Everything You Need to Know About Pin-up Lingerie

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We’re continuing Pin-up Week with an in-depth discussion of pin-up lingerie — what it is, which pieces you need, and how to keep it looking like new for as long as possible. So let’s get started!

What is Pin-up Anyway?
The word pin-up refers to the kind of mass-produced images that were originally “pinned up” on people’s walls in the form of posters, postcards, magazine cutouts, and the like. These photos and drawings were often of “glamour girls” like actresses, models, and other celebrities.  

Though the pin-up genre began in the 1890s with the iconic Gibson Girls, it didn’t really take off until the 1940s and 50s with the debut of pin-up models like Betty Grable and Bettie Page and pin-up artists like Alberto Vargas and Gil Elvgren. 

No matter the era though, the thing all pin-ups have in common is that they represent an idealized (and, in some cases, unrealistic) version of the female form.


The Pin-up Silhouette
The quintessential pin-up shape is the classic hourglass figure, with the waist being much smaller than the bust or hips. In the Gibson Girl era, that figure was achieved through the use of corsets, bustles, and petticoats. In the 1930s through 50s, girdles, bullet bras, and waist cinchers were used.

Though modern day clothing really isn’t cut to accommodate pin-up lingerie, retro underpinnings are essential if you prefer to wear vintage (or vintage-inspired) fashions. Without pieces like girdles and slips, your vintage clothing simply won’t have the right shape or drape, and the entire look will seem “off” as a result.

In terms of fabrics, pin-up style lingerie is traditionally made with materials like powermesh, silk, satin, lace, and nylon. You’ll see very little cotton, and almost no recently invented fabrics like microfiber.


Essential Pin-up Lingerie 

Now that we’ve got the foundations covered (no pun intended), it’s time to move on to the actual pieces a lover of pin-up lingerie should have in their wardrobe:

  • Bullet Bra — While t-shirt bras have their place in the modern woman’s wardrobe, a vintage lingerie drawer requires a different silhouette. Bullet bras are known for their pointy cups, and often utilize concentric stitching to help maintain their shape without underwires. Because bullet bras are made with vintage patterns (which often require non-stretch fabrics), I recommend buying up at least one band size from what you usually wear. If you have shallow breasts (like I do), bullet bra pads can help you fill out the cups.  Secrets in Lace and What Katie Did both carry the best selection of bullet bras (though cup sizes are limited to B-DD for Secrets in Lace and B-F for What Katie Did). For custom sizing and made to order pieces, try Dottie’s Delights.
  • Full Cut Brief or Tap Pant Knickers — Thongs are everywhere nowadays, but if you want that vintage look, it’s time to try a different panty. Full cut knickers not only give the era-appropriate shape to the bottom, they also avoid visible pantylines (which are still considered scandalous). In addition to the names mentioned in the previous section, try Lucy B Lingerie, Rago Shapewear, and Dollhouse Bettie.
  • Girdles — Girdles smooth, shape, and support… giving a firm, “tight” look under clothing. In the old days, a woman was not considered respectable if she left the house without her girdle, and in some parts of the country, that’s still true today (I grew up in Georgia, and remember buying my very first girdle as a teenager). Girdles are sold by your waist size, and as a general rule, if your hips are 10″ or more larger than your waist, you’ll want to consider going up one size. Readers who are less interested in shapewear may want to opt for a traditional six-strap garter belt instead of a girdle, while those who prefer more tummy control (instead of hip and bottom shaping) will want to look for a waist cincher. All of the brands mentioned so far also make girdles. In addition to those, look at Kiss Me Deadly, Coco’s Retro Closet, and Dark Ladies Wear.
  • Fully-fashioned stockings — Pantyhose weren’t invented until the 1960s, and while there are images of vintage pin-ups in fishnet tights, the definitive pin-up look requires stockings. But I’m not just referring to any stocking, I’m talking authentic fully-fashioned stockings. Unlike modern day hosiery, which is knitted in the shape of a tube, fully fashioned stockings are knitted flat. Afterwards, the two sides are sewn together to form a fully-functional backseam (as opposed to the purely decorative backseam on most nylons). The two trademarks of a fully-fashioned stockings are the keyhole at the back of the welt and the fancy heel at the back of the foot. Because fully-fashioned stockings are made with 100% nylon and have no stretch, they’re purchased according to the height and shoe size of the wearer. My personal favorite brand for stockings is Cervin, which you can purchase from StockingsHQ. I also like the fancy vintage stockings from Kay Marel (though readers who are taller than about 5’6″ aren’t a good candidate for them).
  • Slips — Thanks to vintage-inspired shows like Mad Men, the slip is experiencing a resurgence in popularity. While the slip’s main wardrobe function is to provide an extra layer for thin, rough, or sheer fabrics, it’s also a remarkably effective piece of boudoir attire. I love to wear vintage slips as nightgowns, and they’re incredibly easy to find (not to mention inexpensive) on both ebay and Etsy. Interestingly enough, Amazon also stocks slips.

How to Keep Your Pin-Up Lingerie Looking New
So you’ve bought your bullet bras, stockings, and garter belt and you’re all ready for a night on the town in full-on Dorothy Dandridge glory. But before you get too excited, invest in your lingerie by purchasing these two things:

1) Hosiery Gloves — I’ve got to get a little stern here because this is serious business. If you wear stockings, you must own a set of hosiery gloves. No excuses. Nylon is incredibly delicate, and the slightest hint of a hangnail will rip your stockings to shreds (ask me how I know this). Save yourself the heartache of tearing your favorite stockings by buying a pair (or three!) of hosiery gloves. I buy mine for $2.95 at Stocking Showcase.

2) Lingerie Wash — It goes without saying that your special pin-up lingerie should not be subjected to the ravages of a washing machine. The material is far too fragile, and you’ll wind up with a bunch of expensive rags at the end. But just soaking them in your sink in regular hand soap isn’t enough either. True lingerie addicts know to use a dedicated lingerie wash for their intimates. I recommend Forever New for bras, knickers, and garter belts and Hosiery Mate for stockings. Together, they’re less than $30, but they could literally save you hundreds.

I hope this article helps you in your search for vintage and pin-up style lingerie. Got a tip of your own to share? Tell us in the comments!

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  • Janus

    Actually, pantyhose were invented in 1959, according to this article:


  • sexylegsandbody

    Stunning girl, stunning pics. Enjoy your weekend.


  • Treacle

    @Janus–Thanks for commenting! According to Wikipedia, it looks like we were both off.

    Pantyhose were invented on two separate occasions (in 1953 and 1956) but weren't available to market until 1959 and weren't widely available until the 1960's.


    Have a great weekend!

  • Treacle

    Thanks for stopping by, Colin. :)

  • Kayla @ TheEclecticElement

    It's so interesting learning more about the pin up history-I'm so drawn to the pin up style and everything and love learning more about them!

    Great post Treacle :D

  • VickyBelle

    Beautiful article Treacle! Thanks. I really enjoy whatever material you care to post.

    In my very particular view, six-strap garter belts are adorable items which provide a perfect frame so as to make full-cut, vintage panties look and feel much better.

  • Priscilla

    Which do you think is better, a "narrow" or deep garter belt? I am shopping for a six-strap garter belt (or two) for regular wear, and I intend to wear my underpants over it. I typically wear boy-leg undies with skirts; would a deep belt be a problem, or should I go with a narrow one? Most of those I've seen that I like are the deep ones, but I am trying to think practically.

    Years ago I wore a garter belt almost daily, but it was a 4-strap one from Cacique and I was never really satisfied with it. I want to do better this time.

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  • http://thechroniclesofaneccentric.blogspot.com.au/ Sarah

    Hi there,
    This is a great post on pin-up style. I have just posted on my blog about bullet bras and included a link back to this post of yours, as it’s such a great resource. I hope this is ok.

    • http://www.thelingerieaddict.com Treacle

      I actually just read your blog post! Of course it’s okay. :)

      I thought you wrote a great review of the What Katie Did Bullet Bra, especially when it comes to applying it to vintage fashion. I have your post bookmarked in case I need to refer my readers to it.

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  • dulin

    Woah… There’s such a thing as hosiery gloves? I pretty much live in tights (haven’t managed to obtain a garter belt and stockings yet), and I’ve always kept nail files everywhere (including my pockets) so that I don’t snag my tights, but sometimes I won’t notice a rough bit of nail…

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