In the Closet: Paula the Swedish Housewife

Burlesque performer Paula the Swedish Housewife in blue pasties and satin gloves, poses for photographer Don Spiro, with blue chandelier earrings dangling from her ears.

Chandeliers Swinging from Paula. Photo by Don Spiro

by Jo Weldon, Headmistress of The New York School of Burlesque

This article originally appeared in Burlesque Daily on July 22, 2007

What is your name, and what is your area of interest in burlesque? 

I am known as Paula The Swedish Housewife, Ginger! and a few other persona as well. I currently reside in Seattle, Washington where I produce a weekly burlesque show, as well as several one offs a year. I co-founded Seattle’s first live burlesque band Orchestra L’Pow! with Dain Hudson in ’06, I have produced the Exotic World Meet and Greets (Friday night reunions) for the last 3 years and the last two The Miss Exotic World Pageants. I have been performing Burlesque for over 6 years, but have been performing in cabaret for more than 25 years. I am a great fan of burlesque and go see shows in every city and country I can.

Are you an organized person?

Not really.

The shelves of Paula the Swedish Housewife's Closet, packed with headpieces and hats and lots of pieces made up of feathers.

Paula the Swedish Housewife’s Closet. Photo by Jo Weldon

Do you make your own costumes? If so, where do you sew?
I make some of my costumes, mostly the head pieces, hats, and props. I do a lot of the embellishing on my own and I like to hand stitch. I have have a few people with whom I work on my costumes; Mark Mitchell, Kim Larsen, Magda, Misty Stevens, and Jamie Von Stratton. I hope to have Grant Phillpo make a creation for me. I create the concepts and like to be part of the design process which I am sure drives them nuts!. I used to sew my own clothes as a child and made a lot of costumes for myself up till I was a teen. I am not the best stitcher in the world so I prefer to leave that to someone more patient than myself. I make my things at home in my living room, kitchen or garden. I buy a lot of vintage costume pieces as well.

Did you have costumes before you started doing burlesque? How did you store them? Is that the same way you store them now? 
I have had costumes since I was a toddler and my skills of storing them are probably on par with that of a toddler… well actually I have gotten a little better. When I lived above the Pyramid Club on Ave A in NYC with up to 8 roommates yes… 8 !! We had a costume room where we would fall in and suit our selves up for the evening’s assignments.

Do you keep your costumes separate from your clothing?
I try. Sometimes it is hard to decide what really goes where. So much of how I dress is a uniform or a “costume” for the right occasion.

How often do you use your costumes?
At least weekly and sometimes twice in a day!

How much of your house is taken up by your costumes? How much of your storage space (closets, garage, attic, other) is taken up?
3/4 of my three bedroom house and attic. I also have a storage locker…. I know I have an issue……. is there a 12 step program I should consider?How has your storage system evolved?
According to necessity. It is so irritating to have all the right things and not be able to find them. Makes me want to throw everything out when I can’t find the “perfect” thing for the latest harebrained idea I have.

Scott Ewalt presents a new beaded headdress to burlesque performer Paula the Swedish Housewife.

Scott Ewalt presents a new headdress. Photo by Jo Weldon

Does anybody in your life (roommate, sig other) complain about the volume of costumes? If so what do they say? If not, do they seem to enjoy them being around?
My daughter just shrugs her shoulders at me. The glitter is what gets out of control–just ask my employers, friends, pets, and grocery clerk.

Do you ever swear you’re going to get rid of something and then not get rid of it? Why or why not?
Yes! I might need it!

Do you worry about your costumes getting destroyed because of storage problems?

Burlesque performer Paula the Swedish Housewife's closet rack is stuffed with gowns and robes and dresses.

Paula’s rack. Photo by Jo Weldon

Do you use various pieces with various costumes, or are all the pieces of each costume dedicated? Do you ever wear them out, or do you use them only for the stage? 
I try to keep my costumes dedicated to one act. It has been a problem many times when I have borrowed a piece from one costume for another costume and when I need it for the original act I cant find it, as I did not out it back where it originally belonged. This has always happened when I have 5 minutes to get ready. I mostly mix up my shoes with other costumes, but for some of my acts the shoes are so distinctive that they really can’t be used for anything else.

How would you store them in a perfect world? 
In a 1500 square foot walk in closet/ dressing room with mirrors and great lighting arranged by color, persona, and season, and with enough shoe and hat shelving to see all my shoes and hats at once!

Jo Weldon is the Headmistress and Founder of the New York School of Burlesque, and is one of the most recognized burlesque instructors in the world. She is the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Burlesque Handbook, with a foreword by Margaret Cho, (HarperCollins/ItBooks), the first book ever published on how to create burlesque routines.

Paula the Swedish Housewife is a performer, producer, educator and overall highly accomplished person. Read all about Paula the Swedish Housewife.

All photographs in this piece are copyright protected and used here with express permission for Burlesque Beat. Please respect copyrights and do not use photographs without obtaining explicit permission. 


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