Dress Tiara the Merch Girl! On Challenging Burlesque Aesthetics

The lovely Tiara the Merch Girl in a red dress and with a red flower in her hair.

Dear Threadbared readers and friends,

I am Tiara the Merch Girl, emerging performance artist based in Brisbane, Australia. A lot of my work (videos here) combine burlesque and physical theatre with themes of politics, race, cultural appropriation, personal stories, and queer culture. I am known within the local burlesque scene (and internationally) mainly for my highly politically charged blog, being one of a few minorities in Australian burlesque, combining social issues with performance, and for being something of a rabble-rouser because I don’t tend to fit in with conventional/mainstream burlesque and speak up against injustices.

I have somehow been shortlisted to compete in the Queensland heats of Miss Burlesque Australia, organised by Jac Bowie Productions, the biggest production name in Australian burlesque. Their style is usually more glam, glitz, classical burlesque, close to Dita von Teese – and completely opposite my more indie aesthetic. It’s much like having a punk in a beauty pageant. This competition is a Very Big Deal in the local burlesque scene, so to even be selected to compete is very remarkable – especially when you’re known for being quite the iconoclast!

I’ve just learnt that part of the Miss Burlesque Australia state heats involves an Elegant Evening Parade, and they’re sharing links to websites for prom dresses and rockabilly dresses on their Facebook profile.

I’m already going in there as the “punk kid in sneakers” – the misfit, outsider, underdog amongst the mostly classically gorgeous QLD set who have no issues fitting conventional beauty standards, or even fitting the “vintage” beauty style. They’re all really good, and all deserve to win, but at the same time have a bigger advantage in that they fit the ideals of burlesque (according to this producer) about a zillion times better than I do.

And honestly, while some rockabilly/vintage dresses are cute, I don’t want to look like every other person in the pageant. If I am going to drop close to $200 on an outfit, I would like to support an emerging designer, and also use the opportunity to bend expectations and show a different idea of an “elegant” or “ideal” woman.

Since I’m already going to be the weirdo (by virtue of existing, never mind the actual routines I’m doing), I figure that I might as well make the best of the fashion parade and use it as another avenue to encourage ethical diverse style. And to do that, I’d like to work with some indie, emerging, up & coming designers who can put a unique spin on Elegant Burlesque Eveningwear and would love to see their outfits on a pretty major event.

I want to support upcoming designers with a unique vision; anyone who can dress an unconventional brown plus-size person with a very non-traditional sense of style would be great to showcase! The sort of person that would read Threadbared is exactly the sort of person I want to work with.

If you are an emerging fashion designer, clothesmaker, hobbyist, better at textiles than I am, hell even just a great reconstructionist or shopper, and you’d like to create/suggest an interesting and unique Evening Wear piece for a similarly unique, non-conventional performer, get in touch! My email is me[at]themerchgirl[dot]net.

I’m happy to work with anyone from anywhere. I could contribute some money to the project. Wherever I can, I will promote your name and your work. I do have stacks of vintage Malaysian fashion mags so we can work from there as inspiration if you like. Participating in this pageant means showcasing your work to a strong committed audience in Queensland, some major names in Australian burlesque, promo from me anywhere I can fit you, and possibly some media controversy (if I can garner them ;D)

The QLD event is in end July; I’m not sure if or when we need to submit our outfits. I do know we need to submit our music about 2 weeks beforehand.

Genderplay, dapper-queer, vintage Asian, Goth, punk, any alternative vision of “evening wear” – let’s experiment. Make fashion interesting. Even if just for one night.

Dress the punk kid at the beauty pageant with sneakers. Give her an outfit that will kick ass.

Hailing from Malaysia and currently based in Brisbane, Australia, Tiara is a prolific writer and performer examining the conventions and challenges of burlesque performance and its aesthetics. The following are some links to some representative essays.

On Burlesque and Race
Who’s A Pretty Burlesque Princess Now? (On Burlesque and Beauty Standards)
Can Burlesque Change the World?
On Halal Burlesque (Or, on how burlesque and Islam can comingle)
On Burlesque, Stripping, and Sex Work
Rocky Horror Picture Show as a Political Act
A Direct Example of “Insulting and Derogatory” Burlesque

These are a trilogy of posts about the rockabilly and corsets aesthetic, so common to burlesque, and its limitations:

Burlesque Aesthetics and Being a Freak
The Point Isn’t Tightlacing
The Banana Skirt Metaphor

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3 Comments

Filed under (AD)DRESSING GENDER & SEXUALITY, FASHIONING RACE, ON BEAUTY

3 responses to “Dress Tiara the Merch Girl! On Challenging Burlesque Aesthetics

  1. major update: My heat’s been moved up to the 10th of July! @_@

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