A brief history of pin up

Contrary to popular belief, the pin up art is not born in the US, but in France in the second half of the nineteenth century by a Parisian artist Jules Cheret (but if we go back in the history, the concept constantly returns : portraits of women are voluptuous in dishabille since the paleolithic sculptures).
He, working and living in close contact with the bohemians of the time and attending the rooms of the Belle Epoque decides to give the spirit of his time in the posters and billboards. And then they take form the first portraits of "beautiful colored and seductive girls. "The world Cheret "is almost always intoxicated, enchantment, joy of living, dream, emotion, beauty, sensuality, eroticism" (I quote from Wikipedia). These are the premises, the essential characteristics and, perhaps, the philosophy behind what has become the pin up art as we know it today.
As for the US, it must be remembered that at the beginning of the twentieth century, the sexual repression was still very strong, so all you showed nude female body parts was considered scandalous and discouraged by the public.
However, there were areas in which the good society turned a blind eye: the theaters, in which sway the Burlesque shows, and magazines aimed at a male audience, such as the Police Gazette (imitation tabloid that followed the events of the crimes heinous representing them through semi undressed women images).

Pin-up of Alberto Vargas

In the 30's began to spread the first performances of girls in poses that exist at the interface between the sexy and fun, on some of the major men's magazines, (just to name a few: Esquire, famous ancestor of the most famous Playboy, Cosmopolitan, The Saturday Evening Post).

The first authors of these illustrations were Alberto Vargas and George Petty, two famous illustrators who later met fortune and fame thanks to these girls, who at that time were called "Petty Girls".

A pin-up of George Petty

The dissemination of this art to the mainstream level is due to the Second World War: The term pin up literally means "to hang", and was coined in these years because the planes were drawn images in a first phase, the pin up to war

(the "Nose Art" which saw the representation of sensual women on American military vehicles, particularly bombers who used them as a mascot, we remember the famous B-17 "Memphis Belle"), or photos of famous actresses (one on all Rita Hayworth), the soldiers hung in their cabins to recover morale during the long periods spent at war far from home.

The Memphis Belle

Later, the pin up become a model in flesh and blood, and perhaps the most emblematic example is Bettie Page, who between the 50s and 60s was the most popular model who lent himself to pose in sexy and put naughty than making videos that showed the world the fetish universe (but that's another story).

Bettie Page photographed by Bunny Yeager

In 1953 it was also founded Playboy magazine, which initially counted among its own employees Alberto Vargas who over the years had become increasingly bold in "stripped" his images.
The Playboy luck you must also to a pin up in flesh and blood, the beautiful Marilyn Monroe, who in some of the first issues was literally stripped (the famous shot that portrays Marilyn naked on a red cloth in 1949 by photographer Tom Kelley, but Hefner bought the rights at the cost torn in 1953 to publish the photos in his magazine).

Playboy: Original Issue #1 Featuring Marilyn Monroe (Dec. 1953)

In the '70s pin-ups undergo a sort of arrest, mainly due to the spread of other magazines such as Penthouse, much more explicit, and with the growth of the market of video pornography that best answer the needs of men of the period.
A sexy image, saucy but overall innocent and characterized by a figure in which you play a lot on I see / I do not see it then opposes the pure nakedness and total and the figure of the pin up is relegated to an outdated past.

With the spread of the internet, however it turns out that the pin-ups have resisted the fad to become a niche phenomenon that still grips. Apart from the already mentioned renewed interest in vintage, there are various subcultures, mainly musical, where fashion 50s becomes a way to imitate in clothing, hairstyles and poses.
Rockabilly music genre that has survived in some way it mixes with other genres creating the Psychobilly is an example of a subculture that sees its members showing off elaborate hairstyles, clothes, shoes and vintage accessories and colorful, as well as tattoos that recall the pin up original. The world of Kustom Kulture, the Hot Rod, the custom bike, as well as even the Cafè Race (now back in vogue), are an integral part this background.

In addition, the pin up style is very popular with curvy girls, who recognize little in standards of beauty served up to us by contemporary society: the pin up was actually a girl with a generous breasts, long legs and thighs from the floods, wanting differ part by the androgynous figures that characterized the women's fashion 30s and partly transmitting the "health" message in a difficult historical period. Still, you can find this style today in some music stars in recent years and burlesquer Dita Von Teese.

The latter summed up the spirit of today's pin up stating in an interview "It's not about seducing men, it's about embracing womanhood."
The transition from art in style occurred with the knowledge that you can play with your figure without submitting to the imperatives of the company, but "embracing their femininity" in an original way.


Pin up artists and features

Pin-Up was a trend that produced a wealth of stunning original art. The top painters employed by Brown & Bigelow and by magazines such as Esquire were celebrated and famous in their day to a degree that is unfathomable now. There was a brief golden period when Pin-Up was everywhere, and the best of it really is good: sumptuous, witty, bursting with life and vibrant colour. 

Esquire magazine

In order to define pin up, the girl had to have fundamental characteristics: the most important is the posture, which was to bring out the sinuous curves and be accompanied by an expression of the naive face, smiling but at the same time appealing; the pin-ups had to be enchanting but also playful and mischievous with his observer. The clothing also played a key role in his "see-through": the pin up was not to show too much, but the game was so clever cover the points "forbidden".

They began to depopulate bodices with a shooting shoulder, long pleated skirts raised by a strong wind and transparent babydoll. It is said that the pin up is always alone, it can also be accompanied by male figures, from animals (dogs on a leash, birds, kittens) or vintage car, yet still maintaining the undisputed star of the whole scene. These are the ingredients that, combined with a cocktail of colors and a nice touch of innocent mischief, help to create a highly effective.

Pin-up of Rolf Armstrong

Several artists were famous for their images broadcast on all the magazines. Already mentioned Alberto Vargas and George Petty, but also Art Frahm, Zoë Mozert (the most famous female Pin-Up artist), Enoch Bolles, Rolf Armstrong, Bill Medcalf, Al Buell, Earl Moran and many others.

Marilyn Monroe posed for Earl Moran
Pin-up of Bill Metcalf

But the biggest, the best artist (in my opinion) was certainly Gil Elvgren.
Gil Elvgren’s paintings are perhaps the apotheosis of the Pin-Up genre and his works command the highest price amongst collectors today. Like Art Frahm he often painted silly scenes of girls accidentally revealing their underwear, but his jokes are wittier, his brush strokes more expert and his girls more gorgeous.

Pin-up of Gil Elvgren

Elvgren apparently claimed that the ideal Pin-Up model had a 15-year-old’s face on a 20-year-old’s body, which is the sort of thing you could say in the 1940s without being thought creepy. That quote may be apocryphal but he did base most of his paintings on the model Myrna Hansen, who started working for him when she was just 13 (chaperoned by her mother, it must be said).