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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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5 “Symbolic” Resistance or a Less Toxic Feminism?


In August of 2015, the pin up clothing manufacturer Stop Staring! posted the following caption alongside a photograph on the social media platform Instagram:

The First and Last, The Beginning and The End, The Messiah, Yeshua, The Way, The Truth, and the Light, Who was, and is, and is to come, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, The conquering Lion of the tribe of Judah, The Son of God, God! #lovestopstaring #stopstaring1

The post was not in response to a current event, nor was it timed to coincide with any major Christian holiday such as Christmas or Easter; it was posted on an otherwise unremarkable day in late summer. It prompted a series of questions and responses from people who followed the brand, including people praising the company for its commitment to faith, and people like Instagrammer @infinitewynn, who left the second comment on the post saying, “What the what?”

What makes the post unusual is that it is from a clothing manufacturer who operates in a very secular sphere: vintage reproduction fashions. Pin up ←127 | 128→isn’t about religion and neither is the company; its mission statement avoids religion, saying it is

… committed to creating original vintage inspired dresses and RTW [ready to wear], that empowers women by embracing and celebrating their female form. Established in 1997, Stop Staring! is the leader of original retro chic dresses and separates that flatter the figure and cater to a woman’s independent spirit with...

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