Pinning Down Pinup History: The Origins of Pinup Pt. 1

Photo Credit Top Left: Alias Josie, Photo Credit Bottom Left and Center: Kelsey MAC Photography, Model Credit All: Persephone Bryan

Pinning Down Pinup History: The Origins of Pinup

Pinup Photography is such a fascinating style of art. It’s unique in its evolution, as it marks western cultures ever changing views of sexuality, sensuality, and womanhood. Each version of it shows how society changed politically and culturally. Because of how vast, and multi-faceted this history is, it would be a disservice to try and fit it all in one post. Instead, I’ll be breaking Pinup history down into multiple posts over the next few weeks so we can understand the cultural and political impact it had on our society, and how it shapes these views today!

Let’s rewind to about 130 years ago…we are going farther back than the “Golden age” of pinup, before WW1…all the way into the late 19th century… specifically around the 1890’s; right around the start of the suffragette movement, give or take a few years. With the start of this movement, women began to shed the conservative ideas about their “place” in society as the “lesser sex”. Women were starting to demand the right to vote, to be afforded the same education and income earning opportunities, even to be seen as equal citizens to their male counter-parts. Women were demanding freedom, and a voice; no was NOT an option!

This revolution was fought on many different fronts. Societal norms were upended. Women were taking to the streets to protest injustice, putting aside their “womanly duties” of caring for house and home. By the mid 1890’s, with the invention of the safety bicycle, women were offered a new type of freedom, the ability to leave home without an escort!!! This scandalous transportation forced a new style to emerge. Gone were the giant hoopskirts, stiff corsets, and the many layers of floor length gowns. This modest frippery was impractical for riding! Instead dresses became shorter; for the first time women were showing the world their ankles to keep from getting their skirts tangled in this new-fangled contraption. Form fitting dresses, and bloomers that showed off a women’s shape were introduced to the scene. With this political and cultural wardrobe uproar, a new, taboo style of art emerged. It later became known as “cheesecake” photography, as the term pinup would not be invented until 1941.

Cheesecake photography is the predecessor to Pinup photography; it is slang for the art of painting, or photographing a scantily clad, semi-nude woman. Starting within the theatrical sphere; actresses, burlesque dancers, muses, and “loose” women were at the forefront of this sub-movement. Though it was slowly dissipating, the conservative Victorian viewpoint of women being pure, innocent, and chaste till marriage still lingered. Thus making this style of art utterly obscene! And thanks to the industrial revolution it would be easy to produce and distribute these photos to the public on a mass scale. Women were now taking control of their sexuality, and sensuality; it was a subversive form of rebellion! Because of this we paradoxically get the ever evolving “Dream Girl” stereotypes, and “Rebel Girl” stereotypes., such as: “Gibson Girls”, “Cosette/Calendar Girls”, War Time Pinup Girls, Flappers, Golden Age Pinup Models, and the Modern Pinup Girls! I’ll be diving deeper into these different different evolutions of the Pinup Girl, and there importance next Thursday!

P.S. I feel like I can write an entire thesis paper on visual arts and sexuality!!!




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