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.

Pete Jelliffe, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Pop Culture
Glove Story: The Freezy Freakies Phenomenon of the 1980s
Pete Jelliffe, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Pete Jelliffe, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Kids who grew up in the northeast in the 1980s were pretty invested in a fad that might have gone unnoticed in warmer parts of the country. Cajoling their parents at department stores during shopping trips, hundreds of thousands of them came home sporting a pair of Freezy Freakies—thick winter gloves that came with a built-in parlor trick. When the temperature dipped below 40°F, an image would suddenly appear on the back part of the material.

Swany America Corporation, which made, marketed, and distributed the gloves, released more than 30 original designs beginning in 1980. There was a robot, a unicorn, rocket ships, ballerinas, rainbows, snowflakes, and various sports themes, though the “I Love Snow” image (below) may have been the most popular overall. At the height of Freezy mania, Swany was moving 300,000 pairs of gloves per year, which accounted for about 20 percent of their overall sales.

A Freezy Freakies glove before and after the temperature change
Freezy Freakies

“Boys loved the robot design,” Bruce Weinberg, Swany’s vice president and a former sales director for Freezy Freakies, tells Mental Floss. “Above 40 degrees, the image would disappear.”

The secret to the $13 Freakies was thermochromic ink, a temperature-sensitive dye that's been used in mood rings and heat-sensitive food labels and can appear translucent until it's exposed to warmer temperatures. Swany licensed the ink from Pilot, the Japanese-based pen company, after Swany CEO Etsuo Miyoshi saw the technology and thought it would be a good fit for his glove-focused operation. (Though they experimented with making luggage in the 1990s, Swany has predominantly been a manufacturer of higher-end ski gloves.)

Weinberg isn’t sure how Miyoshi settled on the “Freezy Freakies” name—the president is now retired—but says Miyoshi knew they had a hit early on. “After a few seasons, they could tell they had a winner product,” he says. Swany even put advertising dollars into TV commercials, a rare strategy for glove-makers not named Isotoner.

Pilot was able to adjust the temperature at which the ink would become transparent, or vice versa. If kids were impatient, or if it happened to be during the summer, Weinberg says it wasn’t uncommon to find Freezy Freakies stuck in the freezer so they could materialize their art design. “At trade shows, we’d do something similar with some ice or a cold soda,” he says. “All of a sudden, some ice cubes would make it change, and buyers would think that was really cool.”

The Freakies were such a hit that Swany licensed jackets and considered changing the name of the company to the same name as the glove. It’s probably just as well they didn’t: While Freakies lasted well over a decade, by the 1990s, things had cooled. In the new millennium, Swany was down to selling just a few hundred pairs a year. Color-changing ink for coffee mugs or beer cans was more pervasive, wearing down the novelty; knock-offs had also grabbed licensed cartoon characters, which Swany was never interested in pursuing.

The brand was dormant when a company named Buffoonery approached Swany in 2013 to license Freezy Freakies for a crowdfunded revival. This time, the gloves came in adult sizes for $34. The partnership has been successful, and Weinberg says Buffoonery has just signed an extension to start producing kids’ gloves.

“Parents will probably want matching ones for their kids,” Weinberg says. And both might still wind up in the freezer.

Live Smarter
The Very Disgusting Reason You Should Always Wash New Clothes Before Wearing Them

It’s sometimes assumed that clothing with a price tag still dangling from the sleeve can skip an initial wash. Someone else may have tried it on, sure, but they didn’t run a marathon in it. Why not just throw it in the closet as soon as you get home?

One big reason: lice. As The Independent reports, Donald Belsito, a professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center, told NBC's Today show recently that clothing fresh off store racks can harbor infestations of lice, scabies, or fungus.

You might be familiar with head lice as the dreaded insects that occupy the scalp and give school health monitors cause for concern. Head lice can be transmitted via clothing and other fabrics, and anyone who tried on a shirt or dress before you did can be a carrier. While they only live for one or two days without a blood meal, that’s still enough time to cause problems if something is being tried on frequently.

Scabies is far more insidious. The mites are too small to see, but the allergic reaction they cause by burrowing into your skin to lay eggs will be obvious.

Both scabies and lice can be treated with topical solutions, but it’s better to kill them by washing new clothes in hot water. A good soak can also get rid of formaldehyde, a common chemical used in fabrics to help ward off mold in case stock gets wet in transit. Formaldehyde can cause allergic skin reactions. For all of these reasons, it’s best to hit the washing machine before those new pants ever hit your hanger.

[h/t Independent]


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