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!