About 30 years ago, I wrote my name on an official membership card, paid the $2 annual fee, and walked into Trashy Lingerie. I don’t remember which female friend took me there, but I know I was uncomfortable. Partly because sex makes me nervous. And mostly because I had to confront the fact that a woman viewed me so platonically that she took me underwear shopping.
Because of my inability to be normal about sex, I have spent much of my 51 years searching for mentors to teach me about human mating rituals. I spent an afternoon interviewing Hugh Hefner, but he just taught me how to scrapbook, which he’d done every week since he was in high school. I visited Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis in jail, but we ended up talking mostly about his tax-evasion charges. I brought porn star Sydnee Steele to a secret society at Yale called Porn ’n Chicken, where she offered commentary about feminism while students watched one of her films and ate fried chicken.
None of these people were able to deliver what I sought.
So a few weeks before Trashy Lingerie’s 50th anniversary on April 1, I returned to the store to meet Randy Shrier, owner. Randy was five when his parents opened the then-shoe store that transitioned fully to unmentionables in 1979, which means his first name was merely unfortunate and not cruel.
Trashy Lingerie was the Doc Martens of lingerie.
Before our meeting, I went to a previously scheduled lunch with TV writer Sascha Rothchild. When I told her where I was going next, she got extremely excited.
Back in 2000, Sascha was a girl in the plexiglass tank above the check-in desk at the West Hollywood Standard Hotel. As part of the gig, she said that Trashy supplied, at no charge, the white bra-and-panties sets she wore while looking disaffected. They also gave 50 percent off anything in the store to box girls, allowing Sascha to amass 20 outfits for her personal life. Having Trashy Lingerie as a sponsor made her feel cool.
“Frederick’s of Hollywood seemed like hookers on the Boulevard,” she explained over turkey burgers at Toast Bakery, where she used to waitress. “La Perla was for super-wealthy people. Victoria’s Secret was for your mall basic bitch. Trashy Lingerie was the Doc Martens of lingerie—it was like, ‘I’m going to look hot and kick ass.’ ”
I left lunch alone and walked up La Cienega Boulevard, past the display windows that made Sascha feel so powerful and me not at all so. I was particularly discomfited by the mannequin fully exposing her mannequin nipples, the S&M-themed display with the words “Monkey Love” (which made me confused now about both human and monkey sex), and the permanent life-size cutout of a burlesque dancer with the words “Park in Rear” written on her backside, which I did understand. It meant anal sex.
I passed the $2 gatekeeper and found Randy in the main room. He was on the phone, sitting on a worn leather couch, wearing a sweatshirt and flip-flops, surrounded by two of his dogs and a third owned by an employee. The store is a little bit bordello, a smidge grandma, and a lot hoarder. The rooms are stuffed with corsets, camisoles, chemises, cinches, camigarters, and things that don’t start with “c.”
Randy feels less like the Yoda of sex than a business owner. One of the first things he tells me is that Sascha has a bad memory. “My grandmother paid retail,” he says, debunking my friend’s claim of any box-girl discount. Still, Randy was perfectly placed to bear witness to the massive shifts in sexuality during the past half-century, having started working in his parents’ store after graduating from the Army and Navy Academy boys military school in Carlsbad in the 1980s. After all, this is the store that made the black bustier with golden tassels that Madonna twirled on her 1987 Who’s That Girl tour, the black- leather catsuit Pamela Anderson wiggled into in Barb Wire, the bunny outfit Reese Witherspoon hopped around in for Legally Blonde, the dominatrix outfit Marcia Clark hid under her suit during the O.J. Simpson trial to make her feel powerful, and the 36D corset Caitlyn Jenner displayed on the cover of Vanity Fair.
So I sidled up to him on the worn couch in the middle of his store and asked him for his wisdom. “In the 1980s to 2000s, it was boob jobs. Now it’s these enormous asses,” he told me. I wrote this down in a notebook. Next, he informed me that in the 1970s and 1980s, underwear was high-waisted; in the 1990s, they sank low on the hip and only hiked up a little bit. “It’s because all the women were shaving or waxing, so it went lower,” he explained. I wrote this down, too. The smallest size has gone from a 24-inch to a 25-inch waist. “They were 24-inch because they were all doing blow. Now the 25-inch is hard as a rock because they’re doing Pilates,” he explained. “All the girls come by with smoothies. In the 1980s, they’d come in with a drink.”
These were great observations about fashion and health, but not the insight I was hoping for. I asked about bigger changes he’d seen. Last year, he said, Trashy got rid of its Indian-themed costumes because of cultural appropriation. Randy and Edy Abbey, who has been a salesperson at the store for 33 years, then got into a discussion about whether they should also pull the Princess Jasmine outfit, eventually deciding not to—yet.
The biggest change is that they’ve also become a huge Halloween costume store. The holiday, which they helped sex up by providing outfits for the Playboy Mansion’s annual party, accounts for about 65 percent of their sales. Valentine’s Day, in comparison, brings in only about 1 percent of their revenue. Decades ago, Christmas was the busy season, when so many men would come in and buy lingerie as presents for their wives that Trashy hired two present wrappers.
Before Slutoween, Trashy made big money by selling complicated handmade outfits for strippers, porn stars, and people who went clubbing. Now, he says, people go out to dinner instead of clubs. Strippers and porn stars work at home as camgirls with simple outfits, if any.
Working from home, cultural appropriation, men buying their wives Christmas gifts that are actually for them—these were general sociological insights, not the ones I was hoping for. But when I press for more, he tells me not much has changed. That chainmail top Brigitte Nielsen wore in 1987 when Herb Ritts photographed her for Playboy? A copy is hanging near the cash register, and they sold one recently. All the items in the store, he says, were here from nearly the beginning. There’s nothing new under the trashy sun.
“We’re in a time warp in here,” says Edy, the salesperson.
“Because you wear it indoors,” explains Randy.
Fashion moves quickly when people are in public, looking for new ways to get attention. But sweatpants haven’t changed much. Neither have sexy outfits.
I thanked Randy and left the store, feeling as uncomfortable as I did 30 years ago. Maybe, I realized, I still don’t want to know about sex.