Pin-ups: An Evolution of Sexiness

Last month, Sports Illustrated Magazine celebrated their 50th year of Swimsuit Issues. Every popular modern model or pin-up has been featured in their pages for the last thirty years, at least. However, the tradition of pin-ups goes back long before the Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issues began and is rooted in a very different style than the beach bombshells we are so used to seeing. The pin-up is an idea that goes back to the 1890s, but it became prominent in the 1940s. Betty Grable is arguably one of the earliest nationally-known pinups; she became a constant figure in World War II locker rooms of G.I.s. However, the 1950s brought a slew of pinups whose names are commonly remembered even now, such as Bettie Page and Eartha Kitt. The idea of sexiness has greatly shifted since the 1950s and Bettie Page, however. The beauty has become much less polished and has been replaced with an "undone" sexiness of wet hair and little-to-no lingerie. The transition is illustrated below through the most popular pin-ups of each era.


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Bettie Page, 1950s: Bettie Page is the epicenter of pin-up. She is the definition of what traditional pin-up looks like.


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Eartha Kitt 1950s: Eartha Kitt, also known as Catwoman, is also a popular pin-up of the 1950s. At the time, before her Catwoman fame, she was a popular performer in Parisian nightclubs and started acting through her nightclub fame.


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Raquel Welch, 1960s: Racquel Welch defined beauty in the 1960s. She has an exotic quality, yet remains in a similar standard of beauty to the 1950s pin-ups. Her hair and makeup are very 'done.' She looks primped and pretty.


Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 9.12.11 PMBrigitte Bardot, 1970s: The 1970s ushered in a new, non-traditional era of pin-ups. The look became an 'undone' beauty, rather than elaborate hair and makeup seen earlier. No doubt hours were still spent on Bardot's hair and makeup, yet the result is much more "I just woke up like this" than the earlier looks.


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Christie Brinkley, 1980s: The traditional pin-up has completely fallen by the wayside by the early 1980s, and undone blonde beauties continue their prominence from the 1970s.

And Now: 

Today, with the pronounced popularity of everything vintage, vintage-styled beauties are making a resurgence as well. Today, Playboy, Sports Illustrated and burlesque clubs are graced with a wide variety of pin-up styles that range from traditional to modern. Below are just a few of the different styles that can be seen today:


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The Traditional: Claire Sinclair, Playboy's 2011 Playmate of the Year, is a throwback to the classic Bettie Page beauty of the 1950s.  She stars in a burlesque show in Vegas, furthering the throwback to traditional 'cheesecake' (as pin-up was called).

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The Nouveau: Dita Von Teese, former Mrs. Marilyn Manson, is a popular pin-up and striptease specialist today. She combines traditional pin-up physicality (tiny waist, perfect dark curls and red lips) with a new freshness as she changes the field to suit her. Her former marriage with the very eclectic Marilyn Manson shows that she's not all cheesecake and smiles.


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The Unexpected: Popular reality television personalities from The Girls Next Door, Holly Madison, Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson are undoubtedly beautiful and well-connected in the world of sexy photography. (At the time of their reality show, they were all living in the Playboy Mansion and dating Hugh Hefner.) However, none of them have the type of beauty that is classic for a pinup (seen above with Bettie, Raquel, Claire and Dita). They are all very modern interpretations of beauty, down to their platinum hair, silicone implants and tanned skin. Yet, below, you will see pin-up artist Olivia Deberardinis's interpretation of their beauty into classic pin-ups with a twist.



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Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 9.33.30 PMThe Modern Standard: The new state of the pin-up model is very removed from the days of Bettie Page. The look is very 'undone.' They now have messy, wet hair and aren't wearing much of anything, rather than traditional pin-up style lingerie. As society has loosened its standards of what is appropriate since the 1950s, even the pin-up outfits have gotten skimpier. There is a noticeable difference between Bettie Page's lingerie look of the 1950s, which left plenty to the imagination, and Christie Brinkley's see-through swimsuit of the 1980s. Moving forward in time, while Christie Brinkley was at least covered (even if her swimsuit was see-through), nearly 25 years later, the models are wearing nothing but swimsuit bottoms that cover almost nothing.  Where can they possibly go from the barely-there swimsuit bottom that we see on newsstands today? Perhaps back to the ‘cheesecake’ days?

Also, models like Lily Aldridge, on the S.I. cover above, fall into the modern model requirements of being very thin and very tall, which wasn't required in the old days. Models, especially pin-ups, used to be praised for their curves. While there was a standard of beauty in the 1950s as well, it was not as restrictive. There wasn't a specific required dress size or height, allowing for a little more freedom for the models. (However, it must be said that not all fields were as forgiving as pin-up modeling. In the 1960s, Pan-Am had strict height, weight and age requirements for their stewardesses.)

Today, the field of modeling has set-in-stone requirements for  height and dress size. Because the model field has become very limited, pin-ups today are generally within to the strict model standards. While Kate Upton has been praised by many today as a model with curves, she still falls into the standard requirements, as she is 5 foot 10 inches tall and only weighs around 130 pounds. This places her BMI at 18.7, only 0.2 above being classified as "underweight." With the exception of plus-size models, even relatively curvy models like Upton are still within the restrictive standards of the industry today.  The difference between most models and a pin-up is now simply that a pin-up is any popular model who feels like posing in this way (for people to look at their beauty, rather than to sell anything).

The pin-up has had a long history and will undoubtedly continue to appear in locker rooms and bedrooms of teenage boys for a long time to come. After all, who could forget Farrah Fawcett's poster popularity, even nearly 40 years later? Yet, is there any chance of going back to a more covered and finished allure? Will the modeling weight and height standards change? Will curvy beauties take over again? We'll have to wait and see.