Bunnies have been a staple of the Playboy brand since it opened its first nightclub in 1960.
In the beginning, the bunnies were simply young women who worked as waitstaff in Playboy's clubs.
From 1960 to 1986, the brand ran 40 nightclubs, according to Atlas Obscura, as well as some intermittent casinos in England and the Bahamas. Prospective bunnies had to audition in order to get the job.
Since then, the term has expanded somewhat. It's even been applied to Hugh Hefner's girlfriends, who lived with him in the Playboy Mansion. Hefner ex-girlfriend Holly Madison's tell-all book is called "Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny." Make no mistake, though — models who appear in Playboy magazine itself are "playmates," not bunnies.
With that in mind, here's a look into the controversial history of the bunnies:
The name comes from an unexpected source. As a University of Illinois student, Hefner would sometimes dine at Bunny's Tavern in Urbana, Illinois. Apparently, the name stuck with him.
Bunnies working at Playboy Clubs had to abide by some strict rules. They could be immediately fired for dating other employees or guests.
There was also a ban on drinking alcoholic beverages and gum chewing on the job.
A "bunny mother" — which one Playboy Club's 1968 manual describes as a role "similar to that of a college advisor" — would be in charge of supervising the bunnies.
The manual advised bunnies to address all male Playboy Club employees "in a cheerful, cooperative manner."
Unsurprisingly, some of the manual's strictest — and strangest — instructions pertained to appearances.
Costumes were to be worn "proudly and prettily."
Lipstick shades should be "vivid" to avoid a "washed out" look, wigs were encouraged, hosiery was to be refrigerated after use, hands had to be manicured, and jewelry — aside from Playboy cufflinks — was strictly banned.
The job required bunnies to walk and stand around in high heels for hours. The manual offered all sorts of tips on dealing with the pain, including encouraging bunnies to roll their feet "over an empty Coke bottle."
Bunnies could earn extra cash by collecting merits for working private parties, taking extra shifts, or helping management out.
At the same time, workers could lose merits and wages for mistakes like messy lockers, lateness, and failing to maintain a fluffy, pristine cottontail.
In a Metro article, one former bunny reported that in the 1980s, bunnies had to be at work an hour early to dress and do their own makeup. The extra time was never paid.
In 1963, journalist Gloria Steinem went undercover as a bunny to write an exposé.
While Hefner claimed to be a proponent of sexual liberation, Steinem's reporting shone a light on some of the objectification and problematic working conditions bunnies experienced.
Few bunnies, by their original definition, exist anymore. But a new Playboy Club is set to open in New York City sometime this year.
Today, the term "bunnies" is often used to describe Hefner's girlfriends, as well as Playboy Club employees. The Playboy founder's life with his girlfriends has been depicted on reality TV shows like "The Girls Next Door."
His girlfriends reportedly received a weekly stipend of $1,000 in cash, along with room and board at the Playboy Mansion, money for breast augmentation, and free hair care, according to the New York Times.
Hefner died at the age of 91 Wednesday. The Playboy Mansion, where the modern-day bunnies lived, will now go to Daren Metropoulos, who bought it for $100 million last year.
It's unlikely that any of Hefner's girlfriends — or Playboy Club bunnies, for that matter — stand to inherit anything. The mogul's own third wife will "looked after" and nothing more, thanks to an "iron-clad" pre-nup, according to the Mirror.
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