Pinup History: the Atomic Age
This post is LONG overdue! I apologize for the delay, I just started a new job. Anyway, I wanted to get right into the second post about the history of pin-up. I split the timeline here because this era--the Atomic Age--is well deserving of its own post, especially on a car site. We'll get to why in this post!
Where I left off last, America was coming out of its second and devastating World War. The war was ended with a new weapon--the atomic bomb. This changed so many things for the world, but the optimism lay in the perceived strength of atomic power. It was shiny and new and exciting and by all accounts, seemed to be the way of the future. This is one reason for the pastel optimism we see during this time period.
But there was another side to it of course. America's "nuclear family" and all of the happy imagery were a byproduct of exiting a massive dark period in history, while also harboring a lot of fear and cynicism toward war, especially nuclear war and the impending "Red threat". The interesting dynamic of the atomic age can't be summed up here and is its own fascinating topic, but it plays into the pinup culture and styles of the time. Think rolling pins, vacuuming in pearls and heels, and pin curls held together with a scarf. Shows like I Love Lucy and Leave it to Beaver really show the family culture of the time.
With the optimism and burden of war lifted, Henry Ford's dream of a vehicle for every working man became a reality. Families could have a vehicle now, and a man or woman's car became an extension of their identity--something they could work on, customize, and spend time and money on. The car was in. One in five Americans worked for the automobile industry. President Eisenhower began headway on implementing the Interstate system, having been inspired by the autobahn in Germany. Inner-cities gave way to suburbs, trams and rail cars were removed and roads improved. Drive ins and "fast food diners" popped up in response to people traveling by car more frequently. Everything in this time period was done in the unique space-agey style of the Atomic age, including automobile tailfins and pin stripes. America had so much faith in the Atom that Ford began a prototype, the "Nucleon" ….the first automobile that would have a nuclear-power engine.
And now a bit on subculture of the era--the styles which influence modern pinup. Going back to the automobile influence, the most obvious stereotype would be the "greaser." By their nature greasers were low-income or small town--young men who loved hot rods and flames and greasing up their hair. The music scene for these fellas and their female counterparts was doo wop, blues, and the brand new crazy awesome music genre of rockabilly. Like most other good music, it originated in the American South, and was a mixture of rock and country (rockabilly being a portmanteau of rock and hillbilly.) This was the dawn for many infamous artists such as Elvis and Brenda Lee. If anyone has any leftover confusion about the greasers or rockabilly culture after watching Rebel Without a Cause or the Outsiders, might I highly recommend Crybaby?
This movie is great for many reasons (not just because there's a character named Hatchetface) but it also includes another subculture of the atomic age--the bobby soxer, (or 'squares' as they were called in the movie.) What the rockabilly culture was to the south and poorer areas, the bobby soxer was to the pastel, ultra crisp and clean suburbia. Poodle skirts, saddle oxfords, ponytails, pearl earrings, and a strawberry shake at the local diner--is there a more clear and iconic picture for the 1950's? The bobby soxer is often used in pinup as a more youthful, innocent archetype of the Atomic age.