1940s – History of Pin-up

Cue the Jazz music. The 1940s are officially here. This is the year we’ve been waiting for in our History of Pin-Up journey. World War II is in this decade. And with it comes the pin-ups that we know and love.

1940s Photographic Pin-up featuring a wholesome girl in a 4th of July Theme. Model: Amy Sherman

1940s Photographic Pin-up featuring a wholesome girl in a 4th of July Theme.
Model: Amy Sherman

Let’s start in the beginning. Specifically, we’re looking at 1941. This is when the term pin-up first originated, or so it is rumored. Our men in uniform loved the pretty women back home, and so they tore pages from Brown & Bigelow calendars and “pinned them up” to the walls, bunks, and lockers. Supposedly, the term was first coined by Hartzell Spence, the founding editor of Yank Magazine – as we was describing a must have feature for the magazine: “We’ve got to have a Pin-Up.” Prior to that date (a few months after Pearl Harbor), Yank Magazine and the term pin-up didn’t exist.

It is at this point that our story takes a bit of a twist. The illustrated pin-up that we know, from such artists as Alberto Vargas and Gil Elvgren continue on a path of their own. They still brand the pages of magazines like Esquire, and fill the calendars of the day. However, this history lesson focuses on the history of pin-up photography – so we’ll look a little more in-depth about this process.

The US Government wanted to produce a weekly magazine to send to our troops, written by the troops and for the troops. The answer to this was Yank magazine. This magazine was a huge influence in the development of the photographic pin-up. Unlike the popular illustrated pin-ups the photographs featured in the magazine were of all-American girls, complete and wholesome. Nudity and overt sexuality were frowned upon while full sweaters and genuine smiles were adored. They reminded the troops of who they were fighting for. The images were a mixture of celebrities like Betty Grable as well as unknown girls.

The image for this time period couples a few highlights of the period. Most obviously is the innocently and non-provocative woman as the main feature. Next, we can see a themed look (4th of July/Americana) that was sometimes seen in photographs of the 30s and 40s. Finally, we can see the hand coloring. Although hand colored images had been around since the late 1800s, the use of color on select images really popped it and a fun novelty.


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