Frederick’s Of Hollywood VS Victoria’s Secret: A History Lesson

In the world of lingerie, Frederick’s Of Hollywood is often compared to Victoria’s Secret; it’s like the Coke Vs Pepsi debate to many of us *wink* And while I’ve often derided Icky Vickie, now is the time to praise the competition. (And, after all, I did promise to do so!)

The origins of both lingerie brands often sounds the same: both companies were started by men, albeit decades apart. But there were distinct differences in the motivations of each in starting their lingerie companies — which set them on very different paths.

Frederick’s was begun by a designer, Fred Mellinger; the other by Roy Raymond, a graduate student who was intimidated by and disliked shopping for lingerie in boutiques and department stores as they were.

While Mellinger designed the lingerie and other fashions, Raymond purchased lingerie from other labels and designers (when Raymond sold his company five years later to the Limited company, they went primarily with private labeling the lingerie). This makes Frederick’s, from the start, an original design house; and Vickie’s purely a marketing move.

I haven’t any dislike of marketing; in fact, I’m nearly as obsessive in tracking and studying that as lingerie. But there too I prefer Frederick’s Of Hollywood as illustrated catalogs are far preferable to those with photographs of models.

Nor do I find one approach any more (or less) “sexist” than the other in terms of men dressing women in lingerie. It’s a common practice — and when done with love, even lust, it’s a beautiful thing to behold. And wear!

Yes, many of the styles from Frederick’s and by Mellinger have always been more direct or blunt about lingerie’s sex appeal than their contemporaries. After all, the designer himself said, his goal was to create “the most alluring, body-hugging, figure-enhancing outer fashions, always aimed at men.”

But if you look for pieces from the earliest years, they are far more demur than you probably are thinking. Anything pre-1970s is still going to be far more modest than your memory likely serves.

Lovers of vintage nylon can find beautiful vintage Frederick’s pieces in nylon if they look at the labels. (Heck, Frederick’s even uses nylon (usually with spandex) in their styles today!)

In my opinion, the Frederick’s brand became synonymous with “tacky” or “slutty” when Icky Vicky came along…

The original Victoria’s Secret began in 1977 when graduate student Roy Raymond wanted a less embarrassing lingerie purchasing experience. Intimidated by shopping in department stores, he opened his first store designed with male shoppers in mind.

Not only were the clerks trained in how to assist male shoppers looking for gifts, the marketing was done for men too. Bras and panties were matched, including in size, and framed to make purchasing easier. But I think it was the store decor which had the most impact.

Wood-paneled walls combined with Victorian details (Queen Victoria is the “Victoria” and her “secrets” are the unmentionables) separated VS not only from the department store sterility, but from Frederick’s Of Hollywood, which, also a lingerie company aimed at the male consumer, was still promoting itself under the sexually permissive or racy environment of the 1960s and 1970s.

As the 1980s ushered in a new conservatism, Frederick’s Of Hollywood founder Frederick Mellinger was slow to respond to the cultural shift. (We now know the septuagenarian founder was suffering from Alzheimer’s at this time.) This left a consumer market literally choosing between a chaste-appearing Victorian shopping environment of VS and the still-swingin’ frank-about-sex Frederick’s. (And the ever-cheapening, running downhill department store image — so sad!)

Even if the styles were equally racy, VS posed their models in ladylike Victorian settings, which won out the more conservative times.  Here are some Frederick’s catalog pages and ads (including one with photos of models) from that same year, 1977.

Here are a few Frederick’s of Hollywood lingerie designs from that period; late 70s to 80s.

As a young teen at this time, I know that in teen mall speak, Frederick’s was called an “even nastier adult version of Spencers” and Vicky wasn’t — yet — icky.  But I still shopped there.  They had the best bra selection and I loved the nylon gowns…

After just five years of operation, Roy Raymond sold Victoria’s Secret (stores and catalogs) to The Limited company. The Limited company then began switching VS stores and catalog themes from the ladylike demure Victorian romance to the more modern “hearts” motif, and now it’s some mish-mosh mod boudoir thing that is more sterile than sexy. Not that Frederick’s is that much better… But almost all retail chains are lacking in ambiance now. And service.

Gone too are all the truly glamorous gowns… Thankfully, this is a vintage lingerie blog and so I maintain my defense of the brand historically — and with some hope that the current Frederick’s owns the designs of the brand’s original designer, and so perhaps one day we shall see some of the fabulous pieces return to the stores — and our waiting arms.

Image credits: Frederick’s store on Hollywood and Whitley – south side of street, Purple Frederick’s of Hollywood, California store, 1983, original design by Frederick’s of Hollywood’s from Dollhouse Bettie, Henson Kickernick for Victoria’s Secret label, Vintage Frederick’s of Hollywood Black Mesh Sheer from Siiister3, vintage Victoria’s Secret catalog pages, 1977, pages from 1977 Frederick’s catalog from PeeWee248, 1977 Frederick’s of Hollywood ads here and here, vintage sheer red Frederick’s nightgown, vintage Frederick’s black teddy.

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