At a time when polite society wouldn’t dream of hanging women’s and men’s underwear on the same clothesline, a Minnesota manufacturer dared to advertise the unmentionable. “Don’t Say Underwear,” crowed the ads, “Say Munsingwear!” Consumers of the 1890s responded. The company’s wildly popular “itchless” union suits represented a truly revolutionary advance.
When fashion and central heating changed the market, Munsingwear offered silk and nylon stockings, “stretchy-seat” briefs for men, and the essential Foundettes, the Spanx of its generation. Erotic ads showed underwear-clad women (or men) in provocative poses with promising captions: “Half-pint pants,” “Next Best to Nothing.” And by the 1940s and ’50s, Munsingwear was selling risqué lingerie in its famous Holly wood Vassarette line, including bullet bras, lacey merry widows, chiffon peignoirs, and silk sleepwear.
Beyond these playful and suggestive ad campaigns, author Susan Marks also provides a fascinating view of the company’s labor relations, from sweatshop conditions in the 1880s to the changed world of the 1920s, when Munsingwear provided free medical care, a library, teams and clubs, and Americanization classes.
Richly illustrated, In the Mood for Munsingwear is not just the history of a company but an intimate look at the changing mores of America.
Susan Marks is a freelance writer, producer, and director and the author of Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America’s First Lady of Food.
A peek under the fabric of American life with one of the country’s most successful manufacturers of intimate apparel.
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