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War, Lace And A Lift From 'Playboy': One Man's Life In Lingerie

Milton Schwartz died October 15, 2015, after a stroke.
Courtesy of Ben Schwartz
Milton Schwartz died October 15, 2015, after a stroke.

Milton Schwartz might get hauled in front of the Human Resources department these days for the kind of remark that endeared him to generations of women.

"They'd walk in, and he'd say, 'You're a 38B,' " his son, Ben Schwartz, told the Chicago-Sun Times when he father, Milton, died at the age of 94. "He knew his product. To him, it was a profession."

Milton Schwartz's parents opened Schwartz's Intimate Apparel on the northwest side of Chicago the year the United States entered World War I. Milt went off to France and Germany during World War II, where his jeep ran over a grenade. But he refused a medal so his mother wouldn't find out he'd been wounded. After Germany surrendered he was stationed near Auschwitz, and Milton Schwartz once said, "It took me a long time to get over that smell."

After serving in the Army, Milton Schwartz took over the family business, Schwartz's Intimate Apparel.
/ Courtesy of Ben Schwartz
Courtesy of Ben Schwartz
After serving in the Army, Milton Schwartz took over the family business, Schwartz's Intimate Apparel.

He returned to the family lingerie business, where he hailed customers by saying, "Hey, honey," and "Hey, beautiful." Schwartz's Intimate Apparel swelled to six stores.

The Sun-Times says — I think I can say this if I quote it — Milton Schwartz was known as "the bosomologist."

Then the pantyhose revolution — for that's what it seemed like if you sold girdles and stockings — hit lingerie in the 1960s and 70s. Girdles and stockings became artifacts of constriction and artifice in an age of "Let It Be" and Easy Rider.

And, "We had a warehouse full of stockings," Ben Schwartz says.

But that's exactly what a stylist for Playboy came to find at Schwartz's. Garters and stockings had become ornaments of ardor in the slick pages of Playboy in the Age of Aquarius. They framed what pantyhose merely adorned.

Schwartz' mom, pop and son neighborhood lingerie shop became the place that supplied the Playboy empire with some of the most photographed lingerie in the world. Ben Schwartz delivered crates of his father's inventory of frilly things to the Playboy mansion, all while Milton stayed devoted to Florence, to whom he would be married for 67 years. Their son says, "My mother couldn't have asked for a better partner. It was a fairy tale."

But Milton Schwartz wasn't just a family man who sold glamorous unmentionables. He had a life to remind us that it's always possible to find a way to help someone. He opened what he called Schwartz's Positive Care division, which sold foam-upholstered brassieres to women who had endured mastectomies. Milton Schwartz helped women who were centerfolds and women who survived surgeries to feel beautiful.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.