Powerful and Provocative: Frederick’s of Hollywood and the Evolution of American Skimp

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Disclaimer: Samples were received free of charge from Frederick’s of Hollywood for review purposes only. All opinions are my own.



Frederick’s of Hollywood: the name summons up images of post-war pinups — good-natured eager girls maybe juuuust on the other side of good taste.

Founded in 1946 by Frederick Mellinger and opening its first store on Hollywood Boulevard, the company capitalized on its association with Hollywood glamour in the mid-century era of the American screen goddess. Before moving west, Mellinger owned a store in Manhattan’s far less glamorous Lower East Side, where he had introduced black lingerie — which at the time was considered too scandalous for decent ladies — to middling success. A provocateur from the start, he ran the bold classified ad:

“Bare Illusion Panties: To wear under your prettiest things when you want to feel extra alluring and just a little naughty too.” (Lukas, Paul. “Underwear Model Frederick Mellinger’s racy creations made his business a star.” CNNMoney.com. February 1, 2003)

Once established in Hollywood, Frederick’s sought innovation as well as allure in its offerings, at one point even hiring a team from the US Army Corps of Engineers. In the early 1950s Frederick’s introduced the “Rising Star,” the first push-up bra, and in the coming decades as American women sought body-conscious intimates, the company entrenched its reputation as an iconic creator of risque boudoir apparel.

Having come of age in the 1980s, I have strong associations with Frederick’s later interpretations of sexy. Feather boas, g-strings, edible underwear, crotchless panties… these are the little edges of a forbidden world I would get to peek at as I passed the Frederick’s storefront at the mall on the way from The Gap to the movies. Once or twice in my young life, I somehow caught sight of an errant Frederick’s of Hollywood catalogue, and this was like a sudden smut portal in my clean, suburban world.

I’ve always loved this brand. In a modern fashion landscape of “casual,” “individualistic,” or “understated,” it’s evocative, nostalgic, and unapologetically racy.

So I was curious to look at what the brand has evolved into now. Since Mellinger’s death in 1990, and hurt by the coincidental emergence of Victoria’s Secret in the 1990s, Frederick’s of Hollywood has lost market share and household brand awareness. Other mass market brands like Gap Body and H&M entered the lingerie market, and so have independent and high-end ready-to-wear designers.

Fredericks.com is an obvious destination for skimpy babydoll chemises, but who knew there would be an assortment twenty-deep of denim bottoms all priced under $60? And so many accessories and shoes (only one of which is feathered)! After wondering at the breadth of product, I focused on lingerie… and had SO MUCH FUN wandering around the site. There’s great variety, everything I saw was under $40, and the pieces were well photographed. I wanted all of them. And unlike so many sites for cheap sexy lingerie, this one didn’t make me feel like I was getting chlamydia just from looking at it.

At my request, two samples were sent to me for review.

Since Frederick’s was revolutionary in defining sexy I wanted the sexiest piece I could find, and this to me was the Strappy Fishnet Teddy from the Seduction Collection (which is marketed with the following appropriate hang-tag: “POWERFUL and provocative… SLEEK and ultra-sexy… DARING and deliberate.. .INFINTELY alluring”). I like strappy lingerie, but am wary of the cage-bulge effect that can be an unsexy byproduct of too-tight or badly designed straps. I’m happy to say that this was sleek on, which I attribute to the fabric choice; instead of using elastic trim for straps, the designer chose cut-and-sew poly spandex fabric, which is elastically less severe against the body. This teddy’s modern design and flattering fit have made it a favorite of mine… at least for dancing around my house alone in.

My second test-drive is The Versatile, a bra from the Hollywood Exxtreme collection. Launched this summer just in time to make its way under skimpy tops and sundresses, it’s a lined t-shirt bra that converts from a halter to a T-back. The color range includes basics as well as some bold and citrusy hues, which are fun for summer. (I like wearing mine, in a bright navy, under white tanks for a suggestion of color.) I like its smooth fit, though the silhouette once the shirt is removed is not necessarily designed for seduction.

Do you have any fond memories of Frederick’s of Hollywood?  If not, make some new ones!

Mad Mimi Form

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Laura a.k.a. Lola Haze

I’ve loved lingerie since before that was reasonable. I taught myself drawing, designing, and sewing, and after graduating from Harvard with an English degree, immediately went to work disregarding it and following my passion for fashion. After a few years designing for a big company, I went off on my own and started Lola Haze TM, (named after the title character in “Lolita,” my favorite book). Lola Haze is playwear for the bold woman who loves fun and dresses for herself! I feel happy and lucky that I get to love my job so much, and am thrilled to share my lingerie enthusiasm with The Lingerie Addict!

16 Comments on this post

  1. hogan says:

    You write very well

  2. Tiffany says:

    I was wondering how the packaging is if you order offline from Fredrick’s? Is it discreet? Thanks (:

  3. T says:

    Great article! I have been somewhat following the business side of what is happening with Frederick’s in comparison to Victorias Secret.

    I do think Fredericks was on the right track with it’s ICON series a few years back. My wife loves her nightgown from this series.

    They did not continue the line however.

    We’ve also bought quite a number of items from them, however the more unique items don’t tend to be continued.

    There’s quite a bit of competition (from large and smaller places alike) for them these days. The market is so different from the 1980’s and I think in a lot of ways it’s been challenging for them to innovate and keep up. I think if they offered a bit more unique variety and put a little more into advertising / presentation it would / could make a difference.

  4. As a follow up to this article, I’m happy to pass on a great deal: like Frederick’s of Hollywood on FB and be entered to win a $50 gift certif every day for 50 days or up to 500 likes. At the end they’ll offer 3 $500 gift cards and free shipping on any order $5 or more for 5 days!

  5. Thanks again for another wonderful article! Frederick’s Hollywood has always been my go-to place for all things lingerie, stockings and corsets. They’re inexpensive and have some of the best costumer service around. If you want sexy, affordable and quality- it’s the go to place. Just wish more local Malls and such had them… but as a Crossdresser, I’m thankful for them in my younger years since their mail-order and internet catalog was always quick, discrete and easy to use. Their customer service is beyond superb. During one of their clearance sales last fall/winter I had ordered a pair of their Lace-Up Thigh High Boots for less than 25.00 bucks, but when the order went to ship I was sent a notice stating they were out of stock. Even though the rest of the goodies I purchased did arrive, I was so saddened by losing out on these awesome heels. However, once they had them available – Frederick’s sent me an emailing saying I could reorder them AGAIN at the clearance price and free shipping! Not too many business would still honor a price months after the sale. So it’s definitely worth checking out if you haven’t before… and if you have, they’re certainly worthy of another look.

    Sincerely,

    Katherine Sasha Mavern
    AKA:Sasha- The Princess of Darkness

  6. Annmarie says:

    Thanks for doing all the research for this piece, it was really fascinating. I’m always amazed to see how much lingerie is a reflection of society in terms of culture, values, gender politics, etc.

    As for Frederick’s, I did get some of their pieces in the last few years (and by the way, they will still send you catalogues if you ask them). I could sense from the pictures that the quality is not that great, but got specific pieces best defined as “playwear” in which they still have an edge over other “many sites for cheap sexy lingerie”.

  7. Ksenia says:

    Frederick’s of Hollywood, those corsets would always be on eBay. Frederick’s would be described as the corsets to stay away from in articles. But I think that if you’re okay with plastic boning, it’s okay. It’s a lingerie corset, it’s not supposed to be all that sturdy or worn for… very long…

    What a rich history. Sad that Victoria’s Secret took over, it’s very popular younger girls, in highschool they would all go to get lipgloss or sweatpants, I imagine they get bras now. Some of the sets look really good, but the selection and materials are average.

    From looking at the website, Frederick’s seems to be heading in the same direction, expanding to jeans and clothing. Still way more variety in colors and styles, but played down to just sexy instead of theatrical or risqué.

    • Thanks for the comment, Ksenia. I agree — I wouldn’t go to Frederick’s for heritage lingerie to pass down to future generations, but if you’re looking for fun, disposable lingerie, it’s definitely a great destination for women of all ages.

  8. Frank says:

    ‘And unlike so many sites for cheap sexy lingerie, this one didn’t make me feel like I was getting chlamydia just from looking at it.’

    I’m not sure I can tell you what the male corollary to this may be, but you’ve just encapsulated a feeling I’ve had on one too many of the ‘cheap’ sites. Plus a cool read on the main topic.

    • Thanks, Frank! For people like you and me in the lingerie business, we’ve had to build up thick skins (against embarrassment, against judgement from people who may happen to see our monitors) when looking at lingerie-related things of all kinds…it’s nice to find a site that is sexy but seems e-commercially hygienic.

  9. Julian says:

    I have never considered Fredericks at all sadly when it comes to lingerie! However I have heard some fantastic reviews

  10. Cheri says:

    I have many fond memories of leafing through the latest Frederick’s of Hollywood catalog the minute it came in the mail. I will be checking out that bra right now!

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