At the risk of having a well-known feminist attorney pop up in the next booth and chew me out--a risk I considered carefully--I went to the Tustin Yacht Club last week for lunch.
The Tustin Yacht Club is one of several dozen restaurants in Orange County that feature young women modeling lingerie during the lunch hour. I was moved to go out of curiosity and because I like to look at young women in lingerie, a character defect I've borne for many years.
Before I get to the models, the name of the restaurant merits a small digression. Naming a restaurant that is about 15 miles from the nearest water the Yacht Club is an inside joke of the two proprietors, Jack Morrell and Jim James. Morrell was there and offered me a membership.
That would entitle me to shelf space to store my toy yacht, which can be purchased from the proprietors and comes in various sizes. The "38-foot yacht," for example, has 38 plastic feet protruding from the bottom and when wound up will walk across a table.
Shifting to serious stuff, he said that noontime modeling is a mode that comes and goes and that his restaurant led a resurgence of this activity 2 years ago "because we're always looking for something different to attract business."
"We try to do it tactfully and in good taste," he said, "because we do a lot of family business in here at night. So the people who think they're going to see naked women are disappointed."
Morrell said there are several Orange County boutiques that have a stable of models they supply to local restaurants on a rotating basis. The models sell the clothes they show, "so the stores make money both ways. I pay a modeling fee and they get business."
Only once, said Morrell, has he had complaints from a woman customer. "Most women enjoy it," he added. "Nobody ever gets out of line. We don't have that kind of customer. We cater mainly to businessmen who work in this area."
Morrell explained that usually there are two models who change daily, but on this Friday, only one was working. She was a tall, leggy blonde with a piquant air and a tip-tilted nose. She showed a jumpsuit and a bathrobe before she got into real lingerie. She talked easily with the customers, who were generally polite and attentive. The restaurant was about two-thirds full, mostly with men in shirt sleeves and ties. I saw only two women among the diners.
About 1 o'clock, the model raffled off one of the garments she had been wearing. Raffle tickets were 50 cents apiece, and even if everyone in the place bought a pair of tickets, it looked like a losing proposition to me. I bought two tickets and then worried that I might win. Happily, I didn't.
I invited the model to join my companion and me after the raffle, and she sat down with us on the stipulation that I not use her name. It seems that there are some important people in her life who don't know she's moonlighting in lingerie, and she had rather they didn't read it in The Times.
She is a student at Cal State Fullerton working her way through college. She hopes to graduate next year in marketing and get into the advertising business. She went to modeling school 3 years ago and has been on the restaurant circuit for the past 2 years.
She explained that the models report to their boutique owner each morning for that day's assignment. They then select the clothes they intend to model, varying the fare by the nature of the restaurant. "Most places," she explained, "want nothing but lingerie, but this place is fairly conservative because of its clientele. The restaurants that cater mostly to blue-collar workers don't want sportswear. Just lingerie."
She said this as matter-of-factly as if she were discussing a paper in one of her marketing classes. When I suggested that to her, she shrugged. "I'm doing my thing," she said, "and I don't expose anything I feel would be in bad taste."
Although it has never happened to her, she said that occasionally models will select clothes that the restaurant proprietor feels are too risque. (Morrell agreed, saying that he has several times sent models back to replace garments he felt crossed that line.) She said that having men ogle her "doesn't bother me at all. Actually, I feel very flattered by it."
She says she has never been touched or otherwise approached by restaurant customers and that her reaction to smart talk "depends on the mood I'm in. Sometimes I just ignore it, sometimes I crack back."
She admits that "occasionally I get hard looks from women, but that doesn't bother me. I consider myself an intelligent human being, and I'm always careful not to be crass. So they can think what they want."
She left on this defiant note, in sweat shirt and jeans, presumably for her marketing class, and as I paid the modest check, Morrell apologized for the "slow day," noting that "the farther we get from payday, the slower the business." I found it comforting that yacht club members have this problem too.