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A blog with a daily splash of vintage swimwear, vintage fashion, news, designer profiles and all things retro.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Naughty or Nice?

Fredericks of Hollywood used to be known as the purveyor of naughty lingerie. The company is named for its founder and longtime president Frederick Mellinger, who conceived of his lingerie business while serving in the armed forces during World War II. In 1946, after his discharge, Mellinger established a mail-order undergarment operation in New York City. Known as Frederick's of Fifth Avenue, his shop offered racy black bras and panties embellished with lace and appliqués.

Mellinger took his fancy foundations to more permissive California in 1947, changing the name of the catalog business to Frederick's of Hollywood that same year. Tinseltown's glitz and glamour provided the perfect backdrop for the groundbreaking retailer, and a parade of starlets and models provided a ready customer base.

Mellinger, who came to be known as "Mr. Frederick" among his clientele, soon began to specialize in figure-enhancing foundations and accessories. He designed and began selling the first push-up bra, dubbed the "Rising Star," in 1948. Fanny pads, girdles, sky-high heeled shoes, hosiery, wigs, false eyelashes, even head pads to achieve the illusion of height--anything necessary to achieve "Frederick's figure balancing act"--followed in the years to come. The company even offered an inflatable bra that came complete with a "free straw." The catalogs and stores later added glamorous evening wear, much of it designed by Mr. Frederick himself. The garments featured daring necklines, high slits, and sheer fabrics intended to appeal to men as much as women. In fact, Mellinger once wrote that his goal was to offer "the most alluring, body-hugging, figure-enhancing outer fashions ... always aimed at men."

Mr. Frederick opened his first retail store in California in 1952 and others soon followed. The flamboyant Art Deco flagship store soon became known as "the purple palace." Mellinger started advertising his catalog and garments in nationally circulated magazines using saucy tag lines such as "Fashions Change--But Sex Is Always in Style." It was Frederick's that brought French bikinis to the United States during the 1950s. After incorporating in 1962, Frederick's continued to expand its product offerings in the sexually permissive environment of the 1960s and 1970s. Soon pasties, anonymously written sexual guides, and other "sexually oriented non-apparel products" appeared in the catalogs.

It was Frederick's who introduced the thong to American women in 1981 and in 1989 opened the worlds first lingerie museum. By the nineties, Frederick's was extremely successful, it continued with its lingerie innovations introducing the Water Bra and the Hollywood Kiss with its "wishbone" construction. Frederick's had also expanded its range to include dresses, sportswear, swimwear, hosiery, and accessories to name but a few.

Frederick Mellinger retired in 1984, and died in 1990, but the company was positioned to provide the lingerie market with original and innovative lingerie items and continue to satisfy women's unchanging desire for sensual lingerie. The company has changed since it's heyday in the 1970's. Although Frederick's still sells items like satin and lace maid's outfits and vinyl body suits, bare breasts have been banished from its latest catalogues, as have drawings of long-legged, large-breasted women and offers of sexual aids and underwear novelties.

I love the look and the play on words of these old Frederick's mail order catalogues, they just don't make 'em like they used to!


Christa Weil said...

thank you thank you thank you Glamoursplash! I've been researching my fingertips off trying to find my mom's fabled blow-up bust-enhancing bathing suit and I think I'm onto something with Frederick's "blowups!"

I love your blog and will link and check in often . . . have a look at mine!


Glamoursurf said...

Thanks Christa,

I'd love to see that suit!