The Great American Pin-up: Gil Elvgren

If I can think back to the origin of my fascination with vintage fashion, I would have to give most credit to what we all love and revere as The Great American Pin-up. Iconic images of beautiful women who are sweet and seductive and who bare the mark of femininity. As my collection of images grows I always come back to Gil Elvgren (1914-1980), one of the greatest and arguably most important pin-up and glamour artists of the twentieth century. Perhaps I harbour some pride in the fact that he is from St. Paul, Minnesota, home sweet home - though that aside is his ability to bring the female form to life with vibrance and a playful vivaciousness. I believe that is the draw that keeps us interested, it keeps this art and this style alive among women and men today. It is the full skirts and fitted waistlines, the red lips and curled hair, and of course the peekaboo thigh-hi stocking and garter that shows off just enough to keep her modesty.

Getting Spotted

Gil Elvgren left The University of Minnesota in 1933 with new wife Janet Cummins. The newlyweds headed for Chicago because of the artistic opportunity it afforded Gil. Elvgren enrolled in the Amerian Academy of Art where he worked with a determination that his professors and peers took note of. He completed his studies in 2.5 years and moved home to St. Paul where he would be commissioned to paint the Dionne Quintuplets who were a sensation in American media. This painting would be for the world's largest calendar company, Brown & Bigelow whom Elvgren would produce many many works for over the years. From this painting, Gil would become an overnight success commercially which was indeed rare. By 1940, most of Elvgren's work was coming out of New York and Chicago so he and Janet decided to return to the Windy City where Gil would work with Stevens/Gross studio, later landing him work with Coca-Cola where he would produce some of the more infamous illustrations of American history.

Dionne Quintuplets taken from Gil Elvgren: The complete pin-ups by Taschen

In 1944, Gil and Janet were expecting their third child when he was approached by Brown & Bigelow and offered a position as a staff artist. They would pay him $1000 per painting and an expected $24000 the first year, which would make him the highest paid illustrator in America. After his son was born, Elvgren took the postion with B&B, but not before accepting a job from Joseph C. Hoover for which he would produce Dream Girl. It was the largest pinup he had ever produced (40x30") and became the best-selling evening gown pinup ever published by Hoover.

"Dream Girl" 1945

I found a great Etsy site that sells reproductions of Gil Elvgren's work here.

Be sure and check out our great Pin-up Lingerie and stockings to get the classic look that made these women so famous!

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