In a current episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the present’s star and creator, Larry David, casts an appraising eye on Paula, who's turned out in the usual-problem trappings of her commerce.
“Why this outfit?” Mr. David asks benignly. “Why not be healthful?”
Enterprise would possibly decide up, he suggests, if solely Paula, who's sheathed in a merry widow and mesh hose, would commerce up, swapping the drag for one thing extra discreet.
Paula considers, saying brightly after a beat, “O.Okay., animal prints gone. Fishnets out of right here. I feel I can do that.”
The scene is ripe with irony: Paula could also be about to solid off her working lady uniform, however loads of civilians — Beverly Hills matrons and their legislation-abiding like — would fortunately do the reverse, buying and selling their uptight luncheon fits for latex and leather-based, all within the service of favor.
They gained’t have to go looking far for a task mannequin.
That look is dated, for certain, bearing little resemblance to what many prostitutes truly put on, however these photographs have proliferated simply the identical, a typical sight this fall at concert events, on theater screens and in a flurry of luxurious advert campaigns.
Seedily costumed streetwalkers are a magnet to followers of “The Deuce,” about 1970s-period Times Sq. and the rise of its toddler pornography trade. A leather-based-clad vixen grinds her stilettos right into a fleshy male torso in one of many Steven Klein movies on show this month in “Fetish,” an exhibition organized in partnership with Visionaire journal on the venerable Sotheby’s public sale home. And a manga-impressed previous-faculty prostitute, resplendent in shrill fuchsia fur, is among the many vivid points of interest of “Blade Runner 2049.”
The very prevalence of such photographs, overworked as they could be, is a testomony to their sturdiness. It's motive sufficient to look extra intently at a place superior by students and elegance arbiters alike: that the garments we put on, or would possibly prefer to put on, owe a really actual debt to the world’s most historic occupation.
“Style proper now's influenced by hookers,” mentioned Anna Terrazas, the costume designer of “The Deuce.” “It’s not the opposite manner round.” In a sea of eye-numbing conventionality, a maverick look is their signature. For somebody employed on the busy streets, Ms. Terrazas mentioned, “the purpose is to be seen.”
Not a groundbreaking idea, precisely. “There's an untold historical past of the connection between intercourse employees and style,” mentioned Rebecca Arnold, a style historian and lecturer on the Courtauld Institute of Artwork in London. As style’s early adopters, working girls routinely took up what their respectable contemporaries shunned as too showy, tasteless or new.
“The doubtful girl may very well be extra outlandish in her gown, and extra experimental,” Ms. Arnold mentioned. “She is allied with the thought of style as linked, not essentially with the avant-garde, however with the start of latest gown tendencies.”
Among the many extra fashionably progressive had been the grandes horizontales of the 19th century, courtesans like Cora Pearl, a shopper of Charles Price, the period’s first movie star designer; and Catherine Walters (Skittles to her public), riveting on horseback as she paraded via Hyde Park sewn into her using ensembles. Her type was a lot copied by noblewomen of the day.
Extra lately, to listen to it from the prostitutes themselves, down-market variations on that patrician theme have been diminished to a collection of musty clichés.
“Style doesn’t produce an unlimited vary of concepts of what feminine sexuality seems like,” mentioned Annie Sprinkle, a author, intercourse educator and former prostitute. Stereotypes abound, she famous, with the higher echelons of the occupation embodied by the aspirational up-and-comer cloaked in cashmere and silk and the position-play specialist wearing pinstripes or a schoolgirl smock. The extra down-market variations flaunt fishnets, kinky boots, scorching pants, fur chubbies and harnesses.
It’s a visible code courting not less than from the ’70s, tatty and archaic even then. But it's routinely resurrected by prime-tier designers together with Marc Jacobs, John Galliano and Alexander Wang, every gussying up his choices in luxurious materials or in a mash-up of fetish, athletic and navy gear, to tamp down the steamy aggression and make the look palatable to an prosperous clientele.
The gambit works. “Within the disco period, style was impressed by drag queens and prostitutes,” mentioned Tom Fitzgerald, one half of Tom & Lorenzo, an opinionated style weblog. “Style normally is at all times borrowing from avenue put on, and it doesn’t get extra avenue put on than hooker.”
These references, fixtures within the lexicon of favor, are mainstream now. “Is there a selected intercourse employee look anymore?” Mr. Fitzgerald mentioned. “Or does all of it get pulled from the horny pile at Without end 21?”
Like hip-hop and grunge, “the look has been normalized,” he mentioned. “It’s by no means been extra respectable.”
Or apparently extra covetable.
In “The Deuce,” Maggie Gyllenhaal, who performs the prostitute Sweet, swivels her hips in a working-lady wardrobe of brief shorts, skimpy tops and flippantly dirty coats. The actress reminisced the opposite day about her fixation with its centerpiece, a boxy fur chubby, a down-market variation on a famously scandalizing look launched within the ’70s by Yves Saint Laurent, one impressed by the wartime prostitutes of the Rue Saint-Denis.
Seemingly unaware of its provenance, Ms. Gyllenhaal went on, “I wished to put on that jacket in each scene.”
She wasn’t alone. “It grew to become such an iconic piece on the set,” Ms. Terrazas mentioned. “The entire ladies had been, like, ‘I desire a jacket like that.’”
Pop performers prefer to faucet the look as an assertion of energy, typically treading a nice line between proudly owning their sexuality and buying and selling on it. Cardi B, a retired “stripper-ho,” as she boasts, has been accused of glamorizing prostitution. She makes no apology.
Nor does Nicki Minaj, who turned up at a style present this fall carrying lace-up scorching pants, over-the-knee boots and an ermine stole, her picture an echo of Julia Roberts’s pre-makeover turnout in “Fairly Lady.”
And let’s not overlook Lil’ Kim, among the many first performers to make tarty aggression her stylistic inventory in commerce, nonetheless pushing the look on her Instagram feed.
However these stereotypes are sometimes at odds with actuality.
“As an escort I had a uniform,” mentioned Andrea Werhun, a 27-year-previous actress, who chronicles her transient years as an escort in “Modern Whore,” an amalgam of memoir and brief fiction, with provocative pictures by her collaborator Nicole Bazuin.
Her outfit was tame by design. “I often caught to those crop tops and chic A-line skirts or kind-becoming clothes that lined up my physique,” she mentioned. “I wore them with actually cute heels or little boot.”
Ms. Werhun supplied what’s generally known as the girlfriend expertise. “The concept was to look conservative sufficient shopper might take me to dinner,” she mentioned. However she preferred so as to add a single barely risqué be aware. “I at all times wore thigh-excessive stockings,” she mentioned.
On the extra prosperous finish of the spectrum, a prostitute can talk a cold hauteur. Her sort is epitomized by Catherine Deneuve wearing pilgrim sneakers and patent leather-based trench in “Belle de Jour,” or the racy, expensively clad fashions in any variety of Helmut Newton pictures.
The mannequin Binx Walton telegraphs greater than a touch of that slatternly upmarket attract in a Tom Ford fall 2017 eyewear marketing campaign. Sporting little greater than outsize shades, a pumpkin-coloured fur and shiny boots, she components her legs suggestively to disclose a wedge of thigh. A Balmain advert is extra overtly aggressive, the mannequin, predatory in kind-becoming snakeskin and a black patent leather-based, prowling a dimly lit Parisian again avenue.
What’s so compelling about these photographs? They trace, amongst different issues, at invulnerability. “Designers make reference to intercourse employees to speak toughness,” mentioned James Kaliardos, a founding father of Visionaire. There's an understanding, he mentioned, that their shopper could be a mom, instructor or different skilled and nonetheless wish to armor herself in fetish put on.
In an more and more repressive sociopolitical local weather, carrying leather-based and horny lingerie can sign revolt, or a willful identification with the prostitute. It’s a place that has been superior by social critics together with Camille Paglia, whose theories are being revisited by a youthful technology and who in “Vamps & Tramps,” her 1994 assortment of essays, romanticized the prostitute’s outlaw standing.
However for the would-be vamp, tart paraphernalia, now as ever, could merely function props in a efficiency. “A campy, over-the-prime, overtly sexual picture may be a part of a visible fantasyland,” Ms. Arnold mentioned. “It provides girls a manner of shopping for into that thrilling concept of a intercourse employee with out truly having to reside that life.”
Within the early ’90s, Ms. Sprinkle originated her “Sluts and Goddesses” video workshops to encourage her principally typical shoppers to decorate — nicely, the title says all of it. They’d play with the costumes and the archetypes as an train in boosting confidence, and feminist consciousness. “There are loads of political implications, loads of activism to those garments,” Ms. Sprinkle mentioned lately.
In that type of charged context, she mentioned, “a garter belt can pack a wallop.”