9 Long-Gone “Sexy” Undergarments In Honor of Victoria’s Secret’s Closing Catalog

Victoria's Secret catalog, circa 1979.

Purveyor of mildly provocative underthings Victoria’s Secret announced last month that it would no longer print its iconic catalog—you know, the one that’s been piling up on America’s coffee tables and bookshelves since 1977. The change is just the latest reminder that what society deems sexy in the world of undergarments is never set in stone—or silk, in this case. To bid the catalog Angels a fond farewell, we busted out some other flirty (and often faint-inducing) favorites of yesteryear.


With its chamber pots and various horrific diseases, the Medieval era probably never struck anyone as particularly sexy. But archaeologists digging in Austria in 2008 discovered a few clues as to the type of garments ladies were hiding underneath their dresses. Linen fragments that look a little like modern bras were uncovered, which seemed to be “breastbags,” a pretty straightforward name for a piece of clothing that both supported the bust and could at times be tightened to either enhance or flatten the chest.


Imagine the feeling of going commando, even if you were technically wearing drawers. Or at least, pseudo-commando underneath layers upon layers of petticoats, stays, and other garments. Panties are actually a relatively new invention. Before the late 1800s, ladies’ drawers had two separate legs with an opening between them.


Because men were the only ones who wore closed-crotch underwear up to that point, it was pretty scandalous when women started incorporating the style in the 1870s and '80s (the idea being that women wanted you to see their fancy new underwear). The voluminous precursor to modern day panties was born.


Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1860. Getty

Queen Victoria’s secret may have been the sexy (for the day) undergarments she kept tucked under her royal dresses. The idea that underwear could be sexy as well as practical really took hold around the time the influential ruler was on the throne, as women were just beginning to view themselves as more sexual beings and Paris Impressionists were shocking polite society with their paintings of mistresses and friends in their skivvies. (This, of course, is in contrast to the buttoned-up image Victorians are often associated with. It was a complicated time.) Naturally, even the queen couldn’t resist the tempting trend. According to a piece in Home Journal magazine at the time, Victoria nabbed a red petticoat to “reawaken the dormant conjugal susceptibility of Prince Albert.” It must have worked—they had nine children together.


The S-Curve corsets produced these silhouettes. Deluxx via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Long before women were squishing themselves into Spanx, corsets were molding female bodies into whatever was deemed the ideal shape at the time—without the help of today’s super-stretch elastic. Around 1900, that enviable form was an S: breasts forward, arched chest, accentuated hips. While the Edwardian S-curve corset would become notorious for forcing the spine into an unnatural state, it was actually an improvement on the faint-tastic Victorian corset. One 1902 magazine described this new corset as "[not only giving] more room for the digestive organs, but the breathing apparatus is freer and permits the lungs to be inflated properly."


Unlike their Victorian forebears who used an extra-curvy silhouette to rev their beaus' buggies, women in the 1920s opted for a straight, boyish figure to complement their freewheeling Flapper ways. That meant looser-fitting dresses, shorter hemlines, and flattening bosoms with bandeau-style bra bands instead of emphasizing them.


Jayne Mansfield, circa 1955. Getty

Bombshells Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe launched a cup-shape craze in the 1950s. Legend has it director Howard Hughes developed a torpedo-shaped bra to accommodate Jane Russell’s bust for his 1943 movie The Outlaw (though Russell claimed she refused to wear it, opting for one she fashioned herself), and though the look broke the era's decency codes, the military-inspired garment seriously caught on in the years that followed. The fierce fashion has enjoyed more than one renaissance since—perhaps most notably when Madonna donned a set of cones designed by Jean Paul Gaultier in 1990.


In the early 1960s, designer Rudi Gernreich launched the lightweight, wireless No-Bra. The minimalist design was fitting for the changing times: Women were pushing back against the buttoned-up prudishness of the 1950s and embracing a more natural, budding-feminism-friendly aesthetic in the undergarment department, if they even wore bras at all. (No wonder they called it the Swinging Sixties.)


Women in the 1980s took their cues from Jane Fonda aerobics videos and Cher concerts and made high-cut bodysuits a thing. The suggestive style made legs look longer and embraced the era’s shift away from basic “granny panties” and toward more fashionable everyday underwear. Victoria’s Secret seized the same empowered moment, and around this time, the company shifted its focus from marketing toward husbands and lovers to marketing toward its female customers who wanted to wear sexier undergarments each day. And though the styles come and go, Victoria's Secret's popularity has not: The company is responsible for 40 percent of the intimate apparel market, and even if the bi-weekly catalogs are no longer collecting in America's mailboxes, we'll always have the fashion shows and semi-annual sales to help stay abreast of the latest lingerie fads.

Who Started Casual Fridays?

For employees at the mercy of an office thermostat, Casual Fridays provide some much-needed relief during frigid winters and the scorching months of summer. Though many offices are beginning to loosen their dress codes permanently, plenty of employees still cling to this one day a week when wearing shorts won't raise any eyebrows and that T-shirt won't result in an email from HR. But Casual Friday didn't begin just as a cure for discomfort in the workplace; there was also money to be made. 

In the 1960s, Bill Foster, president of The Hawaiian Fashion Guild, plotted to find a way to sell more of the colorfully designed Aloha shirts to their residents with the launch of "Operation Liberation," which gave two shirts to every member of the Hawaii House of Representatives and the Hawaii Senate. The purpose of this campaign was to persuade the politicians to allow government workers to wear the lightweight shirts not only to beat the heat in the summer months, but also to support the state’s garment industry. The custom took off in 1966 and was given a familiar name, "Aloha Friday."

Technology giant Hewlett-Packard claims to have sparked the spread of casual wear in the workplace around the same time in the San Francisco Bay area. Called "Blue Sky Days," this Friday custom wasn't just limited to clothing: HP's founders—Bill Hewlett and David Packard—wanted people to take these days to think of more creative ideas and initiatives outside of their normal routine. This idea soon caught on throughout Silicon Valley and, eventually, into other industries.

However, the spread of this casual trend on the mainland resulted in haphazard, sometimes sloppy attire in the workplace. To help clarify the issue, and to promote his own brand, Rick Miller of Dockers stepped in with an ingenious marketing plan. In 1992, he sent an eight-page “Guide To Casual Business Wear” to approximately 25,000 human resource managers to distribute to their employees. This kickstarted the Dockers brand by popularizing the khaki pant and redefining what is acceptable attire in the workplace.

Now, many nations adopt a Casual Friday approach for similar reasons. In 2005, Japan implemented a Cool Biz policy that granted a summer dress code during hot weather months, in exchange for a more moderate temperature in office buildings. This meant offices were saving energy by keeping their temperature at no less than 82.4°F, but workers could breathe a bit easier in business casual tops and sneakers.

Blame the fashion industry, the unbearable heat, or simply an evolving cultural attitude. The likes of Bill Foster’s Aloha Friday and Rick Miller’s “Guide To Casual Business Wear” gave employees permission to dress for comfort on the job—for at least one coveted day of the week.

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Matthew Stockman, Getty Images
Why Do Wimbledon Players Wear All White?
Matthew Stockman, Getty Images
Matthew Stockman, Getty Images

by James Hunt

Wimbledon's dress code is one of the most famous in sports. The rules, which specify that players must dress "almost entirely in white," are so strict that the referee can force players to change under threat of disqualification. In the past, many of the sport's top players have found themselves on the wrong end of this rule—but where did it come from?

It's believed that the rule stems from the 1800s, when tennis was a genteel sport played primarily at social gatherings, particularly by women. The sight of sweaty patches on colored clothing was considered to be inappropriate, so the practice of wearing predominantly white clothing—a.k.a. tennis whites—was adopted to avoid embarrassment. The All England Club, which hosts Wimbledon, was founded in 1868 (initially as the All England Croquet Club) and introduced Lawn Tennis in 1875.

Quite simply, the club is just a stickler for tradition. Recently issued guidelines for clothing include statements such as "White does not include off-white or cream," that colored trim can be "no wider than one centimeter," and that "undergarments that either are or can be visible during play (including due to perspiration)" are not allowed. That's right: even players' underwear has to be white.

The rules have rubbed many famous tennis players the wrong way. In 2013, former Wimbledon champion Roger Federer was told not to wear his orange-soled trainers after they were judged to have broken The All England Club's dress code. In 2002, Anna Kournikova was forced to replace her black shorts with a pair of white ones borrowed from her coach. And Andre Agassi refused to play at Wimbledon in the earlier years of his career because his signature denim shorts and garish tops were banned.

The all-white clothing rule isn't the only piece of baggage that accompanies Wimbledon's long history. It's the only Grand Slam tournament that's still played on a grass court, and the only one that schedules a day off on the middle Sunday of the tournament.

However, the club is not immune to change. In 2003 a long-standing tradition of requiring players to bow or curtsey to the Royal Box on the Centre Court was discontinued by the Duke of Kent (who also happens to be The All England Club's president) who deemed it anachronistic—though the requirement does stand if the Queen or Prince of Wales is in attendance—and in 2007 the prizes for the men's and women's tournaments were made equal. The all-white clothing rule may be annoying for players, but at least the club has shown it can change with the times in the areas where it really matters.

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