It all started when I would visit my grandma in Mexico and admire all the beautiful pinup illustrations from old magazines sitting in her attic. A 1950s catalog, for instance, featured pinup fashion, with photos of Hollywood stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, Natalie Wood, and Marilyn Monroe. Then there were the Cine de Oro movies starring gorgeous actresses like María Félix, Dolores del Río, and Silvia Pinal that would play every afternoon on my family’s living room TV when my grandparents came to stay with us. The makeup, the dresses, the hair, the nails — everything looked so elegant and classy.
Still, I wasn’t really aware of how popular pinup culture was until I did more research. Pinup is thought to have originated during World War II, when soldiers overseas would “pin up” the photos of famous actresses of the time. Two of the most famous pinup girls were Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth. Today, the pinup aesthetic is influenced by 1940s films and 1950s car culture and fashion. It’s a combination of Rockabilly and Old Hollywood glamour, and the idea is that it can be sexy and flirtatious without being overtly sexual or showing a lot of skin.
When looking at the photos and illustrations, I could just picture myself spending hours on my hair and makeup. It was finally time to incorporate this style into my life. Growing up with Mexican immigrant parents, preservation of culture was critical, especially after they settled in a new country: the United States. As the eldest, life was challenging. Eldest daughters — and daughters in general — are fundamental to the way Latino families run; we are often pillars supporting the structure of the family unit. I wanted to set a great example for my younger siblings, but I was also becoming a woman. I was trying to figure out who I really was, apart from my role in the family. My goal was to feel comfortable with the person I was becoming.
I started paying close attention to every little detail that makes pinup culture and fashion what it is. I remember being afraid to dress this way because the retro aesthetic makes you stand out from others who are dressed in more modern apparel. One day, when I was 15, I finally decided to style my hair, do my makeup, and put a pinup-inspired outfit together. I felt brave enough to go out with a beautiful vintage dress, with red nails, red lips, and my hair all done. This was a huge step because I didn’t know how my family would react to such a drastic style change.
As it turned out, the most challenging thing about that step was working up the courage to take it, because the response was amazing. My family was very supportive of my pinup journey and my siblings were so proud of me. From this point on, the pinup lifestyle became part of my day-to-day life. I participated in pinup pageants, started to model, and got more involved in the pinup community.
I drew so much inspiration from those empowering Mexican actresses from Cine de Oro — that’s part of what made pinup culture so appealing to me. It gave me a sense of feeling confident with myself and celebrating both of my cultures. Now, I want to share my love for pinup with others. So, if you’re looking to experiment with the pinup look for yourself, here are my top five essentials for achieving the aesthetic.
Start with pin curls.
The original pinup hairstyles featured sculpted waves, bumper bangs, and victory rolls and curls of all kinds. I’ve done all these different hairstyles on my hair, but the classic side-parted waves as worn by María Félix are my favorite.
If I’m in a rush and need to style my hair that day, I go with pin curls. I use a ¾-inch curling iron and pin down the curls with bobby pins until they cool down. However, I get more use out of my hairstyles when I use pillow rollers or foam rollers the evening before, then sleep in them and style my hair the following day. First, I apply a setting lotion on damp hair — I love this styling spray from Suavecita because it helps my hairstyles last anywhere from three to four days. Then, I take a soft-bristled brush to gently brush out the curls without applying too much tension on the hair. (This part can be tedious because I brush out until I get the desired waves.) Once I’m done brushing, I finish off with a dime size of Suavecita pomade and hairspray. To make this style last, I wear a silk hair cap overnight to protect the curls and style it as desired the next day. This hairstyle is so classic and elegant, and it brings the entire pinup look together.
Thrift vintage '50s clothing.
Finding vintage clothes that I love is like finding gold. Not only is it more sustainable than buying new clothes, but vintage clothes just have more personality to me. Most of my wardrobe is made up of secondhand clothes, and with the ability to obtain such treasures, I can define my distinct sense of style and beauty. A majority of the items in my pinup wardrobe consist of cigarette pants, wiggle dresses, high-waisted shorts, and pretty blouses.
My favorite place to shop for cigarette pants is Vixen by Micheline Pitt. Circle skirts are another fun staple for 1950s-inspired dressing. A petticoat underneath will help define the silhouette while giving too much volume to the skirt, and you can create multiple outfits with a black circle skirt specifically. Wiggle dresses, too, offer the quintessential pinup look. High-waisted shorts are my favorite during the summer because not only are they comfortable, they make me feel confident in the sweltering heat. Meanwhile, I’ve sourced most of my blouses from local thrift shops and vintage sellers on Etsy or Instagram. Crash the Party is my go-to local shop in Whitter, CA, near where I was born and raised in Monterey Park.
Always rock red lips.
Red is the fiercest, most sensual of colors — and what do all pinups have in common? They own a multitude of red lipsticks. Although I’ve tried countless reds myself, my staple is Luchadora by Vive Cosmetics, a Latina-owned beauty brand that’s also vegan and cruelty-free. Luchadora is the ideal blue-based red that doesn’t budge or move. It literally lasts all day. Adding this pop of color makes me feel bold and proud. “¡Si se puede!” I often think to myself while walking down the aisle of the supermarket, feeling ready to seize the day with my red lips as I pick up freshly made tortillas.
Find the right accessories, from cat-eye glasses to hair scarves.
I love hair scarves and wear them daily. Nylon hair scarves, specifically, are essential for a pinup wardrobe. Thin and delicate, they add color and texture to your look. I regularly purchase mine from a small shop called Continental Textiles. They have tons of colors and patterns. Scarves are for both styling and protecting hair, or to be worn around the neck. I also enjoy adding gold hoop earrings to my pinup ensemble. Lastly, I can’t forget my cat-eye sunglasses, which deliver that final retro-inspired touch.
Finish off with red nails.
Since the beginning of my early adolescence, I’ve adored painting my nails. My little sister and my cousins would always ask if I could paint their nails. I would get the small plastic box out of my room and display an array of nail polishes for them. Yet as much as I love other nail polish colors, red nails are my favorite. They’re a statement piece on their own — a bold red hue signifies confidence, and that’s exactly what a pinup is to me. A pinup is not only a woman that dresses a certain way, but a woman that exudes boldness, confidence, and glamour.