1900s – History of Pin-Up

Goodbye Victorians. Hello Edwardians. The turn of the century had some great leaps and bounds for the genre we call pin-up. Those uptight Victorians got replaced with the new and lewd Edwardian culture. Mass transportation made seeing new sights a breeze, and photographic printing comes mainstream. What a time to be alive.

Artful Pose of a "PostCard" type image. By Chris Wooley

Artful Pose of a “PostCard” type image. By Chris Wooley

At this point the Victorian era, along with its ideals and morals, has come to an end. Edward the VII has come to the crown and is changing the global view on what is considered appropriate. His personal collections of naughty photos and open personality have made it even more socially acceptable to be viewing these types of images.

The type of women we see during this decade all have one thing in common. They are full figured and care free. The Edwardians ate lavioushly, flaunted their wealth with servants and staff, and avoided exercise. Thus the age woman was a bit on the plus size and generally had full hips, round butts, and a large bust. It was a choice and a status to be bigger and curvier.

A large influence is just now starting to come alive. Printing of photographs. Previously, we were limited to what could actually be printed on magazine, books, and posters. If it wasn’t a plate or typeset, it just wasn’t possible to reproduce it in mass. But this decade made a huge jump on that front. Mechanical printing now allowed for photographs to be printed. And the people loved it. Now we could get mass produced media featuring images. Postcards became a thing and became highly collectible. Granted, you couldn’t actually mail the picture of the pretty girl, as that still wasn’t allowed. But you could own a mass produced postcard. And yes, these have become collectors items.

Magazines came to life though. Previously, magazine would feature, at most, scandalous drawings of women’s calves or upper cleavage. And they still weren’t daily readers – but selective magazines for men. At best, a guy could order a “cabinet sized” print of a woman as an actual photograph. Sight unseen, as it couldn’t actually print the photograph. But this changed with the new production process. Actual photographs could be published in the magazines, drawing in a new crowd. And several of the magazine of the time, like The Metropolitian, Munsey’s Magazine, and the New York Sun, started featuring spreads and images of these girls. The magazines usually cost a nickle, and provided cheap and long lasting entertainment.

A popular theme of the period was the creation of tableaus vivants, which were “living pictures” or photographs of groups of people posed and looking like famous artwork. Again, it was the creation of fine art that made this nudity socially acceptable. But, boy where they popular. There were even some 3D stereoscopic images available. And one magazine focused entirely on showing off sexy versions of classical art.

If I had done a group image of this period, it was be a tableaus vivant. But instead, I focused on the singular pin-up gal. The single images still needed an artistic flair to them. Otherwise it’d just be vulgar pornography. So we’ll see painted backgrounds, elaborate headdresses, fancy jewelry, chiffon, fine furniture, and artful poses. It was like a mad-libs of classy items combined to make fine-art. These were the types of images you’d see on the popular postcards of the era.


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