Pin-Up girls History

The portraits of flirtatious, seductive, innocent and independent women became an icon during the early 20th century and continued well into the late 90s. The Pin-Up girls were pictured as versions of beautiful, attractive women meant to boost soldiers’morale during World War I and WWII. The Pin-Up genre gave rise to several well-known artists, one of them being the renown American painter and illustrator Gil Elvgren.

During the WWII the Pin-Up art was reflecting the idea of beauty and sexuality. Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe were celebrities who became sex symbols in the 1950s due to their mass-produced, pin-up photos.

Gil Elvgren and the Pin-Up Girls

During the 1940s and ’50s, Pin-Up was everywhere. The drawings were used to sell magazines, fashion, homeware, films, cigarettes and everything you can think of. Along with Alberto Vargas and George Petty, Gil Elvgren created an era of sensual, hyper-feminine images. These women, with their nipped-in waists, D-cup busts, long legs (always in heels), big blue eyes with pouting red lips, both catered to and informed the desires of American men for 40 years. He was a master of portraying the feminine and a commercial success. His clients ranged from Brown & Bigelow to Coca-Cola and he even illustrated stories for magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post and Good Housekeeping. But maybe the most important aspect of Elvgren’s artwork was that it was inspired from real-life. Some of the photos that he used as reference can be seen above.

During WWII Pin-Ups were used in recruitment materials, posters and calendars promoting the purchase of war bonds. This was considered to be the Pin-Up’s “Golden Age”, and thousands of images were commissioned to raise soldier morale while fighting overseas. The sensual, hyper-feminine images were always beautiful, always sexy and provocative but in an innocent way. They were charming young girls caught in emberassing situations.

In the 1950s and 1960s, it was even seen as a career boost for an aspiring actress or starlet to be painted and published on an Elvgren calendar and the train ride from Los Angeles to the artist’s home in St Paul, Minnesota, was a regular route for hopeful models. A keen photographer, Elvgren would plan each painting carefully. He would choose the appropriate model for his specific setting, then choose the wardrobe, arranging the backdrop of his studio set, the props and lighting. He also had to consider a model’s hair as it could take up to two years for a painting to be published and a girl’s style had to be one that wouldn’t date. Elvgren then photographed the scene with a 2 1/4 Rollei. Then like a retoucher today working with a photograph of a model, he used his paintbrush to enlarge cleavage, lengthen legs, nip in the waist, make lips fuller, enlarge eyes and emphasise curves. The idealised All-American woman, a combination of the “girl next door” and the “girl of your dreams” wasn’t new and began in 1887 with illustrator Charles Dana Gibson’s personification of beauty, the Gibson Girl. (

In 1951, Modern Man magazine asked Elvgren what he thought of American women. His answer was brilliantly rooted in his own time.“[They] are infinitely smarter today. They are more beautiful than ever before. They are more natural. They are not tying themselves in like they used to. And they are not looking like boys any more, thank God.”

Gil Elvgren Coca-Cola commercial

More to read: History of the Pin-Up, Gil Elvgren’s Pin-Up Girls and Their Photo Reference.


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