A Playboy Bunny refers to the unisex costume of the waiting staff at a Playboy Club. Bunnies at the original Playboy Clubs that operated between 1960 and 1988 were selected through auditions, received a standardized training, and wore a costume called a "bunny suit" inspired by the tuxedo-wearing Playboy rabbit mascot, consisting of a strapless corset teddy, bunny ears, black pantyhose, a bow tie, a collar, cuffs and a fluffy cottontail. More recent Playboy Clubs have also featured Bunnies, in some cases with redesigned costumes based on the original bunny suit.
Bunny's Tavern was named for its original owner, Bernard "Bunny" Fitzsimmons, who opened for business in 1936. Serving daily food specials for a mere thirty-five cents, as well as ten-cent draft beers, Bunny's catered to locals and University of Illinois students alike. One of those students (in the late 1940s) was Hugh Hefner.
Hefner formally acknowledged the origin of the Playboy Bunny in a letter to Bunny's Tavern, which is now framed and on public display in the bar.
The Bunny's Tavern usage of the outfit is considered a variant of Showgirl.
The costume itself was conceived by Playboy's director of promotions, Victor Lownes, with a prototype created by a seamstress whose daughter, Ilsa Taurins, was dating Lownes. In 1961, French seamstress Renee Blot modified the design. Originally the ears were taller and the ensemble lacked the trademark bow tie, collar, and cuffs. As well, Blot’s modification added a satin rosette nametag. First unveiled publicly in an early episode of Playboy's Penthouse, it made its formal debut at the opening of the first Playboy Club in Chicago on the evening of February 29, 1960.
The Playboy Bunnies were waitresses who served drinks at Playboy Clubs. There were different types of Bunnies, including the Door Bunny, Cigarette Bunny, Floor Bunny, Playmate Bunny and the Jet Bunnies (specially selected Bunnies that were trained as flight attendants. They served on the Playboy "Big Bunny" Jet). To become a Bunny, women were first carefully chosen and selected from auditions. Then they underwent thorough and strict training before officially becoming a Bunny. Bunnies were required to be able to identify 143 brands of liquor and know how to garnish 20 cocktail variations. Most dating or mingling with customers was forbidden. Customers were also not allowed to touch the Bunnies, and demerits were given if a Bunny's appearance was not properly organized.
A Bunny also had to master the required maneuvers to work. These included the "Bunny Stance", a posture that was required in front of patrons. The Bunny must stand with legs together, back arched and hips tucked under. When the Bunny is resting or while waiting to be of service, she must do the "Bunny Perch". She must sit on the back of a chair, sofa, or railing without sitting too close to a patron. The most famous maneuver of all, the "Bunny Dip", was invented by Kelly Collins, once renowned for being the "Perfect Bunny"; to do the "Bunny Dip" the Bunny gracefully leaned backwards while bending at the knees with the left knee lifted and tucked behind the right leg. This maneuver allowed the Bunny to serve drinks while keeping her low-cut costume in place. Strict regulations were enforced by special workers in the guise of patrons.
The Playboy Bunny outfit was the first service uniform registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (U.S. trademark registration number 0762884). The costume was made from rayon-satin constructed on a strapless merry widow corset teddy. Satin bunny ears, cotton tails, collars with bow ties, cuffs with cuff links, black sheer to waist pantyhose and matching high-heeled shoes completed the outfit. A name tag on a satin rosette was pinned over the right hip bone.
The uniforms were custom made for each Bunny at the club they worked in. Whenever the club was open there was a full-time seamstress on duty. The costumes were stocked in two pieces, the front part being pre-sewn in different bra cup sizes such as B or C cup. The seamstress would match the Bunnies' figure to the correct fitting front and back pieces. Then the two pieces were sewn together to fit each person perfectly.
There was a woman in charge of the Bunnies in each club, called the "Bunny Mother." This was a human resources type of function and a management position. The Bunny Mother was in charge of scheduling work shifts, hiring, firing and training. The Club Manager had only two responsibilities for the Bunnies – floor service and weigh in. Before every shift the Manager would weigh each Bunny. Bunnies could not gain or lose more than one pound (exceptions being made for water retention). Playboy Enterprises required all employees to turn in their costumes at the end of employment and Playboy has some costumes in storage. Occasionally costumes are offered for sale on the Playboy Auction site or eBay. Some of the costumes on eBay may be counterfeit or damaged in some way. The only two on public display are in the collections of The Smithsonian and the Chicago History Museum.
The treatment of Playboy Bunnies was exposed in a piece written by Gloria Steinem and reprinted in her 1983 book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. The article featured a photo of Steinem in Bunny uniform and detailed how women were treated at those clubs. The article was published in 1963 in Show magazine as "A Bunny's Tale". Steinem has maintained that she is proud of the work she did publicizing the exploitative working conditions of the bunnies and especially the sexual demands made of them, which skirted the edge of the law.
The costume is popular in Japan for both men and women, where it has lost much of its association with Playboy and is accordingly referred to simply as the "bunny suit", "bunny girl outfit", or "bunny boy outfit". It is commonly featured in manga and anime; notable examples of characters who have been depicted wearing it include Haruhi Suzumiya, Kallen Stadtfeld of Code Geass, Bulma of Dragon Ball, the male character Hideyoshi Kinoshita of Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu and the unnamed protagonist of the Daicon III and IV Opening Animations. The suit is also a frequent subject of anime and manga fan art, even for male and female characters who were never seen wearing it in official works.
In Brazil, there are no Playboy Clubs, but Playboy's Brazilian division has Bunnies who attend its events. The official Bunnies are currently three, and they were also Playmates—both separately, and together in the cover pictorial for the December 2008 edition.
In 2006, The Palms Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas opened the first new Playboy club in over a quarter-century, located on the 52nd floor of the Fantasy Tower. Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli was chosen to re-design the original Bunny Suit. It closed in 2012.
Women who became famous and worked as Playboy Bunnies in their careers include: