I collect vintage Playboy magazines – don’t judge me.
Reality concurs with the oft-repeated legend that Playboy published some excellent articles. Yes, naked ladies feature throughout but the adverts (and the articles – more about that later) caught my eye.
Like the best and most insidious advertising Playboy sold you the dream of a certain lifestyle and in a selection from the August 1965, September 1967, and March 1968 issues I wanted to explore that dream in all its delicious jet set, lounge, leisure-suited, alcohol-drenched glory.
(I left out the tobacco ads for obvious reasons.)
Playboy is read by 2,668, 000 adult males engaged in professional, managerial or technical occupations (March 1968)
Hugh Hefner graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in psychology, and then went on to write promotional copy for Esquire. He also did sales and marketing for Publishers’ Development Corporation and served as the promotions manager for Children’s Activities. He knew audiences and targets and could sell to anyone.
And so, in late 1953, at the modest age of 27, he borrowed $1,000 from his mother, raised another $7,000 from investors and printed a one-off magazine with a naked Marilyn Monroe across the center pages.
A mere two weeks later the infant Playboy had sold nearly 50.000 copies at 50¢ a pop and Hefner bore a legend (estimates put his personal fortune at around $43 million).
He came from conservative, Midwest stock but he belonged to the Greatest Generation – those Post-War 20somethings who inherited the country of American Dreams. This meant enormous cars, mid-century modern houses, and apartments, adventurous dining, nightlife, expanded personal libraries, hi-fidelity stereo systems, and an even more adventurous bedroom life.
Playboy stood as a barometer for that American Dream, and Hef set the mold right from the start.
You dig lively interchange and controversial issues (March 1968)
The spring of 1954 saw Playboy publish its first of many novel extracts – they started with Ray Bradbury’s classic on censorship Fahrenheit 451, which they serialized over the three Spring months.
He also began a career and lifelong commitment to activism when, in 1955, he published The Crooked Man by Charles Beaumont – a story that Esquire turned down. A story about a heterosexual man persecuted in a homosexual society, it received swift and widespread criticism, and prompted Hef to respond with:
If it is wrong to persecute heterosexuals in a homosexual society then the reverse is wrong too
So let’s dig into the magazine which almost went by:
- Stag Party
- Top Hat
and check off some of the elements that make up that bright new frontier of a lifestyle.
Casual Elegance on the Town
A greater disposable income and a renewed manufacturing base lead to more of an emphasis on style and personal care. The older generation and those of a still more conservative bent continued to favor the traditional suit and hat combo, but the younger generation began to embrace relaxed styles of dress, bolder colognes and scents, and even shocking colors and patterns.
Here in the middle section of the Swinging Sixties, we find the usual tweed and double breasts (no pun intended) caught up in an explosion of slacks, turtlenecks, polo shirts, and more of a Carnaby Street aesthetic.
Colognes move away from your basic musk into English Leather Lime, and even soap and talc gets in on the action with adventurous scents.
Cast a glance over That Man by Revlon – a ladies’ cosmetic firm, no less – and you start to see the trend. The ladies love it. Happy ladies equal more sex. Although when you look at the illustration from the September 1967 issue of Playboy it would appear that happy men might turn your head too.
To pioneer a fashion first that becomes a fashion trend (March 1968)
You can see the blueprint for later magazines like GQ and even a hint of things to come in the 80s – suits transform from function into fashion, scents become part of the wardrobe, and there’s a nod towards the metrosexuality of the future – all groundbreaking stuff.
My father bought one of the first of the Timex waterproof watches in the early 1970s, and it arrived with a visible movement of the hands, sealed in a glass of water. That still astounds and fascinates me to this day.
Extra Dry With a Twist of Lemon
Nearly 1,000,000 tickets (movie) are sold to Playboy male readers each week, the highest percentage of any magazine, double the national average. (August 1965)
That makes for a lot of bums on seats for Bonnie and Clyde – but they also drank better alcohol, stayed at nicer hotels, and gambled quite a bit, if the adverts tell a true tale!
Your Special Taste in Music
And last but by no means least, we present the generations’ obsession with hi-fidelity sound, and a nation which bought ever bigger and better stereo equipment and ever clearer and crisper albums to play on it. What I wouldn’t give to sail back in a time machine and join those record clubs!