Geegee Louise pulled a crimson glove off slowly, revealing one knuckle at a time until it slipped off and was tossed to the floor. The strip tease demonstration continued with the right glove. This time, he used his teeth.
“The purpose of burlesque is using all parts of your body. It’s not just a stripper hitting the pole,” Louise told his five students. “Remember, you’re a lady. That’s one of the most important keys of burlesque.”
On March 5, the Boston Vintage Factory in Somerville kicked off its third round of 8-week burlesque classes taught by Louise, a self-proclaimed “burlesque impersonator” and instructor. The Joy Street studio, which opened last September, currently offers classes in burlesque, sewing, makeup, and yoga. Drawing classes will be available this summer.
Kristen Augenfeld, co-owner of the multidisciplinary studio, hopes to bring retro culture into the modern day with her business.
“My mission in doing this is to contribute in the revival of home sewing and burlesque and the whole Rosie the Riveter ‘We can do it’ spirit of self-sufficiency that was practiced by those living in the era we base our classes around,” said Augenfeld, 24, who manages the business with her boyfriend, Jamie Brause. “We create a community of like-minded people interested in the vintage arts.”
The studio is a blast from the past in itself, with pinup glamour shots hung on the turquoise walls and hardwood floors that seem designed to deliver the clacking sound of high heels. Homemade curtains and throw pillows, appropriately printed with an old-fashioned cartoon about home sewing, balance out the solid colors.
Augenfeld, who has a degree in fashion design and production from Lasell College , teaches the sewing classes at the studio and employs vintage sewing techniques in her lessons. The sewing classes offer one-time sessions, for small pieces like envelope bags, and series classes that involve constructing garments like swing dresses over several weeks.
“All of the silhouettes of the time period I teach from are so classic and flattering on every body type that they can easily be incorporated into a modern day wardrobe and become staples in that student’s wardrobe,” she said.
The burlesque classes teach new skills every week, such as removing gloves and stockings, working a feather boa, and even making pasties. The classes also guide students in creating a stage name and matching performance persona.
The makeup course gives students the opportunity to learn beauty techniques from the past like applying false lashes, painting on winged eyeliner, and finding the right shade of rouge for classic red lips. Yoga, while not necessarily derivative of the target era, is also offered because Augenfeld was inspired after seeing a photo shoot of Marilyn Monroe doing the ancient exercise.
Classes vary in price with one-time sessions between $10 and $115 and multi-week courses that cost up to $338.
Augenfeld said that materials are provided and included in the cost of a class. Students often don’t know where to find or how to identify authentic period-specific fabrics for constructing their own old-school outfits, she said, so she buys them herself ahead of time. Students in the makeup class also get to take the cosmetic kits home with them to continue practicing the craft.
Phoebe Roberts, who has taken Augenfeld’s classes several times, said that when she became interested in creating period garments, she sought information from a book. However, she said she found sewing much easier once she had an instructor at her side.
“I wanted someone who knew what they were doing,” said Roberts, who constructed a pencil skirt and a kimono robe at the Boston Vintage Factory.
Kristen “knows how to communicate the techniques. She’s great at presenting it in a way that a beginner can understand. It’s not too overwhelming.”
Heather Oblon, a student in the burlesque class, said that her first experience with vintage education made her consider subtlety in sexuality.
“I think in our society, we tend to [focus on] sex, sex, sex, and forget about the little things,” she said. “Everyone should give [burlesque] a try once in their life. I think you learn a little more about what you’re comfortable with and embrace your femininity and sexuality.”
According to Augenfeld, the studio has seen about 30 students since its opening, with many loyal visitors coming back for more classes. She said part of the reason for this success is the depth of knowledge of her instructors.
Throughout the burlesque class, Louise offered advice based on his personal experiences performing. He warned never to “go spread eagle” to an audience (that’s for strippers, he said), always fold your gloves after use to avoid wrinkles, and never throw your clothes into the audience (“Believe me, you won’t get them back”).
He also suggested that the vintage-style stockings used in the class are best used on stage.
“Seams are an aphrodisiac. They’re not work-appropriate,” he said, “unless you want to get a raise.”