At the turn of the 20th century, many women in America embraced the industrial revolution as a means to escape the domestic sphere. The woman, seen mainly as a homemaker and second-class citizen before the 1900s, changed constantly throughout the following century. She not only embraced her rights in the public sphere, but also sexually. Activists such as Margret Sanger were pro-contraception, and the 1920s brought out the flapper in major cities throughout the country ¹. Women embraced more mannish fashions, showing their rebellion from their old feminine roles. But soon, women would find that their "feminine charms" could be used for their benefit, and inspire the nation's men to work harder than ever before. This page looks at one aspect of women's sexuality in American art that began in the 1930s and grew to become a national icon: the pin-up girl.

-pin-up: (n) A large photograph, as of a sexually attractive person, suitable for pinning on a wall².

-"cheesecake": (informal definition) Photographs of minimally attired women³. They are most commonly characterized by their "oops" faces and depicted in scenarios where they are caught in an embarrassing situation.

-coy: (adj) Artfully or affectedly shy or reserved, a common term to describe pin-up expressions⁴.

The artists of the 1930s are known for being the original artists of American pin-up. However the real first artist was Charles Gibson, who created an ideal feminine woman who wore beautiful gowns and maintained a more modern style with a hint of the Victorian fashion. However, the "Gibson Girl" died out during the 1920s, when women began to reject the traditional feminist role and embraced short hair and flapper garb⁵. The 1930s were the origins of the war effort pin-up: Armstrong, Gil Elvgren, George Petty, and Vargas⁶. These artists started in this decade, but their careers and success went beyond the Great Depression years.

Rolf Armstrong⁷-
Born in Seattle and studying art at the Art Institute of Chicago, Rolf Armstrong is known for his use of colors and his insistence of never using photography. In the 1920s, he worked and learned the art of calendar production at Brown & Bigelow, a major calendar company. The Brown & Bigelow Company is known for its famous pin-up calendars, which Armstrong (along with several other artists) contributed. Armstrong continued into the 1940s as the B&B calendars were sent to the boys and demand for pin-up boomed. He is known as one of the forefathers of pin-up art.

Gil Elvgren⁸-
One of the top three pin-up artists of all time, Elvgren was born in Minnesota and studied at the Minneapolis Art Institute. Getting out of school during the Great Depression, he joined Stevens & Gross, a well-known advertising agency. He flourished while studying under his mentor, Haddon Sunblom, known best for the Coca-Cola Santa. Elvgren had a specific view of what the pin-up model should be, combining youthful teenage faces on more mature twenty year-old bodies in his art. He painted "girl next door" classics during the 1930s. He epitomized the "cheesecake" expression of clumsy cuteness. During the war, his pin-ups graced many fighter jets and his work at Brown and Bigelow from 1945-1972 kept his art alive and produced many famous calendar works.

George Petty⁹-
Born in Louisiana and studying at the Académie Julian in Paris, George Petty probably competes only with Vargas as the greatest pin-up artist. "Petty Girls" epitomize the pin-up art origin, with "cheesecake" cuteness and exuding sex appeal. Petty debuted his girl in the 1933 inaugural issue of Esquire magazine. His work at Esquire are his legacy, though when he left the magazine in 1940 his career still blazed on, thanks to WWII. The "Petty Girl" is distinguished by its less-cartoonish style and more seductive nature. However, she was still a collage of different models and beauty standards. She graced many advertisements, and famous celebrities such as Rita Hayworth became Petty Girls. His fame carried strong into the 1950s, when the "Petty Girl" was made into a motion picture and celebrated throughout Hollywood.

Alberto Vargas¹⁰-
Alberto Vargas was born in Peru, and came to America in 1916. His first work came through advertisements, though his first really notable work was painting the leading stars of the 1919 Ziegfeld Follies (famous showgirls in New York City). His work with Ziegfeld (who became a life-long friend) brought him to California to work for the movies. His stable work through the 1930s was working for the movies, and where he practiced his art of making the ideal American girl. His first calendar job was for Joseph C. Hoover and Sons from 1937 to 1939, and right after this he replaced George Petty at Esquire magazine. It was at the time Vargas dropped the "s" in his name to make it less ethnic sounding, and the "Varga Girl" came to be. In the 1940s, Hollywood called back the famous artist to draw movie posters. In this line of work, he painted some of America's greatest icons: Betty Grable, Jane Russell, Ann Sheridan, Ava Gardner Linda Darnell, Marlene Dietrich, Loretta Young, and Marilyn Monroe. The 1950s was a somewhat bad decade for Vargas, as legal trouble with Esquire over the name "Varga" made him lose his artist's name. Playboy picked up Vargas in the 1960s, and he painted 152 works while working for them. This marked the last new creations of Alberto Vargas, but his pin-ups last as probably the greatest pin-ups in American history. The "Varga Girl," with her coy expressions and lounging poses, were extremely popular during the war effort and are still popular today.



World War II, along with the end of the Great Depression, changed American society forever. Beginning with the morale-boosting tactics of the government and ending with the start of the atomic age, WWII marks a new time in American society. However, the focus for this page is in American pin-up art. Bob Hope, Glenn Miller, and many other touring entertainers went across the seas to liven up the boys¹¹. Movies glorified the exotic South Pacific, using American beauties in what was considered more savage nations. The efforts from all sides of American society to support the war and end the depression were endorsed through the art of pin-up. Boys across the sea were reminded of their American sweethearts waiting for them at home, and these images boosted morale for the troops.

Peggy the Pin-Up Girl - Glenn Miller

Nose art was a common practice during the World War, because unlike the Marines or Army the Air Force was allowed to have morale-boosting artwork displayed¹¹. Usually on the noses of fighter jets, by the end of the war it was a profitable business to be a nose artist¹¹. Men would put a variety of images on their planes, from cartoons to the classic pin-ups, to song titles and names of family members¹². The two most common pin-up artists to see were Petty and Vargas, whose more seductive women were recreated for the jet. However, not just these classic pin-up artists were on the jets. Images of famous live pin-up girls also made their way across the sea as a reminder of home.


Though there are many famous celebrities who were made into pin-up icons during this time, these are examples of some of the more famous ones to the armed forces.
Fun Fact: Betty Grable's legs were insured for over a million dollars by Lloyd's of London¹¹!

Betty Grable
Known as being the most famous American pin-up during this golden age, Grable described herself as "strictly an enlisted man's girl." The star of many musical comedies that were extremely popular during this time, she was considered the wholesome all-American girl. One of the most well-known images of pin-up is the famous photo where Grable stands in a white swimsuit with her back facing the camera, showing off her legs. Grable's greatest success was in her films, such as the aptly named film "Pin-Up Girl" (1944).

Dorothy Lamour¹¹-
Most well-known as "sarong girl" due to her many appearances as a foreign dancer in many wartime films, Lamour was the reigning queen of the "South Sea maidens" from Paramount films. Her good looks plus her musical abilities kept the G.I.s entertained as she performed with the likes of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Sadly though, this pin-up queen's fame did not outlast the war. However, she is forever immortalized in her many films.

Video: Lamour in one of her famous dances

Lana Turner¹¹-
Known as "the sweater girl" for her tight schoolgirl innocent sweater outfits, Turner enchanted thousands of young men who soon became American G.I.s. Her pin-up fame came from her all-American girl roots in Idaho, but her later acting career in the late 1940s and 1950s turned her from clean-cut girl into a sophisticated woman of 1950s cinema.

"The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1946) was Lana Turner's breakout role from "Sweater Girl" into a Hollywood star.

The nose art of the 1940s highlights the use of pin-ups for the war effort. The Air Force was allowed to paint morale-boosting artwork on the noses of their planes, and many opted for their American sweethearts, the pin-ups. However, not all were based on the women printed in the calendars, many inspirations for nose art came from cartoon images. Woody the Woodpecker, Elmer Fudd, and Mickey Mouse commonly graced the noses of many fighter jets¹¹. But along with these loveable cartoons, there were also pin-up cartoon characters as well. Some of these doodled darlings were Betty Boop, Ms. Lace, and Daisy Mae¹¹.

Miss Lace
Ms. Lace
From Milton Caniff's Male Call, this comic strip was made for the pin-up loving troops. This comic, part of the U.S. Department of War's Camp Newspaper Service, starred the "innocent but sexy as hell" Ms. Lace. With her brown hair and classic pin-up figure, she was the most popular pin-up cartoon of WWII. She appeared on more nose art displays than any other pin-up image during that time.

Betty Boop-origboop.gif
Probably the more famous of the pin-up inspired cartoons, Betty Boop was created by Grim Natwick¹³. In the 1930s, Betty starred in many cartoon movies such as "Dizzy Dishes Stopping the Show" (1930) and "Baby Be Good" (1935)¹³. In her first movies, Betty Boop was actually a sexy canine cabaret singer, who in "Any Rags" (1932) became more human and eventually became the lovable sassy cartoon¹⁴. Though she was not common on nose art, she is a famous cartoon of the era and is still a commercial icon today. Her famous catch phrase is "Boop Oop a Doop"¹⁴.

Daisy Mae¹⁵-
Daisy Mae, a classic country girl who was hopelessly in love with Li'l Abner, was created by Al Capp. Al Capp started the comic strip "Dogpatch" in the mid-1930s. This comic strip is probably most famous for popularizing the idea of the Sadie Hawkins dance. Daisy Mae's classic charms and big blonde hair were a big hit with the boys in the Air Force, who put her on many of their planes.

A majority of the 1950s artists were those continuing off the success of the war, such as Elvgren who was working for Brown & Bigelow⁸. Calendar companies adopted many pin-up artists, and the demand for the calendars kept strong throughout this decade. There were many pin-up artists throughout the 1940s and 1950s, here is a list of some of the other major artists:

-Donald Rust
-Joyce Ballantyne
-Vaughan Bass
-Archie Dickens
-Peter Driben
-Art Frahm
-Zoë Mozert
-Bill Ward

With the war over, pin-up seemingly had nowhere to go. The Golden Age of cinema was dying, he boys came home to their wives, and the 1950s conformity resealed most women to the domestic sphere once again. However, pin-up did not die. Unlike the "Gibson Girl" of the 1910s, pin-up stayed alive and continues today⁵. Calendar companies and magazines kept them alive by keeping the art form alive through their publications. Mainly though, the classic drawing and posters of pin-up left the canvas and became embodied in Pin-Up Girls, such as Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page. These icons of beauty kept the art alive even during its darkest hour.

Along with the stars left over from the 1940s, stars from the 1950s included the sex icons Bettie Page and Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe¹⁶-
Though Monroe's life is fascinating right up to her tragic early death from suicide, her pin-up career was the heyday of her career. Born Norma Jeane, she dyed her hair and changed her name to Marilyn in 1946 after already having a successful modeling career. Studying the works of Lana Turner and Jean Harlow, Marilyn epitomized American beauty with her famous blonde bob and signature mole. In the movie "Niagara" (1953), she shot up to stardom. Known for her ditzy blonde demeanor, she shed this persona and became a producer and a very famous actress. She died in 1962 at the young age of 36¹⁷, but her fame lives on as her youthful charm and image continues to enchant Hollywood. Her status as a pin-up came through her modeling and cutesy personality, along with her famous fashion sense that inspires much of pin-up fashion today.
Norma Jeane
Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn's famous white dress
Bettie Page¹⁸-
Her modeling career starting in 1947 after a divorce, the brunette bombshell and her trademark bangs revolutionized pin-up art. Before, pin-up held a hidden sexiness and a musical comedy career. Bettie Page was not a classic at all, but instead made the cherry-print and halter bikini style that pin-up today roots from famous. She began as a model for artistic nudes for a photography club, and her inhibition shot her to stardom. Posing for bondage and sado-masochistic themes with Irving Klaw as the photographer, she was commissioned for private pin-up requests. This made her the first bondage model, and is where she gets her reputation as a more sex-driven pin-up star. She was also one of the first ever Playboy Girls. Bettie Page's risqué modeling became even more famous during the sci-fi art movement of the 1980s, where she inspired a new form of pin-up art.

In the 1950s, pin-up art mainly was in calendars and photographs. Calendars were favorites of veterans and those who enjoyed the classic image of the American sweetheart. However, the new decade also embraced the far more sexy side of pin-up. The "cheesecake" became sultrier, epitomized by Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page. "Skin magazines" such as Playboy and Esquire hired artists to pander to the boys now home from the war. Though the image of the pin-up was not exactly wholesome before the war (images on this page are at least partially clothed, though many were not), pin-up turned more and more towards pornography further into the 60s and beyond.

As the radical baby-boomer generation turned against older society and its ideals, the pin-up became grouped with old-fashioned sexuality and ideals of beauty. The bra-burning generation of women turned away from the "glamour" of pin-up for an earthier, "all-natural" kind of sexuality. Pin-up was thought to be a dying art form, as Esquire and its fellow magazines turned more towards blatant nudity and not the "cheesecake" innocence of classic pin-up⁵. Out of the radical 1960s came this era of pornography that continued into the 1990s¹⁹. The 1970s were probably around the last time that pictures in Playboy kept a little of the coy expression and "cheesecake" quality of models for pin-up. The movements that kept pin-up as an art form lie in classic images of Bettie Page and the science fiction artists¹⁹. It was not until recently that pin-up has begun to resurface in the more classic style, especially in fashion.

ARTISTS DURING THE 60s through 90s:
Throughout this period, very few artists distinguish themselves as essential pin-up artists. Most of them did partial pin-up, but were mainly artists for Playboy spreads or other non-specific work. However, one artist that deserves credit for his devotion to pin-up and is a perfect example of the sci-fi element to pin-up is Dave Stevens²⁰.

Dave Stevens²¹-
During the 1980s, a resurgence of Bettie Page in comics rekindled an interest in pin-up as an art form. One artist who especially doted on Bettie was Stevens, who used her as the inspiration for the love interest in his comic series "The Rocketeer." An independent publication, it was hailed as a triumph in a new wave of comic books. The nostalgic images of classic comic art (which commonly featured pin-up style leading ladies) that Stevens drew inspired many other artists and are now seen as common elements in sci-fi. He began working for Hanna-Barbera in 1977, and worked on storyboard for "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and Michael Jackson's "Thriller" music video. "The Rocketeer" was born in the 1980s, and established Stevens' career.
Stevens Himself
Princess Leia: Possible Pin-Up nostalgia?

The pin-up may have been hidden for the past few decades, but recently the pin-up has come back. With the sexuality coming back into focus (the many debates over sex in mainstream media), the obsession with celebrity and "vintage" icons (i.e. Marilyn Monroe) with their glamorous fashion, and even possibly the conservative revolution, pin-up is making a comeback. Though it somewhat embraces the "feminine mystique," it also celebrates the little ways women can be sexy, and not just as objects of lust that dominates today's culture. However, change is taking place. It's seductive quality, which counters the in-your-face” quality of the porn industry is slowly being re-introduced into fashion. Miniskirts are being replaced with form-fitting longer dresses, and its fun polka dot patterns and cute playfulness attracts many young women and teen girls. The pin-up as an art form evolved from drawings, to photos, to real life. Pin-up girls, like cherry pie, have survived as an American icon throughout the 1900s and continue into the new century.

Some modern day pin-ups²²:
-Dita Von Teese
-Dayna Delux
-Heather DeHavilland
-Asia DeVinyl

Heather DeHavilland
Dita Von Teese
Asia DeVinyl

1: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/timeline/index.html
2: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pin-up
3: http://homepage.mac.com/brons/Art/Cheesecake-0-Intro.html
4: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/coy
5: http://www.shoshanastudio.com/pinup/history.htm
6: http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/pinupart/
7: http://www.thepinupfiles.com/armstrong.html
8: http://www.thepinupfiles.com/elvgrenindex.html
9: http://www.thepinupfiles.com/petty.html
10: http://www.thepinupfiles.com/vargas1.html
11: For The Boys: The Racy Pin-Ups of World War II. Portland: Collectors, Inc., 2000. Pg. 5-11.
12: http://www.nps.gov/archive/wapa/indepth/PacTheatTopics/noseart.htm
13: http://www.welovebettyboop.com/bettyboop.html
14: http://www.katyberry.com/BettyBoop/history.html
15: http://www.lil-abner.com/daisymae.html
16: http://www.marilynmonroe.com/about/bio2.html
17: http://www.marilynmonroe.com/about/bio4.html
18: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/288044/bettie_page_biography.html
19: http://homepage.mac.com/brons/Art/Cheesecake-2-Photos.html
20: http://homepage.mac.com/brons/Art/Cheesecake-3-ComicsEtc.html
21: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/30/arts/design/30stevens.html?_r=1&ref=arts
22: http://www.pinupcafe.com/modern-pinups.htm

All images are linked to their sources.