Advert from 1974 for the Playtex 18 Hour Girdle
Playtex was founded in 1932 as the International Latex Corporation by Abraham Nathaniel Spanel, an industrialist, inventor and philanthropist who held over 2,000 patents. Spanel’s original factory in New York produced ladies’ swim caps and latex gloves. Spanel is said to have maintained living quarters in the original building and would often walk the factory floor in the evening while wearing his bathrobe. His employees were among the earlier to have air-conditioning and paid life and health insurance. The New York factory was later destroyed by fire. Spanel moved his operations to Dover, Delaware where they remain to this day.
During World War II, Spanel contributed more than $1 million to the war effort, his profit from war materiel contracts. When the war ended the company used the materials developed for life jackets for other purposes, particularly for intimate apparel garments such as girdles and bras.
Playtex is noted for a focus on comfortable girdles (the 18 hour girdle and its coordinating range, and the I can’t believe it’s a girdle range) and innovation in brassiere design such as the introduction of the cross your heart patented design which enjoyed a worldwide success. Many different names in different languages such as Coeur croisé in French, Zeuber Creuz in German, Cruzado Magico in Spanish, now with many imitators appeared as the patent expired. All Playtex branded products were manufactured at the Dover complex at the time.
Playtex was the first to advertise tampons on television. Using live models instead of mannequins to model bras in TV commercials was also a first for the company.
In the 1960s, Playtex subsidiary ILC Dover had a contract with NASA to produce their space suits.
International Latex was purchased by Stanley Warner, the former theater holdings of Warner Bros., in 1954. Stanley Warner merged with fellow theater company Glen Alden in 1968, which merged with Rapid-American in 1972. Rapid-American sold the company, renamed as International Playtex, Inc. to Esmark in 1975. Beatrice Foods purchased Esmark in 1984. In December 1986, a group of Company executives, together with Drexel Burnham Lambert, bought International Playtex, Inc. in a leveraged buyout.
A new LBO occurred in 1988 on the occasion of which the Company was split into two separate and independent businesses: – The Intimate apparel business under the name of Playtex Apparel Inc and – The feminine hygiene products business under the name of Playtex Products.
Playtex products based in Dover included such brands as Playtex Living Gloves, Almay and Jhirmack. In 1999, the company acquired Personal Care Brands, the makers of Chubs and Wet Ones. The Playtex complex in Dover currently produces tampons and packages infant care products. Disposable baby bottle liners are also made at the site. The old red brick Playtex factory building on Route 13 in Dover was recently sold. In 2007 Playtex Products, Inc. was bought by Energizer Holdings, and continues to use the Playtex brand name on feminine hygiene (tampons) and infant care products. Other brands not using the Playtex name include the Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic sunscreens and Wet Ones disposable wipes. With Playtex, these brands are now part of the Energizer Personal Care division which also includes the Wilkinson Sword and Schick (razors) brands.
Playtex Apparel Inc, based in Stamford (CT) focused on ladies apparel business under the wellknown brands of the company such as Cross Your Heart, 18 hours, and many others and continued strong international developments. From 1988 the European portion of its business got its own R and D and design organization to develop products more suitable for the European market than pure American designed products. It came as a success. In late 1991, Playtex Apparel was acquired by Sara Lee and got progressively integrated in the Sara Lee’s Branded Apparel Division. In 2006, Sara Lee spun off its clothing sector into HanesBrands Inc., which now runs the Playtex apparel business, as well as other clothing brands such as Hanes and Champion. The exception was the European portion of its branded apparel business which was sold to private investors. As a consequence, European Playtex is now operated along with other brands under the company name of DBApparel, independently from HanesBrands.