Quick, close your eyes and picture an underwear model. Like us, your head is likely filled with images of busty bombshells with cascading beach waves posing seductively in push-up bras or strutting down runways in oversized wings. While that’s certainly an accurate mental picture, things weren’t always so brazen when it came to hawking unmentionables.
The practice of selling skivvies isn’t new: Brands have been pushing underwear since the 1920s, but the ads mirrored the general social landscape of the decades.
For example, throughout the 1950s, women were typically housewives, homemakers, and all-around Betty Crocker types, and the decade’s bra ads reflected that. Maidenform released its now-iconic ‘I Dreamed” campaign, which featured sketches of women dreaming about doing all sorts of daring and fabulous things wearing her pointy Chansonette bra and little else. By the 1980s, women were fully liberated and the brand had tweaked its thinking: It no longer featured the Maidenform woman dreaming of doing fabulous things, but instead they were actually doing them.
In the 1970s, underwear ads often featured three women at a time, no doubt a nod to the decade’s newfound sexual freedom (and obsession with things like “Charlie’s Angels” and “Three’s Company”) and they showcased “sexy” Fredericks of Hollywood-type ensembles (marabou robes, kittenish mules, slinky negliges) that are considered campy by today’s standards.
By the 90s, brands like Victoria’s Secret managed to put underwear at the forefront of pop culture, tapping a revolving clique of “It”models to form the label’s “Angel” clique, a marketing idea that launched the careers of supermodels such as Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks, Miranda Kerr, and Gisele Bundchen.
Of course, this is all just a brief rundown on underwear models through the decades, so click through the gallery and see 25 pictures and ads from the 1940s to the present!