Modesty Blazes Anew: Lingerie’s Demure Ads Signal Changing Mood

With a new conservatism sweeping the country, some innerwear makers are toning down the sex factor in their advertising.

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NEW YORK — Fashion’s new modest mood is being signaled by none other than that sexiest of products — lingerie.

Executives from the intimate apparel, advertising and marketing fields believe lingerie offers a litmus test to developments in media censorship and could be further evidence of a change taking hold throughout fashion and entertainment after years of a no-holds-barred approach to sexually charged imagery. An ultraconservative environment — impacted by the Iraq war, terrorism, unemployment and theContinued from page one

economy — has marketers rethinking the tone and message of their ad campaigns.

In the last four months, three controversial events have triggered the turnaround: Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl, federal regulators fining Clear Channel Communications $495,000 for sexually explicit materials on the Howard Stern Show and the abrupt decision by Victoria’s Secret to drop its “Sexiest Night on TV” fashion show.

Part of the reason — 25 percent — Victoria’s Secret decided to cancel its annual catwalk show was due to the “environment,” beginning with Jackson’s breast-baring incident and Stern’s radio shocker, a Victoria’s Secret spokesman said in April. Officials at Victoria’s Secret could not be reached Friday, but the $3.8 billion lingerie specialist is said to be considering a tamer, less vampish image for the fall season.

A kinder, gentler atmosphere already is pervading Victoria’s Secret. A current TV ad features a weather-beaten-looking Bob Dylan and a young woman swathed in romantic-looking lingerie in a dream-like palazzo setting, as “Love Sick,” a track from Dylan’s latest CD, “Time Out of Mind,” plays.

Labeled an emotional buy, lingerie is an apparel category that is particularly vulnerable when it comes to the sensitivity level of consumers and how the product and message are conveyed and perceived. And there’s a fine line between sweet and dainty and blatantly sexy or sexually suggestive images that verge on soft porn.

Registering the mood of the moment, Robert Thompson, professor of Pop Culture at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, said, “The Janet Jackson event totally penetrated the culture and blew away much more important stories for several weeks — even the presidential campaign. First, it was an issue of bad press, the kind of bad press the Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue got.
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