Sexy and sultry (yet typically leaving something to the imagination), pin-ups cause many of us to think of the time surrounding World War Two. But in reality, the pin-up even precedes World War One. And, bizarrely enough, it came about thanks to the bicycle.
Women on bicycles meant more than just decreased travel time; it introduced an era in which women no longer required a man’s help to get from A to B. But there was a hang up: the bicycle’s composition did not exactly make it easy for women of the 19th century–typically donning floor-length dresses and skirts–to use. Because of this, ladies started to warm to more functional and form-fitting pants, inevitably highlighting the shapes that their skirts had once concealed.
As ministers and doctors campaigned against bicycles under the pretense of “safety”–women, according to these supposed experts, could damage their fragile internal structure (as well as the possibility of seat friction causing arousal) if they rode a bike–the women’s suffrage movement adopted the freedoms that the new mode of transportation afforded them wholeheartedly. In discarding the petticoats and ground-length skirts for bloomers, the artistic inspiration that is the female form would soon assume new roles.
In 1895, Life Magazine illustrator Charles Dana Gibson forever changed the future of women’s fashion with images of what he saw as the personification of the feminine ideal of beauty. The renderings of well-endowed women with hourglass figures and full lips became known as the Gibson Girl, which Gibson considered to be the composite of “thousands of American Girls.”
The pictures would run in the pages of Life Magazine for the next 20 years, and would inspire countless imitators. As printing technology made gains, more and more magazines featured images of this unattainable idealistic beauty. For the first time in the United States, men had an easily attainable source of feminine fantasy at their fingertips.