Pin- Up. Noun. 1.a. A Picture, especially of a sexually attractive person, that is displayed on the wall
Most historians agree that pin-up originated in the "Gay 1890's" in France. Parisian artist Jules Cheret gets the distinction of being the first pin-up artist and inventing the poster, simultaneously of course. The public was ready to bring the Victorian Era of strict morality to a close, and posters of beautiful women began to spring up all over Europe advertising everything from music halls to cigarette papers. By the close of the nineteenth century, posters were so prevalent and popular the French government had a system to regulate and tax them. An entire book can be written on early European Pin-Up (and has), so without further ado, I will focus on the Pin-Up Movement in America.
While WWI caused the pin-up to fall from favor, World War II brought her back in a huge way! No barrack was complete without Hollywood starlet style pin-up photographs of Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth. Grable earned the title of "most popular pin-up model of WWII" & her legs were insured by Lloyd's of London for a staggering One Million Dollars!!
Pin-ups were thought to boost troop morale, and American companies wanted to do their part. The Louis F. Dow Calendar Company produced special booklets of pin-up art created by their star artist Gillette Elvgren. These books were compiled and mailed to soldiers overseas free of charge. Lucky Strike cigarettes, famous for handing out free packs to soldiers overseas, produced their own pin-up calendar as well.
Meanwhile, back at home, The Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway enjoyed amazing popularity throughout the early 1900s, as did their poster artist American (Peruvian born) Alberto Vargas. Vargas went on to have a regular feature in Esquire Magazine called "Varga Girls" and each issue had a new girl and a new theme. (After Esquire stopped printing pinups in the 50s, Vargas went over to the then unknown Playboy Magazine for Men.) The 1940s celebrated the end of the Great Depression with a renewal of glamour. Piloted by Christian Dior, pin-ups soon advertised everything, and pin-up calendars were the marketing tool of choice of most American companies. These were the "good girl" pin-ups (i.e. a wholesome girl-next-door has her skirt pulled up by a playful puppy- it's not her fault her garter is showing!).
While Marilyn went on to become a pin-up model, spokesperson, sexpot, and Hollywood B movie starlet; she wasn't the only infamous pin-up. The 1955 Playmate of the year- Bettie Page became notorious in her own right. Both Marilyn and Bettie were small town girls, with a genuine naivety about them, but they reached notoriety in different circles. Marilyn was all glamour; Bettie was all personality. Page didn't have the luxury of expensive sets and top photographers- she made her images sought after with shear charm and personality. Photographer Bunny Yeager, Playboy Magazine, and Bettie Page, collaborated on a number of photographs- easily her best work ever- and they sold for a mere $100.
While Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page are the most famous, and the antithesis of one another, the 1950's saw a huge variety of successful pinup models. Bridgette Bardot, Sophia Loren, Jayne Mansfield, and Lili St.Claire carved out a great following for themselves within the niche.
Maybe it's the war, maybe it's hard economic times, maybe it's that there's no way to possibly top the overt sexuality of Madonna. Whatever the reason, the pin-up is making a comeback. Most modern pin-up work is done with photography as its medium and looks to the cheesecake era of the 1940s and 50s for inspiration. Pin-up should be fun, playful, sexy, and tell a little story. Let's celebrate our feminine mystique and divine sexuality- nothing would make the late Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page prouder!
Text is copyright 2009 by Shoshana Portnoy
Burrows, Jim. Cheesecake: The Art of the Pin-up. http://homepage.mac.com/brons/Art/Cheesecake.html
Shapiro, Tali. The Pin-Up Blog- Where Sex Objects are the Objects of Intellectual Conversation. www.thepinupblog.com