Eleven years ago, Terasa Gilliam was living a double life.
By day, she worked in a cubicle at an insurance company. At night, she hosted sex-toy parties out in the suburbs—think at-home Tupperware parties where more demure women could buy a vibrator without having to go out in public.
When her employers found out about her side gig, they issued her an ultimatum—stop selling vibrators and have a real career, or lose her job.
So she quit the company.
"I couldn't stop doing the one thing that was my outlet," she says, "the part of my life that made me happy."
It was a risky move, given that she was raising two daughters on her own, and the business of selling sex toys to suburban housewives wasn't booming quite as big here as it was back in her hometown of Klamath Falls. But it ended up paying off. It led Gilliam into a new line of work—making clothes for strippers.
"Clothes for strippers" might read like an oxymoron. But stripping requires a work wardrobe far broader than that of a typical office drone. Most strippers peel off three outfits per night. And yet, for a city famous for its strip clubs, there was a curious lack of designers appealing specifically to their employees. If a dancer wants to buy off the rack, her options were basically Forever 21, a novelty shop like Spartacus, or Amazon. So in 2009, Gilliam started FSO—For Strippers Only.
Operating out of a tiny workshop in Industrial Southeast, Gilliam, 48, makes every piece by hand, down to the last marigold-colored thong.
The name of her business is something of a misnomer—it's not stripper-exclusive. She also makes costumes for cosplayers and vacation-ready bikinis. But watching her light up as she recalls past customer interactions, it's not hard to tell who her favorite patrons are.
"I get to just be myself with strippers," she says. "I love being around their confidence."
Inside her modest workshop-boutique, there are two sewing machines and a rack holding rolls of fabrics. Reggae is the background music of choice. A couple-dozen ready-to-wear pieces hang above a table where she also sells goods made by local strippers, like Rose Moon Ritual Tigress CBD balm for pole-induced aches and bruises, handcrafted by one of the strippers at Acropolis.
"I left Klamath Falls because I didn't want to marry 'Jethro' and live on a farm," says Gilliam, sitting at her work desk in a chic black jumpsuit and cheetah-print platforms. "I've always been very sex-positive and I love helping 'normal' women feel empowered to embrace their sexuality."
After quitting her insurance job, Gilliam first started working at Cathie's Lingerie & Novelties (now Cindie's) at Southeast 82nd Avenue and Powell Boulevard, which happens to boast one of the largest selections of stripper shoes in town. At first, she considered adapting her sex-toy party business toward strip-inspired lingerie parties.
Then her sister-in-law, a bartender at Old Town strip club Spyce, mentioned that Portland strippers didn't have a go-to costumer. In 2009, Gilliam went in for a meeting with the club's owner, and set up a couple racks of boxed sets in the dressing room shortly after. Nearly 10 years later, the FSO cabinet is a fixture in the back of Spyce, for strippers to browse, buy off the rack, or place a custom order between shifts.
A self-taught seamstress, Gilliam figured out how to make stripped-down, two-piece designs by ripping apart lingerie and sewing it back together. She developed her inventory and style by paying close attention to what type of clothing strippers needed to do their job well. She eschews what she calls "the typical Vegas-y, neon, stereotypical stripper-esque stuff," aiming for a more refined look, with an eye for body shape.
"Strippers are normal women who want quality garments," Gilliam says. "Every woman has a part of her body she wants to highlight or minimize, so it takes a different approach each time. High waist for some, low cut for others, etc. I just want to make every woman feel like money."
She focused on soft textures that would feel good when rubbed up against someone. She observed that pole dancers needed more coverage so they didn't fall out the sides of their tops. Stripping is about the tease, so outfits needed to be sexy without giving everything away when first worn onstage. Ultimately, they needed to be durable, well-fitting pieces that stayed in place.
"I've been buying from Terasa since I first started stripping three years ago," says Aspen, who works at Club 205. "She has provided me with outfits during every phase I've gone through as a dancer, from pink ruffles to black with chains—not to mention she knows my measurements by memory. I've had several stolen by co-workers, but not once have I retired an outfit because of wear and tear."
When Gilliam eventually wanted to expand her reach beyond the Spyce dressing room, she turned to a stripper and local Suicide Girl named Natalie to promote a few FSO outfits in Instagram posts. The first bodysuit she gifted her is now known as the Natalie, and the heart-shaped FSO logo is based on her booty as an homage.
Now, Gilliam's reputation is nearly enough to carry the business on its own. She doesn't have a website. She gets so many orders through direct messages on Instagram—where she's amassed over 10,000 followers—that even an Etsy shop isn't necessary.
Part of the volume is because of her growing renown for limitless customization. If a dancer is participating in a popular competition like Miss Erotica, Polerotica or the Miss Vagina Pageant, a unique outfit is essential. Her custom orders range from stripper-pageant looks to something you might see in the crowd at Coachella.
For non-strippers—like, say, a bride heading off on her honeymoon—Gilliam will make one-of-a-kind lingerie. For this past Comic-Con International in San Diego, Gilliam fulfilled an order for a replica of Seven of Nine's bodysuit from Star Trek: Voyager. Customers trust that all they have to do is send Gilliam a picture of their inspiration and a short description, and their dream outfit will be ready and waiting.
Gilliam still has dreams of her own. She wants to open a haberdashery for strippers—a one-stop. brick-and-mortar store containing everything a dancer might need, from shoes and stockings to body and hair products.
"The best feeling is when someone feels like a million bucks in something you made up on the main stage," Gilliam says. "It's awesome—and way better than working on insurance policies in a cubicle."