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Pin Up! The Subculture

Negotiating Agency, Representation & Sexuality with Vintage Style

Kathleen M. Ryan

Dangerous. Sexy. All-American—or rather All-World—Girl. Pin Up! The Subculture is the first book to explore the contemporary international subculture of pin up, women (and men) who embrace vintage style, but not vintage values.

Award-winning filmmaker and author Kathleen M. Ryan spent more than five years in the subculture. It’s a world of cat eye makeup, carefully constructed hairstyles, and retro-inspired fashions. But it’s also a world that embraces the ideals of feminism. Beauty, according to the pin up, is found not in body type or skin color, but in the confidence and sexual agency of the individual. Pin ups see their subculture as a way to exert empowerment and control of their own sexual and social identities—something that is part of the pin up’s historical legacy.

This lavishly illustrated book includes interviews with more than fifty international pin ups and helps readers to understand how they use social media and personal interactions to navigate thorny issues such as racism, sexism, homophobia, sizeism, and other difficult topics. Ryan demonstrates how even within subcultures, identity is far from homogeneous. Pin ups use the safety of their shared subcultural values to advocate for social and political change.

A fascinating combination of cultural history, media studies, and oral history, Pin Up! The Subculture is the story about how a subculture is subverting and reviving an historic aesthetic for the twenty-first century.

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3 Remaking Marilyn


The Pin Up and ContemporaryVintage Re-appropriation

In 2015, style maven Candace Michelle explained to the Flashback Summer blog what drew her to the vintage aesthetic: “Two words: Marilyn Monroe.”1 Michelle is an African American model and publisher who created the magazine Black Pinups and publishes calendars annually celebrating women of color who adopt vintage style. But in the interview she recognized the seeming oddness of a modern African American woman looking to a blonde bombshell of the 1950s for style sense.

I thought I would be seen as weird or strange, that a Black girl loves Marilyn Monroe and loves classic Hollywood movies and lifestyle as much as White people do. Where I came from that wasn’t cool, when I started to get into the pin up/vintage/retro culture a lot of Black people looked at me crazy and said I was trying to “act White” or “be White” so I would try to hide it so I wouldn’t feel alienated.2

Michelle’s statement subtly acknowledges the complications inherent in the adaptation of the vintage style, especially acute for women of color. The period wasn’t terribly welcoming to people of color (or even women for that matter). But despite the political and social restrictions of the era, its aesthetic appeal nonetheless lures them. In the case of the modern pin up, the stylistic muse of choice is often Monroe.

This chapter explores via visual textual analysis how the contemporary pin up performs, honors,...

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