The History of the Pin-Up Girl – Glamour Illustrators and Their Girls

The combination of the female body and lingerie has both fascinated excited men and women for centuries. Yet, when I glance at the selection of the top shelf publications in newsagents throughout the world, I’m always astounded at how this beautiful combination has been reduced to a vulgar version of the original pin-up girl. So, for those of you who don’t know them, here’s a brief history of the first illustrated pin-up girls printed throughout the United States and Europe as of the end of the 19th century…

The Gibson Girl

The Gibson Girl was the brainchild of Charles Dana Gibson (1967-1944) and is credited with being the world’s first pin-up. These pen-and-ink drawings represented independent, mischievous and adventurous Victorian women with feminine s-shaped silhouettes and hair piled high on their heads. The Gibson Girl had a huge influence on fashion and her tiny corseted waist, large hips and bust were inspired by the less restrictive health corsets worn by women of the fashionable upper-middle-classes. She was equal to a modern day celebrity and appeared in publications such as Harper’s Monthly, Bazaar and Life until around 1910.

The Christy Girl

Howard Chandler Christy (1873-1952) began his career as a war artist. Thanks to his preference for drawing pretty girls rather than men at war, the Christy Girl was similar to the Gibson Girl and featured on calendars, book illustrations and magazine covers. She was the prototype for the ideal American woman. Christy is most famous for his World War One poster Gee!! I Wish I Were a Man (1917) that depicts a spirited Christy Girl wearing navy blues.

The Fisher Girl

Harrison Fisher was another illustrator with a great eye for painting beautiful women in watercolour and pastel drawings on the covers of Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan. Elegant, athletic and independent, the Fisher Girl was the epitome of American feminine beauty at the beginning of the 20th century.

The Flagg Girls

Bohemian, cocky and outspoken, James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960) is most famous for his wartime Uncle Sam poster I WANT YOU. His oeuvre is made up of paintings and caricatures of beautiful American women. With symmetrical faces and full lips, the Flagg Girls were tall and wide shouldered beauties. Illustrator Flagg was the greatest U.S. artist of his time, according to Time Magazine.

The Elvgren Girls

One of the most important glamour and pin-up artists of the 20th century, Gil Elvgren (1914-1980) created technicolor pin-up girls with infectious smiles throughout World War II. With long legs, beautiful hair, tiny waists and impossible busts, Elvgren created hundreds of all-American glamour girls throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Elegant, naughty and fun, his girls wore garters, sneaky suspenders and silk stockings and included roller-skaters, swimmers and hitchhikers.