Playtex is an American brand name for undergarments, baby products, gloves, feminine products and sunscreen. It was founded in 1947, when International Latex Corporation (ILC) created a division named Playtex to produce and sell latex products. Playtex was the first to advertise undergarments on national television in 1955 and the first to show a woman wearing only a bra from the waist-up in a commercial in 1977.
Playtex-branded tampons were introduced in the 1960s and became the primary competition to incumbent Tampax. Playtex invented the plastic tampon applicator in 1973. It was one of the tampon manufacturers that were sued for aggressively advertising over-absorbent tampons, which led to toxic shock syndrome.
Playtex was acquired by Esmark in 1975, and then by Beatrice Foods in 1985. A year later it was acquired for $1.25 billion and its cosmetics brands were sold to Revlon. In 1988, Playtex split into two companies, Playtex Apparel Inc. and Playtex Products LLC. Playtex Apparel was sold to Sara Lee in 1991, and to HanesBrands in 2007.
Abram Nathaniel Spanel founded Playtex’s predecessor, the International Latex Corporation (ILC), in 1932 to produce latex products, like bathing caps, swimwear and baby pants.ILC moved to Dover, Delaware, in 1939, making it the first large, non-agricultural business in the city.
A woman leaping while wearing a 1940s latex girdle
ILC did not produce apparel for adults until the introduction of the Living Girdle in 1940, after patenting a method of manufacturing latex girdles that would not tear at the seams if they had a small tear or hole. The Living Girdle was advertised with images of mobility and comfort, such as women playing tennis or leaping while wearing it, though the solid rubber girdle was actually very uncomfortable.
During World War II, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Japanese invasion of Malaysia cut off Allied manufacturers from their largest sources of latex. As supplies ran out and demand for consumer products fell, ILC halted production; sales would not resume until 1946. The company almost went out of business during the war, so it created an industrial division to find government and military applications for latex.Playtex was founded in 1947 as one of four divisions ILC re-organized into. Its name was a portmanteau of “play” and “latex”, reflecting its focus on latex products. Playtex’s marketing in the post-war era was influential in creating the shift from custom-tailored undergarments to manufactured sizes. For example, the company introduced large floor displays with fitting charts, so women could find the right size without a custom fitting.
In 1954, ILC was sold to Stanley Warner Corporation for $15 million($134 million in modern dollars). The following year, it was the first to advertise under-garments on network television. In 1962, the industrial division of Playtex was awarded a contract to develop space suits for the Apollo mission to the moon. Two years prior to the 1969 moon landing that used its latex suits, Playtex’s industrial division was spun off, eventually becoming ILC Dover.