The New York Burlesque Festival Girl from 2003

I had the honor of being accepted and performing at four burlesque festivals last year. It was thrilling and exciting, though I learned a lot along the way. Now festival season is upon us again.

Whether you’re a performer or just an admirer, here’s my virgin’s guide to a burlesque festival:

Comfortable Shoes

This is first because I’m pretty sure it’s the one that gets forgotten the most. While glitzy and glamorous is the MO of a festival, if you’re planning on exploring the city at all or taking workshops, you’ll want to save your fancy shoes for the shows and wear something a little more walkable during the day.

Uncomfortable but Gorgeous Shoes

Of course. Over the top, drag queen style fashion rules at burlesque festivals. There are generally two types. The glitzy, sequin, rhinestone people and the true to form vintage-philes. Either is acceptable, and even sometimes interchangeable. If you don’t want to spend a fortune on shoes, there are several DIY options to rhinestone or glitter some cheap pumps.

Condoms or Contraceptives

Part of the reason people want to go to a festival that is implicitly adult is the promise of getting laid. Yes, there are lots of crazy parties, not all of them inherently sexual, but be prepared if you want to get lucky. You don’t want to take home more than just memories from your trip.


Nights are late and, if you plan on workshops or classes, mornings are all too early. Bring your favorite caffeinated beverage to keep going. You can sleep after the fest.


This one sounds rather grandmotherly, but I cannot tell you how many times a granola bar or pack of almonds saved my life during a long day of workshopping or just shopping. You’ll be going all day and sometimes often don’t have time for full meals, so a little sustenance goes a long way.

Work Out Clothes

Most workshopping activities should or can be done in work out clothes. While you will see several women in full hair, make up and dress all day long, I find it’s easier to save the nights for fanciness and the day for a little comfort, especially if you’re taking movement classes. One exception, Vegas for Miss Exotic World/Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend. At Vegas, you might want to just wear falsies and glitter all the time.

At Least One Stunning Dress or Outfit

Like above for shoes, make sure you have at least one really fabulous dress or outfit to wear to the big Saturday night show.

False eyelashes, glitter, hairspray

This is pretty self-explanatory. You’re going to a show, and not just a show, one where lots of people have traveled to perform at. So be sure to be over the top or at least put together. If you’re totally hair challenged, it’s perfectly acceptable to wear a wig, or two or three for the weekend.


There will be lots of vendors, many of whom will only take cash or cards for over a certain amount. Be kind to these small businesses and pay in cash if you can.

Strong Constitution

There will be alcohol, lots of alcohol. If you’re performing, please only have one drink before you go on. You can get wasted at the after-party. Nothing says unprofessional like the one drunk girl on stage who traveled three states away to perform. If you’re in the audience, please get drunk, tip your bartenders, and be as loud as possible (as long as the act deserves it). If you don’t drink, be prepared to be surrounded by drinks and drugs before you go.


This is another that should go without saying, but unfortunately, I find it’s the one that gets pushed aside the most. Whether you’re performing or just an observer, respect the other performers, vendors, and festival goers. The community of burlesque is generally very warm and inviting to all body types, sexual orientations and people of all stripes. We get soccer moms as well as the circus freaks. But sometimes in the bustle of a festival, people forget how to act kind. Don’t be that guy. If you start to feel tension from others, just smile!

Above all Have a Blast! You’re there to revel in the glitter and pageantry, meet new people and see wonderful performances.

Are you a festival goer (burlesque, music or cons)? What are your survival must-haves?

Comments (1)

  1. Reply

    I’d add business cards to this list! I never travel anywhere without business cards and my business card HOLDER so that I can collect.

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