extra touch of glamour and sophistication.

*A cute purse or handbag – big enough to hold your ticket and that all-important red lipstick, lady you are good to go!