Do you love the pin up girl look? Pioneered last century, this fabulous style never really goes out of fashion.
If you can’t get enough of a cinched waist and bold lip, take a look at how to nail your outfits, makeup, hair and accessories.
History of the pin up girl
The pin up girl look has a very specific history. While mildly risqué posters and art had been common since the late 19th century, the true pin up look began to take off in the early 1940s.
Painter Joaquin Alberto Vargas y Chávez is generally credited as the creator of the pin up girl as we know her today. His artwork for Esquire Magazine was so popular during the Second World War that around nine million copies of the publication were sent to troops around the world.
The iconic nose art you see at the front exterior of WWII aircraft are mostly recreations of Vargas’ pin up girl work. Although racy, the Vargas Girls were considered patriotic and inspirational. They were often dressed in American Military uniforms to inspire national pride.
Due to its popularity, the popularity of Vargas’ style bled over into other art and culture. It influenced modelling and advertising as well as films of the era.
Pin up also had its share of controversy. Interestingly, both its strongest proponents and detractors were both women. Lovers of pin up style insist that the images present body positive images of happy and healthy women in charge of their own sexuality. Not too surprisingly, the other side cried depravity and the loss of morals. Despite the arguments, the glorious aesthetic of pin up girls have remained. These days, the arguments towards body positivity seem stronger than any complaints about morality.
Icons of the pin up era
Alongside the countless illustrations of imaginary pin up girls were a number of amazing women who personified and exemplified the pin up look.
A coveted pin up picture of the 1940s was American Actress Betty Grable. Clad in a close-fitting white swimsuit and cheekily grinning over her shoulder, Betty Grable and her legs made a huge splash in the scene and in pop culture in general.
Perhaps the best known and loved pin up girl, however, was Bettie Page. With her iconic bangs and her playful sexuality, Page is still the poster child for pin up. Although she started late in the game, in 1950, and only modelled for seven years, her impact is undeniable.
Hollywood actresses such as Rita Hayworth and Jayne Mansfield also played a key role in the style. The ultimate mid-20th-century sex symbol, Marilyn Monroe, must be mentioned as well for her contributions to iconic pin up style.
Women of colour were also well represented in the pin up scene. Ertha Kitt, Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne counted amongst the most famous.
One name that cannot be ignored is Bunny Yeager. Model and actress Yeager started her career in front of the camera but went on to be one of the most significant photographers of the movement. Although the art was generally aimed at men, Yeager was able to help her pin up models to own their own sexuality. Many say she paved the way for the sexual liberation movement of the coming decades.
Pin up revivalists
After a healthy revival in the 80s, pin up has kept up a healthy sub-culture through to today. If it has not reached the peaks of its WWII fever, it is perhaps only because the style is now aimed more at women than men.
Stars like Katie Perry and Beyoncé have adopted the look at different times, as have Pamela Anderson and famous burlesque performer Dita Von Teese.
Models such as Bernie Dexter, Dayna Delux and Heidi Van Horne also keep the pin up girl look alive, often with unique modern twists. Take a look at the hashtag #pinup over on Instagram and you’ll see plenty of influencers sharing their take on the style (some more risqué than others).
How to get the pin up look
Despite its very specific look, pin up is actually very versatile.
Pin up even has related styles like rockabilly that cross over. For the purpose of this article, let’s look at the basics of pure pin up.
The style lies just beyond the everyday wear of the 40s and 50s. It takes the fashions of the day and pushes them to sexier places without going overboard. This means that it is not as simple as dressing in 40s or 50s fashion (although that has its own rewards).
Here are the top tips to perfect your pin up look:
The pin up style comes from a time when the hourglass figure was the be-all and end-all of beauty. This doesn’t mean that other body shapes can’t rock the look, it just means that accentuation of the hips is a key feature of the style.
High waists are the go-to, whether as part of jeans, capris or a pencil skirt. These cute Hepburn pants for instance, or these gorgeous red peddle pushers are timeless examples of pin up fashion. If your hips are already generously sized, an A-line skirt will work well. This stunning floral Corina Skirt is bound to turn heads.
Of course, dresses can do the same job to accentuate the waist and there are few frocks more flattering than a 1950s retro dress.
Retrospec’d have some perfect examples and our Empire dresses are perfect for all shapes. The Fifi is stunning and bold in Cheetah Red and the Lou-Anne is a great evening option, especially in a vintage Champagne colour.
A petticoat can also help to add shape and form to your skirts. Check out the selection at Retrospec’d.
Tops can also be varied for a pin up look although the cardigan is definitely a piece you will want in your wardrobe. A simple black cardigan can work wonders over patterns, or a stunning Beaded Cardi can add some flair.
Polka dots, checks, leopard print, cherry print and stripes are all good choices for the pin up girl look. A cheeky Red Spot Halter Top will go well with capris, as will a Navy Daisy Evita Blouse. A classic black and white striped picnic top will go with anything.
For shoes, look for classic styles, almost always heels or at least wedges. Open toes and boots can also work for a pin up girl look.
Search for some vintage hosiery. Thigh-highs and girdles are very much required if you want to be completely authentic. If you aren’t confident enough in your figure, you might even want to try a corset to cinch your waist (just don’t torture yourself!)
Pin up girls tended to have a fuller bust but as the saying goes, ‘you do you’… this is the 2020s after all!
When you are doing your makeup to get your pin up girl look, here’s a little mantra to keep in mind; eyebrows, eyelashes, eyes and lips.
These were the key focus of pin up girl makeup. Nail these and you are a good portion of the way there.
Eyebrows should be well-manicured, arched and tapered. Start thick at the bridge of your nose and follow your natural curve to a tapered point. These days many pin up models and stylists prefer quite severely shaped and groomed eyebrows. This is great if you can do it but you are best to highlight your own natural shape. The classic pin ups like Betty Grable achieved the best effect by enhancing their natural eyebrow curve rather than faking it.
Your eyelashes should be long, dark and curled. For the most dramatic look, many opt for fake eyelashes or extensions but generally, some time with eyebrow curlers and black mascara will do.
To highlight your eyes, use dark liner. Black is best if you can get away with it but grey can work just as well if it suits your tone better. Heavily line and deepen your eyelids with eyeliner. A cat-eye effect is most common for the pin up girl look. Have your eyeliner wing out as it hits the outer corners of your eyelids.
For the lips, one word; red! As dark and deep a red as you can match with your skin tone is the only option for pin up lippy. Lip liner should be the same colour as your lipstick and you should work to the very outer limits of your lips.
Of course, these four aren’t everything. A good layer of foundation is essential. Add to this some soft contouring to accentuate your cheekbones, preferably with soft pink, and you will know how to dress pin up every day!
The pin up girl hairstyle is one of its most iconic features. Victory rolls, pin curls and of course, bangs/fringes are all iconic styles.
You will need hairspray, a barrel curling iron or some serious hair rollers and a stockpile of bobby pins. And more hairspray. Get used to using lots of hairspray!
Pin up hairstyles can be complex so it is good to practice, practice, practice. Check out Ogle School’s page for some basic tips on different pin up dos.
Your hair colour is up to you. While natural colours are more traditional it is up to you with how much fun you want to have with your do! Spend as much time as you can in front of the mirror and get a pal to help you out if you can. With time and practice (and did we mention hairspray?) anyone can have perfect pin up hair.
There are a few accessories that can really top off a pin up girl look. Headscarves are always a good start. Not only do they look great and stylish, but they also free you up a little when doing your hair. They can be tied over your hair and knotted underneath as a headband or, most commonly, knotted at the top. Think of the iconic Rosy the Riveter for inspiration.
Flowers can also finish a great outfit. Bold and red are often favoured but any colour that compliments your ensemble will work just as well.
Sunglasses also add a classic touch for an outdoor look. Big glasses with big frames are the best, especially cat-eye frames.
When choosing a handbag, as well as obviously matching your colours, look for retro touches. Any size can work, as long as it is retro and chic. A simple clutch or a fun novelty seashell bag are some great choices. Avoid tassels or anything overly chintzy. A pair of gloves can also top off your pin up girl look, in leather or cotton or even lace, depending on the rest of your ensemble.
Pin up gives you about as wide a colour palette as you could hope to have from any style. Bold shades, pastels and prints can all work perfectly for the pin up girl look.
To get started, stick to reds, blues, pinks, whites and yellows. You can add a little flair with a leopard print or some polka dots. Overall, as long as your palette matches, you will meet the mark. Just avoid highly contrasting or clashing colours.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to play around and find what works for you. Spend some more time online checking out different looks for inspiration. Pin up style is playful and fun so you should make the most of all the opportunities it affords.
Where to buy your pin up fashion
One of the most fun parts of pin up style is shopping! Take your time trawling vintage and specialty shops but don’t forget that you can always find cheap basics around the place as well. There are also plenty of shops online that sell many pieces in the style.
And of course you can browse our incredible range of pin up girl fashion at Retrospec’d. We have a growing fan base all over the world thanks to our quality pieces and pin up fashion garments.
The sassy, fun, flattering and stylish pin up girl look always turns heads so head out and have some fun!