Perhaps the most outlandish part of the famed Bunny Manual is its use of a merit and demerit system to govern the Bunnies. With an order that seemed one part military and one part summer camp, the Bunnies would receive demerits for even the tiniest of infractions, including having an unspecific “scruffy” tail on one’s uniform. If multiple faults were earned, punishments would be incurred. Other demerit sources included chipped manicures, runs in nylon stockings, and chewing gum.
Another area for demerits was in personal presentation. The Bunny Manual dictated that Bunnies were always to be cheerful and have a smile on their faces. While it is standard in the service industry to encourage a pleasant demeanor, incurring demerits for letting your smile lapse for just a moment is dehumanizing at best. On another dehumanizing note, despite not being allowed to fraternize with club patrons, all Bunnies were forced to undergo a pelvic examination and blood test for STIs. Failure to submit to these tests was grounds for termination, and merely being late for the appointment was worth 20 demerits.
In lieu of an actual Human Resources department and proper grievance reporting system, the Playboy Club relied on a “Bunny Council” that worked in coordination with Bunny Mothers to manage any disputes or issues among female staff. According to the 1968 Bunny Manual, the Bunny Council consisted of a representative from each club room. Once per month, all the representatives met with the club’s Bunny Mother to speak on behalf of the Bunnies from their rooms. The Bunny Mother was then responsible for presenting the comments, in writing, to the General Manager of the club.
In addition to the Bunny Council, there were general Bunny Meetings once per month which all Bunnies were required to attend. The Bunny Manual stated that missing a Bunny Meeting was to be treated as severely as skipping an entire work shift. The Bunny Council was intended to handle feedback that Bunnies were uncomfortable staring at the larger Bunny Meetings. After each Bunny Council meeting, the General Manager’s feedback on the provided comments would be disseminated among all of the Bunnies. Despite the rather odd way of handling it, it is clear that the Playboy Club operated as a well-organized business and treated their Bunnies as regular employees, despite the supposed glamor and mystery of the position.
The Bunny club uniforms came with only two bust sizes: 34D and 36D. If you are unfamiliar with bust sizing, both of these sizes are for very small rib cages with huge breasts. Bra sizing is the contract between your rib cage size and the size of the fullest part of your chest, so a 34D means a vast difference between the rib cage and chest size. Since many women aren’t born with that large of breasts, bra stuffing was an essential part of wearing the Playboy Club uniform.
Women would use numerous different items, including socks, kleenex, and crumpled dry cleaning bags, to fill out the cups of their uniforms. When Gloria Steinem infiltrated the Bunny club, she was given a uniform two inches smaller than her body everywhere except her chest. Her Bunny mother gave her a plastic dry-cleaning bag to fill out the chest area. Bra stuffing and using multiple layers of bras are among tricks still used by dancers, “booth babes” and other performers. The Bunnies also used their extra bra cup space to stash their tips, which led to their bras being known as “the vault.”
In a system reminiscent of fraternity and sorority mothers, Bunny Mothers supervised the Playboy Bunnies and acted as mentors. The Bunny Manual compared the Bunny Mothers to college advisers and specified that they would especially help the Bunnies with their physical appearance. Bunny Mothers supervised costume appearance, makeup application, and the other physical standards prescribed by the merit-demerit system. Gloria Steinem verified in her undercover article that the Bunny Mothers provided “friendly personal counseling.” Since all women were employees of the Playboy Club and not independent contractors, as is standard in strip clubs, there wasn’t a culture of competition that is often documented among strip club workers. The Playboy Club employee culture was most frequently compared to a college sorority.
Bunny Mothers were also responsible for delivering the harsher elements of the club’s lifestyle. One Bunny Mother told a 28-year-old woman that “When you start looking wilted, you’re through as far as Hef is concerned,” referring to club founder Hugh Hefner. Bunny Mothers inspected Bunnies before they started their shifts to ensure compliance with club rules and also managed the daily weigh-ins to ensure Bunnies stayed in the correct physical condition. Bunny Mothers also provided bra stuffing material and advice to help women fill out their uniforms.
7. Bunnies Couldn’t Date or Fraternize With Club Members
One of the core tenets of Hugh Hefner’s business model was portraying the unattainability of his Playboy Bunnies to his club members. A Bunny Manual told Bunnies, “Men are very excited about being in the company of Elizabeth Taylor, but they know they can’t paw or proposition her. The moment that they felt they could become familiar with her, she would not have the aura of glamour that now surrounds her. The same must be true of our Bunnies.” Bunnies could be fired on the spot if it were discovered they had gone on a date with a club patron. It is speculated that part of this rule was also to help protect the club from claims of running a brothel or escort service.
However, there was a group of men exempt from this policy: C1 Keyholders. The group of C1 Keyholders consisted of Hugh Hefner himself, executives of the Playboy company, and any rich and famous men that Hugh Hefner wanted to impress. Bunnies were explicitly allowed to date any man who was a C1 Keyholder. While these policies are quite draconian by today’s standards, past Bunnies argue that the policies helped keep them safe from inappropriate behavior and unwanted advances.
Training for Playboy Bunnies was very rigorous, as documented by Gloria Steinem, with Bunnies having to successfully pass through several phases of training before being allowed on the club floor. Women had to learn the “bunny dip” a way of pouring drinks without leaning. They also had to learn hundreds of liquor names and cocktail recipes by heart to impress guests. Women undergoing the training were supposed to come away from it with a “mix of cheekiness, charm, and enterprise.”
Due to wanting a remarkably uniform culture and feel between all clubs, including international locations, Playboy required all Bunnies to be trained in the United States. When the London Playboy club opened, Hugh Hefner personally chose the women who would become Bunnies and flew them to the US for their intensive six-week training. Even American women from diverse backgrounds were required to go through the cultural practice, with one former black bunny saying, “I was a young Black girl coming from South Central LA. So the difference between a New York steak and a filet mignon, or what chicken Kiev was, I didn’t know. What were they talking about? The six weeks of training, all the brand names, what [mixer] goes with what. I’d never heard anyone have a gin-and-tonic with lime.”
5. Jet Bunnies Staffed Hugh Hefner’s Personal Plane
In 1970, Hugh Hefner bought a private plane and renovated it at the cost of $34 million in today’s currency. He painted the plane jet black and added lights to pick out the playboy logo on the side of the plane. Inside, the aircraft was basically the Playboy Mansion with rich leather furniture and even a giant bed for Hefner to lay on during flights. Hefner referred to the plane as the “Big Bunny” and had former Bunnies trained as flight attendants so he could have Bunnies on his plane during every flight.
Former Bunnies from Chicago and Los Angeles were trained by Continental Airlines to be flight attendants and wore modified Playboy Bunny uniforms that included black boots, black mini-dresses, and aviator scarves. In keeping with his outlandish image, one recipient of a Big Bunny flight described Hugh Hefner as spending “most of his time in his salon at the back, lounging in pajamas on an oval bed covered in silk sheets and Tasmanian opossum fur bedspreads.” The Jet Bunnies, he noted, whipped up fancy dinners and staffed a discotheque in the middle of the plane.
4. Earning Money as a Bunny Was Harder Than Advertised
The advertised wages for Bunnies in 1961 were $200 to $300 a week, a great deal at the time. However, earning that much wasn’t always so easy. Bunnies had a portion of their tips claimed by the club. Bunnies also had to arrive at least an hour to get dressed and do their hair and makeup, which was unpaid time. Demerits for makeup application errors, chipped nails, and so on would lead to docked wages. Bunnies also had to purchase and maintain their uniforms through expensive dry cleaning.
Bunnies determined to make good pay could take on extra opportunities, including working for private parties. Bunnies did, in most cases, make excellent tips due to the wealth required for men to join the club. Celebrities, executives, and members of organized crimes were frequent patrons of the club and typically tipped very generously. Men were often mocked by photo and cigarette girls, who worked the floor selling both for a nickel a piece if the men paid only the recommended amount. One former Bunny remembered making over $1,000 a week, an unheard-of amount for women at the time. She made so much in cash she forgot to cash her paychecks at the end of the week.
The pay for Playboy Bunnies was advertised as $200 to $300 a week, which, at the time, was the equivalent of the salary of a Madison Avenue ad man, like Don Draper in Mad Men. Given the extremely high pay, there was an incredible amount of competition for the positions. Women had to meet the initial requirements of being thin and conventionally attractive and most often, white. They had to be, in the words of a Playboy recruiting poster, “not a broad or a ‘hippy.” The women had to meet the subjective standard of being sexually appealing without being lewd or cheap-looking.
If women met those standards, which few reportedly did out of over 400 in the initial hiring process, the women needed to also be between the ages of 21 and 24 and either single or married, no engaged or dating women were permitted. Women were then subjected to mandatory physical examinations by a physician to test for STIs, pelvic condition, the straightness of their legs, overall health, and more. It should be noted that none of these tests were required due to local or state regulations of waitresses at the time, they were unique to the Playboy clubs.
A former Playboy Bunny, Kathryn Leigh Scott, reflected on the culture of the Playboy Club saying, “If you think about it, Hefner started his magazine when young men were coming home from the Korean War. A lot were the first in their family to go to college. They were entering a more cosmopolitan, sophisticated world, and he, therefore, started that magazine. It was sort of a primer for young men, giving them advice on what hi-fi equipment to buy, how to take a girl out to dinner, order in a restaurant.” Hefner took dancing girls and female escorts out of the seedy underbelly of dive bars and strip clubs and made them an unobtainable icon of beauty and culture.
Hefner was mostly single-handedly responsible for ushering in this new culture of high-brow escort services. The exclusivity of the club keyholders and the wealth needed to acquire a key made doors open for those who owned the keys. Only one in every four members who received a key ever actually visited a Playboy Club, just holding the key was enough of a status symbol to be influential.
Since Playboy Bunnies were employees and not contractors, they could organize and strike, just like any other employees. So, in 1972, they did! Unsurprisingly, given the relatively hostile union conditions in the United States, it was the London Playboy Bunnies who first went on strike in 1972. The Bunnies were attempting to join the Transport and General Worker’s Union. As the London Club rapidly grew in popularity and earnings, the Bunnies wanted to join a union to ensure they were receiving an equitable share of the club’s profits and enjoying safe working conditions.
In 1975, Chicago Bunnies went on strike with different aims. The Chicago women wanted the freedom to date any man who frequented the club, not just C1 Keyholders, the freedom to use their own names as their Bunny names, and the ability to attend the clubs themselves as key holders. The Chicago strike was closely aligned with sex-positive feminism and the women’s liberation movement, the debate around which was raging across the United States at the time. The Bunnies argued that many of the rules from the club’s creation in 1961 were no longer appropriate and shouldn’t apply to the Bunnies of 1975.
Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources: