Have you seen that Victoria’s Secret television spot? The one with the model strutting the streets of Paris in nothing but her push-up bra, tiny panties and a leather jacket? The ad, which was used to promote the brand’s Victoria by Victoria’s Secret fragrance during the 2013 holiday season, makes me laugh every time. But I don’t think it’s supposed to.

Victoria’s Secret et al. take lingerie very seriously. It’s all so melodramatic, so very seriously sexy with an occasional dash of play-acting playfulness. And like the aforementioned commercial, the ads can be quite funny in a special and surely unintended way. The cartoonish sexuality makes me long for the days of the ’80s Maidenform woman.

Maidenform has a long history of using humour to sell lingerie. In the 1950s the label produced one of my favourite ads of all time: it depicted a group of women at a cocktail party in their lingerie, smoking, wearing giant animal masks. By the time the 1980s rolled around, feminism had swept through fashion, and early in the decade both designers and magazines were still finding their footing.

Rather than playing up a power-suited woman, all tough and tailored, with her no-nonsense cotton bras and briefs Maidenform exposed its lacy lingerie in ads depicting a female doctor in a lab coat and lingerie and another reading the stock market ticker tape. There was the woman cheering at a racetrack and a pair wandering the grounds of a country club, croquet mallets in hand. The ads were cheeky, silly, poking fun at the stereotypical lingerie adverts, with their pouty-mouthed models and textbook interpretations of sexiness. Maidenform asked us to laugh, even just a little, at the absurdity of it all — this business of selling lingerie. And it worked. Even today when I’m flipping through so many back-issues of Vogue, Glamour and Mademoiselle, the Maidenform lady always makes me stop and smile.

All Maidenform ads were originally featured in the following magazines:

1. Vogue, November 1980.

2. Glamour, September 1982.

3. Vogue, April 1981.

4. Mademoiselle, March 1983. Photograph by Mike Reinhardt.

5. Vogue, May 1982.

6. Mademoiselle, September 1983. Photograph by Mike Reinhardt.

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