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Dita von Teese: How to be sexy in Silicon Valley

Author: Maghan McDowell
Publish Date: 

“there’s a tension between being seen in a sexy way and in a professional way.” Do you think you can be taken seriously if you are seen as sexy?

Von Teese: Oh absolutely, I think women are more positioned than ever to change the way people think about that. It might be different for my perception because I’ve always been in a sexy industry, from working in a lingerie store when I was a teenager and through my 20s to creating pinups and obviously for creating these burlesque shows. So I’d hate to be presumptuous and speak for all women in their workplace.

But I like the idea of with something like lingerie, for instance, you can be whoever you want underneath your clothes.

Even though I perform striptease and pose for pinups, I am very conscious about what I wear. I don’t wear miniskirts. I am very conscientious about what I think is proper etiquette, and when there’s a time and a place for things. I guess that’s really what it’s all about — knowing what the right time is and balancing it out.

Can one be sexy in the workplace? Is there a place for that?

When you really understand what it means to be sexy, absolutely. For me, I believe sexy is not about how much skin you’re showing or what you’re saying or doing, it’s usually about how much skin you’re not showing and what you’re not saying.

Sexiness is not about breaking standards or going against what people normally do. Sexy is about your state of being and the way that you are. It’s about confidence and has nothing to do with how much cleavage or leg you’re showing. That’s completely missing the whole point of what it is to be sexy.

So what would you wear to a business meeting?

I tend to go for black because I think it puts the emphasis on what you’re saying and your face and who you are as a person. I tend to go for simplicity and classic elegance. I like clothes that are created in an elegant and feminine silhouette, but again I always keep my hemlines just below the knee, not just because I think it’s proper but because I think it’s more elegant and creates more beautiful lines in a hemline — for me, anyway.

It’s one of the things I love about the 40s silhouette; it’s a womanly femme fatale who can be strong and commanding but at the same time, it’s elegant.

Is that your primary era?

I think so, mostly for the shape. It was a great time for shape and for beauty as well. The red lips and classic hair styles.

Do you ever get bored with having one era and red lip?

But I don’t have one era and I don’t have one red lip. Even though I collect clothing from the 1930s to the 1960s, I still wear a lot of modern designers. A third of my wardrobe is designers who have obsessions with those eras. And with the red lip, I don’t just, you know, wear red; I have, like, 50 shades of red. There’s fuscia; there’s burgundy; there’s orange. What I like isn’t red lips. It’s vibrant lips. It’s vibrant colors – like rose petal colors on lips.

Let’s talk about “the natural look.” You’ve talked about how some men say they prefer it. Thoughts?

My first thought — I don’t give a shit what men like. That’s not what sexy is about. Sexy is about doing what makes you feel good about yourself. So throw out the window anything that you are doing that is because men like it. People also say you should wear vanilla fragrance because men like it. Well guess what? Men also like bacon. That doesn’t mean you should go around wearing bacon-scented perfume.

So, anyway. The natural look. Every Halloween I wear a blond wig, I have my red nail polish taken off and I have a French manicure, and I do all the shading and bronzer and lip gloss and beige lip liner and the jeans and the socks and the shoes and the scarfy thing, and all the stuff that casual girls do. It’s so much work.

It’s so many more things to put on, like laying on the floor to zip up those tight jeans. Then you wash off all that natural makeup and you have a pool of beige. And meanwhile, usually on most days, the extent of my beauty routine is my hair in a simple chignon, powder, mascara, lipstick, maybe a little bit of brows, and I zip the dress up the back. And I go. I don’t know. I think people should do what they like to do, of course, but for me, this is what works for me.

If someone was a little timid about having too much glamour, what baby steps would you recommend?

Well, I’m definitely an advocate for lingerie. It’s a great way to have a little bit of beauty and glamour in your everyday life. Now there are some many options that you don’t have to sacrifice fit and function for beauty. You can have whatever personality you want under your cloths. Whatever you wear to work, you can have an alter ego under your clothes with lingerie.

Tell me about your lingerie collection.

I have a big collection of vintage lingerie, and there’s a lot of influence taken from that. But always, my aim is to find ways to make it functional and wearable for everyday life, so how do you bring those feminine, classic details into a modern, wearable bra?

And then I have a big library of vintage lingerie catalogs from the 1930s to the 1960s and there’s a lot I take from that. Creating my fantasy lingerie pieces based on designs and sketches that are long lost.

When people ask if you have boyfriend, how do you respond?

It depends. I’m always truthful, you know, because I wouldn’t have a boyfriend if I didn’t want to be with that boyfriend. I think I’ve definitely before said I have a boyfriend when I didn’t, just to, you know… [Laughs.] Doesn’t everyone?

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