With pouting lips, hourglass figure and a lusty look in her eyes, the Pin-Up Girl is synonymous with tattooing for her alluring looks and celebration of the female form. As a tattoo trend, it started hitting the mainstream in the 1940s and remains popular today – with both men and women – but her origins actually go back as far as the Victorian era.

It’s often cited that the Gibson Girls were the first ever pin-ups back in the 1890s. These glamorous women were the work of illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, and considered to be a representation of America’s “New Woman”. With her cinched-in waist and voluptuous hair, she rode a bicycle, had an education and lived as an independent, modern, urbane woman.

Detail of a Gil Elvgren inspired tattoo by Sam Ford, Silver Needles UK
Detail of a Gil Elvgren inspired tattoo by Sam Ford, Silver Needles UK

At the same time in France, illustrator Jules Chéret created France’s own version – the Cherettes. These women were used to sell everything from fragrances to tonic water and the drawings of the ethereal beauties encapsulate the bohemian vibe of Paris at the time. The illustrations were so groundbreaking that Chéret is still referred to by some as the “father of women’s liberation”.

At the turn of the 20th century and into the 30s and 40s, the female form was starting to be celebrated in magazines and calendars. These items depicted women in a cheeky fashion and were meant to be displayed in places such as garages and other locations where women wouldn’t see them. In essence, to be “pinned up”.

Paradise of Ages backpiece by Valerie Vargas, Modern Classic UK
Paradise of Ages backpiece by Valerie Vargas, Modern Classic UK

For many years the Stateside magazine “Esquire” had the corner of the market with famous illustrators such as George Petty and Alberto Vargas creating the iconic Americana style of Pin-Up. As well as beauty there was often an element of humour in these depictions. Gil Elvgren’s work is often the most recognisable pin-up girl we know today; his buxom women accidentally showing a “little bit too much’ in everyday situations, be it cavorting on a swing or revealing herself as she wraps a present.

Elvgren pin up by Sam Ford, Silver Needles, UK
Elvgren pin up by Sam Ford, Silver Needles, UK

Despite it being a predominantly male-based field there were also some female champions of this era. Artist and model Zoë Mozert often used herself as a muse and her depictions of women were more realistic than her male counterparts. And it wasn’t just Mozert either: Joyce Ballantyne and Pearl Frush are also celebrated for their realistic depictions of women.

By WW2 these pin-ups were pulled out of magazines and stuffed into the pockets of U.S. soldiers overseas – a frequent and visual reminder of what was waiting for them when they got back home. There was also a practice of painting them onto military planes which continued throughout WW2 and reached its peak during the Korean War of the ‘50s. This period is often referred to as “The Golden Age”, and was also the beginning of the Pin-Up tattoo trend.

Curvy pin up by Guen Douglas, Taiko Gallery, Germany
Curvy pin up by Guen Douglas, Taiko Gallery, Germany

However, the form of the pin-up was to change dramatically in December 1953. A few months after the Korean War ended, a brand new magazine catapulted the pin-up into the stratosphere. A former copywriter at Esquire, Hugh Hefner launched Playboy with Marilyn Monroe on the cover and a phenomenon was born.

Black and grey pin up by Matteo Pasqualin, The Inkers Tattoo Shop, Italy
Black and grey pin up by Matteo Pasqualin, The Inkers Tattoo Shop, Italy

In the decades that followed Playboy’s launch, the role and position of women in the Western world shifted. With Women’s Liberation and the struggle for equality, the pin-up has been celebrated and vilified on both ends of the cultural spectrum with some claiming she objectifies women and others believing they’re the perfect example of women’s femininity, beauty and strength.

A male pin up by Guen Douglas, Taiko Gallery, Germany
A male pin up by Guen Douglas, Taiko Gallery, Germany

If you’re after the perfect pin-up for yourself then check out the work of the following artists – all of whom are appearing at the London Tattoo Convention!

Matteo Pasqualin’s talent for both black and grey and realism allows his pin-ups to be lifelike representations of the subject. On the other side of the spectrum, Valerie Vargas brings character, colour and mystique into her illustrations of beautiful, doe-eyed women. Sam Ford is known for her amazing Elvgrenesque pin-ups, and Guen Douglas creates Neo-traditional style tattoos of both beautiful women – and men! – in her uniquely saucy style.

If you like traditional style’s pin-ups, find some inspirations among our digital eBooks here! >>
This article by Danielle Jones was originally published on www.thelondontattooconvention.com