Most of the clubs that I worked at in Chicagoland required dancers to sell advertising merchandise with the club’s info printed on whatever item we were forced to peddle throughout the night. These items included frisbees, t-shirts, hats and foam breasts. This part of the night was called a “feature.” Some clubs did only one feature per night, while other clubs made us do several features during a shift. Each club had it’s own special song, as a signal to the dancers to stop what we were doing, line up at the stage and walk across the stage in a conga line, holding the piece of crap we were forced to sell to the customers. For example, one club plays the song “Girls, Girls Girls” by Motley Crue. I still feel sick to my stomach at the opening of this song’s motorcycle roaring, because it makes me think of breaking my hustle, to line up at the stage and prance across it with everyone, to try to sell a t-shirt and a 2-for-1 lap dance. If we didn’t participate in the feature, we would lose our jobs. Usually there was an evil “house mom” or bouncer lurking around these clubs during the feature, keeping track of the bathrooms to make sure nobody hid in the stalls, nooks and crannies.
Sometimes I did manage to find a good hiding spot and avoid walking across the stage with the item, but I only hid to avoid the humiliation. It didn’t matter if I hid or not; at the end of the night I would still have to pay the club for the t-shirt whether I sold one or not. I usually had a locker full of XL t-shirts with the stupid club logo on them, because I didn’t feel like dealing with the stress of selling a t-shirt. Usually, clubs force dancers to sell a 2-for-1, $20 lap dance along with the t-shirt. That money goes to the club.
Dancers are doing the advertising for the club through the distribution of merchandise, then paying the club money for that merchandise they distributed. In that sense, clubs are getting paid by their unpaid employees to advertise the club. Most other kinds of businesses pay for all of their advertising, rather than being paid to force their employees advertise. Isn’t that fucked up? It is illegal and the only reason it goes on is because strippers have been too uninformed or too afraid to do anything about it, and nobody else cares enough to stop it.
Feature items in the strip club work kind of like a pyramid scheme. Whether we sell the thing or not, it is ours to keep. The clubs don’t take them back, but we always pay. On top of the house fee and tip out, dancers are also forced to pay for the items that they may or may not have sold.
It can be very upsetting to be sitting with a potential client, sweet talking him into buying a vip room, hear the roar of a motorcycle, followed by “girls, girls, girls,” and have to excuse oneself in order to get up and sell a stupid fucking t-shirt. Sometimes, the client isn’t there after the feature is over.
I’ve never met a dancer who likes features. Most of us hate them. I remember one misogynistic bouncer. It was his job to hold our hands to help us up on stage during feature. To each girl who wasn’t smiling (most of us), he would say to us, “SMILE, they’re FREE.” Features weren’t free to us though. They cost time, energy, money and customer attention.
Many customers dislike features as well. They don’t like having a grumpy, stressed out stripper approaching them, trying to hawk a frisbee or whatever. Many men don’t want to bring home something with a strip club logo on it, because they want to keep their visit to the strip club a secret.
At a club I worked at called VIP’s, there were usually a lot more girls than customers. This meant that unless several guys were willing to buy a whole bunch of the same t-shirt, most of us wouldn’t sell one.
All of these features imply that the dancers are employees who deserve back pay, house fees returned and money from those t-shirts. All it takes is a trip down to the labor commissioner to get the ball rolling. Don’t you want to stick it to those foul men who forced you to interrupt your hustle and sell a beanie with your club’s logo embroidered on it?