Pin-up Fascination: Why were Pin-up Girls so Significant?

Pin-up Fascination: Why were Pin-up Girls so Significant?

How it all began…

Before booming during the Second World War, the phenomenon of the pin-up girl had a gradual evolution. The origins of pin-ups can be traced back to the early 1900s, when the end of the Victorian era saw the emergence of suffragettes and changing attitudes towards female liberation.

The earliest examples of pin-ups (such as Charles Dana Gibsons’s ‘Gibson Girl’ in the late 19th century), retain an air of Victorian corsetted modesty. However, we can recognise quintessential pin-up features such as a desirable figure, full lips and a playful glance.


At the turn of the century, when calendars containing advertising became the new craze, companies like Brown & Bigelow (B&B) realised that sex sells. They began featuring stunning illustrations of beautiful women who later became known as “calendar girls” and have since been described as the original pin-up girls. One of the first B&B calendar girls was an actress named Cosette, who was first illustrated on their calendar by Angelo Asti in 1903.

The evolution of pin-ups is also synonymous with advertising, and Coca Cola helped to catalyse the trend, adding drawings of beautiful women like Hilda Clark to their advertising and calendars from the late 1800s onwards. Calendar girls represented a significant departure from Victorian ideals and helped to bring forward a new wave of female liberation and empowerment to America and beyond.

The birth of the pin-up girl

While the genre had been developing since the turn of the century, the term "pin-up" was first used in English in 1941. Pin-up girls can be defined as female figures who are alluring but never explicit (as stated by Dian Hanson). Initially, this term described illustrations and paintings of beautiful women in playful and flirty poses, later evolving to include photographs of models and actresses. Pin-ups got their name because, much like their calendar girl predecessors, these images were designed to be pinned up on walls and admired.

The artworks typically showed women with hourglass figures, in suggestive poses that were designed to capture the imagination of the onlooker. Many male art critics of the time struggled to take them seriously, deeming them amateur and non-traditional. Women also joined the debate surrounding this new art style, with some in favour of this new celebratory vision of femininity, and others seeing it as vulgar and objectifying. Nevertheless by the mid-century, pin-up illustration was an extremely lucrative industry, with B&B artists being paid around $1000 for a centrefold artwork (a much higher figure in today’s currency!).

Pin-up girl illustrations

We have some very talented artists to thank for the birth of pin-up girls. Their jaw-dropping illustrations set the standard for this genre that has captivated audiences for decades since! Let’s explore a few of our favourites:

Petty Girls

George Petty's pin-up was mostly featured in magazines called True and Esquire. He created the "Petty Girls" between 1933 and 1956, and their pretty faces became so popular that some were even painted onto military planes during World War II!

Vargas Girls

Alberto Vargas is one of the most famous names in pin-up art. His "Vargas Girls" graced the pages of Esquire magazine during the 1940s (and later Playboy magazine). They were best known for their sultry poses and ethereal beauty.

Elvgren Girls

From the 1930s to the 1970s, Gil Elvgren created some of the most iconic pin-up girls. Their style was characterised by their playful, flirtatious and sometimes funny poses which added to their charm. Elvgren loved using vibrant colours and lifelike detail to bring his girls to life.


Hilda, created by Duane Bryers, appeared in American calendars from the 1950s to the early 1980s and was the only curvy girl in the pin-up scene at the time. Bryers created about 250 drawings of Hilda, which makes her one of the most drawn pin-up girls in history!

Pin-up girls and the war effort

The seed of pin-up mania had begun to be sown during the First World War, however during World War II, pin-up illustrations became integral to the war effort. The girls became stars of recruitment posters and calendars, and the American military even commissioned artists to create pin-up artwork in an effort to boost soldiers' morale.

For example, in 1942, calendar companies such as B&B secured funding from the War Advertising Council to produce propaganda. The girls were drawn in playful military outfits and copies were sent to thousands of troops stationed at home and overseas. The sauciest drawings decorated barracks, ships, submarines and fighter planes, and some were even taped inside soldiers' helmets!

Why did pin-up girls become so popular during the war? Because they were the key to boosting morale. They presented a playful distraction for troops, where adoration for these beautiful women allowed the soldiers to retain a positive outlook. In many ways, pin-up girls were a symbol of better times to come.

The most famous pin-up girls

Towards the tail end of World War II, pin-up girls made a glamorous switch from illustrations of unknown women to photographs of famous faces. This transition happened because photography became more accessible, but also because real-life images were more relatable to the audience since they captured the charm of familiar faces.

This switch brought a fresh and exciting dimension to the pin-up art form. Let’s take a look at some of the best-known pin-up girls from this period!

Bettie Grable

Betty Grable, famous for having "the best legs in Hollywood," was a successful actress, singer and dancer in the 1940s. In 1943, her iconic bathing suit poster made her the most famous pin-up girl of the World War II era.

Eartha Kitt

The beautiful Eartha Kitt started her career as a pin-up model in 1942. She was one of the first African American women to be taken seriously in the genre and the support she gained during her time as a pin-up girl propelled her career forward. She later became one of the most successful African American models and actresses of all time!

Bettie Page

After the war ended in 1945, Bettie Page emerged as the most famous pin-up. She was the first to transition from illustrations to photography and she became a living, breathing icon with a unique personality and style. Her images appeared in countless publications and calendars, and she is now the most photographed and collected pin-up girl in history.

Dorothy Dandridge

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Dorothy Dandridge became a stunning symbol of beauty and talent. Though she became far more than just a pin-up girl, she was the first black woman to grace the cover of Life Magazine (in 1954) and she was a favourite among black soldiers for her beautiful poses and sultry looks.

Marilyn Monroe

With her blonde curls and girl-next-door charm, Marilyn Monroe was a familiar face in magazines, calendars and posters throughout the 50s and early 60s. She became a timeless pin-up icon and this paved the way for her Hollywood stardom.

Jayne Mansfield

From 1955 onwards, Jayne Mansfield was known as the naughtier version of Marilyn Monroe. Monroe disliked Mansfield's imitation, calling it "gross" and "vulgar." Nonetheless, Mansfield's bold style made her a memorable pin-up icon and one of our absolute favourites here at Scarlett Gasque!

From pin-up to Playboy and beyond…

So, what happened to pin-up girls? It’s not that they disappeared, they just evolved! In part, this evolution can be attributed to the launch of Playboy magazine in 1953. Hugh Hefner shaped his publication around the pin-up girl image, pushing the boundaries of acceptable female nudity in new and exciting ways…

While today's models aren’t called "pin-up girls," they do carry on their legacy. The pin-up girls of today come in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds, and they proudly celebrate female beauty and sensuality just like their predecessors. We hope it continues far into the future!

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Ready to celebrate your curves and bring out your playful, flirty side? At Scarlett Gasque, we have everything you need to dress like a vintage pin-up girl with a modern twist.

Get ready to show off your femininity and feel absolutely fabulous! Shop our range of stunning lingerie and vintage-inspired corsets now, and turn the boys and girls all over the world absolutely wild…

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