Jenna Jameson, Megan Fox, Pamela Anderson, Brigitte Bardot, Marilynn Monroe, Tiffany Amber Thiessen, Miley Cyrus – iconic female sex symbols then and now. Betty Boop? Not so much. Actually, not at all. For cripes’ sake, she’s older than my grandma. In my mind, Betty is, or was, on the same level Minnie Mouse. Sure, her teeny waist, garter and strapless dress are more provocative than Minnie’s bloomers, but she looks just as juvenile with her giant head and googly-like eyes. Plus, she sounds like a baby – “boop-boop-a-doop!” Blame my age and say I’m not cultured, I had NO IDEA that at the age of 85, Betty Boop is still a sex symbol. You go girl!
For the history geeks out there – Betty made her first debut on August 9, 1930 in the cartoon “Dizzy Dishes”, which was the sixth installment of Fleischer Studios’ Talkartoon. Max Fleischer, obviously the head the Fleischer enterprise, was a vanguard when it came to cartoons. For her first performance, Betty wasn’t even a human. She was a doe-eyed pup dancing in a cabaret of cats, hippopotamuses and gorillas. She was an amalgamation of three real world characters – actress Clara Bow, Harlem night club signer Baby Esther and Helen Kane, another singer who was most famous for “I Want To Be Loved By You.” Betty’s catchphrase, “boop-boop-a-doop“, had a babyish, tender jingle, and helped her wiggle her way to popularity, and when she reached celebrity status, Kane sued Fleischer and Paramount for exploiting her image. She lost the case because it was discovered that she had copied her vocal style from Baby Esther. Scandalous!
Even though she was animated, Betty’s audience were/are mostly adults. It’s easy to assume that her type of dress and demeanor was/are to blame for this, but remember that it was the early 1930s. The Depression was in full swing and her laissez faire nature reminded the struggling population of America’s prolific years not even a decade earlier.
Prior to Betty, female cartoons were merely replicas of their male counterparts with eyelashes, make up, and feminine costumes. With her short dress, décolletage, heels, garter belt and earrings, Betty was a jarring departure from what/who came before her and instantly become a sex symbol. On one episode, Betty Boop’s Bamboo Island, she does the hula wearing nothing but a lei over her breasts. In another, Boop-Oop-a-Doop, she plays a circus performer whose ringmaster follows her inside the tent and threatens her job if she doesn’t submit to him. Betty begs him not to and sings, “Don’t take my boop-oop-a-doop Away.” Use your imagination – I think you know what that means.
Each of Betty’s shorts are nothing more than black and white pen and ink drawing. With the most basic perspective employed, there is a graphic quality to them and the artist’s hand is very evident. As seamsters and seamstresses, we appreciate such a quality, don’t we? The handmade.
With two bra workshops this summer, I’ve lost touch with #thewaysewingusedtobe, so it was such a delight when I checked out the gallery on Instagram last week, and y’all are still posting. Betty Boop is less #thewaysewingusedtobe and more #thewaylingerieusedtobe, but regardelss, keep ‘em coming. I still thoroughly enjoy seeing, learning and discovering the way sewing (and lingerie) used to be. And for fun, check out just some the photos from the hashtag below!
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