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American Pin-Up Girls

Pin-Up Girl in Yellow

A  pin-up girl in a classic "pin-up" pose; wearing a yellow jump suit!

A pin-up girl in a classic "pin-up" pose; wearing a yellow jump suit!

Pin-Up art as a genre may not be what you think of when you look at these images from the past. Some may see them as pre-pornography. Others may view them as the exploitation of women. On the other hand, you may view them as the mirror for the emancipation of women and their sexuality. They also represent the all-American girl next door with her juxtaposition of sexuality and innocence. I tend to view them as all of the above. While it is true that they were the beginning of the sexploitation of women for advertising, I can't help but see the beauty in the artists' eye. Whether in the eye of the painter or photographer, I see the average American woman inhabiting a time when the possibility of a life of glamour existed, even if only in your own kitchen.

Christina Aguilera's Pin-Up Girl Montage

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Imagine this time in American history. The 1940s through the 1950s in the United States may just have been the "Greatest Generation's" glory days. The G.I. bill made the possibility of home-ownership a reality for the average family. Consumerism became the religion that drove the economy. The "baby-boom" created an aura of possibility that permeated the society. This was the time of the American pin-up illustrators. America's girl-next-door was reprinted on millions of magazines, calendars, and bill-boards. Inside locker-room doors, G.I.'s barracks, in every garage, restaurant and night-club, movie-house and theater, she was there. Before political correctness existed, the pin-up artist created an image that permeated the popular culture. It wasn't long before the burgeoning advertising industry recognized the power of the illustrator's drawings on the American public.

Gil Elvgren's Hottest Pin-Ups

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One of the most well-known and best-regarded pin-up artists in this genre was Alberto Vargas. He was born in Peru and studied in Europe before moving to the United States in 1916. He worked for the famous Ziegfield Follies and for the young Hollywood movie industry during his early career. During World War II, his pin-up art for Esquire Magazine, known as "Varga Girls" became popular with the troops overseas. Their iconic images of American beauty became an important morale-booster for the weary troops. Adaptations of the "Varga Girls" were used to paint the nose-art of United States planes during WWII. After the war, a dispute with Esquire over the use of the term "Varga Girls" forced Vargas' hand. He left Esquire, the premiere men's magazine at the time. He struggled financially until Playboy hired him in the 1960s. At Playboy, the simple change from "Varga Girls" to "Vargas Girls" put him back in charge of his own art-work.

Sexy Pin-Up Girls

The Steven-Gross Advertising Agency of Chicago was directed by artist Haddon Sundblom. Coca-Cola was one of their major clients. Under Sundblom, famous illustrators such as Gil Elvgren used the medium of oil and created layers of glowing color for the pin-up girls in their ads. Al Buell, Harry Ekman, Bill Medcalf and Joyce Ballantyne were all on staff. This style, known as The Mayonnaise School, due to the thick layers of oil paint, became synonymous with American advertising. The warmth and luminescence of these illustrations captured the hearts of post-war American culture.

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Along with the realism of the Mayonnaise School, other artists such as Earl MacPherson, Joyce Ballantyne, T.N. Thompson, Fritz Willis, Freeman Elliot, K.O. Munson, and Ted Withers, to name a few, used the medium of pastels and colored pencils to create a "sketch book" effect that attracted advertiser's attention. Brown & Bigelow, the Remembrance advertising business, created the promotional products for small businesses that permeated the country. They successfully sold promotional items using both the realistic and sketch effects.

Pin-Up art as an American cultural phenomenon is interesting because of the ripple effect that these illustrators had on the popular culture. What is fascinating to me is that these illustrators were not simply responding to the culture via opinion polls and marketing surveys. They were actually creating images that the culture could respond to. I see them in the same light as the Hollywood writers and directors of the day. Whether or not their view of the culture was correct, we can still appreciate their vision through their luminescent glasses.


Cah Bagoes on June 20, 2013:


Five One Cows from Moo Town on December 23, 2010:

There's nothing wrong at all about this hub. Stinky is voting it all the way up, and it's awesome.

Bradshaw on September 26, 2010:

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Very nice. All the pin-up girls seem to have a nice-but-naughty appeal to them. I like how you've laid out the page too. My eyes were darting here and there at all the pretty girls :)

Roger on May 01, 2010:

Dear friend,

We have just released the book:

Dream Baby

Pinup in American advertising 1935-1955

a compilation of American pinup ads from 1935 to 1955.

You can take a look at it or even buy it at:

We also invite you to visit and post our blog on vintage objects and graphics:

Warm regards.

Roger & Toni

SweetiePie from Southern California, USA on October 04, 2009:

What a fun hub Cailin! I think the pin-up girl type pictures are fun and pretty cool!

Cailin Gallagher (author) from New England on July 04, 2009:

Thank you for all the positive comments for this hub. Beautiful women will always be well-received.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on July 04, 2009:

great hub

rosariomontenegro from NEW YORK on June 01, 2009:

Alberto Vargas was the greatest of pin-up girl painters, a great artist. Thank you for reminding us.

gavini srinivas on October 10, 2008:

nee yavva voolu balisinde neeku.........................................................

reagu from Los Angeles on September 24, 2008:

@ Chef Jeff: That's an interesting tidbit about WWII. Kinda goes to show you what men's priority are, globally.

@ Cailin: Thanks for this hub. I love pop culture history.

rodney southern from Greensboro, NC on September 09, 2008:

very sexy in my opinion. ALways liked this style

mattferry from California on September 08, 2008:

Classic... defenitely classic :)

Rodney Fagan from Johannesberg South Africa, The Gold Mine City on August 29, 2008:

Great Hub, I remember as a youngster in the late 50's going into garage workshops, doing Bob a Job, as I was a boy Scout, mainly to ogle the pinup calanders.

Brings back meemories. Thanks for the hub

Christoph Reilly from St. Louis on August 27, 2008:

Great hub, Cailin. I have long been a fan of the artistic pin-up and, in particular the work of Vargas. Olivia is doing some good work today. Thanks for this well rounded hub (pun intended).

booyakamix on August 10, 2008:

nice blog i was here

Cailin Gallagher (author) from New England on August 08, 2008:


I am humbled by your praise. *chant* I'm not worthy. I'm not worthy *chant* Thank you. You are so sweet.

Constant Walker from Springfield, Oregon on August 08, 2008:

This is a well-written, well-put together, well-organized hub. Interesting, educational, entertaining. Wow! I wish I could give it more than just one "thumbs up."

I think this era and these images not only influenced American culture, but defined the way the world saw us, as well.

Tony Sky from London UK on August 07, 2008:

Very hot stuff!

So this is what they mean when they talk about the good old days!

aikidk01 on August 06, 2008:

Great pictures from a wonderful era. My all-time favorite artist was Gil Elvgren, a very talented artist.

jean-marc C on August 06, 2008:

Great looking pin-ups.Hope we could fly in more of these past heritage centerfolds.

Cailin Gallagher (author) from New England on August 06, 2008:

Thanks Marisue! I got the girl in yellow from photobucket. Just do a pin-up girl search. Isn't she pretty? I'm afraid I end up spending too much time researching so I don't get as many hubs out as I should. But, the research is interesting for me. You are my inspiration for your polific writing-style!

marisuewrites from USA on August 06, 2008:

wow Cailin, what a history of pin-ups!! Your girl in yellow would look good on my site, I have a section where I put "all things yellow!"

You did some marvelous research, I had no idea about sexy pictures being so historical!

Cailin Gallagher (author) from New England on August 05, 2008:

torino70: You're absolutely right!

Cailin Gallagher (author) from New England on August 05, 2008:

Chef Jeff,

I didn't know the interesting German twist to this history. Think of the powerful influence that the nose-art and pictures must have been at that time in history. I don't believe we'll ever get that influence back. I know that the Nazis were known art collectors. I suppose this was a way for the average foot soldier to show-off a war-trophy in their barracks. I wonder if any of these remain?

torino70 from Pueblo, Colorado on August 05, 2008:

Those germans had good taste, these pin up girls were surely the hotties of there day.

Chef Jeff from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago. on August 05, 2008:

I remember some WWII airmen talking about the pin up girls painted on U.S. bombers. The Germans, it seems, loved it when a bomber crashed if they could save the painting and put it up in their barracks!

There are actually movies of Germans trying to extinguish fires just to save the pin up girl paintings. At first it was thought they were trying to save the NORDEN bombsights, but the German soldiers later said they wanted the paintings.

Cailin Gallagher (author) from New England on August 05, 2008:

Thanks khassandra!

khassandra on August 05, 2008:

Love this hub. Informative and entertaining.

torino70 from Pueblo, Colorado on August 04, 2008:

very original. something that you see in old-timers garages and kitchens and not think twice about it?

Cailin Gallagher (author) from New England on August 04, 2008:

Thank you Torino70! Glad you like it. :)

torino70 from Pueblo, Colorado on August 04, 2008:

awesome hub about the pin ups. i loved it.

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