To many, the pin-up girl isn’t something that needs to be introduced. Popularized mostly during World War II, these “girls” are as much a part of American culture as baseball and apple pie, as the saying goes. But, pin-up girls weren’t always depicted as the scantily-clad women in precarious positions that provided owners of the artwork a peek at her underwear. In fact, the very history of the modern evolution of the pin-up girl dates as far back to before World War I, all the way back to the invention of the first bicycle, surprisingly enough.
During the time when bicycles were becoming popular, a special Lady’s Safety Bicycle was invented that was intended to be ridden specifically by women. People believed that standard bicycles had the potential to harm women’s insides if they rode them, so special ones were created. This led to advertisements of women with bicycles featuring the then-scandalous idea of women wearing pants instead of dresses and skirts in order to safely ride the bike. Once bicycles became popular for all, there was a small shift in women’s fashion that ended up revealing their legs and more of their bodies overall in a way that had never been done before.
From there, women’s bodies were used more and more in advertising as they tended to attract more attention to different advertisements. The first real instance of this was the Gibson Girl, created by an illustrator for Life magazine whose wife’s likeness was depicted with a large bust, long hair, an hourglass shape and full lips. The successful campaign created a wave of others attempting to capture the sensuality of the Gibson Girl.
Attractive women were then used for a number of different advertisements, particularly during the First World War. A beautiful woman encouraging young men to join the army was thought to be able to stir men into action, and it seemed to work. As time bled into the Roaring Twenties, the flapper generation that wore shorter skirts and bobbed hair had their likeness depicted as well. Then, in the 1940s when the World War II began, the first real pin-up girl as we know her today appeared in wartime propaganda pieces that encouraged people to join up and fight the war, purchase war bonds and more.
Upon realizing the way that sex certainly sells when it comes to war, those pin-up girls became the face of advertisements and were used to further marketing campaigns, the first to popularize these tactics in the 1940s and 1950s being Madison Avenue. In 1952, Playboy was created, and in the early years of the magazine, there were nude pin-ups depicted. Eventually, that evolved into photographs, which spawned Betty Page’s participation in the style, and today, Betty is still considered the most collected pin-up girl of all time.
In modern times, the tradition of pin-ups is still alive and well with people collecting classic pin-up art work and creating their own as well. Truly a timeless American art, pin-up photography is still a vibrant field especially in the rockabilly subculture and will only continue to evolve over the years and never fail to entice and intrigue audiences.