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The Allure & Influence Of The Pin-Up Girl - History + Interesting Facts

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Sex appeal, WWII, and cheesecake: What was the history of pin-up girls?

Pin up girl history.
updated on:
April 28, 2023

The other day I did a post on Marilyn Monroe, and I became a bit fascinated with the culture and influence of pin-up girls! For a short time before she became famous, Marilyn modeled for a calendar and did some pin-up style photoshoots.

It got me thinking: what was the origin of the pin-up girl? I decided to do some research, and what I found surprised me!

betty grable
One of the most widely distributed pin-up images during WWII featured Betty Grable and her famous long legs. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

This post is all about pin up girl history.

What are pin-up girls?

Pin-up girls were models whose images were intended to be "pinned up" and displayed. Many pin-up girls participated in semi-nude or scantily clad photo shoots with suggestive poses. Their popularity exploded during World War II, with pin-up photos widely distributed to soldiers to represent the American women waiting for them back at home.

Pin-up girls still exist as a subculture today, with modern women paying homage to the retro pin-up girls of the past. The image of the pin-up girl continues to be influential today as a symbol of femininity and sex appeal. Many singers, tattoo artists, and models continue to take inspiration from the clothing, makeup, and power of pin-up girls.

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Where did pin-up girls originate?

Pin-up girls actually didn't originate in the 1950s during WWII. In the early 19th century, burlesque performers started to leave cards with their images on them behind the stage and in the green rooms of theaters. Some would be hung, or "pinned" up. This practice soon started to be adopted by people drawing famous actresses on cards for the same display purposes. The mystery and allure of famous women from the time being in the spotlight made them seem more sexually available (even though this wasn't in most instances the case). This was the very first seed for the fantasy of the pin-up girl.

Some burlesque performers' images became favorites of soldiers in WWI, one of the most popular being Miss Fernande. In the early 1900s, Gibson Girls were drawings that depicted women and acknowledged them for their beauty and femininity. This was one of the earliest versions of a "dream girl" that you may hang a poster of on your bedroom wall. Following the Gibson Girl, the Vargas Girl evolved from innocent drawings of beautiful women in the 1930s, to more suggestive images as WWII broke out.

Maybe semi-surprisingly for the time period, the general attitude towards these women was more along the lines that they were positive influences, and patriotic symbols of the war rather than prostitutes.

Were pin-up girls sex symbols?

Famous actresses like Betty Grable soon had their images used for the purpose of pin-up, which further amplified their "sex symbol" status. Although these women were often seen as sex symbols, they were also regarded as patriotic and comforting images of home for the soldiers to return to when the war ended.

Pin-up girls were known for their sex appeal, while still leaving some things to the imagination.

If you like this post you may enjoy this post: Marilyn Monroe's Fabulous Films (Every Single Movie Listed In Order)

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What were 'cheesecake' photos?

Pin-up photos were also called 'cheesecake' photos as a slang term as some had remarked looking at a pin-up photo was "better than cheesecake!"

What did pin-up girls do?

Pin-up girls often modeled in little clothing and suggestive poses, sometimes doing mundane and household things to symbolize the American women waiting for soldiers back home during WWII. Some pin-up art was also drawn to be patriotic and many images were painted on fighter planes and ships to represent what the soldiers were fighting for.

Hugh Hefner would eventually use the pin-up girl as inspiration for Playboy.

Who were some of the most popular pin up girls?

Bettie Page, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable, Ava Gardner, Jane Russell, and much more!


The history of pin-up girls is so interesting to me, and it's kind of crazy to see the impact they have had on pop culture. What do you think of pin-up girls???

This post was all about pin up girl style.

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