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Frontal Mail Exposure: The Sears Catalog Controversy of 1975

Culture | November 26, 2018

The Sears catalog was a familiar household tome for decades, but the 1975 edition contained something extra, according to sharp-eyed sleuths. On the page displaying men's underwear, page 602, a suspicious shadow, or object, seemed to show a man's exposed private area. His package, unwrapped. His junk.

The world was, in a way, smaller then. Everyone had the same points of reference. The Sears catalog was everywhere -- if you spotted something in it (on, say, page 602) and called up your cousin halfway across the country, that cousin had the same Sears catalog and could look up the same image. And there would be laughing, at long-distance rates, which weren't cheap!

What's The Big Deal With The Sears Catalog?

The fall/winter Sears catalog from 1957. (Photo by Annie Wells/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

In the late 1800s, the Sears, Roebuck And Company retailer began selling its wares to consumers. Richard Warren Sears, along with his partner, Alvah Curtis Roebuck, founded this historic retail business. Being savvy businessmen already, they decided to step up their game and form a mail order business together. Consumers were just delighted and look forward to receiving their catalogs in the mail twice each year. The catalogs were filled with anything and everything needed to run a household, clothing and work uniforms and much, more! If you couldn’t find it in the Sears, Roebuck And Company catalog, chances are you probably didn’t need it.  

The Catalog Was An American Institution

Richard Warren Sears and Alvah Curtis Roebuck; Founders of Sears, Roebuck And Company

Year after year the catalog was faithfully delivered and was well received by all. Housewives perused it for clothing for the family and household items for the family home; men flipped right to the automotive and sporting goods section, and children went right in for the kill... straight to the toy section.

You Could Find Anything -- Well, Almost Anything, In The Sears Catalog

 After everyone in the family had finished with the catalog, the entire publication was dog-eared, for later reference, and placed in the hall closet on top of the phone book to be used as a booster seat at the dinner table, if needed.

Fast forward to 1975… With all of the success that the retailer had enjoyed over the years, this particular catalog, Fall/Winter, was probably one of its most popular! There was, what was thought to be by some, a very racy picture on page 602 of the 1975 catalog.

An Item That Was Not For Sale On Page 602

Page 602 of the infamous Fall/Winter 1975 Sears Catalog

The subject picture of page 602 was controversial in 1975, and depending on whom you ask, it still is today. Many remember it well and claimed to have seen something inappropriate in a picture on this infamous page of the catalog, which was in the men’s underwear section. If you don’t know first-hand, you may have some idea of what that might be. That’s right, one of the male models was to have been modeling something that was not for sale.

The 1975 Equivalent Of 'Going Viral'

Others chose to see a small round “blemish” or “watermark” on the page that surely must have happened during the printing process. The fact remains, however, that there really was something there! If you ask someone who was over the age of 12 in 1975, they just may have their own opinion. No matter which school of thought people bought into, you can bet that this catalog made its way around the neighborhood if not to school and work. Phones were ringing off the hook… it was all people were talking about for a while.

As you can imagine, Sears received many poison pen letters from outraged consumers. The company maintained that there was nothing inappropriate in the picture…What else could they do? The catalogs were permanently out there!

Of Course There Is A Country Song About It

This scandalous, catalog controversy was a hot topic for months, if not years, following its release; so much so that it was “immortalized” by composer, Zoot Fenster, who wrote a song entitled, The Man on Page 602, which was released as a single. Check it out!


Has This Mystery Been Debunked?

A scan of the Spring/Summer catalog, tracked down by Hoax.com, shows an image suitable for all ages. Source: Hoax.com

Intrepid researchers at Hoax.com were willing to believe that the thing in the catalog was what people said it was, but they latched onto a previously unexplored angle. In all the press hubbub, a Sears spokesperson said that the same photo had appeared in the previous edition of the catalog without incident. So the supposed junk-pic was in the 1975 Fall/Winter Sears catalog. Has anyone ever checked it against the 1975 Spring/Summer Sears catalog?

Well, the Hoax.com crew did just that, obtaining a '75 Spring/Summer and flipping directly to the men's skivvies section. And what they found there was, yes, the exact same picture with no bonus material. Nothing hanging out. No inadvertent male nudity. No nuthin'.

So that might solve this -- Hoax.com's finding supports the idea that what everyone saw was, indeed, as Sears had claimed, a printing blemish. 

Of course once a rumor like this gets out, it's hard to unsee it, isn't it?

Tags: Hoaxes | Remember This?... | Sears Catalog | Urban Legends

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.