Sure to have stripped any piece of latex clothing off her body had she ever worn it in her act, infamous San Francisco topless dancer Carol Doda died this week at the age of 78. And though certainly famous for being one of the first strippers to ‘go topless’ (and a few years later bottomless as well) Doda’s infamy-not to mention her famous augmentation-might not have ‘grown’ if not for a famous piece of clothing created by an equally famous fashion designer.
As of 1964, the year Carol Doda first appeared topless at San Francisco’s Condor Club, she had been performing her act dancing atop a piano lowered from the ceiling of the club, but never nude in any real sense. That particular night in ‘64 the club’s P.R. man Davy Rosenberg handed Doda a Rudi Gernreich ‘monokini’…and history was made. Seeing as the swimsuit in question renders the upper torso of the wearer basically bare-save a few straps-Doda became one of the first strippers to dance topless in the U.S.; when she enhanced her bust by silicon injection, gaining her new attributes the labels “twin 44s” and “the new Twin Peaks of San Francisco” she gained international fame.
Rudolf Gernreich is considered one of the premier avant-garde fashion designers and certainly a leading light of alternative couture from the 60’s. Beyond just his monokini, he was the first to use cut-outs, vinyl, and plastic in his creations and costumes. He designed the first thong swimsuit, in 1966 produced the first fashion video, Basic Black: William Claxton w/ Peggy Moffitt and in the same year broke a fashion rule by singing a contract with Montgomery Ward as the first name designee to sell to a chain store.
As with so many people who make a mark in history, in American fashion as well as other disciplines, there are layers to the story we don’t always get to explore. This seems true of the journey of Carol Doda and when we consider how her path crossed with Rudi Gernreich who was contributing to the sexual revolution from his own work.