In the late ’50s, when Las Vegas was still trying to make its mark as the Entertainment Capital of the World, certain slick Armani-suited casino owners (or “mobsters” as the FBI called them) decided that the perfect added enticement to lure the unwary to Sin City was – tah dah! – the nipple.
Covered dancers have to be fitted into bras, a tricky procedure requiring cleverly placed pads to give the entire line a uniform and perfect appearance, but because of the overwhelming sexual appeal of the “nudes,” their costumes are stupendous. The feathers are longer, the boas plush and flocculent, the hats towering creations of wire and plumes, and the rhinestones are heavy enough to buckle the knees. So please, don’t tell a nude dresser that her job must be the easiest ever.
Instead of bras, the nudes, or “showgirls” as they are billed, wear an interesting metallic torture device called an underwire, an industrial cupless version of a bra made out of angle iron and rhinestones that is strapped tightly to the chest and hung around the neck with a chain. A Maidenform it ain’t. Anyone who wears one will tell you they are no fun. As the designer Marky D. Saad once said, “Remind the girls to smile.”
After the nudes are strapped, draped and jeweled, they lug their fifty pounds of glamour onto the stage and prance around in front of the audience, smiling with graceful languor until they get to the end of the number, when they hoof it back to the dressing room where, in coordinated chaos, the dressers unload and re-dress them. Then they’re off, running back on stage for their next number.
In interesting contrast to all the feathers and rhinestones, the crew, including the dressers, wear the traditional backstage black: black shoes, black pants, black shirt. Boring, yes, but there’s always Victoria’s Secret to nourish one’s hidden desires. The upside of this job is the ease of coordinating our wardrobe. Dressing a dresser is the easiest job ever.
The most important piece of the uniform is, of course, the dresser’s apron, or smock, which allows quick and easy access to our tools: the needles, thread, scissors, safety pins, flashlight, pad and pen. The apron has some huge pockets, receptacles for all the things that fall off the costumes: feathers, rhinestones, hooks and eyes, chain, elastic and hanger straps. Pretty much anything that goes onto a costume eventually comes off. We tag along behind the nudes like well-trained lap dogs. “Wait! Let me pin that,” or “Hold it! Your G is crooked.”
Unfortunately, all this glamorous titillation may be coming to a close. Times are changing: Cirque shows are taking over the Strip, and the “feather shows” are falling by the wayside. It looks like I may have to put away my fishnet needle and get out my airbrush.