The French word "folies", derived from the Latin foliae ("leaves"), connoted the idea of an outdoor entertainment venue, and was paired with the name of an adjacent street, the rue de Trévise. (The music hall stands on the intersection of the rue Richer and the rue de Trévise.) But the Duc de Trévise, a prominent nobleman, did not want his name associated with a bawdy dance hall, and it was consequently renamed the Folies Bergère on 13 September 1872, after another nearby street, the rue Bergère (the feminine form of "shepherd").
The Folies Bergère catered to popular taste. Shows featured elaborate costumes; the women's were frequently revealing, practically leaving them naked, and shows often contained a good deal of nudity. Shows also played up the "exoticness" of persons and objects from other cultures, obliging the Parisian fascination with the négritude of the 1920s.
In the early 1890s, the American dancer Loie Fuller starred at the Folies Bergère. Nearly thirty years later, in 1926, Joséphine Baker, an African-American expatriate singer, dancer, and entertainer, became an overnight sensation at the Folies Bergère with her suggestive "banana dance", in which she wore a skirt made of bananas and little else.