Chimney Sweep

‘Tis a Very Saucy Christmas

This brings new meaning to the term “booth babe.” View Slideshow View Slideshow SAN FRANCISCO – Somehow Victorian England and Christmas have been intertwined in the American mind. This is, arguably, the fault of one Charles Dickens, who wrote A Christmas Carol, the most over-exposed Christmas story ever, and that includes the birth of Christ.

Dickens gets his dues at the annual Great Dickens Christmas Fair and Victorian Holiday Party at San Francisco’s Cow Palace.

The giant hall and exhibit space is filled with sawdust, Victorian tchotchkes and actors willing to indulge in a bit of cockney cosplay. The general public is then invited in to experience olde England while parting with modern American currency.

You might think Charles Dickens and Christmas are the two things American culture hasn’t sexed up, and you’d be blessedly wrong.

The Dickens Fair provides a set of entertainments called “London After Dark.” The diversions are so blatantly, obscenely sexual by Victorian London standards they’d give a governess the vapors from more than 300 yards away. By modern standards that’s somewhere around PG-13.

First on the London After Dark bill was a stop at the storefront run by Dark Garden, a legendary San Francisco custom corset shop.

Few cities could support a handmade corset business – San Francisco demands one. At the fair, Dark Garden boasts an all-volunteer cast of corset models portraying such Victorian archetypes as the “naughty female chimney sweep,” the “naughty female temperance supporter” and the “Scotsman in a corset.”

I asked the owner, Autumn Adamme, if any of the corsets were exact replicas of Dickens-era underwear. She explained that while Victorian-inspired, they were not actually Victorian in design.

To begin with, while Victorian corsets were buttressed with anything from whalebone to cardboard, hers are made with spring steel. Moreover, a Victorian corset would be unlikely to fit a modern human being.

“Women wore corsets from a very young age,” she explained. “So that their bones were a different shape.”

Next up was the French Postcard Tableaux Review. This is so popular, there’s a line to get into the show that’s put on before the show. If you want a decent seat for the saucy stuff, you need to attend the sing-along that precedes it.

I will admit to having gazed upon the female birthday suit. My eyes may have lingered over the odd Frank Frazetta print or pewter Venus of Willendorf amulet. And yet, a special strange feeling comes from watching a man in period garb sing “The Man on the Flying Trapeze,” while waiting to see some skin. I think I would have felt less dirty if I stayed home and spent all evening entering the names of various body parts into Google’s image search.

I needn’t have felt so sordid; the show was less slutty than saucy and sillier than either. The Tableaux Review was framed as a conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Horatio Everhard, with various double-entendres and naughty puns. It was illustrated by models such as a French maid with a peek-a-boo bottom, a pair of topless angels and a group of nymphs and satyrs. If Jim Henson had been into corsetry, this is how the Muppet Show would have ended up.

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