Vice Squad
Friday, January 14, 2005
 
Striptease


Vice Squad was in attendance at a talk Tuesday night given by Rachel Shteir, the author of Striptease. The book focuses on the 1920s to 1960s in the US. She showed slides, so it was dark in the room. As a result, my notes are limited and partly illegible, but I will mention a few things that I learned at the talk -- though I can't guarantee that my notes and memory are completely accurate (i.e., I can't guarantee that they meet even my usual low standards for accuracy.)

The striptease format didn't always exist, and policy was partly to blame. Laws forbade removing clothes and dancing. So there were strip acts and tease acts (presumably the latter involving scantily clad women dancing), but there were not striptease acts. The word 'striptease' dates only to the Jazz Age. (A quick check of oed.com finds a 1930 usage of 'strip and tease' in 1930, with 'strip tease' appearing six years later.) Other laws (at various places, various times) made it illegal for a performer to remove her clothing, leading to a whole bestiary of avoidance responses: doves, monkeys, snakes, and panthers, became adept at disrobing striptease artists.

Mae West was arrested and convicted in 1927 on obscenity charges for her Broadway play, "Sex".

Chicago, Vice Squad's chief locale, hosted two major moments in striptease history. The first was the 1893 Columbian Exposition, where Little Egypt danced the hoochie-coochie. The second was the 1933 World's Fair, where Sally Rand packed in the patrons with her fan dance.

Today, stripping has largely lost the tease part, and is a segment of the porn industry: "big business, not show business."

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