Pinup model Shellie Schmals recalls as a child dancing with her father on weekends while playing 1950s records in the background. The experience is one of many that spurred her affinity for vintage and pinup.
Schmals grew up listening to artists such as Elvis and Chuck Berry and watching television shows such as “Happy Days” and movies such as “American Graffiti.” She said, “I was definitely that that ’70s and ’80s kid who loved everything retro.”
Because Schmals’ parents were antique collectors, she grew up with iconic images her family bought at garage sales.
But it was not until 10 years ago that Schmals discovered a creative community in Atlanta that celebrated pinup and vintage culture.
She belongs to the Georgia Pinup Posse, composed of 35 women who conduct philanthropic events and photo shoots. Schmals also is heavily involved in Pit Bulls and Poodle Skirts, an annual fundraiser that benefits Bullseye Rescue. “It’s a fantastic group of women,” she said. “We all come from diverse backgrounds, and I have met so many women throughout Atlanta I would not have otherwise met.”
Yet ’50s influences are emerging not just in current shows such as the “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which people can watch on Amazon Prime, but also in fashion.
“I think we are always looking to the past to be able to reflect on where we are going in the future, which is why I think we are seeing fashion styles worn again,” Schmals said. “I think every generation has that nostalgic feeling when they see fashion from that era and start to think that ‘this is the dress my mother wore’ or ‘this is the tie my father had.’”
Pinup history includes Jewish actresses such as Hedy Lamarr, one of the most famous pinups of the 1940s. It was President Woodrow Wilson, Schmals said, who commissioned the first pinups during World War I. “It was that cheeky image of a woman in men’s clothing saying, ‘We need you in war,’ and I think it began to change from objectifying women to where we are today.”
Schmals added, “Pinup is empowering for women, and you see throughout the decades as women became freer, such as the Roaring ’20s with the flappers, as hair got shorter, to the ’40s and ’50s, which was more about the style and aesthetic.”
Schmals noted that pinup models such as Bettie Page in the postwar era rebelled against the modern style, in which women tried to curate a perfect image after men returned from war.
Pinup began to resonate with people again in the late ’80s when models such as Dita Von Teese brought the glamour back, Schmals said.
“If you look at how pinup is presented today, there are a lot more people making their own dresses and a lot of independent fashion designers who are finding their niche in certain styles or themes of pinup. I think that’s really inspiring, to see women creating the styles that they want to see,” she said.
“You can incorporate pieces into your everyday life,” she added. “It doesn’t have to be an entire look. But it can be some saddle shoes, jeans and a T-shirt or a pinup dress and some Converses.
“A lot of what I like about pinup is that it is also a very work-friendly. Women can incorporate a vintage aesthetic into their daily life without it feeling like they dressed up like in a costume. It can be a piece of jewelry or a handbag.”
Today pinup attracts followers on Instagram and YouTube because people have fallen in love with the fashion trend, Schmals said. “If you look at the cuts of the dresses and the creativity and mobility of pinup, it transcends beyond a specific type of person. Pinup is beautiful. The clothes are gorgeous, and it’s for everybody. It’s for all shapes and sizes and provides a flattering aesthetic.”
Pinup has influenced the drag world and vice versa, Schmals said. “You see people like Violet Chachki, a pinup drag model who was recently picked for a lingerie line, which proves that pinup is not just for women; it’s something for everyone,” she said. “I think the aesthetic of pinup influences drag, especially when they are personifying Marilyn Monroe. I think people feel free to embody their character choice and use pinup as a segue into self-discovery.”
When she is not busy serving as the film programming manager for the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, Schmals enjoys following Atlanta pinup bloggers Sam K Rockwell and ButterCreamBettie, as well as Aido Dapo, Freya Vintage and Amy Roiland, who has over 92,000 followers on Instagram.
Yet for some, pinup carries stigmas. “I think people may think that pinup is very much in the past, or just because you are dressed in the ’50s, your thoughts aren’t contemporary,” Schmals said. “But just because you are wearing a pinup dress does not mean you are embodying ’50s values.”
Schmals said she has always incorporated some form of vintage into her wardrobe, which has made it easy for her to dress up in pinup. But her suggestion to people who are just starting is to take the leap and get a professional photo shoot.
“Even if you don’t do anything with the photos, or even if it’s just for yourself, enjoy the moment,” she said. “Enjoy shopping for the clothes, which you will be happy wearing because fashion is a lot about the creative aspect of presenting yourself and what makes you feel good.”
The story behind the clothes is part of the reason she enjoys vintage fashion. “I still have sweaters that belonged to my dad from the ’60s, as well as shirts my mom wore in the ’70s. I guess I am emotionally tied to my clothes because they each represent memories for me — some good, some bad — but that’s what makes pinup so fun for me. It’s being able to recycle clothes but also having a connection to them.”