The Untold Truth Of Dita Von Teese

Looking like she stepped straight out of time with her vintage style and performances, Dita Von Teese is the burlesque star most often credited with bringing back the art form and modernizing it for current audiences. Performing since 1992 and achieving mainstream recognition in the early 2000s, Von Teese is a multihyphenated star, with her titles including model, writer, fashion & beauty brand mogul, recording artist, actor, and many more. At the core of all these roles, though, is her superstardom as a burlesque performer. Working her way up from gigs at local strip clubs, Dita Von Teese is now the most sought-after and famous burlesque performer, headlining several tours all across the country, performing at events for high-end designers and being "the first guest star in history at Paris' famed Crazy Horse (established in 1951) where she has performed several sold-out runs," according to her official website

Underneath her larger-than-life and glamorous onstage persona, though, is a soft-spoken woman with an unexpected past, strong opinions, and a love for the most peculiar things. Let's dive into the untold truth of Dita Von Teese.

Dita Von Teese's blonde, Midwestern roots

An icon of modern burlesque, Dita Von Teese has a signature look. She is most recognized by her black hair, styled in retro finger waves and often paired with perfect red lips. Her style is inspired by "old-Hollywood style glamour," so she loves clothes that are "very feminine and elegant," as described in her interview with Factio Magazine. What most don't know is that Dita Von Teese's iconic image is one that she carefully crafted.

According to her official website, Von Teese is actually a natural blonde who grew up in a small Midwestern town in Michigan, nowhere near Hollywood. A lover of movie and pin-up stars from the '40s and '50s, Von Teese explained how she had always been fascinated by "the idea of the big Hollywood makeover" in an interview with The Hype Magazine. Like how Rita Hayworth changed her name, dyed her hair red, and got rid of her widow's peak, Dita Von Teese flipped her original look on its head to transform herself into the dark-haired and glamorous modern Queen of Burlesque.

Dita Von Teese's lifelong love of lingerie

Spending decades as a stripper, model, burlesque performer, and more, Dita Von Teese is no stranger to intricate lingerie. But Von Teese's genuine interest in lingerie actually started long before she began her career. Growing up, she always adored "pin-up imagery and vintage lingerie," according to Von Teese's official website. Sneaking peeks at her dad's Playboy magazines, Von Teese dreamed of the day she would be able to get her first gorgeous set of lingerie, with all the strappy garter belts and fancy ribbons, as described by The Orange County Register. When her mom gave her a "pair of wrinkly pantyhose" and "a white, snap-button, cotton garment" as her first bra, the young Von Teese was thoroughly disappointed.

Luckily, the pizza place Von Teese worked at was right next door to a lingerie store, and with her earnings from working, she wandered in to buy her first set. Eventually, she spent so much time there that the lingerie store hired her! In an interview with The Guardian, Von Teese remembers how her father, not understanding her love for the delicate pieces, even kicked her out for it. With such a lifelong love of lingerie, it probably came as no surprise to those around her that Dita Von Teese grew up to work very closely with the garments, from donning them onstage to even having several collaborative lingerie lines.

Dita Von Teese's breakthrough appearance was on the cover of Playboy in 2002

While some stars are lucky to have a breakthrough moment early in their career, others slowly work their way up for years. For Dita Von Teese, it took over a decade of working until she was able to become popular in the mainstream. In an interview with The Orange County Register, Von Teese describes how she got her start after high school as a go-go dancer at raves before she began working at a strip club called Captain Cream's, where she was able to really perfect her burlesque performances. Among other performers in the typical bikinis, Von Teese stood out in her vintage lingerie, eventually growing to headline at different clubs. 

At the start of her career in 1992, she even took advantage of the early days of the Internet and posted her modeling photos on her own website "back when you could only have one picture on a page," according to an interview with The Telegraph. In 2002, after performing burlesque and fetish modeling for years, Dita Von Teese finally made the cover of Playboy magazine and broke through into the mainstream. Getting the stamp of approval by such a recognizable brand also helped her parents finally understand what she had been doing for a decade, with "her father suddenly [having] much more respect for what [she] did." It was a relieving change from the man who had kicked her out in high school for her lingerie collection, as recollected in her interview with The Guardian.

The name "Dita von Teese" was the result of a typo

While the name "Dita Von Teese" seems like the perfect moniker for someone who specializes in performing stripteases, Von Teese's widely branded name is actually the result of a typo! Though her real name, Heather Renée Sweet, also sounds like a fitting name for a burlesque performer, Von Teese started calling herself "Dita" when she was 19 years old, according to her interview with The Hype Magazine. She had seen the actress Dita Parlo in a film and simply loved the name, she recalls in an interview with Vogue

Von Teese had initially wanted to just go by a single name in the same vein as stars like Madonna and Cher but was asked by Playboy to pick a last name when she first worked with them in the early 1990s. Flipping through a phone book, she casually settled on the last name "Von Treese," but when the magazine came out, her name was misspelled as "Von Teese." Even after pointing it out and getting a promise that it would be fixed, Von Teese saw the same typo the next month. Considering that the name was picked at random, she didn't care enough to keep insisting it be fixed, so the name "Dita Von Teese" stuck.

Dita Von Teese's surprising musical debut

Sometimes, when a person comes to fame in whatever avenue they managed to succeed in, they'll suddenly switch gears toward a new dream. But in an interview with Highsnobiety, Dita Von Teese asserts that burlesque was never "a stepping stone to something else," that she did it because she "wanted to be the world's greatest burlesque star since Gypsy Rose Lee." All of her other projects, from her books to fashion lines to acting roles, aligned with who she was. Her musical debut was no exception. 

In 2018, Dita Von Teese surprised many by releasing a self-titled album full of "alluring, sensual, and seductive tracks of softly-delivered talk-singing with a distinctly French feel." The album sound fits her image to a tee, but her attitude toward the project is casual, with Von Teese clarifying that she's not abandoning the burlesque stage for the recording booth. In the interview, she disclaims, "I didn't want to ever come out and say, 'Oh this thing that I did, I wrote these songs ... I would be mortified to speak that way about music myself because I don't know anything about music." But never say never. Talking to The Guardian, she considers singing as an option for later: "Maybe I'll quit striptease at 50. And if I set my mind to it, I might be able to sing live. I'll be like Marlene Dietrich and stand there in front of all my ladies and my gays, in a fabulous beaded dress."

Baring it all onstage had Dita von Teese stressed

In 2016, nearly 25 years after she first started performing stripteases and modeling, a performance at Paris' iconic Crazy Horse burlesque lounge had Dita Von Teese feeling "pretty stressed out," as she confessed in an interview with Vogue. It was the first time that Von Teese agreed to do something she'd never done before: perform "truly buck naked onstage." 

Working with Ali Mahdavi, a director and photographer, the duo designed a burlesque performance that completely bypassed the act of stripping off physical clothes. Instead, for the first time, as described in Vogue, light technology was used to create a "technological striptease," where different costumes were shown on Von Teese's body and the light was manipulated to emulate a classic striptease. For Von Teese, who had spent decades toeing the line of being completely nude, the entire experience brought up "really interesting" feelings.

Dita von Teese likely won't be having children

With a brand and image that is so seemingly dependent on maintaining her "perfect" figure, Dita Von Teese has had many throw their assumptions at her, including ones centered around pregnancy and having children. That's what happened during an interview with The Hype Magazine, when the interviewer questioned whether Von Teese would ever "forfeit" her figure to become pregnant. While it's true that Von Teese has decided against having children, she clarified that her reasons had nothing to do with giving up her figure or anything of that sort. In fact, for most of her life, she was well-prepared to quit burlesque and have children. That was until she looked at the world around her.

For Von Teese, not having children is a "conscientious choice for modern times." The decision is just one way she hopes to help against overpopulation and climate change. Von Teese also wants to "step away from that idea of feeling that it's required," pushing against societal norms and expectations for women to get pregnant. At the same time, though, she isn't entirely against having children herself. Ready to go with the flow with whatever happens, Von Teese imagines it would be quite "fun to navigate" having a child if she ever changes her mind.

Dita Von Teese's marriage to Marilyn Manson ended due to drugs and infidelity

In the early 2000s, Dita Von Teese was in a whirlwind relationship with musician Marilyn Manson. In an interview with The Guardian, she describes the romance as an "artist-muse" relationship between two people who were "birds of a feather in many ways." Unfortunately, things got "dark" toward the second half of the relationship, and after a year of marriage, Von Teese left in 2006 due to Manson's "infidelity and drug abuse."

But nearly 15 years after their marriage ended, Von Teese was compelled to make a public statement about their relationship. As reported in early 2021 by the International Business Times, several women made abuse allegations against Manson, including his ex-fiancée, actress Evan Rachel Wood. In response to public questions over her own well-being, Von Teese expressed appreciation for the concern and clarified that there was no such abuse during her time with Manson. She acknowledged that "abuse of any kind has no place in any relationship" and urged those who have experienced abuse "to take steps to heal and the strength to fully realize" themselves.

Dita von Teese is a real DIY-er

With such a glamorous and luxurious image, it would be easy to imagine Dita Von Teese constantly surrounded by a glam squad that's ready at her beck and call. But as someone who got her start as a one-woman team, Von Teese still likes to stay true to her DIY roots, even after reaching unparalleled success and becoming the Queen of Burlesque. In an interview with The Telegraph, she revealed that she dyes her naturally blonde hair herself with black box dye, and she often does her own makeup for her shows. On her fashion, Von Teese recalls the one time she hired a stylist: "They picked up a pair of my 1940s shoes and said, these would look really cute with jeans. I immediately said you're out of here."

And while she loves getting intricately dolled up for her shows (taking up to three hours to prepare, according to her interview with The Guardian), Von Teese's day-to-day life off the stage is actually quite "low-maintenance." All she needs is her signature red lipstick and a simple hairstyle, and she's ready to take on the day.

It took Dita Von Teese a while to be accepted in the US

Starting off stateside, Dita Von Teese struggled to get mainstream acceptance at the beginning of her career. But when she went to Europe and Australia, she was surprisingly met with a much warmer welcome, as described in her interview with The Hype Magazine. In the UK, she was openly talking about her craft on mainstream shows, and in France, her performances were televised, showing the pasties and G-strings and all. Her contrasting experiences in the US and Europe is ironic considering the fact that burlesque as we know it today — as a cheeky striptease performance — was actually invented in the United States.

According to Von Teese's book, Burlesque and the Art of the Teese (via the Independent), Americans took European burlesque, which was comedic performances filled with political satire and sprinkles of skin, and transformed it into the scandalous striptease in defiance of Prohibition-era modesty laws. This style of burlesque would thrive in 1930s and '40s America, but fast-forward 50 years, and these overtly sensual performances were excluded by popular culture. It wasn't until Dita Von Teese and other neo-Burlesque performers hopped on the scene around the turn of the 21st century, after first making it big in Europe, that the art of burlesque was accepted by the mainstream.

Dita Von Teese's "phobia of white walls"

Dita Von Teese's over-the-top and glamorous stage style spills over into her home décor, as well. Claiming a self-diagnosed "phobia of white walls in houses" in her interview with Architectural Digest, the star's number-one priority when she bought an old Los Angeles home was to go over each white wall with an exciting color or pattern. Also an adamant hater of the color brown, Von Teese transformed the very brown kitchen to a multi-green and rose-gold copper heaven. 

Loyal to her maximalist and retro style, Von Teese's home is decked out in antiques from all over, from a working phonograph found at the Rose Bowl Flea Market to a standing figure lamp discovered on Facebook Marketplace. Another quirky home décor obsession? Taxidermy. The burlesque performer has a huge antique taxidermy collection, which includes her favorite score: a pair of swans that she purchased from eBay.

To Dita von Teese, feminism is all about choice

There are those who would look at Dita Von Teese and declare that what she does is setting back the feminist movement, that burlesque is promoting the objectification of women. In contrast, Von Teese has repeatedly asserted that feminism is about respecting other women's ideals and choices, as she did in her interview with The Hype Magazine. She adopts this attitude when it comes to both her supporters and critics, recognizing and accepting all opinions on what she does for a living, as expressed in her interview with Vogue. Speaking with The Guardian, Von Teese recognizes "that one person's empowerment can be another person's degradation," but ultimately, "it's not for anyone to decide except for the person who's doing it" (via Vogue).

With an audience made up mostly of women, Von Teese sees firsthand how her burlesque performances can inspire others to tap into their own sensuality and build their confidence. So while Dita Von Teese fully respects the opinions of those who hate on what she does, she also proposes an easy solution: "Don't look at it."