Pin ups played a huge role in WWII, both back home and to keep up morale for soldier overseas. These women made history in more ways than one, and it wasn’t just about their sex appeal. Sure, that was...

History Of Pin Up Girls and the Tattoos They Inspired

Pin ups played a huge role in WWII, both back home and to keep up morale for soldier overseas. These women made history in more ways than one, and it wasn’t just about their sex appeal. Sure, that was a huge part of it, but things shifted in society after the war, and with the help of pin ups, women started playing a bigger role in society than they did before. This is an in-depth look at the history of pin up girls.

What Is A Pin Up Girl?

Photo of a Pinup Girl Laying Down with Feet Up

Pin up girls are something you’ve definitely seen before. They’ve been around in some form or another for over a century, so it’s hard to avoid seeing them. A pin up is exactly that – a photo of a sexy lady that you pin up on your wall. There’s a whole lot of sex appeal around pin ups, for obvious reasons, but it wasn’t just about sex when this phenomenon first started. It was actually about empowerment, but we’ll get into that more later.

The tell-tale signs of a pin up are things like scantily clad voluptuous ladies, with pouty lips (usually red), and an old-fashioned, usually curled, hair style. They’re often posed doing household tasks, or posing in a boudoir setting, but they’re always beautiful, and they’re always buxom. Pin up girls aren’t usually nude; they’re scantily clad and risque, but never explicit or inappropriate. There are lots of different examples of pin up girls, from Betty Paige, to Rita Hayworth, and the illustrations that you see on fun post cards. The idea behind a pin up started somewhere, and it might not be what you would expect!

The Beginnings

Pin up girls were originally used in advertisements, where the pages of magazines and business cards could be “pinned” up and enjoyed, while promoting something. The earliest examples of pin ups can be traced all the way back to the 1890s, when a French artist named Jules Cheret used the images of voluptuous women in magazines and in advertising. This trend of featuring these kinds of sexy women on pages of magazines and in ads caught on in the US roughly ten years later, when Christian Dior would use the same types of women in his ad campaigns. These pin ups were all-American good girls, which was the image that corporations in the early 19th century wanted to encourage.

This was the pin up girl image up until WWII. Just before, a Peruvian artist name Alberto Vargas was painting modest, yet sexy images of women for Esquire magazine in the 1930s. Once the war started, soldiers would keep these pictures of pin ups as tokens of good luck, and to give them a sense of home. This was actually an idea put forward by actresses Rita Hayworth and Betty Grable. They believed that soldiers would have better morale if they believed they were fighting for something – like the beautiful women back home.

The “Varga girl” images were even painted onto the noses of fighter planes, and she became a part of the war effort. These pin ups weren’t being depicted in lingerie anymore, they were wearing soldier’s uniforms, and promoted the war effort at every turn. As women were taking on the factory jobs that the soldiers had vacated, their pin up counterparts encouraged more female power in society. Rosie the Riveter is a classic example of this.


Playboy Bunny Pinup Girl

Believe it or not, Playboy Magazine plays a part in the popularity of pin ups in history. The entire magazine was created around the pin up image, and has only grown since then. The very first issue featured an up-and-coming actress at the time – Marilyn Monroe. She posed nude with a red velvet background, and was paid a whopping $50 for the shoot (this was a lot of money at the time). This image was the very first centrefold, and set the stage for the entire magazine empire that Hefner was able to build.

From there, several high profile actresses during this time entered the pinup world – Bettie Page, Jayne Mansfield, and Rita Hayworth, to name a few. Not all of them were successful in the pin up realm, but it was clear that being a pinup was a desirable option in the 1950s.

Pin Ups In 2020

The Varga version of a pin up is still a huge inspiration for pin up models, and the style has evolved a little bit since the 1930s. The classic pin up image of a beautiful woman with red lips and curled hair, wearing very little, and posing in a cheeky manner. There’s also the version of the pin up that has the same signature hair and make-up, but with everyday clothes. Add tattoos to this picture and you’ve got what’s called a “rockabilly” pinup. These kinds of pin ups are largely inspired by fashion and style of the 40s, but with modern twists.

We still pin ups in ads to this day – every magazine heavily features women with a classic pin up look. Models and fashion photographers especially use this style to promote themselves and their products.

Modern Pinup Girl

Pin Ups & Tattoos

Pin up tattoos are popular with both men and women. They still represent female independence and power, especially, again, Rosie the Riveter. A lot of women will get these tattoos to symbolize their strength, power and independence. Aside from that, pin ups are, at their core, images of beautiful women, and that’s something that will always be desirable.

You don’t have to cut out a picture from a magazine and pin it on your wall anymore – you can get the artwork inked right onto your body! And it’s an extremely popular tattoo design. Just like soldiers who used to paint pin up images onto the nose of their planes, men are painting these images onto their bodies. Pin ups are far from outdated; it’s a timeless concept of beauty that seems to resonate with everyone, so the requests for pin up tattoos aren’t likely to go away anytime soon.

Types Of Pin Ups

Marilyn Monroe Posing with an Umbrella

Bombshell Pin Up

This is the pin up that you’re used to seeing. These are women with curves, red lips, risque clothing, and sexy poses. Bombshell pin ups are real-life people posing for photographs, with the traditional pin up style. The celebrity examples we’ve given fall under this category.

Dita Pinup Girl on a Yellow Background

Burlesque Pin Up

This kind of pin up takes things to the next level. You’re going to see some skin with these pin up girls, so these are usually NSFW images. Betty Page is one of the very first examples of a burlesque pin up – she would strip down completely, and show off her goods, whereas traditionally, pin ups would leave more to the imagination. Dita Von Teese is the most famous burlesque pin up model today.

Classic Pinup Girl

Classic Pin Up

A classic pin up would be an illustration, so a Gibson or Varga girl style of image. These are the original pin up images, with no actual nudity, and often cheeky poses. These ladies are usually trying and failing to complete household tasks, but something goes wrong in an adorably sexy way.

Rockabilly Pinup Girl

Rockabilly Pin Up

Rockabilly is a more recent style of pin up, but it’s a very popular one. One classic, early example that comes to mind is Rosie the Riveter. She has a badass look, her hair tied up and she’s fully clothed – and not in feminine clothes either. More recently, rockabilly pin ups qualify as anything funky, but having a distinct pin up look. These ladies often have tattoos, as well.

Pin up girls have become a timeless image that have only become better over time. Now that you know where the concept of pin up girls came from, you can appreciate pin up images and tattoo when you see them!

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