Beefcakes and bodices: Cringe-worthy romance book covers |

It must’ve been hard being a romance novel-loving reader back in the 80s, when book covers almost always featured topless, beefcakes (often with long hair) posing with women in bodices. Often, books would be chosen based solely on these sensual covers, and many who read the books in public would’ve deliberately wrapped the covers in order to avoid prying eyes.

But, it’s these saucy covers that have helped various publishers, from Avon Books to Harlequin and Harper Collins, sell their romance novels (aka bodice rippers) for more than half a century. Here are some interesting facts about the art of romance.

Women in gowns

Have you ever noticed that no matter what the story is about, the woman almost always wears a ballroom gown? Whether she’s standing or lying down, she’s dressed like she’s ready to do the horizontal tango with a man who’s already half naked.

Men with swords

The most popular bodice rippers tend to be historic fiction, with stories that include everyone from eligible Lords to fierce warriors showing off just why they’re so popular with the ladies. Their long swords are not a metaphor.

Scottish lairds are a thing

While there are plenty of stories centered around nobility – like the Earl of this, or the Duke of that – nothing draws a reader’s attention more than a story about a Scottish laird. Everyone loves a topless, beefy Scotsman wrapped in his kilt, and not much else.

Everyone loves a rogue

Who doesn’t like reading about a forbidden romance between damsels and rogues? From pirates to savages and other outlaws, these bodacious beefcakes who behave badly may just be the reason women always fall for the bad boy.

Every hero has a horse

Romance novels are all about being rescued by a stallion – and we’re talking about both the horse and the beefcake riding it. Forget fancy cars, because nothing gets your teeth rattling harder than riding a stallion into the sunset.

Romancing the long-haired beefcakes

It’s hard not to find a long-haired dude on romance book covers – a genre made popular by one male model called Fabio (back in the 80s). Forget man buns and beards; back in the day, women were hot for long locks on a clean-shaven beefcake.

It’s the men who are scantily clad

When it comes to selling romantic fiction, you need guys who are showing way more skin than the ladies; sometimes, the dudes are inexplicably buck naked (especially in the case of Johanna Lindsey’s books). How about that for role reversal?

From all the examples above, it seems that the ideal cover art has this formula: a long-haired Scottish rogue who’s (preferably) naked, riding on a horse with a lady in an evening gown.

If you enjoy retro stuff, then you’ll probably enjoy reading our latest issue of Campus (which you can read right here). Or if you prefer a list of recommended bodice rippers, you can check some out here.