1970s – History of Pin-up

The 1970s was not a classy decade – at least not for the pin-up world. The envelope was pushed and stretched, and everything came out. The name of the game was going boldly where no mainstream publication had dared to do.

A look at the natural beauty and and freedom the 1970s offered. Photo by Chris Wooley

A look at the natural beauty and and freedom the 1970s offered. Photo by Chris Wooley

As an overall theme for this decade, it was all about one upping what the other guy did. We touched last decade on the increasing “pubic wars” between Playboy and Penthouse. It was in this decade that Playboy decided to up the game and show full frontal nudity.

Technically, the first sighting of any hair was in August of 1969, when Paula Kelly, one of the first African-American models for playboy showed some slight glimpses of hair during a shoot. As an interesting side note, more outrage came from showing pubic hair than a black model – with criticism from black support groups on having the first pubic hair be on shown on a black woman. But in 1970, Penthouse decided to show full frontal nudity. And with that Playboy featured in 1972 Marilyn Cole as the first centerfold to bare it all.

The magazine game went down hill from this point – with each magazine trying to outdo the shocking displays that the other one featured. This continued to build until 1974 when Hustler magazine started. We now see a clear split in the market as Hustler and Penthouse go towards a more graphic approach to photographing nudes – helping to define the genre of Hardcore Pornography. Meanwhile, Playboy turned around and began to focus on the softcore aspect of the magazine, with particular attention towards quality articles.

On a separate note, we see that race acceptance has also been developing. The first inclusion of an ethnic model in Playboy was in the mid-sixties. By the 1970s, we see more and more ethnicity in the pages, seeing sexuality embracing the growing social and political acceptance of the time.

Stylistically, we also see the complete opposite style of the 30s and 40s. Instead of seeing highly made up women in glamour settings – we see a raw sort of beauty. Unkempt hair, loose clothing, and a care free attitude helped define the underdone beauty of the era.

Enough with the magazines, another huge influence was hitting the media: posters. The 1970s were the time for the poster girls, and a few stars shined like never before. Perhaps the most well know was Farrah Fawcett. This woman’s claim to fame sprung up with her lustful red swimming suit poster, setting an all time high pin-up poster sales record of over 20,000,000. Likewise, Sports Illustrated model, Cheryl Tiegs, had a poster that sealed her fame forever in pop culture. The power of the teenage fantasy and need for pretty girls helped redefine the pin-up genre and brought it back to its roots of mass produced pictures of pretty girls. The posters also helped push the careers of many of the poster girls – like Fawcett into the popularity of TV shows. But more on that next decade.

 

<<< 1960s                                         1980s>>> 

 

 

SFW(ish) Version of the 1970s History of Pin-up

SFW(ish) Version of the 1970s History of Pin-up

1960s – History of Pin-Up

The 1960s brought a few changes to the progressive 1950s photography style. Namely, the how much its OK to bare and the expressions that go with it. We have a time period of race and sexual freedom, openness and the pushing of social taboos. Drugs, music, and war filled the era. And Pin-Up photography was changing, too.

1960s Pin-Up styled image. Notice the natural enviornment and the interaction with of the model with the viewer. Photo by Chris Wooley

1960s Pin-Up styled image. Notice the natural enviornment and the interaction with of the model with the viewer. Photo by Chris Wooley

As the decades go on, society’s comfort with nudity also changes. We go back and forth on what we deem appropriate and moral. The 50s pushed past the conservative and innocent values of the war-era 40s. And continuing on that streak, we see that it is becoming publicly acceptable to once again bare more. The hot topic of the day was pubic hair. Previously, it was outrageous to even think about showing any hair down there – but the 60s spawned a freedom and liberation to those uptight rules. Up until this point, it was considered pornographic for a magazine to show even a glimpse of pubic hair. Amateur photography was full embracing it by this point – but the big leagues just couldn’t get into it and still be considered an art magazine. This changed at the very end of the 1960s when Playboy Magazine and Penthouse got into the “Pubic Wars” – a term coined by Hugh Heffner of Playboy – describing the back and forth battle between the two magazine to push the edges of photography and pornography. Each magazine would show just a little bit more than the previous magazine. This process traveled well into the 1970s.

The other key moment we see in this period was the need for authentic looks from the models. It was no longer good enough to just have a pretty girl on the page. She needed to be interacting with the viewer in the image. So a woman touching herself meant absolutely nothing without an appropriate expression. Likewise, Playboy once again led the way in this interaction. The centerfold model needed to be directly looking at the viewer, making eye contact like the Mona Lisa, by drawing the viewer in and interacting with them. This connection is a fad that continued on and helped make the 1960s a memorable period in the History of Pin-up.

 

<< 1950s Histoy of Pin-Up                                                        1970s History of Pin-Up >>>

 

 

 

1960s History of Pin-up by Chris Wooley Check out the blog for the uncensored version.

1960s History of Pin-up by Chris Wooley Check out the blog for the uncensored version.

1950s – History of Pin-Up

The 1950s really pushed the boundaries, especially compared to the wholesome looks we saw during the war. We introduce Playboy magazine, and iconic legends like Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page. Political, social, and economic influences also help dictate the style. Let’s take a closer look.

1950s Camera Club style portrait of a Pin-Up Model

1950s Camera Club style portrait of a Pin-Up Model

Once of the biggest advancements in this time period was Playboy magazine. Prior to Hugh Heffner’s now gamechanging magazine, a classy men’s magazine didn’t exist. Sure, you could find magazine that had great articles, like Esquire – or magazines that featured naked women, known as “artists magazines” – but there didn’t exist a magazine for the classy gentleman. One that you could read for the quality articles, and enjoy the photographs of tastefully done nudes. So when Playboy came about, people noticed (and purchased) the new magazine. The star of the first issue was none other than Marilyn Monroe.

But Monroe’s story doesn’t just start with playboy. She had been an amateur model prior, modeling for a few “art”magazines, and some small promotional work. Fate had a huge role in her success. Well, more like a crappy engine. Her car broke down on her way to an appointment, and it happened to be right across the street from photographer Tom Kelly (Hollywood Photographer). Kelly went over to help, got her a cab and paid her fare. When Monroe went back to Kelly’s studio to say thank you, he offered her some basic modeling jobs, which she accepted. He also offered to pay her $50 to model for a calendar he was shooting. She declined. And then she needed the money, so she agreed to do it. The calendar they created is, featuring Monroe on red velvet, is probably the most notable calendar of all time. And yes, it really kickstarted her career. One of the images from this shoot was even the featured image in the first issue of Playboy.

And here come’s Bettie Page. She has a unique story (and an awesome Netflix documentary). To get an understanding of her status in the pin-up world, you need to understand some of the politics of the time period.

Politics played a huge role in what was acceptable at the time. Silly little things, like the Hays code and the US Postal Service meant that traditional nudity was just too taboo for the average American. Nudity was all fine and dandy in your own home, but trying to show it or send it anywhere else was just frowned upon. Ok, maybe a little bit more than frowned upon. It was downright restrictive. Want to use a mail order film developing company to get some naked pictures of your wife? Yeah, that’s not allowed. Or maybe order in a sexy European magazine? Nope, that gets confiscated, too. Granted, the codes have gotten a little bit more relaxed since they were introduced in the 1930s (one of the driving forces behind Esquire magazine dropping pin-ups); but they were still pretty extreme compared to what we are used to today. For example, originally, an uncovered breast was completely unacceptable. Then it was OK to show as long as there was no viable nipple (Instagram/Facebook anyone?), and then that was relaxed a bit further to allow a full breast to be shown (but pubic hair was still outrageous – and I’m not just talking about shaving). So some progress has been made, but it was still somewhat restrictive.

Money also played a pretty big role in determining what was appropriate, too. Magazines, Movies, and other entertainment were designed to make money. That means they need audiences and they need advertisers. Together, they equal money. And to keep them both happy, they need to be a little bit more on the conservative side of the nudity debate. So the people of the period may have wanted to see more than what was being published, but the producers kept it friendly as to keep their advertisers.

This opened up a huge niche for a few opportunistic models – and is where Bettie Page becomes legend. You see, there was still a need for these sexier type pictures – but you couldn’t go out a buy them anywhere. You couldn’t even order them. The only choice was to make them yourself. And the 35mm camera and camera clubs helped fill that need. The premise was simple – if you and a couple of buddies each put a couple of bucks together, you could hire a model. The model would pose, everyone would take pictures, and then you’d repeat the process. It worked out well for everyone involved. This produced a different type of work than we are used to seeing. Professional photographers with professional equipment didn’t follow these steps – so the quality, process,and final product were ultimately different. Technical aspects didn’t matter as much. Composition was basic. Poses were sometimes vulgar, alternative, or shocking. It was raw and lustful art.

The popularity of this style ultimately led to more laws and different interpretations as the style grew. For instance, Bettie kept pushing the boundaries of the time period and went into fetish/bondage modeling. This was really taboo for the time period. And as it became more popular, the laws got more and more strict. The circumvention to the laws was to take the nudity out of the equation. So if Bettie was going to be tied up, holding a whip, or otherwise doing fetish modeling, there could be no nudity. For some reason, this was an acceptable solution to everyone.

The combination of the classic “girl next door” Playboy pin-up and the alternative “Bettie” girl helped define the 1950s as one of the most iconic periods for the development of the pin-up.

<<<1940s                                                                  1960s>>> 

 

 

 

SFW(ish) Version of the 1950s Pin-Up by Chris Wooley

SFW(ish) Version of the 1950s Pin-Up by Chris Wooley

1940s – History of Pin-up

Cue the Jazz music. The 1940s are officially here. This is the year we’ve been waiting for in our History of Pin-Up journey. World War II is in this decade. And with it comes the pin-ups that we know and love.

1940s Photographic Pin-up featuring a wholesome girl in a 4th of July Theme. Model: Amy Sherman

1940s Photographic Pin-up featuring a wholesome girl in a 4th of July Theme.
Model: Amy Sherman

Let’s start in the beginning. Specifically, we’re looking at 1941. This is when the term pin-up first originated, or so it is rumored. Our men in uniform loved the pretty women back home, and so they tore pages from Brown & Bigelow calendars and “pinned them up” to the walls, bunks, and lockers. Supposedly, the term was first coined by Hartzell Spence, the founding editor of Yank Magazine – as we was describing a must have feature for the magazine: “We’ve got to have a Pin-Up.” Prior to that date (a few months after Pearl Harbor), Yank Magazine and the term pin-up didn’t exist.

It is at this point that our story takes a bit of a twist. The illustrated pin-up that we know, from such artists as Alberto Vargas and Gil Elvgren continue on a path of their own. They still brand the pages of magazines like Esquire, and fill the calendars of the day. However, this history lesson focuses on the history of pin-up photography – so we’ll look a little more in-depth about this process.

The US Government wanted to produce a weekly magazine to send to our troops, written by the troops and for the troops. The answer to this was Yank magazine. This magazine was a huge influence in the development of the photographic pin-up. Unlike the popular illustrated pin-ups the photographs featured in the magazine were of all-American girls, complete and wholesome. Nudity and overt sexuality were frowned upon while full sweaters and genuine smiles were adored. They reminded the troops of who they were fighting for. The images were a mixture of celebrities like Betty Grable as well as unknown girls.

The image for this time period couples a few highlights of the period. Most obviously is the innocently and non-provocative woman as the main feature. Next, we can see a themed look (4th of July/Americana) that was sometimes seen in photographs of the 30s and 40s. Finally, we can see the hand coloring. Although hand colored images had been around since the late 1800s, the use of color on select images really popped it and a fun novelty.

 

<<<1930s                                            1950s   >>>

1930s – History of Pin-Up

The 1930s brought a new approach to the American people. Entertainment was everywhere, from magazines with painted women to films featuring the hottest stars of the day; this era was about glamour, glitz, and bright lights.

Hurrell Style Hollywood Glamour with lots of studio lighting.

Hurrell Style Hollywood Glamour with lots of studio lighting.

There are two notable things we want to look for in this decade: themed photoshoots and overly lit glam portraits. It seems the trend began of having themed outfits, sets, and looks for pretty girls. It wasn’t enough to have a pretty girl with a great bust or long legs. Instead, they needed to be an idea or purpose behind each image. And so a theme was created for just about everything one could imagine. Christmas time? Why not have a girl in a Santa coat (without the pants). Spring time? How about some fresh flowers. Halloween? Yup, the witches will come out to play. The themed pin-ups we know and love started in this decade. The trend continued well into the next decade, too (which we’ll touch on in the 1940s). But it is notable that this was the start of our themed pin-up – and the pin-up girl most people imagine today.

The second style the swept the era was the uber-glamours Hurrell style portrait. I like to think of these images as as Hollywood Glamour. You see, film has continued to grow as a national past time. We now have spotlights, floodlights, and gobos galore. Everything that could possibly be lit was lit. There was a light focused on the background, while another one lit the hair of the starlet. Another light illuminated the actress and gave her deep cheek bones and a sculpted jaw. A sweeping light filled in shadows. And yet another one provided a slight kick across her breasts. There were lights everywhere, criss-crossing and lighting things in an unnatural way. Similar to how a Hollywood movie would be lit, the woman would pop from the page. The looks, expressions, and feelings were all flirty, sexy, and serious.

Thankfully, we didn’t see the mixture of these two unique styles mix. We had our cheaply produced “themed” pin-up beauties and our overly processed Hollywood glamour stars. The styles developed over the decade and started to expand just as the war in Europe was starting get big. And then World War II began and the pin-ups hit the mainstream market.

<<1920s                    1940s>>>

1920s – History of Pin-Up

The 1920s have officially began.  Well, technically, the movement and big changes we see and associate with this glamour era of Gatsby and Ziegfeld began in the late part of the 1910s.  You see, war changes everything.  We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again (just wait until we get to the 1940s). Towards the end of WWI, we saw a drastic change in how our girls were dressing and changing. War efforts required everyone to pitch in, roll up their sleeves, and give a helping hand.  For me, this is the decade when the modern pin-up first starts to take shape.

A boudoir scene (a first for this genre). Notice the mirror and vanity as well as the direct eye contact with the viewer. We have a very Voyeuristic look to this era.

A boudoir scene (a first for this genre). Notice the mirror and vanity as well as the direct eye contact with the viewer. We have a very Voyeuristic look to this era.

The need for laborours meant that the fancy dresses we saw in the Victorian and Edwardian eras were simply unpractical.  Instead, women adorned more casual and masculine clothing to help out with the war efforts.  Likewise, long hair was trimmed, impractical undergarments (like corsets) were abandoned and the ultra curvy female desire started to die down.  We now see one of the largest changes in overall aesthetics for women since the beginning of women in photography.

Continuing with more masculine trend, we see the ideal women taking a new shape.  First off, the hair.  Women cut there long and flowing hair into short bobs. Perhaps it originally started to make factory work easier – or maybe the political influence of the time demanded a more masculine look for women’s voting and rights causes. Either way, the hair style became much shorter and straighter.  Next we see the body type changes.  Curves were now out and tall and skinny was the rage.  The previously plump and curvy look was no longer admirable. Instead women wanted boyish figures, complete with long legs, small breasts, and straight lines.  Women even went so far as to bind their breasts to remove the curves. Ever notice how flapper dresses have the long strings that layer straight down?  They help mask the curves of the body, and exaggerate the tall and skinny form.  Femininity wasn’t dead – it just took on a new form.

We also start to see some new cultural changes shaping our perceptions.  Show girls, actresses, and dancers were becoming very popular, having started in the early 1900s (with fame that would last more than another decade).  Ziegfeld’s Follies were beautiful chorus girls wearing elaborate costumes. They highlighted sexuality, entertaining acts, and a care free high-fashion entertainment. The girls helped add romance to the era and open up sexuality for the masses.

The photography side the 1920s opened up a new genre, too.  For the first time, we are seeing photographs featuring women in unique environments. Particularly, we see them staged in the bedroom.  This is the birth of boudoir photography. As the viewer of the photograph, we get a voyeuristic look in the image, watching our model prepare for the evening. Common looks were at a vanity, mirror, or dresser. We see women dressing, undressing, and preparing themselves.  These images aren’t overtly sexual, but have a classic aura to them.

Another first in this genre is eye contact.  This is big. Previously, we saw portraits looking off from the camera. But in the 1920s, we see direct contact with the lens of the camera.  The viewer of the image is no longer looking directly at a non-descript scene – they are now apart of the photograph, almost interacting with the model.

This era marks a huge turning point for pin-up photography.  The styles and themes only continue to grow over the next decade .

<<<<< 1910s      1930s>>>>

Light Painted Pin-Up at Classic Garage

I had the pleasure of trying out a new photography technique I’ve been wanting to play with.  I knew it had to have an almost surreal look to it, and a classic location was a must.  So the first step was to put together a team for creating this look.  Up came one of my favorite models for trying out new things – the infamous Amy Sherman! She’s modeled for me several times in the past and pulls off some amazing All-American pin-up looks.  She was the perfect model for this job.

Next, we sough out an epic location.  That’s where Brad from Classic Garage Automobile Restoration in Coeur D’Alene ID came in. He specializes in restoring old and classic vehicles.  His shop was large and featured a ton of classic cars for us to play with.  This guys seriously knows his stuff when it comes to classic cars.  We had a little bit of a late start as there were just so many cool, unique, and unusual things to look at. I felt like a kid in a candy shop.

BTS of Pin-Up Light Painting by Chris Wooley

This is what the light painting process looked like. My holding a boom with the gridded softbox attached.

We finally found the perfect place to shoot.  I loved the old Texaco sign and the shop from this angle.  The cars in various states of repair were also quite stunning.   I found the angle I wanted to shoot at and started setting up the equipment.  The camera was locked on a tripod (so the camera didn’t move during the process) and the zoom and focus were locked, too. Any movement of the camera would ruin the shot.

Classic Pin-Up Car Garage by Chris Wooley Spokane

Composite of 30 photographs of the shop. Each area was lit separately and then combined in post production.

Now for the process.  This is a modified version of light painting.  I set out to “paint” the background with a 24″ gridded softbox that was triggered wirelessly by the camera.  So the background and car were painted one flash at a time.  Overall, the shop composite was a total of about 30 images, each compiled together in photoshop.    Total shoot time was about 25 minutes to get everything painted.

Here is a picture of just the garage (without the model).  This is the final shop composite.

After the main shop was light painted, we could start photographing Amy on and around the car.  Because the background would be a composite, I didn’t have to worry much about any other lights besides those that were on Amy.  I used the same softbox that I did the light painting with as my main light.  I used the natural room ambiance for a fill light (there was a large garage door partway open behind me that let in lots of light).  I then used a gridded flash as a kicker/accent light.  This helped “pop” Amy from the background and give it a little bit more of a 3D effect in the final image.

The nice thing about this process is that we can try as many different poses and lighting styles as we like.  The final image will be composited into the “shop” scene with very simple masking (the background will look the same, so it is just minor masks in photoshop that separate the model from the background.

Here’s a look at three images dropped into the background.

Pin-Up in Shop

Amy in a swing dress on the car.

Classic Pin-Up by Chris Wooley Spokane

Brad from Classic Garage and Amy the Pin-Up Model

Classic Pin-Up by Chris Wooley Spokane

Amy in a Rockabilly outfit

1910s – History of Pin-up

The 1910s were an awkward period. Notably, we had two major events happen in this single decade – both of which helped shape the face of pin-up as we know it.

A photographic response to the classic "Gibson Girl" showing a full figured woman in a respectable way.

A photographic response to the classic “Gibson Girl” showing a full figured woman in a respectable way.

The first is the death of King Edward, thus ending the Edwardian era and all the influences that he brought around. Some of the styles still held over, including the dress and clothing styles popularized during that time period. We can see residuals of the period, like the ever popular French postcards and cigarette cards. But this stylistic period soon got trumped by an even larger event: World War I.

Beginning in 1914, the war came and changed the face of the world. There wasn’t the romance of pretty girls and national pride (like we’ll come to see in WWII) – but rather a repressed look at Kaiser’s war. At that point, we see a huge fall off of the “pin-ups” as all efforts went towards the war.

The Edwardian style still held true, featuring long gowns, elaborate hair, full women, and exquisite accessories. However, a more conservative approach overtook the genre. Instead of baring it all with artistic interpretations of the previous decade, we see a need for being classy, conservative, and modest.

The photographic style turned towards a popular illustrated pin-up style – the Gibson Girl. These girls were modestly dressed, and respectable looking. They often featured larger hips and busts, but were far for a vulgar look in the previous decades. They were classy. And although the pen and ink drawings had been around since the 1890s, the photograph form was just starting to catch up.

Women were photographed in this modest appeal and presented in a soft and flattering way. The photographs weren’t distributed in as large of a way as previous decades – afterall, there was a big war happening and the world’s mind was focused on other things.

For the sake of contrast, its important to recognize a couple the reoccurring trend to bounce between controversial and conservative presentations of the pin-ups. The previous decade had pushed the boundaries of the local morals. The 1910s responded by being conservative to an equal degree. We should also note the full bodied preference of our female models.

The war is about to change everything.

<<1900s                                    1920s>>

1900s – History of Pin-Up

Goodbye Victorians. Hello Edwardians. The turn of the century had some great leaps and bounds for the genre we call pin-up. Those uptight Victorians got replaced with the new and lewd Edwardian culture. Mass transportation made seeing new sights a breeze, and photographic printing comes mainstream. What a time to be alive.

Artful Pose of a "PostCard" type image. By Chris Wooley

Artful Pose of a “PostCard” type image. By Chris Wooley

At this point the Victorian era, along with its ideals and morals, has come to an end. Edward the VII has come to the crown and is changing the global view on what is considered appropriate. His personal collections of naughty photos and open personality have made it even more socially acceptable to be viewing these types of images.

The type of women we see during this decade all have one thing in common. They are full figured and care free. The Edwardians ate lavioushly, flaunted their wealth with servants and staff, and avoided exercise. Thus the age woman was a bit on the plus size and generally had full hips, round butts, and a large bust. It was a choice and a status to be bigger and curvier.

A large influence is just now starting to come alive. Printing of photographs. Previously, we were limited to what could actually be printed on magazine, books, and posters. If it wasn’t a plate or typeset, it just wasn’t possible to reproduce it in mass. But this decade made a huge jump on that front. Mechanical printing now allowed for photographs to be printed. And the people loved it. Now we could get mass produced media featuring images. Postcards became a thing and became highly collectible. Granted, you couldn’t actually mail the picture of the pretty girl, as that still wasn’t allowed. But you could own a mass produced postcard. And yes, these have become collectors items.

Magazines came to life though. Previously, magazine would feature, at most, scandalous drawings of women’s calves or upper cleavage. And they still weren’t daily readers – but selective magazines for men. At best, a guy could order a “cabinet sized” print of a woman as an actual photograph. Sight unseen, as it couldn’t actually print the photograph. But this changed with the new production process. Actual photographs could be published in the magazines, drawing in a new crowd. And several of the magazine of the time, like The Metropolitian, Munsey’s Magazine, and the New York Sun, started featuring spreads and images of these girls. The magazines usually cost a nickle, and provided cheap and long lasting entertainment.

A popular theme of the period was the creation of tableaus vivants, which were “living pictures” or photographs of groups of people posed and looking like famous artwork. Again, it was the creation of fine art that made this nudity socially acceptable. But, boy where they popular. There were even some 3D stereoscopic images available. And one magazine focused entirely on showing off sexy versions of classical art.

If I had done a group image of this period, it was be a tableaus vivant. But instead, I focused on the singular pin-up gal. The single images still needed an artistic flair to them. Otherwise it’d just be vulgar pornography. So we’ll see painted backgrounds, elaborate headdresses, fancy jewelry, chiffon, fine furniture, and artful poses. It was like a mad-libs of classy items combined to make fine-art. These were the types of images you’d see on the popular postcards of the era.

 

<<1890s                1910s>>

1890s – History of Pin-Up

The 1890s wraps up the first century of Pin-Up Photography, as well as the end of the Victorian era. This era doesn’t go out without some great progress for the genre, as well as society as a whole.

Greek Inspired Pin-Up. Photo by Chris Wooley

Greek Inspired Pin-Up. Photo by Chris Wooley

We see a huge progression spurt of growth in the cigarette cards that were first introduced in the 1880s. And following the 1870s need for classic scenes and bodyscapes, we also see recreations of famous paintings, scenes, and theme from classic oil painters.

Featured here is an example of an 1890s style tribute to the traditional Greek paintings. The woman is featured against a painted backdrop or ancient ruins, wrapped in a cloth, and using a column to help make the scene more dimensional. The cloth drop at the bottom masks the edge of the painted backdrop. Also note how the model is looking off into the unknown and is decorated with jewelry and accents.

These three styles (Fine Art Bodyscapes, Cigarette Cards, and Classics Inspired) rounded out the end of the era.

Another HUGE influence came to the US in the 1890s; more specifically, it came to Chicago in 1893. The World’s Fair was in town and ticket sales were aweful. However, halfway through the fair, a new act entered the exhibit and made history. Fahreda Mahzar Spyropolos, known as “Little Egypt” dared to do something no one had done before: she bared her belly in public. She had a burlesque show called “Streets of Cairo” in which she gyrated in her historic “cooch dance.” This was the first time American audiences were introduced to Bellydancing. It did not go unnoticed.

Nowadays, this might seem like no big deal – but for the time it was shocking. The local clergy were outraged and made a big deal of the immoral spectacle. This reached the press and their opinions were printed in the newspapers, along with a descriptions of Little Egypt’s technique. As you might of guessed, these news reports caused an instant flood interest in the fair, and specifically the dance.

This single act helped save the world’s fair from a loss, while also confirming the public’s preference of this “lower art form” for live entertainment. It may seem like a small moment, but the timing was great. For the 1890s also birthed a new medium film movies. Art influences art. Live performances with nudity likewise influenced films to have nudity. Nudity in films allowed magazines to have nudity. Viewers were still shocked to see any such nudity in any artistic format, but it started public acceptance of this genre.

 

<< 1880s                        1900s >>