Victoria’s Secret Won’t Work in an Age of #MeToo, Gender Fluidity, and #MeToo

victoria secret

What does it mean when a brand jettisons its annual runway show with a troupe of thin, tanned models to embrace a “woke” rebrand that doesn’t quite work? Lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret tried to turn its palace of pink dreams into a place for all women to feel strong and empowered, but the company’s once-tightly wound vision of femininity just didn’t cut it in this new world of #MeToo activism, gender fluidity, and calls for increased representational inclusivity across size, race, ethnicity, and gender.

Founded in 1977 by Roy Raymond, the lingerie chain originally targeted male shoppers who might buy its products for their wives and girlfriends. But after a few years, the company started to see its target market shift from men to women.

This shift was aided by the growing popularity of feminism and sexual liberation, which encouraged more people to express their bodies in ways they had never before done, making it seem more acceptable to show off the female form in a less traditional way. This era of change also made it easier for lingerie companies to compete with Victoria’s Secret, especially those that offered more options for diverse body types.

In the 1990s, the company took another big step toward mainstreaming its offerings when it opened a line of stretchy, comfortable panties with “no-show” waistbands that could be worn under tight clothing. The line was called Victoria’s Secret Intimate Wear and became a smash hit.

The company continued to grow, and by the early 2000s it had become the country’s leading lingerie retailer, with more than 800 stores and a huge catalog. By 1997, the company was worth $1.3 billion, and it was selling over 10 million bras per year.

As the millennium wore on, the Victoria’s Secret business model began to erode. The brand lost steam as more lingerie and clothing lines made more overtly inclusive statements. In addition, more and more women were opting for the comfort and versatility of a sports bra over the traditional corset. And, with the rise of social media, many young women were distancing themselves from the bombshell images portrayed by models like Adrianne Curry and Sara Sampaio.

In 2018, amidst declining sales and plummeting viewership, Victoria’s Secret announced that it would no longer hold its annual fashion shows, which were once watched by 9 million American viewers. The company also shifted its focus to promoting a more inclusive message through campaigns featuring plus-size models, trans women, and other nontraditional models.

But the brand still faced problems with its past, as evidenced by an article in 2022 by Vogue that uncovered links between the company and the disgraced porn producer Jeffrey Epstein, and a 2019 documentary by Matt Tyrnauer called Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons that laid bare how the company’s leaders—especially chairman and former CEO Les Wexner and his right-hand man, VP and CMO Ed Razek—had shaped the image of the Angels as part-anachronistic feminist bloodbath, part middle-aged fantasy island.