Look, I’m not judging: Victoria’s Secret catalogs were one of the first things you probably beat off to. Who could blame you? You poached these real-life angel lookbooks from your mom or sister and dog-eared pages for the time you could sneak off to your room and yank it to the sorts of women a teen boy could only dream of: women who were lithe or Brazilian, and women who were lithe and Brazilian. The catalog ceased printing in 2016, but now, thanks to retrograde ideas and some very public missteps, the company itself is tanking faster than pubescent ejaculation. It might be time to prepare yourself for the end of an era. Isn’t that sad?
Not really! Here’s why.
Victoria’s Secret’s fashion show ratings are down, CEO Jan Singer resigned and the brand is fading fast with its customers, as evidenced by decreasing sales over the last few years. Recent lines have been described as bland and poorly made, and the brand lacks the sort of authentic backstory millennials require these days.
Two years ago, a brand analyst predicted VS would be the next retailer millennials would “ultimately dethrone,” because they couldn’t abandon their affection for stale logos (“PINK” emblazoned across the ass of athleisure wear), and their obsession with presenting one consistent type of female body across all the models at a time of peak demand for diversity and inclusivity. What’s more, Victoria’s Secret has no clear cause or alliance outside of presenting a fantasy for male consumption and female aspiration.
That was more than enough for decades, but the times, they are a changin’.
The CMO Is Stuck in the Past
In an interview with Vogue this month, Ed Razek, chief marketing officer of parent company L Brands, made clear they don’t want plus-size models or trans women to represent the brand. They’ve thought about it, they just don’t need to market to anyone other than who they already sell to:
I think we address the way the market is shifting on a constant basis. If you’re asking if we’ve considered putting a transgender model in the show or looked at putting a plus-size model in the show, we have. We invented the plus-size model show in what was our sister division, Lane Bryant. Lane Bryant still sells plus-size lingerie, but it sells a specific range, just like every specialty retailer in the world sells a range of clothing. As do we. We market to who we sell to, and we don’t market to the whole world.
Later, he elaborated, calling transgender people transsexual, which is an outdated term that is typically less used and offensive for some transgender people:
Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is.
I Don’t Get It. Don’t Guys Like Hot Babes?
Of course, but the strict definition of hot is changing! There is no longer one monolithic standard for female beauty or sex appeal, and the increasing fragmentation of porn and fashion everywhere else show us that there’s a market for, and desire for, beauty presented in all sizes and all sexual orientations. Fantasy knows no specific measurements.
As transgender model Munroe Bergdorf told Mic about Razek’s comments:
“Discriminating against any model on the basis of wanting to provide a fantasy is ridiculous, as a fantasy can be whatever you want it to be. If you only want that to include very beautiful, very thin, very cisgender, very femme models then you should say that — not make an excuse for the fact that you are actually transphobic and fatphobic.”
But the Real Issue Is Lingerie Is So Much Better Now
The lingerie market has also changed, in large part in response to body-positivity movements that argue women are sexy and beautiful at every size and ought to be able to buy sexy things that fit them. At Victoria’s Secret, sizes don’t go bigger than a 16 or an XL, at a time when plus-size markets offer up to a 24 or 28 to accommodate a wide range of shapes. A number of competing companies have rushed in to fill that gap, offering sexy underthings in a wide range of sizes with campaigns that stress diversity, inclusiveness and body positivity, such as ThirdLove, True&Co, and others. They’re better made, offer better customer service and are built on a mission of acceptance for all body types. They also tend to focus more on being comfortable and wearable than the old-fashioned crotch-chafers of ill-fitting lingerie that looked sexy but had you itching all night.
And then there’s the style itself. VS still peddles an extremely standard-issue, generic sort of sexy lingerie at a time when companies are branching out to offer more vintage styles and more high-end design. Agent Provocateur, for instance, with its more sophisticated, refined lines and taste, makes Victoria’s Secret look like the sleazy feather boas and tarted-up lace stockings you used to have to go to Frederick’s of Hollywood for.
So Victoria’s Secret Is Kinda Trash Now?
Li’l bit. It’s not hard to find people noting that Victoria’s Secret is not the class act it used to be anymore:
It wasn’t always so. Check out this great collection of vintage Victoria’s Secret catalog shots from its origins back in the ’70s and ’80s, even through the ’90s when it still sold apparel and actually seemed kind of classy for the time.
Looking at it now, it’s always seemed a little cheesy, like a costume version of playing Rich, Sexy Heiress. As someone who occasionally ordered apparel from the catalog in the ’90s, I can tell you that even then, it was disappointingly cheaply made.
Now, the catalog’s cheesy lace and the fashion show’s elaborate cosplay look like an incredibly sheltered teenage boy’s idea of what a harem might lounge around in. The models, who no one would argue lost their looks, used to represent a rare breed of exotically high fashion with lusty appeal. Now it looks like a time capsule for an era when we pretended no other kind of beauty existed.
That’s just not how we think of sexy anymore:
So No Need to Pour One Out for Our Homie?
In fairness, Victoria’s Secret was started for a perfectly logical reason. It was founded by a man in the 1970s, Roy Raymond, who was famously embarrassed buying lingerie for his wife because of all the “ugly floral-print nylon nightgowns” for sale in typical department stores.
That’s a good thing. But so much of the pornified world we inhabit, from Playboy to Victoria’s Secret, is a double-edged sword for women. It frees us from the constraints of schoolmarm-ish propriety, but it often has the unintended consequence of trapping us in a new, equally impossible prison.
Raymond’s creation not only became the No. 1 lingerie brand, but its image of Angels and lace and inaccessible accessibility, and the models who represent it, became synonymous with a mainstream ideal of sexy. And while this ideal was easy for men to want, it was never so easy for most women to aspire to. That’s changed. Some things need to go away.
Still, go ahead and pour one out. Vicky’s Secret is an iconic brand that for a long time was the standard bearer of our notion of How to Be a Sexy Woman. It’s just that they stood for the idea that there’s only one fantasy, and that’s just not true. Women finally, after decades of protest, get to be the closest thing to real they’ve ever been — stretch marks and all, flaws and all, back fat and all.
For most of us, it’s a good, if not particularly malicious, riddance. I can’t speak for men. But if I might offer a gentle suggestion: You should be as thrilled as we are. Body positivity has given us all permission to feel good about however we look, and that goes both ways.