Undressing the Pinup Look

Gil Elvgren: All His Glamorous American Pinups, my reference text for this article.

Pinup style, despite its classic vintage air, has a certain timelessness about it. The look has a niche following that ebbs and flows but changes slowly and dies seemingly never. I sat down to dissect what styling elements really make up the archetypal pinup look, with a little help from Gil Elvgren. Gil Elvgren is probably the best known, and most quintessential, pinup artist (more on that next week!), so I took my cues from an anthology of his paintings published by Taschen.  The following is an analysis of fashion in classic pinup art.

Simple, classic pinup bra and panty

A simple bralette is a surprisingly popular look in pinup illustrations.

The pinup bra is not beribboned and lacy, nor is it a bullet bra. No, what I saw the most of was simple bralettes: soft, often triangular cups; a clean, simple shape. Lucky for us, bralettes have been gaining in popularity over the past couple of years. Look for a simple black, sheer, or lace style and pair it with anything high waisted. As far as panties and bottoms go, the rise is virtually always on the natural waist. However, it’s not sleek, fitted briefs that were the stars: fitted or loose tap shorts were by far the most prolific style. For a daywear version of the same look, you could pair a bandeau or cropped blouse with sleeves with a pair of high-waist shorts or trousers with contrast detailing.

Garters and stockings, of course, are a must-have. Four garters, rather than the contemporary six, used to be the standard. Stockings were fully-fashioned in sheer brown or black.

Floor-length sheer negligee, a pinup classic (illustrated in a vaguely surreal non-pinup setting)

For loungewear, you can’t go wrong with sheer, floor-length negligee. A more youthful look would be a lightweight or semi-sheer tunic-length nightie (just long enough to cover your rear), flared out from the shoulders, covering the torso to the pit of the throat, such as the one on the cover of the Elvgren book at the top of the page. (This, of course, looks particularly fetching when backlit from a cozily roaring hearth, casting a clear and curvy silhouette through the thin material.)

Bustier with decorative front lacing detail.

If you’re wanting a bustier, corset, or basque, look for one with lace panels at the center front, or front lacing detail.  You probably won’t find one quite as cleavage-y as those illustrated, though.

The pinup color palette is heavy on black, white, and primary colors (with black and white, of course, being the favorite for lingerie).  Springy floral and pastel tones are also popular.  Prints are generally limited to floral motifs and classic stripes and gingham.

Lastly, with regard to what one would wear on top of all this lovely lingerie, the silhouettes are surprisingly modest in coverage, yet still figure conscious.  Dresses or blouses might still have sleeves and modest necklines, even peter pan collars, but are well fitted to the bust and waist.  Skirts are full, roughly knee-length, and, apparently, always caught on something.  A sash or belt further highlights the nipped in natural waist of a vintage figure.  The summery version of the look might feature a low, scooped neckline, spaghetti straps, and fit gathers under the bustline.

If you have any questions or comments, please share your thoughts in the discussion below!

Marianne

Marianne

Marianne Faulkner is the designer of Pop Antique, a clothing and corsetry line specializing in sustainable materials and comfortable curves. She is based in San Francisco where she earned her MFA in fashion design at the Academy of Art University, and has been a columnist at The Lingerie Addict since 2011.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookPinterestYouTube

10 Comments

  1. Oh! I do love this post! Since I sell mainly vintage lingerie, this has always been a pet peeve of mine …wrong “pin up” vintage lingerie on modern pin up models. I know there are “modern” pin up models creating their own unique style, but I have seen so many pin up models who want the real vintage flair, to only be wearing the wrong lingerie styling.

    • 05/04/13 at 22:44

      So glad you enjoyed it! I have to admit, I was a little concerned about this article’s reception from the purist crowd. Personally, I absolutely love that we live in a time where we can mix old and new with abandon to create unique personal styles, but I agree that if one is going for an authentic look, a casual, half-hearted effort won’t cut it. I was a little surprised by my own findings and am now very curious to further the research by examining other sources. Perhaps a follow-up article analyzing Bettie Page in particular…

  2. 03/04/13 at 16:53

    Hi. Your recent post just made me think of my little pinterest board collection. Just thought I’d share.
    http://pinterest.com/knitimates/cats-that-look-like-pin-up-girls/

    • 07/04/13 at 0:51

      I’ve seen the tumblr, and I’m a big fan. Cats and pinups are two of my favorite things :)

  3. 03/04/13 at 19:25

    I’ve always been such a fan of pin up style anything, so this was such a great and interesting article for me to read! One of these days I’d love the opportunity to do a pin up shoot so I’ll definitely take the knowledge I gathered from this article and TLA with me when that happens :)

  4. 04/04/13 at 8:42

    Great post! I really feel one of the main things to bear in mind when trying to recreate an authentic ‘vintage’ pin-up pose is not just the clothing and lingerie, but to capture the essence of innocence and purity, health and vitality, especially in facial expression, pose and accessories. Underwear aside, (and you are the No.1 for tips here, so I won’t even try), and taking inspiration from the work of Gil Elvgren, all the poses are ‘natural’, the expressions are genuinely ‘happy and carefree, or ‘pure childlike surprise’. Thre is nothing seedy, or even ‘sexy’ about the situations the pin-ups find themselves (even if they are sometimes strange). For instance, straddling a diving board, the models dress getting chewed by a puppy, and my favourite – telling off a naughty parrot…in your basque and stockings!

    The backgrounds and accessories are cheerful and bright – blue skies, cute animals and happy-go-lucky situations. I think some modern interpretations of pin-up pics and photos are too overtly ‘sexual’. In the 21st century, it’s almost like we cannot shake the sexualisation of …well…. everything! Can innocence and happiness be so difficult to capture in a photo or painting (is that because none of us are anymore?…it would be a shame if so)

    (Gil Elvgren is one of my artistic hero’s. I have a great 2013 Diary with a vintage stocking painting per week. Have you seen Olivia De Berardinis and her work in the ‘Malibu Cheesecake’ art book….amazing! http://eolivia.com/

  5. Arno
    04/04/13 at 15:03

    This post is excellent ! I’ve got the same standard book : Gil Elvgreen – All his glamourous American pin-ups (Charles G. Martignette – Louis K. Meisel _ Editor : Taschen). It helps me to train my english :-) and of course it is the reference for pin-up style ! As some other men, I’m found of this pin-up look ! I’m really satisfied that, recently, the fashion trend was to introduce again some garments which remind … the pin-ups ! Happy man I am ! Arno from France

  6. 09/04/13 at 13:41

    Love your blog! I just discovered it! I’m obsessed with lingerie too!
    Great post! I love Gil Elvgren I have this book and everytime I go through the pages my heart beats faster!!!
    So glad to find your blog!

    Kisses from Greece
    http://hotspotemily.blogspot.gr/

Leave a Comment

Thanks for leaving a comment! I love hearing from TLA readers.