A Eulogy for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show
by Kattoo King
Here lies the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. The one cultural event equally beloved by fashionistas and straight boys with limited access to internet porn.
This time last year, everything felt different. Interns were frantically gluing Swarovski crystals to G-strings, and models were switching to a liquid diet. Now Victoria’s Secret, like so many young women, is an empty shell of her former self with a vague connection to Jeffery Epstein.
The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show had access to the best of everything. The most popular models walked down the runway in wings created by a team of leading costume designers, sculptors, and carpenters, to a soundtrack provided by the hottest musicians. And this year, for the first time since its inception in 1995, it’s not happening. Victoria’s Secret is still the star player of the women’s lingerie game. So what went wrong?
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When I first started buying bras, Victoria’s Secret was the dictator of the women’s underwear market. The Victoria’s Secret in my local mall terrified me. The entrance of the store was flanked by two larger than life photographs of models that intimidated me, like sexy sphinxes. I still shopped there because ten years ago, Victoria’s Secret seemed like the only acceptable place to buy a bra.
I became a dedicated Victoria’s Secret customer until the mid 2010s, when I realized that wearing lace underwear didn’t actually make me more confident. And somehow every woman must have come to that realization at the same time, because Victoria’s Secret stock prices peaked in 2015.
Victoria’s Secret has been on the decline for a while, despite overall growth in the women’s lingerie market. There is increased competition from internet-based lingerie brands such as ThirdLove and Bare Necessities. Both online and traditional retailers have been competing with Victoria’s Secret by offering an alternative to the overtly sexy VS aesthetic.
Arie, Victoria’s Secret’s main mall competitor, has doubled its market share in the past five years by selling the image of authenticity. Not to mention, the fashions have simply changed. More women are ditching the underwire and push up bras VS pushes in favor of cheaper and more comfortable bralettes. I don’t know who the first woman to wear a bralette was, but I’m sure that’s because the CEO of Victoria’s Secret took out a hit on her.
Despite the company’s struggles, the VSFS was still “A Thing.”
Every year, fashion publications obsessed about the show for months before and after the event. People paid extreme attention to who was walking in the show. Walking the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is like being inducted into the modeling hall of fame. After the show, the internet is abuzz with clips from the show, and in the past few years, more than a few think pieces. I never cared that much about the VSFS, but as someone with an interest in fashion, it was unavoidable. The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show felt like an unstoppable force, and I was a very movable object.
By broadcasting the show on television, the Victoria’s Secret fashion show invited everyday women into the world of high fashion. Victoria’s Secret emphasized “selling the fantasy”, a phrase which has earned them criticism over the past few years.
The fantasy Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was an economic fantasy as much as it was a sexual one. Every woman with a TV was suddenly sitting front row, in a place of importance. While she might never see a fashion week tent in her life, she lives within driving distance of a mall.
The world of high fashion isn’t as hidden from the everyday woman as it once was. For a long time the VSFS was one of the few productions you could actually watch. Now Vogue Runway, and the Instagram feed of your favorite designer, provide the same experience for free whenever you want it. The increased accessibility of runway fashion is great for me and anyone else who loves clothes, but unfortunately for Victoria’s Secret. It doesn’t sell panties.
Victoria’s Secret isn’t the only company suffering right now. The entire retail industry is in a state of crisis. If increased competition from body positive lingerie brands, and greater visibility of runway fashion were nails in the coffin of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, the looming retail crisis is a foot long railroad spike.
With most brick-and-mortar retailers struggling in the age of online shopping, banks are coming to collect on long outstanding loans that retailers often need to stay competitive. In past years, VS could afford to borrow $20 million to put on the fashion show, because the boom in sales after the show would pay for itself five times over. These days it’s harder for a retailer to get a loan, and Victoria’s Secret’s drop in market share has likely earned the company higher interest rates.
Once these retailers find themselves saddled with debt, they are bought and run into the ground by private equity firms. It’s why Toys R Us went bankrupt, despite selling one in every five toys sold in the US, and it’s why Forever 21 is currently bankrupt.
As much as we all wish the VS fashion show went down because of the company’s transphobia, or connection to Jeffery Epstein, Victoria’s Secret probably cut out its expensive fashion show to avoid meeting the same fate as fellow mall rat Forever 21.
I’m no Victoria’s Secret stan, but it’s still a little sad to see it go. If nothing else, the Victoria’s Secret fashion show was a camp extravaganza. Camp is still alive on runways, the red carpet, and now the Met, but the VSFS was camp for the everywoman.
It feels like someone has turned on the lights at the party that was the fashion industry. This is probably how the makers of spandex and hairspray felt during the grunge wave of the 90s. I truly don’t know if there’s still a place for VS style showmanship in mass market fashion. I’m sure the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show will be remembered, and talked about for many years to come. It will have its place in history, next to Twiggy’s miniskirt, Farrah Fawcett’s flip, and Lil Kim’s pasties.
If nothing else, the Victoria’s Secret fashion show was a symbol of the times.