I’m Mandy, Fly Me

In 1969, Hugh Hefner took delivery of what may have been the most decadent corporate toy of all time. Costing a cool $9M (the equivalent of over $55M today), Hefner’s stretched DC-9 jet had 12 onboard beds, a disco, lounge, bar, sunken roman bath, a full crystal dinner set for 32 people, and – as befitted the founder of Playboy Magazine – an elliptical king-sized water bed for the boss, covered with Tasmanian opossum fur.

The “Big Bunny”, or “Hare Force One” as it was jokingly called, was painted all black with a Playboy bunny head logo on the tail. The plane carried spotlights to ensure that the logo remained illuminated in flight. Hefner and his guests could enjoy In-flight meals that included lobster and roast beef, then sit back and enjoy an entertainment system that included two film projectors and a video player.

There was also a crew of four ‘Jet Bunnies’ onboard. These were recruited from girls that had worked in the Playboy clubs in Chicago and Los Angeles and trained at Continental Airlines’ stewardess school. Hefner wanted his flight attendants to look like they had stepped out of a James Bond movie, so they wore black custom uniforms designed by Walter Holmes.

Holmes is an interesting character – the fashion historian Jonathan Walford has provided a fascinating outline biography of the designer on his blog, which you can find here. In the nineteen sixties he was living and working in Chicago, where Playboy Enterprises happened to be based. In 1968 Holmes had earned much press attention, not to mention to wrath of the Catholic Church, for a collection of nun-themed “Medieval Minis,” which may have been what attracted Hefner’s attention.

The Jet Bunny uniform is a classic product of its time. There were a couple of variants, one based on around a mini-dress, the other a tunic and pants. The material used was black, shiny, and entirely artificial – it often gets described as leather, but really it was leatherette – a fabric base treated with soft PVC. It was accessorized with a white Playboy aviator’s scarf and, because this was 1969/70, a pair of tall black boots.

The boots were also black stretch vinyl, low heeled and tall enough to just cover the knees, where they were secured with a strap and buckle. As you’ll have seen if you’ve read this blog, this was a very popular design during the years between 1968 and 1971. Sleek, tight fitting boots of this sort were part of a general move, begun by designers like Pierre Cardin, to create a more slimline silhouette for women’s clothing, suitable for a time when eyes were fixed on the future and technology was seen to hold all the answers to humanity’s problems. Not to mention that they were unabashedly sexy.

It’s not surprising that Hefner adopted this look for the Jet Bunnies. What’s more surprising is how common mini-skirts, hot pants, and boots were as uniforms for commercial flight attendants during this period. Originally I’d planned to for this piece to segue neatly into a consideration of this, but then, just this week, Hefner went and died on me. So the flight attendant piece will have to wait until the next post.

Hefner’s demise, at the ripe old age of 91, was an opportunity for various broadsheets like the New York Times and the Washington Post to lionize him as a crusader for liberal values and individual freedoms. Inevitably this led to a counterpunch from other publications, pointing out that Hefner’s values did not extend to the various young women who lived and worked with him. As Nathan Robinson succinctly put it, “Hefner wanted to be free, but he wanted to be free from government tyranny only so he could exercise a kind of unaccountable private tyranny. As with libertarianism always, ‘freedom to be a dick’ seems to be the goal.”

Which brings us back to the Jet Bunnies. Those awesome, wet look uniforms may have signified the sleek, space age ambitions of the late sixties, but they also say a lot about a world in which a wealthy man could dress women up in the way he wanted and have them on-hand to wait on him and his friends. There’s nothing wrong with hot pants and boots… it’s whether the person that’s wearing them gets to choose that’s the issue.

Selected References:

  • Anon. 2017. See what it was like to fly on the ‘Big Bunny,’ Hugh Hefner’s customized Playboy jet. Business Insider. September 28, 2017. Retrieved Sept 30, 2017.
  • Pemberton, R. 2015. The Mile High Club Hugh Hefner style: A fascinating look inside the glamorous Playboy jet Big Bunny in the swinging Sixties (complete with wild discos, onboard showers and air hostesses clad in leather). Daily Mail, November 27, 2015. Accessed, Sept 30, 2015.
  • Robinson, N.J. 2017. Good riddance to an abusive creep. Current Affairs, September 28, 2017. Retrieved Sept 30, 2017.
    Sigel, R. 2011. Hugh Hefner’s Big Bunny Jet – Hare Force One. Jet Gala Magazine, August 2011. Retrieved Sept. 30, 2017.
  • Walford, J. 2012. Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Walter Holmes. Jonathan Walford’s Blog, July 24, 2012. Retrieved Sept 30. 2017.

Image Sources:

  • Hugh Hefner poses with two Jet Bunnies, Associated Press via Daily Mail

Ruth Pearson, 1946-2017

Yesterday I found out that Ruth Pearson had died. It happened back in June, but somehow I missed it. The British papers noted her passing, briefly, but the Times gave her a generous obituary for a woman who had spent the last few years of her career working quietly in local government administration and IT. But for men of a certain generation, Ruth Pearson was, quite simply, sex on two legs.

Pearson was a founder member of a dance troupe called Pan’s People, who danced on the hugely popular BBC TV show Top of the Pops. Her mother was Israeli, and she had a touch of sabra about her that made her seem impossibly exotic to a kid from the outer reaches of the London suburbs. She was one of six dancers (eventually cut to five) that performed to hits when the actual artists weren’t available in person. Viewed from the distance of nearly 50 years, PP routines look quite demure, but at the time they were seen as quite scandalous. They were the reason your dad was prepared to sit through half an hour of David Cassidy, Mudd, and the Osmonds.

They earn an honorable mention in this blog because they frequently wore boots as part of their costumes, not surprisingly given that their TOTP career from 1968 to 1976 spanned the period of peak popularity for this style of footwear and that they were also frequently clad in hot pants or miniskirts (for the record, in later life Pearson was more than a little ambivalent about this. “I’m not very sentimental about my time in Pan’s. The music, the clothes and the dances all made some of it a bit . . . bleurgh”).

It’s possible to draw a wider cultural conclusion from the fact that Pan’s People’s late seventies successors, Legs & Co. (1976-1981, managed by Pearson), rarely wore boots on TOTP, preferring more disco-appropriate high-heeled sandals. By contrast, their punkish rivals on ITV, Hot Gossip (1978-1981), tended to go for a lot of rubber and PVC fetish wear, including spiky heeled thighboots. In this sense, they reflect wider trends in the evolution of fashion.

But the reason I’m writing a post about Ruth Pearson is that her passing makes me feel very old. I grew up in a time when it seemed quite natural for a music program on a national TV channel to employ a team of dancing girls. For good or ill, that notion seems impossibly quaint now, as archaic as steam trains and non-metric currency. Pans’ People were, in the words of the Times, the epitome of “an innocent and carefree era in popular culture when London was swinging and everything was groovy.” I can’t help feeling a little nostalgic for simpler times.

RIP, Ruth.


Ruth Pearson, obituary. The Times (London), June 29, 2017. Accessed, 9/2/2017

One for the Dads. Accessed 9/2/2017

Dickins, C., Lord, B., Wilde, D., Pearson, R., and Barnard, S. 2013. Pan’s People: Our Story. Signum Books, 208pp.

Image Source

One for the Dads Forum