NEW YORK CITY—Back in 1964, not too many people got the joke that one of Peter Sellers' character's name in Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, was President Merkin Muffley, because even though we still use the word "muff" to describe a woman's vaginal area, hairy or not, the word "merkin" had even then fallen out of use.
See, Back In The Day, ladies of the evening and others used to shave their pubic hair for pretty much the same reasons porn starlets do today: It's more comfortable, doesn't retain sweat, and keeps lovers from getting hair caught in their teeth—and also for a reason less applicable today: to keep lice from nesting there. However, a lot of women—not just pros—who had their pubes shaved opted to disguise that fact by wearing a "merkin," defined as "a pubic wig." The faux bush served several purposes, not the least of which was to disguise the fact that the woman was shaved ... and also to cover up the chancre sores left by syphilis infection. Even today, mainstream actresses with intact pubic hair sometimes use merkins so that when they're shown nude or semi-nude, there's no chance their labia will appear in the photo/film.
All that may be more than you need to know, but it sets the stage for something new on the fashion horizon: Store window displays featuring scantily clad female mannequins with pubic wigs fastened under their panties and teddies.
It's a somewhat odd decision, considering that no mannequins are made with "vaginal lips," which would normally be what the merkins are used to cover up, although there has been some progress on their upper torsos, with nipples and even areolae appearing on breasts that used to be as smooth and featureless as a child's Barbie doll. One commentator described the merkins as "prodigious, straining against mesh panties like a furry Rorschach test or a bundle of untroubled Daddy longlegs."
Anyway, enter Dov Charney, founder and CEO of American Apparel, whose retail store on East Houston Street in lower Manhattan has, since January 16, featured mannequins in the window sporting merkins.
"The display was created for that store specifically," American Apparel's Ryan Holiday told Gothamist.com. "American Apparel is a company that celebrates natural beauty, and the Lower East Side Valentine's Day window continues that celebration. We created it to invite passerby's [sic] to explore the idea of what is 'sexy' and consider their comfort with the natural female form. This is the same idea behind our advertisements which avoid many of the photoshopped and airbrushed standards of the fashion industry. So far we have received positive feedback from those that have commented and we're looking forward to hearing more points of view."
"So, women have pubic hair; showing it on a mannequin that models underwear arguably makes sense," opined Katie McDonough of Salon.com. "If we aren’t questioning the preternaturally perky breasts or epic thigh gaps on most mannequins, why single out pubic hair? Diverse and (slightly more) realistic representations of the female form (even statued versions of the female form) can get people talking about the kinds of bodies that our culture celebrates and those that it does not, and that conversation can be a really powerful thing."
American Apparel also raised a few eyebrows when it released a T-shirt collection created by artist Petra Collins, featuring line drawings of women's menstruating vaginas, but considering that in porn, there's a whole fetish genre devoted to "hair," most of which centers on pubic hair, we suspect that window display will be a fantasy fulfillment for one hell of a lot of horny New Yorkers.