This 1986 photo from the Chigago Sun Times archives shows three variations on the Playboy Bunny costume: (from left) the Cabaret Bunny, the standard Bunny and the original 1960s Bunny.
Playboy magazine and the Playboy Bunny were among the most memorable icons of the 1960s, at least to most males over the age of 12 at the time.
The best selling Playboy issue was the November 1972 edition, featuring Swedish model Lena Soderberg on its cover, which sold 7,161,561 copies. While the magazine’s popularity has diminished greatly from peak in the 1970s, it’s still one of the world’s best selling men’s magazines.
The Playboy Bunnies who wore the iconic costumes were waitresses who served drinks at Playboy Clubs. There were several types of Bunnies, such as Floor Bunny, Cigarette Bunny, Door Bunny, Playmate Bunny and the Jet Bunnies—or Bunnies who were trained flight attendants.
Though the original magazine dates back to December 1953, the idea for the costume dates to about 1960. References claim the costume itself was the brainchild of Playboy’s director of promotions, Victor Lownes, with modifications suggested by the creator of Playboy empire, Hugh Hefner.
Originally the outfit was first displayed in an early episode of “Playboy’s Penthouse,” an American variety-talk television show hosted by Hefner. The costume is recorded to have made its debut at the opening of the first Playboy Club in Chicago on the evening of Feb. 29, 1960.
The original costume was similar to a strapless, one-piece bathing suit, with oversized ears and a tail. Some references report it came in 10 colors, but without the now familiar collar and cuffs. Nametags and rosettes were added to the costume in 1961.
While the outfits were often custom-fitted and sewn for each girl, the costume remained the property of Playboy. Bunnies illegally removed hundreds of the vintage costumes from the Playboy Clubs. Others were illegally sold during liquidation of franchised Playboy Clubs. Very few were ever gifted to retiring Bunnies by Playboy.
Today, values for items like this can vary tremendously, depending on the venue of the sale and number of eager collectors attending. The highest price we have recorded for a genuine Bunny outfit was at a Christie’s auction on Dec. 17, 2003—a lime-green Bunny suit that sold for $14,340.
That said, in recent years other vintage Bunny outfits had presale estimates in the $1,500 to $4,000 range.
Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.
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