Friday, July 17, 2015

The Pin-Up Predicament

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Remember recently when I was taking about vintage snobbery? Well today I may end up sounding a bit snobby myself, though that is not my intent! I love the pin-up aesthetic! I think people who dress in an exclusively pin-up inspired style are just as awesome as any other vintage loving gal. Still, does it bother me when the general public thinks anything vintage = pin-up? Yes!

Not all pin-up is really vintage, and not all vintage is pin-up (by far!). The two are different, the average housewife didn't have huge victory rolls, a sheer apron, and little more than sky high heels on while she was cooking dinner every night. More likely she had her hair tied in a scarf and a house-dress on under her more practical apron. Not that "pin-up" or "housewife" were the only two styles available either, but I think you get the point. The average woman of the 30's, 40's, 50's probably wasn't a pin-up.


Pin-up inspired retro styles are the ones most replicated today. People call vintage hair styles "pin-up hair". Repro brands always tend to have the sexy sarong dress and cherries-on-black-or-white dress that easily scream pin-up. It seems like pin-up is the most accessible kind of vintage, the kind of retro style people can understand at a moments glance. There is nothing wrong with this of course! Pin-up styles tend to be glam, over the top, and gorgeous, but what about the rest of vintage?



Vintage tends to feel glamorous no matter how overtly "sexy" it is. There is just something about it! I think pin-up styles can be a kind of gateway drug to a full on vintage fashion obsession. It starts innocently enough with a little red lipstick and before you know it your hunting after a particular border print skirt, awkwardly smelling bracelets in public to test if they're Bakelite, and scrolling endlessly through Ebay for old sears catalogs!

Still, perhaps I have some deep seeded prejudice against pin-up. As much as I admire the fun aesthetic, I can't forget that it was once primarily created for the male gaze. I mean seriously, that pin-up up there ^ , the blonde wearing next to nothing nothing and hanging over the stove? Every man's dream right, blonde sexpot making him dinner. It's kinda revolting to a modern feminist. Pin-up is undeniably sexy, sometimes very naughty and sometimes more innocent. Some girls flash a little leg, others are nude. The fact that pin up images were originally published broadly in men's magazines is enough to turn me a bit off.

Still, time has past, and 60+ years on, the pin up has been re-made. Many modern pin up models, and burlesque stars too, have a majority female fan base. Us ladies are re-claiming the very imagery that was once used against us. There is a sort of badassery to putting on a frilly dress, patent leather high heels, and still flat out refusing to make anyone's dinner. (Disclaimer: If you enjoy making your spouse dinner, this is not me hatin' on you, it's the classic stereotype I don't like, not you). I could go on forever! Though I think the topic of feminism vs. retro style is one I will save for another time, because I care deeply about both.


That pin-ups are seen as inherently sexual does pose a conundrum for me though. When someone says to me "cool pin-up look!" I usually take it as a compliment, but I also hope that my vintage style doesn't mean I get automatically associated with pin-up in a broader context. I don't want to be anyone's pin-up, I dress in vintage styles for myself, not for the male gaze. I wonder if because the three things (retro => pin-up => sexy) are linked if it is a bit unavoidable. There are times I go for a more pin-up look, but even then I am doing it for me, because it is a look I enjoy. Does that make me a bad feminist? I don't think so. Dressing however we want is a bold new thing in the realm of being a woman. Or am I overthinking everything?

Where do you stand? Do you find pin-up girls inspiring? Do you aspire to a more pin-up look or to something akin to a more average Jo (Jane!) vintage kinda-look?

I for one wish repro brands would give us everyday vintage lovers a little more well-- love! I want basic solid color 40's dresses in practical modest cuts, actual real separates like wool skirts and simple blouses, 1930's anything! I mean every brand offers the polka dot halter dress, but where are all the real wardrobe staples? I assume because many girls want to have one pin-up style dress in their closet even if they normally wear modern clothes, it is a better bet financially for repro brands to cater to the larger customer base. Us everyday vintage gals are perhaps not the biggest slice of the market.

Comments are welcome, like I said, I could go on about this stuff forever! I know some people hate the word feminist and by association this post may be a bit controversial, but I like to think this is a safe space for discussion! I found some other interesting reads on the same subject and have linked them below :)

The Politics of Pin Up and the Image of Femininity 

7 Reasons Pinup Fashion Is Actually Feminist Even If The Time It Originated In Was Not

War Goddess: The Varga Girls, WII and Feminisim


18 comments:

  1. Oh, I so know what you are saying Bianca! I too, (with no aspersions against pinup-rockabilly-retro style, as it's simply not to my taste) wish that reproduction brands would cater more to the 'everyday' vintage gal.

    I hear what you are saying in terms of us not necessarily being the largest market out there ~ my Mister says the same thing when I complain about it ~ but please, can we get some more 1940's basic pieces and can they not be in black or red?! Not that I dislike either of those colors, but I need other colors to round out the 'basics' part of my wardrobe. Often I'm sewing with floral prints, and having basic pieces to tie into those softer colors I prefer would be so wonderful!

    I feel like repro brands are really missing out on the real, wardrobe staples pieces. We are getting lots of icing from them, and no cake!

    And as I for one enjoying sewing icing, and would prefer to buy the cake pieces, I know that if some one started doing simple separates, basics, house-dresses that are actually suited to doing housework in (!!), I would be all like "TAKE MY MONEY!" :P


    xox,
    bonita of Lavender & Twill


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    1. I totally agree, most pin-up/rockabilly just isn't my taste, but I am all for people wearing what they like!

      Oh the ubiquitous black and red, two colors that I like too, but where is all the forest green, rich teal, deep purple, and navy! Your right about repro offerings being more icing than cake, I'd love to start a brand someday with all the cake we are missing! There is defiantly a gap in the market, if I had any savings/business know-how I would be rushing to fill it!

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    2. You've actually hit on my dream too ~ maybe one day! After all, which vintage gal wouldn't want to be able to create the clothes that they are missing in their wardrobe?

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  2. I'm not a huge fan of the pin-up aesthetic myself. It's way too sexy for me to feel comfortable. I wish more companies would do more modest, basic pieces. I hate going to a website and seeing nothing that I could wear with a normal bra. Pin up really should be in it's own category separate from vintage. The styles are related but not the same.

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    1. Pin-up definitely is it's own style these days. I don't mind having a more "pin-up" dress or two in my wardrobe for the right occasion, but I don't cultivate the look for everyday. I too often find it often too sexy for my personal tastes when it comes to my own wardrobe!

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  3. A resounding yes to everything that you said here! Even in Canada, where vintage (or rockabilly or pinup) looks are not a common sight, even in most big cities, I too run into this and while it doesn't per se bother me, I do wish that this mindset was quite as prevalent amongst the general public. Thank you very much for speaking to candidly about this topic, which I think most of us more traditional vintage (or vintage inspired, etc) wearers encounter on a regular basis, yet rarely discus.

    ♥ Jessica

    *PS* I smiled ear-to-ear when you said "awkwardly smelling bracelets in public". That's me whenever I'm out thrifting for jewelry. :)

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    1. Thanks Jessica :) I couldn't help but include the smelling bracelets bit because as soon as I imagined it in my head, the antique dealers face being like "what the...", it was too perfect!

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  4. This is a really interesting, thought-provoking article, Bianca.

    I'm not sure why, but I never considered that pin-ups were intended for the male gaze. Of course I find them sexy and alluring, but for some reason it never crossed my mind that they could be seen as anti-feminist (as I myself am very supportive of feminists, and could quite possibly call myself one).
    I've always thought of the girls in the photos and paintings as being quite feminist, although they're saying something along the lines of: "I don't care what you think; I love my body the way it is, and am free to show it off as I wish".
    Like, in earlier eras, women were expected to keep almost entirely covered from head to toe - even an ankle was scandalous in Victorian times, or so I've heard - and would have been seen as promiscuous for baring a shoulder or a tiny bit of innocent leg (which aren't really sexual at all, in most cases). Whereas, I've seen that boys and men showing their legs, and other parts of their bodies, is more acceptable - even today!
    Not to mention, some pin-up photos and paintings feature beautiful plus-size girls showing off their bodies as, say, a more slender, typically model-like girl would - and are seen as extremely glamour-puss and sultry, being appreciated as much as a size 0 model would be. That's what I admire about pin-ups of the past and today - that they're unafraid to show off their figures and flirt a bit.

    They're just my theories, and I'm sorry for the long-winded comment! :)

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    1. Thanks Ellie, I agree with a lot of your thoughts too. There definitely is a higher level of agency in a pin-up's eye. She does seem to say as you put "I don't care what you think; I love my body the way it is, and am free to show it off as I wish" and I think modern pin ups seem to "say" this even more. The way pin-ups portrayed a sexually aware woman was really new and different in its time. I recommend reading the (yes admittedly really long) article War Goddess: The Varga Girls, WII and Feminism that I linked at the bottom of the post as it goes into this a bit more. I really like how women have been repackaging pin up as something made by women and made for women too, us girls gotta stick together out there!

      Thank you for your long and engaging comment!

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    2. Ooh, I should really read that article when I have time - I swear there are not enough hours in the day!

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  5. Thank you so much for saying this. I spend so much time not buying "vintage" inspired dresses because they are both overly revealing and some combination of black and red. As a redhead and a modest kinda gal, I would love to see a range of "ordinary vintage" dresses in navy, green, cream etc..

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    1. I too lament at the lack of options, I am lucky I can sew to make up for the dearth of more everyday vintage styles! I'm telling you guys, it's on my dream list to open up just such a shop myself one day :)

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  6. I'm not surprised people get the labels wrong. I find them confusing myself. I started to type a comment about pin up fashion and then I wasn't sure if what I was describing was more rockabilly X so...whatever. No matter what your niche, others will not know what to call it. There's the "great pin up look" when you are in vintage, the "Oh I love fifties style" when you are looking 1920s, "I like your cloche" when you're in a pillbox. Fashion isn't everyone's thing, especially not vintage fashion, so they are simply never going to learn. I remember a guy at uni saying "I've never seen you in a dress before" when I was wearing a skirt and top.

    As for the feminism thing, I think that women should wear what they want, be as sexy as then want xv or as modest as they want. We need to not let how men view our clothes stop us from expressing ourselves.

    But I do agree that more repro companies should embrace the other side of vintage. Those that have seem to be doing quite well. They are mostly on the more expensive side of the market, but since I only buy ethically made clothes anyway, it doesn't bother me!

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    1. I feel like pin-up and rockabilly are very similar, the only difference I assume being that rockabilly is more focused on the music. I totally know what you mean about people getting the era 20+ years off, that happens all the time!

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  7. I actually think we're pretty well-catered for over here in the UK with 'everyday' vintage repro, from brands like Heyday Online, The Seamstress of Bloomsbury, and 20th Century Foxy. In the UK I wonder if it's because we're into lots of re-enactment stuff around WWII, and people who do that demand stuff that is quite authentic rather than pin-up? There's also a massive rockabilly and pin-up scene, but like you said, I think it can be a gateway drug (that made me laugh!). Or it can work the other way around, and some people start off with vintage and end up being pin-up (happened to a friend of mine!). I find generally that dressing in a vintage or pin-up way doesn't make people treat me differently in terms of judging my sexual availability or anything like that - I actually think that wearing red lippy and having elaborate hair-dos can make someone appear quite intimidating, I think it can make someone seem less approachable, people don't know what box to file you under! Really interesting article, I will be sure to check out those links too x

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    1. If only the exchange rate wasn't so steep I could shop the fabulous UK brands you mentioned! When I lived in London briefly in 2012 I lived on the same road (Holloway road) as Vivien of Holloway (which is pretty pin-up to be fair) which was crazy to me as I had never seen a strictly vintage repro shop before! I also went to school with a girl while in London who modeled for Tara Starlet funny enough. It seems like vintage repro is even more of a thing in the UK than it is here in the US! One more reason I need to move across the pond :)

      I definitely know what you mean about a vintage look/red lip stick actually being a more intimidating look! It is a side effect I find rather useful actually, any guy scared by my red lipstick probably wouldn't be the one for me anyway!

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  8. I really enjoyed this post and totally agree! Thank you so much for writing about this! I do love some of the pin up looks - some of the art work and photographs out there are just stunning - but I find they don't suit me personally. I go for a more authentic look when I go to living history events. The everyday average Jane is really under represented at most events. And it does kind of bother me when the general public automatically links vintage with these styles. I feel pin up and rockabilly styles have their place, just not in my wardrobe. I can appreciate them even though they are not necessarily my cup of tea.

    The comments above about wanting more vintage separates and basics is so encouraging to hear! I'm working on making some of these very things for my etsy shop. (I have a clothing survey on my blog about it.) While there are a number of great vendors selling repro clothing, I feel like there are still some gaps in the market. I want to try and do my part to fill them! Be sure to check out my blog for updates. I'm hoping to have some items to list this fall!

    Thanks again for an awesome post!
    -Emily
    Emily's Vintage Visions

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    1. Thanks Emily! I agree the average Jane probably gets lost in the wave of pin ups quite often. I wish I lived closer to reenactments/vintage events so I could attend and represent! Congrats on making repro stuff for your shop, your projects are always inspiring! I never have the patience to sew for other people, even my own mother! She is always begging me to stop and make her a pencil skirt, one day perhaps :)

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