Long before Hugh Hefner and his guests in the Playboy Mansion graced television reality shows, women known as "Bunnies" served as the waitstaff in Hefner's clubs. Bunnies were distinct from Playmates, and clubs carefully vetted women for elite roles in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and London. Rare in the 1960s, Playboy Bunnies were afforded a largely unprecedented level of financial independence, and many were able to save enough money to purchase their own homes.
Playboy Bunny jobs were competitive; hundreds of girls often interviewed for the handful of available positions. Hires were trained intensely using the "Bunny Manual" and outfitted with their uniforms. However, as glamorous as the job could be, there were downsides. Bunnies were subjected to strict rules, such as daily weigh-ins and strict appearance standards. Not abiding by the rules could get a Bunny fired or, at the very least, have her pay docked.
Despite exposes and tell-alls about being a Bunny, many former Bunnies have fond memories of their time at the Playboy Club during its early years and saw it as an introduction to an entirely new world and way of life.
Prior to the opening of Chicago's Playboy Club, Hugh Hefner suggested the Bunnies wear a revealing nightgown, but reportedly his business partners had different visions. One of these business partners had a girlfriend whose mother happened to be a seamstress - and it was she who sewed the first iteration of the bunny costume, essentially a bathing suit with tail and ears.
The "Bunny Instruction Manual" outlined several rules for a Bunny's uniform and appearance. The uniforms were to be worn "proudly and prettily," and Bunnies were encouraged to wear wigs. They also had to wear bright-colored lipstick, have manicures and refrigerate their hosiery after it was worn to eliminate static. The Bunnies were not allowed to wear any jewelry, save for the Playboy cufflinks of their uniform. The Bunnies were also told that their ears could not be worn off-center or bent the wrong way.
In addition to the strict guidelines on a Bunny's appearance, the Bunnies themselves had to pay for their uniform's maintenance and cleaning. They also had to pay for their false eyelashes and procure their own shoes - with a minimum three-inch heel.
Bra-stuffing was almost a given for many women at the Playboy Clubs. As Vanity Fair reported, "The costumes came in only two, mostly prescriptive bust sizes, 34D and 36D." During her time reporting undercover in New York's Playboy Club, Gloria Steinem reported seeing Bunnies stuff their bras with everything from cut-up Bunny tails to socks to Kleenex down their bras in order to fill them out.
Steinem, posing as Bunny Marie, reported that when she was hired, the wardrobe mistress gave her a plastic dry cleaning bag she could use to stuff her bra. Steinem also revealed her Bunny costume came purposefully crafted two inches smaller than her bodily dimensions - except, that is, in the bust.
As Hefner himself pointed out, the allure of infamously beautiful celebrities is that they appear out of reach of the common person. To this end, the Playboy Club took the Bunnies' glamour and mystery very seriously - so much so that they hired undercover detectives to test and spy on them. Hefner wrote to the detective agency personally, saying,
Use your most attractive and personable male representatives to proposition the Bunnies and even offer as high as $200 "right now" for a promise of meeting you outside the Club later. Ask a barman or any other male employee if any of the girls are available, on a cash basis for a "friendly evening."
The detectives tried to tempt the Bunnies in various ways, offering them theatre tickets and even cash. One Bunny said,
I remember one time a man offered to write me a check for a thousand dollars if I gave him my last name. You know what? My job was more important than that. Of course, I was a coward back then - I probably would have taken it today!
But the Bunnies were forewarned that detectives were potentially always present. As Gloria Steinem reported during her undercover investigation, the "Bunny Manual" itself explicitly said, "Of course, you can never tell when you are being checked out by a Willmark Service representative."
Because part of the Bunny uniform was high heels, the "Bunny Manual" tried to help the women manage the pain. The guidebook offered several tips, including to roll their feet over a Coke bottle.
Bunnies were forbidden from chewing gum or drinking alcohol while at the Playboy Club, and they were mandated to hold their cigarettes very specifically, taking only one delicate drag at a time and resting the item on an ashtray between puffs.
In spite of these restrictions - and perhaps in part because of them - many Bunnies did receive a fair amount of celebrity. Billie Wilson, a Bunny in 1981, said, "When you were a Bunny, you were a little celebrity in your own right, a lot of us got opportunities from it." Wilson also claimed that the atmosphere in the Playboy Club was a safe one. She said, "To work for Playboy, they had very strict rules. I liked it because you were constantly protected, people couldn’t touch you."