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Those Pin Up Girls…: A Romp Through History

I’ve posted her before and I likely will again – pin up girl and chair!

Pin up girls have been around for a long time. They’re first officially known from the 19th century. But I bet they’ve been around longer than that, and if you look carefully at cave art paintings and the Venus figurines found archaeologically from Europe 35,000 years ago, you can see that people have been pondering the female form for quite some time. I bet there were even Neanderthal pin ups that we just haven’t found yet.

From nearly 30,000 years ago, the Venus of Willendorf was one of the original pin up girls.

While pin up girls may be controversial in some quarters, there’s no question that people have been admiring women’s figures for a very long time indeed. Some argue that pin ups objectify women, others say that it celebrates the female body and sexuality. I think that today we definitely idealize the 50s/early 60s as a time of innocence, although despite delighting in Mad Men episodes, I don’t think I would have done well in the social norms of the time. But gee do I love the 50s fashions! The pin up girl popularized the playsuit and did wonders for halter tops.

Hottie Betty Grable strikes a pose in this famous image.

Bettie Page in Playboy 1955.

So who were these pin up girls anyway? During the time of peak popularity during 40s war time and the early 50s, celebrities such as film stars were idealized. Betty Grable comes to mind right away, as does another Bettie – Bettie Page, a 50s pin up model.

The pin up is the cousin to the burlesque performers, and arguments can be made that they’ve been around for some time too – although it’s much tougher to provide archaeological evidence for their fine moves and artistry. But I can tell you they’re known since at least the 19th century.

A Varga girl.

The Varga girls from the 30s and 40s were some of the early pin up girls, so-named for artist Alberto Vargas who did a big part in popularizing them in select mens’ magazines of the period.

Puppies and surprises – life of a pin up girl.

Pin up surprised by… the wind?

Yes, definitely surprised by the wind.

And by the 50s we have the pin up girls that most typically come to mind, looking innocently naughty while being surprised by… puppies, overflowing bathtubs, you name it. Pin up girls decorated workshops, cheered up troops in wartime and provided a sampling of sexuality during a conservative time. The waning of the pin up girl came by the 60s, with more liberal social values, the rise of rock and roll, tv and communication, and the sexual revolution all led to the demise of the pin up. Women could be openly sexual in mainstream society by the late 60s and 70s.

Dita von Teese, modern pin up girl.

Katy Perry strikes a pose.

The revival of the pin up girl in recent years is part of the new feminism reclaiming these old images to portray a feminine ideal, and evoke a nostalgia for a simpler, more innocent time. Vintage style pin up fashion is also going through a revival, including playsuits, beach wear and corsets.

40s Varga girl.

The playfulness of the pin up girl image has been reclaimed. 40s and 50s pin up art is going through a popular resurgence too. And I for one am not sorry for this!

x Rena

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Comments

  1. I love everything and anything having to do with pin-up girls! These women were the epitomy of early classic beauty and seduction. I love the photos you posted. Very risque whilst still being cutesy and pretty.
    -K

  2. Nate Sullivan says:

    Hi, I enjoyed reading through your blog post. I take a much different approach, however. I’m currently writing my graduate history thesis on the “Varga Girl Trials” between Esquire and the Supreme Court, and I’m finding more and more that rather than being a symbol of female sexual expression, the pin-up of the 1930s and 1940s is rooted in sexism and tradtional gender identity. Tha Varga Girl, the quintessential pin-up, developed in a sexist publication (Esquire) known for its crude humor and anti-woman sentiment. – Nate S. – sullivannj@lopers.unk.edu

  3. Hi, I enjoyed reading through your blog post. I take a much different approach, however. I’m currently writing my graduate history thesis on the “Varga Girl Trials” between Esquire and the Supreme Court, and I’m finding more and more that rather than being a symbol of female sexual expression, the pin-up of the 1930s and 1940s is rooted in sexism and tradtional gender identity. Tha Varga Girl, the quintessential pin-up, developed in a sexist publication (Esquire) known for its crude humor and anti-woman sentiment.

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