Dainty Smith seems to love the stage and we love seeing Dainty up there. She is a talented performer, actress and writer working hard in the city of Toronto.
I had never seen a woman of colour perform burlesque before Dainty. That sort of visibility makes way for possibility and healing. This, once isolated, woman of colour can attest to that. While the images of Dainty are stunning and stylish, I loved hearing about the thought process behind her work and life most of all. To people of colour, self love can often feel unattainable and sometimes these words on screen might be all we have. Today I have Dainty and I will quote her by saying “I’m not quite sure what bravery looks like exactly but what I think it means is continuing”
So I do.
How does being a woman of colour inform your style?
As a woman of colour, glamour has alway been deeply significant to me. I have always loved the ritual of getting dressed, the importance of taking time to care for myself. With body lotions and hair oils,make up and putting an outfit together.
It is an act of self love and self worship.
And in a world that sets European ideals of beauty as the standard, it is more than necessary.
You sell vintage clothes online–what do you love about vintage and how did you get into it?
I have a deep sense of nostalgia for a time I wasn’t actually alive for really. I love the look, feel and style of fashion from the 1920’s to the 1950’s. The pencil skirts, round toe pumps, red lipstick, hats, lace, gloves, drop waist dresses, head bands. It was all so elegant and for women, it was daring. There was so much change happening for women, economically, in the work place, the house hold, in the ways they felt about their bodies. I fell into vintage accidentally, I was working in retail in big box stores and felt so unfulfilled. When I started working at vintage shops, there was creativity and expression which I thought was fantastic. For the last two years I was working in a wonderful vintage shop in Kensington Market called Vibes. I wanted to sell my own pieces so I started my own online shop with a facebook page, called Dainty’s Closet Vintage. I wanted to connect my aesthetic vision and fashion sense to others, especially women of colour and different body sizes and shapes.
Style and glamour should be accessible for everyone.
What does femme mean to you?
Well, I could write a whole novel, a dissertation on what being a femme means to me! But to keep it simple: femme is unapologetic, femme is fearless and worried, tough and tender, femme is survivorship, warriorship,
femme is defiance, femme is the deepest red lipstick.
You are quite active in the queer community in Toronto, as an organizer and performer
–what motivates you to do that kind of work?
My motivation is to tell stories, to connect with others. To be honest, to be brave.
And I’m not quite sure what bravery looks like exactly but what I think it means is continuing.
I hope to tell stories that carry weight, that are meaningful, that matter, that connects strangers to each other.
And maybe realize that we’re all strange and vulnerable and life doesn’t have to be so lonely and we can all continue.
My only exposure to burlesque had been in Alberta and maybe that’s why I always associated it with white women, especially after the popularity of Dita Von Teese or whatever. Seeing you perform was pretty mind blowing. Plus, you are mega talented. Did you have any women of colour to inspire and motivate you? How did it come together?
I was inspired by Josephine Baker. I really think Josephine Baker is the patron saint of all burlesque performers of colour. She helped me realize that I could be beautiful and desirable. Women like Josephine Baker, Eartha Kitt, Dorothy Dandrige, Lena Horne are my Sheroes. I thought I was only going to be a writer before I became a burlesque performer. But I remember seeing a lot of drag kings and masculine presenting people on stage at the time and being asked to be the sexy girl or back up dancer to their performances. That didn’t feel right to my spirit , it didn’t feel right for me as a feminist.
I decided to take up space and to be sexy and be on stage on my own terms.
Who are your style icons (past and present)?
My style icons are really still my sheroes , Josephine Baker, Eartha Kitt, Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne. Also I grew up in the church, so I would say my style icons are also older black women and my mom who always says she’s being sexy for Jesus. Little old church ladies have style and attitude for days! They are tough old birds! They don’t care what anybody thinks, they wear whatever they hell they want and they make it look good.
The best accessory is red lipstick. The redder the better.
I’ve noticed that you often post quotes on social media that tend to be beautifully inspirational. Do you want to share something that has resonated with you lately?
What’s been resonating for me lately is something Maya Angelou said: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style”
Questions by KC
Photos by Vivek Shraya