Vintage Pin Up Girls

The End of Vintage Pin Up Girls

Although the period of vintage pin up girls is generally accepted as relating to the late 1930s to the early 1960s, pinups have been recorded for as long as men have been able to create portable representations of feminine beauty. However, pin-up girls as we know them originate from an era before sex was so blatantly portrayed in the media as it is now, and before the publication of the mass-produced photographs, prints and calendars that were intended for informal display on walls in locker rooms and army barracks.

The actual term is regarded as being first used in the English language in 1941, and it is no surprise that the vintage pin up girls era covered the period from the start of the Second World War until the early 1960s. However, more on this later, because wartime often initiates trends in many aspects of our social lives.

Initially, popular pinups were stylized representations of feminine beauty such as exemplified by the drawings of the Gibson Girl of the late 19th century and the later more cartoonish Betty Boop, but this changed as the movies became more accessible to ordinary people and the movie stars became celebrities. That was when photographs used to promote movies took on the pinup role.

Until the beginning of the Second World War in Europe in 1939, the representation of the feminine beauty was generally regarded as an art form, much of it clandestine. There was a market for it, but it was a combination of the war and the popularity of movies and stardom that gave rise to the era of vintage pin up girls.

Ginger Rogers

The genre was given a particular boost in 1942 when Americans left their home shores by the thousands to fight in Europe and the Orient. Favorite pin up girls at that time included Betty Grable, Ginger Rogers, Rita Hayworth and Lana Turner (the Sweater Girl!). Initially these were simple promotional poses, whether taken from the movies or shot to advertise them, but as the popular demand for pin ups increased they were deliberately created for this market.

It was not long into the 1940s before photo-shoots were set up in provocative and, for their day, revealing poses for the troops and also for the market for pinup calendars that was also coming into vogue around this time.

It should not be surprising that homesick forces personnel so far from their own countries should pin up something onto their walls or their locker doors that reminded them of home. Sometimes it was their own wives or sweethearts, but often it was a favorite movie star or somebody glamorous that took their minds off their personal loneliness or the horrors of war.

Rita Hayworth

In some cases, pin up girls were also used to help with the training of troops. A pinup of Betty Grable was used on a U.S. Air Force map-reading manual. The photograph was intended to persuade pilots to read the manual and learn how to read map grids more rapidly. Many painted representations of their favorite pinups onto the noses their fighters and bombers.

The term 'pin up' was first used in the early 1940s because troops would pin them up on their locker doors during training, onto their barrack walls and even on the sides of their foxholes while fighting. In fact, the calendars were intended to 'pinned up' on walls, and even now company calendars are a popular way of presenting the naked female form in a supposedly acceptable format.

Vintage Pinup Calendar

At the end of World War II and into the 1950s, consumerism increased and many artists and photographers focused on this type of work - the photographs and the 'pin up calendar' - and another form of advertising pinup girl was devised. Typified by the work of Haddon Sunblom, the world was introduced to the 'girl next door', who advertised products such as lingerie and showers with a flash of skin.

While Sunblom focused on this type of advertising that fostered a whole new genre of pinup art, others preferred the centerfold approach, and Playboy magazine shocked the world with a nude centerfold of Marilyn Monroe in 1953 (although with some important areas cleverly hidden).

This was to signal the end of the era of the traditional style of vintage pin up girls, and as photographs became more revealing increasingly less was left to the male imagination. Not that the women did not have their own beefcake equivalents, although it would be many decades before the fully nude male made his public centerfold appearance.

The vintage pinup era was almost over as one photographer attempted to out-shock the other. Scantily dressed film starlets were replaced by professional nude models, although it was not until 1970, when pubic hair was first publicly displayed in Penthouse, that the legally acceptable full nude was published.

The era of pinup girls as loved by the wartime troops was over by the early 1960s, but will be fondly remembered by those around at the time. Today's pin-ups are of a different vogue, and many preferred the vintage pin up girls of the 40s and 50s and the hint of something promised, rather than the blatant 'everything on offer' equivalent of today.