PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Let's say you're a stripper. Or maybe you just like to wear lavish or fantastical clothes. Filmy things. Sparkly things. Heels high enough to redefine the meaning of high heels.
The thing is, you have very particular needs. A certain slinkiness, obviously. But whimsicality doesn't hurt, either. As it turns out, there are plenty of ways to dress in order to undress for success.
"People like the fantasy stuff," said Rosie Patterson, who has come to know a thing or two about the subject. "One girl wanted to dress like a U.S. Marine, and sailor suits are popular, especially during Rose Festival. Wonder Woman is popular, too. Although everything is generally more low-cut, or high-cut, than the original."
The aspiring stripper should also consider her outfit's durability.
"It's best to use stretch fabrics, so they hold up better," said Gina Patterson, who is Rosie's mother. "These outfits have to hold up better than everyday gowns. Because they go on and off so much more."
This is the wisdom known to women who produce stripper outfits for a living. Which is what Rosie and Gina Patterson do at the Brass Pole, the stripper-themed boutique they own and operate in Southeast Portland. And while it may surprise some to learn such a shop exists, it should be more surprising to realize that a city that boasts something like 50 strip clubs (more per capita than any other in the United States) has only one shop geared toward satisfying the dancers' clothing needs.
And if some dancers order off-the-rack outfits from catalogues, the Brass Pole's product line isn't just any stripper gear. Many of the garments the Pattersons sell are custom-designed (by Rosie) and then sewn (by Gina) according to each client's needs. And while the staggered economy may wreak havoc on virtually every other sector of the marketplace, the need for up-market stripper wear remains remarkably inelastic. And not just with professional dancers, either.
"We get couples, people shopping for bachelor or bachelorette parties, it's a pretty diverse crowd," Rosie Patterson said. "Nothing's shocking anymore. Everyone in Portland has their own unique style."
For the longest time Gina Patterson's style was to sew clothing people tended to wear for more extended periods of time. An unassuming Vancouver mom, she turned her seamstress skills mostly toward Halloween costumes. She branched out a bit when her daughter started figure skating. As word of her talents spread she fielded requests for all kinds of specialized costumes, suits and garments: Salsa dancers, ballroom dancers, everyone has their specific needs. So Gina Patterson didn't think twice when a woman called asking for some low-cut dresses with enough give for dancing.
"The first few outfits were pretty summery," she remembered. "But then they got a bit more risque."
Eventually, the woman told Gina what kind of dancing she was doing in the dresses.
"I was like, 'Oh, wow. OK.' It wasn't exactly a shock."
That was in 2003. It wasn't long before the woman told her colleagues about her seamstress, and soon they started calling, too. Not long after that Gina Patterson began taking her wares directly to the clubs, going backstage to show the dancers what she had already made, and to take measurements for the gowns they wanted for themselves. Though she wasn't an aficionado of the stripper's art, it turned out she had a talent for producing what they needed.
"I like doing the high-glitz costumes," she said. "So then I was doing Marilyn Monroe-style outfits. Then some Dallas Cowboy cheerleader costumes. All women like to have pretty things that feel good. And they don't want to wear the same thing everyone else is."
The business continued to grow. Rosie Patterson, who had long harbored a passion for fashion and design, got involved, sketching patterns and visiting clubs to spread the word. By the fall of 2007 the mother-daughter team were so busy they decided to move the business from the family's Vancouver home to an actual storefront in Portland.
The Brass Pole, across the street from the Oregon Ballet Theatre's headquarters, serves as a one-stop shop of a sort. The Pattersons' handmade costumes — flimsy dresses, cheerleader costumes and lacy underwear — are displayed along with commercially produced garters, platform heels and fishnet stockings. And they're not just for dancers.
"People are so open about their sexuality now," Rosie Patterson said. "I know it used to be hush-hush, but now you hear about it everywhere in Portland." Particularly when it comes to the women who frequent their shop.
"Sometimes I want to bring earmuffs so Mom doesn't hear what they talk about," she confessed. No matter, the Pattersons consider a lot of their clients to be friends.
"I've met some really nice ladies who are smart as can be and work really hard," Gina Patterson said. "They're working themselves through school, or are taking care of their kids. And the owners are nice, too. When I come to visit they always make sure to walk me in and out, so I've never had a bad situation."
And what do their nonstripping friends and family think?
"I've had a few older friends who haven't been so cool with it, but that's life," Gina Patterson said. "My husband is fine with it. But he's all male, so what do you want me to say?"
(Copyright 2009 The Associated Press)