At a time when polite society wouldn’t dream of hanging women’s and men’s underwear on the same clothesline, a Minnesota manufacturer dared to advertise the unmentionable. “Don’t Say Underwear,” crowed the ads, “Say Munsingwear!” Consumers of the 1890s responded. The company’s wildly popular “itchless” union suits represented a truly revolutionary advance.
When fashion and central heating changed the market, Munsingwear offered silk and nylon stockings, “stretchy-seat” briefs for men, and the essential Foundettes, the Spanx of its generation. Erotic ads showed underwear-clad women (or men) in provocative poses with promising captions: “Half-pint pants,” “Next Best to Nothing.” And by the 1940s and ’50s, Munsingwear was selling risqué lingerie in its famous Holly wood Vassarette line, including bullet bras, lacey merry widows, chiffon peignoirs, and silk sleepwear.
Beyond these playful and suggestive ad campaigns, author Susan Marks also provides a fascinating view of the company’s labor relations, from sweatshop conditions in the 1880s to the changed world of the 1920s, when Munsingwear provided free medical care, a library, teams and clubs, and Americanization classes.
Richly illustrated, In the Mood for Munsingwear is not just the history of a company but an intimate look at the changing mores of America.
Susan Marks is a freelance writer, producer, and director and the author of Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America’s First Lady of Food.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I am looking forward to reading the book because my dad worked there.
Munsingwear got its beginnings when George Munsing moved to Minnesota from New York in 1886 to make "itchless underwear" to sell in the region where winter was usually the coldest in the United States. As a superintendent at a New York knitting wear company, he had invented a process to "plate silk on wool" to make a fabric that would be as warm as woolen underwear yet not irritate the skin. Munsing's business was a success right from its start. And it continued to be successful with its innovations in undergarments and by staying in touch with the consumer market. The author Marks uses her talents as an author of popular nonfiction and a film director for a writing style dealing lightly yet informatively with such products requiring cagey advertising in a time when they were truly unmentionables and also a bright visual style highlighting not only the changing line of practical and attractive garments, but also the ads featuring them. Marks also writes about company operations, production equipment, and the employees, including the progressive relationship between them and management where by the 1920s, Munsingwear offered free medical care, a library, and other benefits. In the 1960s and '70s, Munsingwear had strong sales with sportswear, especially its Grand Slam golf shirt with a penguin logo worn by Bob Hope, Dean Martin, and other celebrities. Toward the end of the 1970s however, Munsingwear sales began to slump from what some analysts described as "revolving door management," but also from competition from designer and boutique brands and changing women's fashions influenced by feminism. Although the company had to move from its office and manufacturing buildings to new locations and lay off hundreds of employees, it nonetheless stayed in business; and in the past decade, with the interest in vintage fashions, it enjoyed a resurgence. The company capitalized on this in 2003 by introducing a new line of vintage-inspired sportswear named Original Penguin by Munsingwear.