1920s – History of Pin-Up

The 1920s have officially began.  Well, technically, the movement and big changes we see and associate with this glamour era of Gatsby and Ziegfeld began in the late part of the 1910s.  You see, war changes everything.  We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again (just wait until we get to the 1940s). Towards the end of WWI, we saw a drastic change in how our girls were dressing and changing. War efforts required everyone to pitch in, roll up their sleeves, and give a helping hand.  For me, this is the decade when the modern pin-up first starts to take shape.

A boudoir scene (a first for this genre). Notice the mirror and vanity as well as the direct eye contact with the viewer. We have a very Voyeuristic look to this era.

A boudoir scene (a first for this genre). Notice the mirror and vanity as well as the direct eye contact with the viewer. We have a very Voyeuristic look to this era.

The need for laborours meant that the fancy dresses we saw in the Victorian and Edwardian eras were simply unpractical.  Instead, women adorned more casual and masculine clothing to help out with the war efforts.  Likewise, long hair was trimmed, impractical undergarments (like corsets) were abandoned and the ultra curvy female desire started to die down.  We now see one of the largest changes in overall aesthetics for women since the beginning of women in photography.

Continuing with more masculine trend, we see the ideal women taking a new shape.  First off, the hair.  Women cut there long and flowing hair into short bobs. Perhaps it originally started to make factory work easier – or maybe the political influence of the time demanded a more masculine look for women’s voting and rights causes. Either way, the hair style became much shorter and straighter.  Next we see the body type changes.  Curves were now out and tall and skinny was the rage.  The previously plump and curvy look was no longer admirable. Instead women wanted boyish figures, complete with long legs, small breasts, and straight lines.  Women even went so far as to bind their breasts to remove the curves. Ever notice how flapper dresses have the long strings that layer straight down?  They help mask the curves of the body, and exaggerate the tall and skinny form.  Femininity wasn’t dead – it just took on a new form.

We also start to see some new cultural changes shaping our perceptions.  Show girls, actresses, and dancers were becoming very popular, having started in the early 1900s (with fame that would last more than another decade).  Ziegfeld’s Follies were beautiful chorus girls wearing elaborate costumes. They highlighted sexuality, entertaining acts, and a care free high-fashion entertainment. The girls helped add romance to the era and open up sexuality for the masses.

The photography side the 1920s opened up a new genre, too.  For the first time, we are seeing photographs featuring women in unique environments. Particularly, we see them staged in the bedroom.  This is the birth of boudoir photography. As the viewer of the photograph, we get a voyeuristic look in the image, watching our model prepare for the evening. Common looks were at a vanity, mirror, or dresser. We see women dressing, undressing, and preparing themselves.  These images aren’t overtly sexual, but have a classic aura to them.

Another first in this genre is eye contact.  This is big. Previously, we saw portraits looking off from the camera. But in the 1920s, we see direct contact with the lens of the camera.  The viewer of the image is no longer looking directly at a non-descript scene – they are now apart of the photograph, almost interacting with the model.

This era marks a huge turning point for pin-up photography.  The styles and themes only continue to grow over the next decade .

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