Seeing pin-up girls on a poster in a car shop office or the cabin of a truck is a common occurrence. However, in the 1940s, pin-up models were not appreciated for their curvy bodies or gorgeous smiling faces.
In the 1940s, when America joined the World War, it signified a golden age for pin-ups. This push in the pin-up industry coincided with the Golden Age of Hollywood, and as such, many actresses of that age also posed as pin-up girls.
For the first time, the government of the United States would give permission to their soldiers to display racy pin-up photos in their bunkers, planes or carry them in any personal belongings. Thus sprung the pin-up girl style.
The pin-up models were featured in a wide variety of poses, from cute to provocative, from innocent to S&M. Their racy photos adorned the lodging of the soldiers. They were often printed at the government's expense as they were believed to raise morale.
A fair bit of beautiful women was launched to fame from this trend, but who were the most famous pin-up girls of all time? This list contains both vintage pin-up girls and modern ones, from models to actresses or singers, with all the information you need to know about them.
What Are Pin-up Girls?
The pin-up girl refers to a young woman, typically in her 20s, whose mass-produced pictures have become very popular in modern culture. This has been a trend since the pin-up girl term was first forged.
Pin-up photos are intended for informal display. They are meant to be pinned up on a wall, which is how their name came to be.
The term was presented in the early 19th century when pin-up modeling had started with its theatrical origins. Pin-up girls were burlesque actresses that sometimes used photos to advertise their performance. They would pose clothes scantily and in provocative ways to attract more attention to their shows.
Later on, in First World War, and especially the Second, this term would become popularized by women specially chosen as pin-up models.
The style of the pin-up photos is well-known. It is the classic style that originates from the 1940s. Because there was a shortage of materials for makeup, the look of the pin-up models started as natural beauty. However, the women were still encouraged to cover up their flaws and especially wear bright-colored lipsticks to boost the soldiers' morale.
From this sprung the typical style of a pin-up girl. It consists of a soft, light foundation, very little eye makeup, and bold lipstick. It is a staple style for all the gorgeous women on our list of most famous pin-up girls.
9. Veronica Lake
This blonde beauty was best known for her femme fatale roles in film noirs. Along with that naturally came her role in the pin-up girl culture.
Veronica Lake was born Constance Frances Marie Ockelman on November 14, 1922. She was of German and Irish descent with a father that worked for an oil company. Her mother remarried after her father's tragic death, and Veronica began using his surname at that moment.
The family lived in Saranac Lake, New York, while Veronica was sent to a boarding all-girls Catholic school. This obviously didn't fit her idea of youth because she was expelled early on. This led to Veronica moving to Miami, Florida, to attend high school there, where she was known for her beauty.
Soon after high school, Veronica was found by one of the agents and given a role in the play Thought for Food. This led to her being dubbed a fetching little trick, and her career took off. Veronica was best known for her peek-a-boo hairstyle and her pin-up figure.
8. Ava Gardner
A recognized name among the pin-up girls, Ava Gardner, was a sex symbol of the 1950s. She was widely known as one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood history, leaving her mark during her long film career. Over 50 years, her roles ranged wide, from The Barefoot Contessa to Show Boat.
However, most notably, Ava Gardner's film career was almost eclipsed by various scandals related to her numerous marriage and love life. This pin-up girl was a real heartbreaker.
A young girl who grew up in North Carolina, Ava Gardner was born in Grabtown in 1922. She was the seventh child of her parents, with a tumultuous childhood. Financial problems in the early years forced Ava to gave up work as a secretary early on. However, this would be cut short when her brother-in-law sent her photos to the MGM.
Ava Gardner was a striking beauty with dark hair and green eyes, and her photos easily convinced MGM to give her a screen test. This eventually led to a seven-year contract with the studio when she was only 18 years old.
This gorgeous pin-up girl was a sultry beauty famous for playing femme fatale roles and infamous for her marriages to Frank Sinatra, Artie Shaw, and Mickey Rooney.
7. Rita Hayworth
Known as the American Bombshell, the actress Rita Hayworth is best known for her explosive charisma on screen in films through the 1930s and 1940s. She was one of the most famous pin-up girls of the time and is still well-known today.
Rita Hayworth was originally trained as a dancer; however, she hit stardom as an actress with her appearance in The Strawberry Blonde in 1941. Her acting career went on fabulously, and she is now most famous for her role in Gilda in 1946. Her career was promising, and she is most known for her provocative roles filled with sexual charisma.
Born on October 17, 1918, in New York City, as Margarita Carmen Cansino, she changed her name to Hayworth early in her acting career. This was on the advice of her husband, who was also her manager – Edward Judson. Rita Hayworth hailed from show business stock. Her father, Eduardo Cansino, was a dancer, and her mother, Volga, was one of the Ziegfeld Follies girls.
By the time Rita was 12, she was already dancing professionally.
Then, no wonder that she rose to stardom fast. Her first role was in 1935, under the name of Rita Cansino in the movie Under the Pampas Moon. This was followed by a string of films until she became a recognized actress and one of the most famous pin-up girls after her movie The Strawberry Blonde. Her movies were filled with sexual innuendos, and her most famous movie Gilda even included a controversial striptease scene.
6. Betty Grable
Born by the name of Ruth Elizabeth Grable, Betty was one of the most famous vintage pin-up girls. She was a film actress and dancer and a leading box office draw of the 1940s.
She was starring primarily in musicals with plots that revolved around her wholesome, good-natured image and exposed her athletic dance routines, allowing her to show off her toned legs. Her shapely image was what she was known for, after all.
Then it comes as no surprise that Betty eventually made it onto pin-up girl posters and was chosen as a favorite among the American soldiers in the 1940s.
She was set on the road to stardom by her mother, who enrolled her into dance and music classes and then moved with her to Hollywood when she was only 13 years old. At that time, Betty lied about her age and landed a role in several Hollywood musicals as a chorus girl. She sang and danced in films through the 1930s.
In 1939 her career really took off when she was a hit in the musical Du Barry Was a Lady by Cole Porter. Many hits, mostly technicolor musicals, followed this film. They were immensely popular worldwide and provided entertainment during World War II. Her famous pin-up photo in a bathing suit made Batty Grable one of the icons of this era.
5. Dita Von Teese
As one of the modern pin-up girls, Dita was born Heather Renee Sweet in 1972. She is an American vedette, burlesque dancer, model, fashion designer, and author. She is credited with re-popularizing burlesque and is often referred to as the Queen of Burlesque.
Dita Von Teese chose her stage name by adopting the name Dita in tribute to a film actress Dita Parlo. Her breakthrough as a pin-up model, and for her career in general, happened in December 2002 when she was featured on the cover of Playboy. Curiously, she chose her last name from a phone book, which Playboy then misspelled. Von Teese was kept by Dita from this point on.
This gorgeous pin-up girl is known for her signature painted eyes, heavily penciled eyebrows, crimson lipstick, and dark locks of hair. She found her signature look early on and stuck to it throughout the years.
Currently, Dita Von Teese is known for being a model and being an influencer in various fields. She starred in movies, TV shows, and other television productions. She is also a published author, releasing two books on burlesque history, fetishism, and beauty. Dita has toured the world as a performer and has her own set of lingerie and stockings.
4. Brigitte Bardot
Born on September 28, 1934, in Paris, this French film actress quickly became an international sex symbol. Her name is known throughout the world, and the peak of her fame as a pin-up girl was in the 1950s and 60s.
Brigitte was born to wealthy parents, and she was already posing for Elle in the 1950s. Impressed by her beauty, Roger Vadim, an aspiring director, fashioned her public and screen image as an erotic child of nature. She was blond, sensual, and utterly amoral in his movies.
From this point on, her career in movies took off. Brigitte starred in Et Dieu créa la femme and Les Bijoutiers du claire de lune. She broke contemporary film taboos against nudity and set box office records in Europe and United States. Her photos found their place everywhere, from fashion magazines to pin-up posters, and her beauty is well known even today.
Brigitte Bardot is not only beautiful, but she is also an outspoken animal rights activist. She established an animal welfare organization, but her popularity dropped with her controversial comments in the 2000s.
3. Marilyn Monroe
One of the most famous actresses and public figures, Marilyn Monroe, was also a notable pin-up girl. And how could she not be? Widely known as a sex symbol, this gorgeous actress easily made her way onto the pin-up posters.
Marilyn Monroe was born on June 1, 1926, in Los Angeles. Her name was Norma Jeane Mortenson originally. Sadly, most of her childhood she spent in foster homes and orphanages until family friends took her in 1937.
The couple that raised her was thoroughly religious, and Marilyn quickly found her way out of the family. At only 16, she married a marine, Jimmy Dougherty, in 1942 and left home.
Always dreaming of being an actress, Marilyn began working in a munitions factory when her husband was sent to the South Pacific. There was first discovered by a photographer. By the time her husband returned, she already had a successful career as a model and a pin-up girl.
She began calling herself Marilyn Monroe and dyed her hair blonde. At first, she was considered a star acting material, but her career as an actress didn't take off right away. With her seductive voice and hourglass figure, she would soon become one of Hollywood's most famous actresses and pin-up girls. She proved her skill by winning many honors and attracting large audiences to her films.
2. Cindy Crawford
This famous pin-up girl was born in DeKalb, Illinois, in 1966. She is the daughter of Dan Crawford and Jennifer Sue. With two sisters and a brother, Cindy stated that her family has been in the United States for generations and that her ancestry is mostly German, English, and French.
Her career took off in her sophomore year in high school when she received a call from a local clothing store regarding modeling work. She was hired along with several other girls for a fashion shoot. The local photographer, Roger Legel, asked to take Cindy's picture for DeKalb Nite Weekly. This was Cindy Crawford's first cover.
This photo received positive feedback and convinced her to take up modeling. Later, it would inspire her to enter the Elite Model Management's Look of the Year contest, where she was the runner-up.
With her signature look, she made her statement very early on. Cindy was featured in multiple magazines, but not only that. This famous pin-up girl, like many from this list, also starred in multiple TV productions. She was featured on George Michael's hit Freedom 90 and in Jon Bon Jovi's video for the Please Come Home for Christmas. Cindy's iconic pin-up girl style was cemented with her appearance in Pepsi's Superbowl commercials and her photoshoot for Playboy.
1. Pamela Anderson
Is it any surprise that this drop-dead gorgeous blonde beauty found her way to the top of our pin-up girl list? Everyone knows the name of Pamela Anderson, whether they are 17 or 70.
Pamela Anderson began her career modeling for Labatt beer advertisements. Later on, she would model on the pages of Playboy, but what really launched her career and made her one of the most famous pin-up girls was her role in Baywatch.
Born on July 1, 1967, in British Columbia, Pamela worked as a fitness instructor after high school until she was discovered at a Canadian football game when she was broadcast over the stadium's screen in her tight-fitting Labatt beer shirt. After this, the brand hired her for their commercials.
An offer from Playboy soon followed, and this blonde beauty would find her way on numerous covers of the famous men's magazine, often not leaving much for the imagination.
Pamela transitioned her modeling success into small parts on television programs. She appeared on Home Improvement and attracted the attention of casting agents from Baywatch. This show was a nearly plotless vehicle for semi-nude montages, and it wasn't successful with the critics. However, as it featured a very voluptuous pin-up girl Pamela Anderson, the show quickly became the highest-rated program worldwide.