(Un)dress To Impress

At Cirque Rouge it’s all about attire and the art of taking it off

Top Stories | Binu Starnegg | December 2013 / January 2014

For retro-themed ambiance, Vienna has few rivals, being somewhat Vintage itself: elegantly decrepit fin-de-siècle decadence still saturates the very walls of the manifold venues presenting themselves.

One of them is the Volkstheater’s Rote Bar, home of the burlesque carnival Cirque Rouge, a celebration of vaudeville and cabaret culture taking place every few months.

Setting it apart is its dedication to recreating a first-half of the 20th century atmosphere- albeit updated for modern tastes.

The dress code dictating ‘20s to ‘50s dress is fastidiously followed, but the many tattoos and preference on the main floor for the eminently more danceable ‘50s over the more authentic jazz do belie it’s contemporary nature.

Halloween and Fasching only come once a year, but Cirque Rouge gives you plenty of occasions to dress up in jazz-age finery.

Suspenders of disbelief

The entire illusion rests on period costumes; the few attendees in anachronistic modern garb are generally shunned for ruining the mood. Here, women can fully deploy their ability to accessorize, often going to great pains in recreating

historical hairstyles, make-up and outfits; there’s even a styling corner for those seeking to touch up their war paint – or learn new old techniques.

The most popular categories are flapper and bobby soxer, their slinky dresses and poodle skirts dominating the scene, interspersed by the occasional vamp in an ankle-length evening gown and the rare Marlene Dietrich top hat-and-tails.

Men are far less imaginative, generally taking "vintage" to mean "suspenders and fedora", nearly all displaying some variation of the mobster archetype although a few individualists come in tuxedo or in old army/navy uniforms.


Burlesque is more

Of course, the pièce de résistance and reason for the high cover charge (€25 at the door) are the neo-burlesque performances: shortly before midnight, the red bar fills to the bursting point as the music swells to a crescendo and the first exotic dancer prances onto the stage all sequins and feathers.

Unlike modern striptease, nudity is merely a means to an end: risqué titillations. It is far more the journey than the destination that counts.

Interestingly, nearly all the howls and wolf-whistles come from the females in the audience, the males being too self-conscious and uncertain on how to react in this post-feminist environment, content to ogle in silence.


All about Eve

Cirque Rouge, like neo-burlesque in general, has succeeded in transforming the previously masculine domain of cabaret into an empowering girls-night-out.

Anyone believing this to be a throwback to the musty, smoke-filled nightclubs of the 30’s would be sorely mistaken.

The ladies command the Majority, have the better costume options, and are the ones whipping the rhinestone amazons on stage to new heights; the gents are reduced to arm candy, some even banding together in small groups for protection.

An elderly gentleman in a tuxedo (old enough to have experienced the real thing) twirling a girl young enough to be his granddaughter (hopefully she is) around the jazz-oriented second dance floor demonstrates the way ahead for the awkward sex: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Other articles from this issue

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    In The Hired Man, Scottish-born Aminatta Forna reveals the pains of readjustment behind Croatia’s seeming summer idyll
    TVR Books | Ana Tajder
  • A Tiny Brain is Grown

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    Top Stories | Alice Miller
  • In Praise of Concrete

    As a city well known for its gothic and baroque churches, Vienna also has houses of worship cast in concrete and steel
    On The Town | Duncan J D Smith
  • God and the Devil in the Details

    The busy worlds depicted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder are brimming with life and questions
    Top Stories | Alice Miller
  • All articles from this issue

    the vienna review December 2013 / January 2014