Jo Weldon explores the naughty side of fashion history in An Illustrated Memoir of Dressing to Undress.
May 16, 2024 at Laurie Beechman Theatre

Buy tickets HERE.

After an acclaimed run in 2023, Burlesque star, activist and historian Jo Weldon continues exploration into the intersection of fashion and sex work in WHAT I WORE TO WORK, An Illustrated Memoir of Dressing to Undress at The Laurie Beechman Theater (inside West Bank Cafe at 407 West 42nd Street -- at Ninth Avenue, accessible from the A,C,E,N,R,V,F,1,2,3 trains at 42nd Street). Back by popular demand, upcoming performances are Thursdays May 16, & July 11 at 7pm. Tickets are $24 for general admission or $38 for reserved VIP seating. Please note that there is also a $25 food/drink minimum at all performances at this venue. To purchase tickets, visit www.SpinCycleNYC.com.

Prohibition-era New York City harlots, the hetaraie of ancient Greece, the brothel queens of 19th-century New Orleans, the courtesans of 16th century Venice, and many others in the sex work industry throughout history set trends in art, literature, politics, etiquette, and shoes. Yves St Laurent rocked the fashion world in 1971 when he based a line on the style of bad girls of the 1940s. Many of the world’s most celebrated designers, including Versace, Alexander McQueen, and Vivienne Westwood, have all acknowledged their inspirations from the world’s most notorious profession. Even Barbie, who has been dressed as every worker from a dog walker to an astronaut, has her high heels firmly rooted in harlotry.

Jo Weldon’s fascination with the sex industry was aroused long before she started working in it. As an adolescent queer in an oppressively conservative environment, she was drawn to images and lore of erotic laborers. Even though these stories were often intended to discourage impressionable young women from entering the industry, Jo was attracted to their independence, outlaw energy, resistance to sexual shame, and above all, their style.

In WHAT I WORE TO WORK, An Illustrated Memoir of Dressing to Undress, fnd out what happened when this self-described “Fashion Whore-storian” followed the stiletto footsteps of her heroes into an underworld both more mundane and intriguing than expected, and discovered that the costumes and clothing worn in the industry – by strippers, escorts, streetwalkers, and dominatrices – were informed by conflicting desires: their own, their employers’, their clients’, and the law’s.

Jo’s histories of her “work clothes” - and the vivid and insightful dressing room conversations she shared with her peers about the why of what they wore - explore not only her own life in the sex industry, but the lineage of the items themselves, and their influence on the larger world. Her stories about learning how to keep her costumes in line with local blue laws, or the tan line craze of the 80s, or shopping for thigh-high boots pre-internet reveal as much about how women are expected to present themselves as they do about the realities of sex work.

Part illustrated lecture, part memoir, this show touches upon sex worker style iconography in literature, film, and news media, and reveals how sex workers have co-opted oppressive symbols as symbols of identity and resistance. Ultimately, Jo uncovers how sex workers are at the root of fashion itself.

Jo Weldon is an internationally recognized performing arts instructor, essayist, and author of two books, The Burlesque Handbook and Fierce: The History of Leopard Print. Jo has worked as a strip joint stripper, call girl, centerfold, dominatrix, burlesque performer, and more since 1979. She has been a sex workers’ rights activist and advocate since 1994, lobbying at city hall meetings, legislative events, and conferences, including at the United Nations. In 2023 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from GANYC (Guides Association of New York City) in recognition of her activism and contributions to the culture of the city. She is currently a scholar-in-residence at the New York Public Library Center for Research in the Humanities, where she is exploring the intersections of sex work, fashion, and culture. She lives in New York City and the Hudson Valley. http://www.joweldon.com