a brief history of fashion in ‘playboy’

As the magazine's last naked cover (starring Pamela Anderson) hits newsstands, we look at the most interesting moments in Playboy’s fashion history

by Emily Manning
04 December 2015, 6:40pm

Back in October, Playboy announced that after 63 years of being secretly stored underneath mattresses around the world, its January 2016 issue would be the last to feature nude images. This issue hits newsstands tomorrow, and on its cover is actress and animal rights activist Pamela Anderson wearing nothing but a gold S-E-X necklace. The Ellen von Unwerth-shot spread is Pam's 14th appearance on Playboy's cover, and arrives 25 years after her first: fronting 1989's Campus Issue in a navy and maroon striped blazer embroidered with a Ralph Lauren Ruby-inspired Playboy crest (a garment I absolutely need).

There's a longstanding joke about men reading Playboy "for the articles" (which actually isn't such a punchline when you consider Vladimir Nabokov, Kurt Vonnegut, and Margaret Atwood contributed stories). Although its legacy is steeped in women taking their clothes off -- beginning with its first ever centerfold, Marilyn Monroe, in 1953 -- Playboy has seen some interesting fashion moments over the past six decades, too. There's a particular art to dressing semi-nude women: when they're wearing very little, you very much notice what they are wearing. Whether it's as little as a pair of rollerblades or as covered as a cadet, Playboy has mastered that art.

Its first issues in the 50s and early 60s were packed with playful illustrations and the signature satin corsets sported by its club cocktail waitresses, but they also featured pink pajama sets -- like Jayne Mansfield's Playmate of the Month ensemble from 1955 -- that look as though they've walked off today's runways. The brand's iconic bunny even appeared as a chic swimsuit on the front of one 1968 issue.

The mid 70s saw the magazine's heyday (its circulation in 1975 edged towards 6 million) and an interesting documentation of the era's fashion tropes, from Daisy Dukes to Studio 54-ready looks. As the 80s and 90s approached, Playboy abandoned soft, billowy looks for bold graphics and blocks of color -- like this highly accessorized 89 issue featuring an anklet made of lucky rabbit's feet (a look Seinfeld and his Jordan 6's couldn't quite top four years later). And let's not forget when Naomi Campbell appeared on the magazine's Christmas 99 cover slaying a strappy glam situation.

As for Anderson's own fashion moments: her second cover saw a corset that looked as though it could have been swiped from the Twin Peaks costume department during One Eyed Jack's scenes (this is probably because David Lynch was also interviewed for the issue).

As Playboy descends from the top shelf, many will wonder what's next for a magazine so rooted in nudity (and a relatively narrow idea of beauty, might we add). But for over 60 years, Playboy has shown that its fashion choices aren't always cheese and sleaze. Let's hope its new chapter will not only see a more diverse representation of body types and perspectives, but that its clothing choices will be as stylish as its founder's


Text Emily Manning
Image via Playboy

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