I’d just like to say for the record that my stripper shoes were usually black, and I never would have worn them with nude pantyhose. The shoes pictured, though, are the right height and shape, designed to make my ankles look as fragile as a fawn’s while forcing me to walk like a lady unless I wanted to fall flat on my face. There are many good arguments against stiletto heels: they shorten the achilles tendon, cause back problems, prevent one from running for the bus or from an attacker, perpetuate the stereotype that femininity is synonymous with immobility, as well as being honestly kind of corny… but the one thing that stiletto heels have in their controversial favor is this: they make your legs look like a million bucks.
When I quit stripping, I didn’t realize I was quitting. I don’t remember the particulars of my last night on the job, except that I’d earned enough money to make going to work optional for the next week… and then the next one, as well. And then I just never went back. The last time I shut my locker was the last time I saw that long sparkly blue gown that Madison gave to me because it matched her pink one, or the black satin teddy with the garters that looked like something straight out of Cabaret, or the spunky little turquoise mesh ice-skater-Tinkerbell number, or those shoes that looked like they were created out of rhinestones and ice. They could be there still for all I know. And for the most part, I haven’t missed them… much… except for the shoes.
I wouldn’t wear them out. Just kinda… around the house and stuff. On chubby days, during the weeks straight I often spend wearing same pair of New Balances. Just to remind me that I’m still sexy even though I no longer get paid for it.
Even while I had my job at the strip club, I often felt like a sexy-fraud. When acquaintances found out what I did for a living, I could see them taking in the jeans and T-shirts I wear in civilian-mode and straining to translate this, mentally, into the tacky glittersphere of a strip club. “You’re a stripper?” they’d blurt out, then whisper, “for real?” It’s true that I have never been stereotypically blond, tan, or easily distracted by shiny objects lying on the sidewalk. But it sort of hurt my feelings that I was apparently far enough removed from the persona of “hot fantasy babe” as to inspire doubt whether I was telling the truth about my job. I was never sure, after hearing these doubts expressed, whether to defiantly demonstrate my authenticity on the nearest subway pole or to thank the person. But however I chose to take it, I could always comfort myself that I was, in fact, a stripper, and sometimes even a pretty good one.
Now that I don’t dance anymore, most of the comfort I could once take in my job’s sexy-credentials is no longer valid. When I was working, I used to enjoy the anonymity of walking down the street with no makeup and a scarf on my head, my day-to-day existence mostly unencumbered by the responsibility of being looked at all the time. Then, come night, I’d morph into my stripper self, a change as drastic as Selina Kyle’s transformation into Catwoman. The secretive thrill of effectively being two different versions of myself never wore off for me. Now, though, I’m just kind of some girl. And the low-maintenance persona I project while grocery shopping or eating lunch with a friend is the only one I have. It took me almost eight months of feeling vaguely depressed to realize that I need the sexy part of myself just as much as I crave privacy.
It’s time to finish what I started when I became a stripper in the first place: integrating these parts of myself that so often seem to be at odds with each other. My mom, bless her, is from the school of vintage feminist thought that believes the advancement of women correllates directly with how little they give a shit about what they look like. It’s been rare for me, even while growing up in the same house, to even glimpse so much as her collarbone beneath one of her crewneck sweaters (though she’s never thought twice about allowing me to see her in full flagrante while she’s changing or taking a bath). My father is the kind of man who, upon hearing about what kind of wedding I wanted when I was in middle school, says, “Maybe you won’t get married. Maybe you’ll be one of those women who’s just really into her career.” I was taught many things by my parents, many things that have stood me in good stead as I’ve grown up. But sexy was not one of them.
My body, as it turned out, rebelled for me: after resigning myself to being flat-chested and interesting for the rest of my life when I turned fourteen without growing any boobs to speak of, I scandalized the entire neighborhood by waking up one morning with a pair of pneumatic D-cups. And life changed. For the worse, I thought. They didn’t get me anything except unwanted attention from boys I had no interest in and a stricter set of rules at home. Fuck sex. I wanted nothing to do with it.
In college, I went through a series of relationships with boys that ended when I was forced to be a real person instead of the smart-girl tease I enjoyed playing in order to get the attention I craved while staving off the intimacy I feared. I learned to separate my little game from real relationships through trial and error, but I still felt disconnected and unsatisfied. It wasn’t until I walked into a local strip club and asked for a job that I felt I had a solution to this need of mine to “get away with” being sexy, which I still equated with being “bad.”
I did it. I got away with everything. It wasn’t even hard. My parents still love me. I never became soulless, man-hating, or overly money hungry (as it is rumored that every stripper necessarily is). I just kind of did my thing for a few years and then got out.
Now all I want is permission to wear a push-up bra under a cute low-cut top when I go out for a drink without hearing my mother’s voice in my head asking me who I’m trying to impress. Or to spend two hours giving myself a pedicure in my underwear while listening to Black Sabbath without thinking of all the other, more important, things I should be doing. To dress up in pink lace lingerie for the guy I’m dating without feeling diminished, as though I have somehow lost face when he thinks it’s calculated to please him. I want to weigh the cost of taking a cab to a party against the vain, glorious joys of wearing super-high heels and decide in favor of the heels. Instead of wanting to get away with being sexy under some secretive pretense, I want to wake up every morning feeling as though it’s my unabashed right.
I think my first step will be to buy myself another pair of stripper shoes. Just to wear, you know, around the house.
Filed under: Perfume | Tags: Nurse Ratched, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Serge Lutens
It’s easy to be seduced by the idea of Daim Blond, a “haute concentration” among perfumes that, due to their lofty price tag and avant garde sympathies, can hardly be considered plebian to begin with. I’m still in the dark as to what makes this concentration more “haute” than the others, but after reading the notes and reviews of Daim Blond, I was eager to make its suave white-suede acquaintance.
What I found, upon spraying it on my wrists in Bluemercury this morning, was not the rich-bitch confection of JP Tod’s loafers, sun-baked BMW interiors, and gently worn fingerless driving gloves that I’d expected (and sorely wanted) it to be. Daim Blond instead performed something rather ugly and perverse on my skin that called to mind blinding white hospital corridors, antibacterial douche, and a mighty power struggle between good and evil not unlike that of Nurse Ratched and Randle MacMurphy in the Ken Kesey novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” And much like that story, in which a high-spirited mental patient who may or may not actually be crazy meets his match in a quietly castrating and power-hungry ward nurse, this perfume both dismayed and exhausted me.
At first, the medicinal aridity of cardamom butts heads with a rambunctious marmalade note, described in Daim Blond’s official description as “abricot stone.” Malleable, easily-led iris, the other predominant note, sides with apricot, effectively frustrating the dry forces of cardamom’s strict cleanliness and forcing it to use another tactic: leather. This isn’t an animalic leather, wearing chaps and wielding a paddle. Rather, it’s the sort of soft, beaurocratic leather that speaks in a modulated voice and smiles as it efficiently goes about its work of subduing the wayward apricot. There is one last hysterical, jammy shriek, and then it’s over. Apricot has been lobotomized by the forces of order in this perfume.
The dry down of Daim Blond finds the offending apricot note meek, mild, and drooling with the creamy, ephemeral wistfulness of heliotrope. The leather note kicks its soft-soled loafers up on its desk and breathes a musky sigh of relief. Only then does Daim Blond begin to smell as it was meant to smell: like white suede, levelheaded and serene. Still, it’s hard to forget that a rebellion with all of its attendant casualties has just been squashed, and its somehow difficult to look the smooth, calm suede note comfortably in the eye. Her hands are dirty even while spotlessly clean.
I recently bought a small vial of Nag Champa perfume oil from the local headshop, hoping to duplicate the smell of the incense on my own body. This was a perverse craving: I spent my stoner years repulsed by Nag Champa incense and everything it stood for. I associated its thick, greasy-sweet funk with the aspect of druggie-culture that I took to the most reluctantly: having to hang out with other druggies. Marijuana, for me, was not a social drug. I liked it for isolated reverie or sex. Procuring it, however, often led me into a series of small, rumpled bedrooms where some kid with whom I had nothing in common with besides drugs was selling it. Buyer’s etiquette demanded that I share a few bong rips or a joint with this kid before going home with my stash. After a hit or two, I’d inevitably look through the haze of pot and incense at whoever was sitting across from me on the bed or the floor and realize the horrible truth: he’s going to kill me. Then I’d start to itch, searching desperately for an escape route. It didn’t matter whether I was there alone or with friends, I‘d sit through this ordeal with a rigid grimace on my face, trying to pretend I was having fun. Marijuana; the great equalizer, right? No. This was miserable. An interminable ten minutes or half an hour later, when I’d finally feel the fresh air of freedom on my face, I’d notice that I wasn’t entirely free: while pot smoke dissipates properly into the air, Nag Champa incense has this funny quality of sticking around. The experience, in all its cloying, unwanted sweetness, would stick to my coat for the next week, and by that time I‘d need another quarter-bag anyway. It was a vicious cycle.
My little half-ounce of Nag Champa perfume oil, at the feverish moment of its $12.99 purchase, didn’t strike me as the unself-aware, parodying nostalgia commonly referred to as “retro” I eventually decided it was. I had just ended an unconsummated series of fuck-me faces across the bar with Bond No. 9’s Chinatown, whose joss-stick note had enamored me while its simultaneous candy-corn stickiness was grossing me out. The thought was that if I found a dirty-sweet but dry incense to compromise the soapy virginity of one of my orange-blossom scents, I’d have exactly what I’d wanted from Chinatown.
It wasn’t meant to be. On my skin, Nag Champa smelled like an economy-sized box of Froot Loops anchored by an industrial turpenoid tang too aseptic to move it into the realm of the interestingly resinous. This is the stuff that the incense is scented with, not the smell of its burned effluves. Disappointed, I was forced to examine my own deeper motives for wanting to run around smelling like a sleepy-eyed college freshman draped in her mom’s worn-to-shreds batik tank top from the 1960s, hunched over a soup bowl full of sugar cereal while her vaguely and temporarily scummy boyfriend rummages through the ashtray looking for a roach. Because I’ve already been her. And I wanted nothing to do with Nag Champa in any form at the time. Is my former incarnation subject to the generic branding of a pre-exisiting truth that defines “retro” already? Jeez, it was only… okay, it was almost nine years ago. Still, in that light, I find myself reassured to discover that I still dislike that old compromised pothead reek as much as I ever did.
Back in my stoner days, I had some ideas about the qualities of a perfect drug dealer. I wanted someone who was consistently in saleable possession 24 hours a day, who would show up at my house 10-15 minutes after my call, hand over a bag of stem-and-seed-free hydro in exchange for a reasonable price, smile briefly at me, and go the hell away. At the time, this didn’t seem like too much to ask. I gave up smoking pot long before I ever found anyone remotely close to my ideal, so I still don’t know if such a thing even exists. Perhaps my perfect hippie-incense-and-white-flowers perfume is a similarly imaginary beast. It is also possible that I don’t actually know what I want, as I am ever hooked more on an auto-sensational head trip into the reserves of my own imagination than I am on actual perfume. It would be enough, I think, for something to sufficiently remind me of how it felt to sit alone in my first studio apartment, listening to Led Zeppelin and staring into space, pleasantly overwhelmed by dust particles floating on a beam of sunlight.
While searching for a properly wanton graphic to substitute for actual content until I get my butt into gear, I was drawn into the bawdy world of the “soiled doves,” who were basically wild west hookers. “Soiled doves?” I yelled. “Neat! These are exactly the principles this blog stands for! Maverick promiscuity! Survival by feminine wiles! A powderpuff in a tumbleweed!” Something about the name “soiled dove” struck me as sort of charmingly quaint and a little gross at the same time, a combination I almost always approve of. Upon reading further on the soiled doves of the American West, I learned that the moniker was actually meant to be affectionate. Those were not the most politically correct of times, and “soiled dove” stood as sort of a hat-over-the-heart tribute to the women who dropped everything and followed the gold rush right along with the men, populating the boomtowns and making their fortunes the good old-fashioned way. Since there wasn’t an overabundance of wives around, everyone else was naturally very fond of
the local working girls. While I’m no historian, it strikes me that the wild west was a bit of a free-for-all. The usual moral standards probably weren’t worth their weight in gold dust, especially with everyone so busy mining and gambling and conning and drinking and shooting each other. It’s possible that the soiled doves were the most genteel, wholesome pasttime available at the time. I liked the idea that there was a good time in history to be a hooker.
But this is all just a big, long digression with interesting pictures. My primary interests lie not with the practice of being a wild west hooker itself, but in all the accoutrements that must have been on the cathouse dressing tables. Perfume, powder, lipstick, fake beauty marks; that kind of thing. Having retired from my own stint as a shameless hussy (stripper, not hooker, but who’s keeping tabs?) last year in order to pursue more serious, clothed… pursuits… I find myself not only wistful for all the fake eyelashes and gold highlighting dust and nipple rouge, but in the slightly ludicrous position of wanting it all to mean something. Not even the hours I’ve clocked in prancing around with my shirt off, writhing around under hypnotic blinking lights, and waking up in the mornings to find a dollar bill still firmly adhered to the buttcheek where it had been pasted by a sweaty hand the night prior. I mean the part where I got pretty.
I’ve spent too much time messing around with all the various products designed to raise a woman from her ordinary life into a heightened state of glamour not to have accumulated notions of the critical variety on the topic. Particularly of interest to me is perfume. I first started dabbling with intent during my strip club days. It was interesting to note the responses from various men as well as the women I worked with, but mostly I liked the added aura of subjective personality perfume seemed to project. It wasn’t long before I had a wardrobe of perfume as extensive as my wardrobe of slinky little schmattes that were easy to take off. There were bitchy, incense-heavy perfumes for when I was in no mood to take any shit, sweet florals for my lighthearted party-girl nights, sultry gourmands for the week before my rent was due, and cool, mercenary greens that reminded me to keep my eyes on the prize. It was the best psych-up trick imaginable. Only it wasn’t a trick. It was just perfume. Unlike false eyelashes or glue-on rhinestones, I could use it all the time. When I packed up my boobs and retired from the comfortably seedy fishbowl of the strip club, I kept the perfume obsession. Now it has become something of an olfactory talisman that bridges the gap between the smooth-talking, glitter-encrusted, sore-muscled dervish I once was (or at least pretended to be), and the somewhat tomboyish, rebellious nerd I have been delighted to rediscover.
This blog is about perfume, pioneering, and the call of the wild. Hope you enjoy.