My obsession with strippers began in the summer of 2013, when my love of all things ’90s led me to rediscover Showgirls, the universally panned 1995 movie about Nomi Malone, a drifter pole dancer with dreams of making it as a Las Vegas performer. Played by Elizabeth Berkley, Nomi is an unapologetically tacky style goddess in colourful lamé leggings, metallic tiger stripes and fringy cropped leather jackets. She’s determined, overdramatic and generally going for it at all times (shout out to the infamous pool scene in which she bangs Kyle MacLachlan so savagely it’s a miracle he survives). Basically, she’s pop culture’s fiercest, most fluorescent feminist icon.
As a connoisseur of trash-tastic fashion, I channel my inner Nomi as often as I can—on my birthday; during Pride Week; while on vacation in Miami, Vegas or Los Angeles—in other words, in any situation where I can let my freak flag fly. I bust out my butt-baring minis and too-small crop tops. I stop wearing bras. I put on my highest heels, even at the beach. There’s something about dressing like a DGAF stripper that makes me feel totally free and totally me.
And this year, I’m in good company. Sexy stripper motifs appeared on Alexander Wang’s oversized knits for fall. Their trademark acrylic nails have been adopted by celebs such as Kylie Jenner and Lana Del Rey. Strip club imagery appears regularly on T-shirts from New York streetwear label Richardson. NSFW Instagram muses like Zoë Kestan and Cardi B—who has five million followers—continue to dominate our social feeds.
But strippers are more than just fodder for the latest trend report. They are the ultimate feminist paradox. Their job is to undress to music for cash. Which leaves modern-day feminists in the club wondering: are they being exploited or empowered? Are they the pinnacle of female objectification or high-powered entertainers raking in six figures? Am I really an ally to their tight-knit community or is my own obsession just a voyeuristic fetishization of sex workers?
Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and get to know many dancers, including a well-known stripper advocate who told me I could never truly understand their world if I wasn’t one of them. This, of course, is absolutely true. That being said, I continue to be totally inspired by them as women—their body confidence and their brave embrace of their sexuality is something I strive for.
For me, adopting the stripper dress code is the sartorial equivalent of feeling myself. It sets me apart. It’s bold, it’s transparent (literally, as well as figuratively), and it hugs my curves so aggressively that I have no choice but to embrace them. When I put on my Nomi-approved pastel crop tops and PVC skirts, my insecure self disappears.
One of my proudest Nomi-channelling moments happened last New Year’s Eve at—of course—a Vegas strip club. I was in town for a girls’ night with one of my best friends and donned a see-through negligee, leather choker and my favourite platform kitten heels (yes, such things exist) for the occasion. I spent most of the evening chatting with a stripper named Dakota (she was wearing a purple G-string the whole time, in case you’re wondering). We talked for hours about friendships, family and the hustle, and at one point she looked me straight in the eyes and said, “I see a lot of myself in you.” It was the best compliment. She was smart, sassy, talented and sexy. And while I have no grand illusions of being destined for the pole (stripper cred is serious, and believe me, that shit is earned), taking style cues from these unconventional feminist icons has given me courage beyond what I put on in the morning.
My favourite IG meme right now is “be a slut do whatever you want!” I’ve adopted it as a life and style mantra. I worry less about what’s “appropriate” and give myself permission to just be me. There’s something so powerful about a woman embracing the freedom to dress as provocatively as she wants, twerk as hard as she wants and generally be as outlandish as she wants, while throwing up a perfectly manicured middle finger at social convention. Is it trashy? Hell, yes. But it’s also pretty damn boss.
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“Critics nailed Elizabeth Berkley for overacting but it was all on purpose. Director Paul Verhoeven wanted her to be OTT at all times.”