9 Big Differences Between Pinup and Boudoir

Is there a difference between pinup and boudoir?

The answer to that question is a resounding “yes”, there is a BIG difference between a boudoir shoot and a pinup shoot — nine, to be exact. (Well, maybe not exact, but that’s the amount I discovered.)

Being a boudoir photographer myself, I had a vested interest in wanting to know the answer. So, after a deep dive of research, I surfaced with a number of obvious and not-so-obvious findings that distinguish both styles as unique and distinctive — findings you’ll want to be aware of if you’re thinking of indulging in either a boudoir or pinup shoot yourself. 

So, what are 9 big differences between pinup and boudoir? They are wardrobe, tone/mood, photographic style, purpose, setting, posing, makeup & hair, level of nudity, and story telling.

Now, before we move on to exploring each of these categories in depth lets first define what a pinup shoot is and what a boudoir shoot is in simple terms so we’re all on the same page. 

When a woman says she’s interested in getting a pinup shoot, she generally means she’s interested in getting photos taken in a vintage 1940s style of pinup photography. Since the 1940s were the heyday of the pinup, we’ll stick strictly to that decade. (We’ll get into the details of all this in just a bit.)

Women who want a boudoir shoot are thinking of a modern-what’s-hip-today style of sexy, sensual photography in lingerie or other types of intimate apparel, usually in a bedroom setting or other location inside the house.

Okay, now that we’ve taken care of that, I’m going to list for you all the differences in a quick reference guide kind of way, then I’ll go into more detail on each item further down.

A Quick Reference Guide On the Differences Between Pinup and Boudoir Photography

Wardrobe

Pinup — tight shorts, sweaters, swimsuits (both one-piece and two-piece), skirts, dresses, fishnet stockings, military uniforms (all of the period)

Boudoir — lingerie, bras & bottoms, stretchy tops, bed sheets, birthday suits

Tone / Mood

Pinup — cutesy, flirtatious, playful, titillating, happy, innocent, fun-loving

Boudoir — sultry, seductive, sensual, sexy, enticing, provocative

Photographic Style

Pinup — entire image in focus, entire body in frame, brightly lit, sunny

Boudoir — usually a cinematic look as well as entire image in focus, whole body images along with featured body parts, natural sunlight creating soft light or strobes creating moody shadows and highlights

Purpose

Pinup — to boost moral for troops in WW II; then later in advertising

Boudoir — as a gift for a significant other or for yourself; to express a woman’s sexuality, beauty, and desirability; artwork

Setting

Pinup — photography studio, beach, everyday setting, military base, on the wing of a war plane, in nature

Boudoir — bedroom, kitchen, hallway, living room

Posing

Pinup — sexually suggestive but never explicit

Boudoir — sexual, sensual, sometimes explicit but tastefully done

Makeup & Hair

Pinup — makeup and hair styled to the period (for a detailed description, see “Makeup & Hair” under, Major Differences Between Pinup and Boudoir In Detail below)

Boudoir — natural or red lipstick, natural or arched eyebrows, black or brown mascara, smokey eyeshadow (color optional), false eyelashes (or not), modern hair styles

Level of Nudity

Pinup — lots of bare arms, legs, midriffs, upper chest, occasionally sheer see-through tops

Boudoir — mostly lingerie, bras & bottoms, implied nudity

Story Telling

Pinup — vignettes that depict “accidental” wardrobe mishaps that expose a glimpse of undergarment along with a male voyeur or viewer serves as voyeur

Boudoir — usually no story

Okay, now that you have a quick reference for all the major differences between pinup and boudoir, I’m going to go into much greater detail on each one, and some reasons behind them.

The Difference Between Pinup and Boudoir In Detail

Wardrobe

Illustrated 1940's redhead pinup starlet

Pinup — (shorts, sweaters, both one and two-piece swimsuits, skirts, dresses, fishnet stockings, military uniforms)

The wardrobe in most pinup pictures from the 40’s usually featured women in everyday clothing of the time, although military uniforms were tailor-made to accentuate the female form for maximum effect. The body parts that were mainly featured were bare arms and legs, and the upper chest area. Thigh-high fishnet stockings were also a popular item.

Boudoir — (lingerie, bras & bottoms, stretchy tops, bed sheets, birthday suits)

Pinup verses boudoir

Modern boudoir mainly features various types of lingerie from one-piece teddies to barely-there G-strings. With the rise in popularity into the mainstream, due in large part to the success of Victoria’s Secret, a lot of women have no shortage of intimate apparel at their disposal. More common everyday clothing is also used from jeans and T-shirts to business wear, where the woman is perhaps undressing after a long day at the office. At least that’s how I like to start my sessions, so there’s a progression from dressed to undressed. 

Tone / Mood

Pinup — (cutesy, flirtatious, playful, titillating, innocent, fun-loving)

Difference between boudoir and pinup

The tone or mood of pinup during this time was a happy, uplifting, titillating vibe. The expressions were inviting and friendly if not coy and innocent. Some were movie stars while others were just pretty girls who were supposed to portray “the girl next door” type. The kind that any soldier dodging bullets in a foxhole would be inspired to find and marry once he made it back stateside. 

Boudoir (sultry, seductive, sensual, sexy, enticing, provocative)

Boudoir verses pinup

The tone or mood of most boudoir today is much more sexually charged, and appropriately so. It’s closer to one’s raw emotion in that arena. It’s sexuality unmasked and exposed as the real thing. Any levity comes in the form of playfulness or flirtation but all in all, the expressions of women in modern boudoir is much more grounded in reality. 

Photographic Style

Pinup(everything in focus, entire body in frame, brightly lit)

Pinup girl

One of the more subtle differences is how photographers shoot pinup and boudoir now than decades before. With pinup, the entire body was not only in frame but it was also all in focus. To use a more photographic term, the pictures had a “long depth of field”. In other words, nothing fell out of focus the further away it was from the camera. 

They were also brightly lit using either studio lights or bright sunlight.

Boudoir(cinematic look, entire body in frame as well as detail shots, natural sunlight or moody shadows with dramatic highlights)

Boudoir photographers today will almost always incorporate “shallow depth of field” in their shooting.  All this means is that parts of the body closest to camera will be in sharp focus, while those trailing behind will fall out of focus. It’s a technique that draws one’s attention to a specific part of an image. This is used a lot in both close-ups and fuller body shots where the woman is in focus but the background is blurred, or out of focus. This gives the images a cinematic or film look. 

Boudoir shallow depth of field black and white

The lighting is quite different now too. Most boudoir photography is shot using natural diffused sunlight that pours in from a window. On the flip side, the use of strobes or flashes is a part of some photographers’ style (like mine, for instance) creating moody shadows with dramatic highlights. 

Purpose / Message

Pinup (to boost moral for troops, used in print advertising)

One of the main purposes for the pinup was to not only boost moral for U.S. soldiers in WW II but to also give them an added incentive worth fighting for — the ideal “American girl” waiting for them back home (along with freedom, democracy, and apple pie). 

Pinups were later used in print advertisements and was part of the “sex sells” revolution in advertising. 

Boudoir(as a gift, artwork, to express a woman’s sexuality and desirability)

The reasons women today get a boudoir shoot is either as a gift for a significant other, or as a gift for themselves in the form of an album or wall art. It’s a form of self-celebration, to unabashedly and unapologetically express one’s beauty, sexuality, and desirability.

Setting

Pinup(photography studio, beach, in nature, home, office, military base, on the wing of a war plane)

Pinup girl on picnic blanket

The location of a pinup image could be a photography studio with just a plain background, but usually the girls were depicted in everyday settings like a house, on the street, in nature. Since a lot of these pinups were drawn illustrations and not photographs, artists could easily put them in whatever setting they wanted. Those intended for the troops were of course done at military bases with girls posing next to or on various aircraft.

Boudoir(bedroom, kitchen, hallway, photo studio)

With boudoir today, most shoots take place in a photography studio dressed up as a bedroom, and in various locations in and around the studio space such as a hallway, stairwell, bathroom, etc. I have a problem with shoots that take place outside in nature being called boudoir. To me, those are modeling shoots. 

Boudoir in natural light in hallway

Boudoir, after all, is a French word that translates to a woman’s bedroom or changing room just off the bedroom. It’s an intimate interior private space for the lady of the house. Moving that concept outside changes everything for me so that’s why I don’t refer to shoots outside as boudoir but as modeling shoots. 

To read more on this topic you may be interested in checking out, “What Boudoir Is Not” and also, “What Is Boudoir Photography and Why Is It Critical You Know?”

Posing

Pinup(never explicit, sexually suggestive)

Difference between pinup and boudoir photography

In general, all posing in pinups was never explicit, after all, times were different then and so was the culture. There were a lot of low cut tops that teased the viewer, along with the skirt or dress that flew open just enough to catch a hint of undergarments, 

Boudoir (sexual, sensual)

Boudoir, on the other hand, is directly sexual… no doubt about it. Depending on the client and the photographer, there seems to be a sliding scale of exactly how far that envelope gets pushed. Too much exposure, strongly suggestive posing, or downright explicit images to me is not boudoir but rather erotica. The line between the two styles can definitely get blurry sometimes, but pure erotica is raw, edgy, and bold. 

Makeup & Hair

Pinup(red lipstick, hairstyles of the period)

Pinup illustration of girl watering plant

The most iconic makeup element for a pinup shoot without question is matte red lipstick. It appeared in nearly all pinup images I looked at in researching this article. So, if you plan on getting a pinup shoot, matte red lipstick is a must. Other elements are well-defined eyebrows with a natural shape, thick dark upper lash lines, dark full eyelashes, subtle natural eyeshadow that matches your skin tone, a matte foundation for that “flawless” skin look, and light rosy rouge on the cheeks.

As for hair styles, they were of the time. Certainly if one was to partake in a pinup shoot today you’d want to hire a professional who could recreate those period styles accurately. 

Boudoir (smokey eyeshadow, false eyelashes, mascara, hairstyles in fashion)

With today’s boudoir, most makeup artists will make the client’s eyes “pop”. To what degree is usually discussed beforehand. Creating a smokey eye along with false eyelashes is pretty standard too. Nothing against going with an all-natural look, but in my experience, most opt for the former. 

Some, not all, will also get their hair done by a professional stylist as well, either as part of their shoot session or independently beforehand. Styles and coloring are pretty much wide open and anything goes at this point. 

Level of Nudity

Pinup — (bare arms, legs, midriffs, occasionally sheer see-through tops)

Showing a lot of skin in pinup was restricted to arms, legs, midriffs, and the upper chest portion, or as the French like to call it, the décolletage. There was no nudity at all in pinups, it was more about revealing a glimpse of one’s undergarments through a mishap in clothing. These illustrated “mishaps” are discussed in more detail in the Story Telling category.

Boudoir — (lingerie, bras & panties, birthday suit)

There is some nudity in boudoir. Most is implied where we can clearly see that the woman is wearing nothing but is wrapped in a bed sheet or concealed in some other way. The full nudity I have seen is shot in a way that hides a lot, like a woman lying on her stomach on either a bed or sofa and the angle is such that it’s more about the shape of her curves than her baring it all.

These are more teasing type shots that still keep a sense of mystery to them. Sure, the woman is nude but there’s still a lot she’s not revealing. 

Story Telling

Pinup — (scenes that depict “accidental” wardrobe mishaps)

A lot of pinups were hand-drawn illustrations and many of these depicted “accidental” wardrobe mishaps that exposed a glimpse of the woman’s undergarments. Some of these vignettes included a male voyeur in the scene as well, or the viewer served as the voyeur if none was present. 

Boudoir — (usually no story)

Most boudoir today is shot with really no storytelling at all. However, the ones that do will usually show a series of images of the woman going from dressed to undressed. For example, a business woman who arrives home in business attire who then undresses to reveal sexy lingerie underneath. Not much of a plot, but then we’re not doing Shakespeare here. 

Shooting An Authentic Pinup Session 

So, if you’re someone who wants to be featured in an authentic pinup shoot, or you’re a photographer that’s been asked to shoot pinup, use these nine categories as a resource to guarantee that your retro pinup shoot is just that, and not something else.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are significant differences between boudoir and pinup that go well beyond just hair & makeup and wardrobe. How the images are photographed and lit is also a major factor. Since pinup is not nearly as popular as boudoir (it’s quite a tiny little niche) you should choose your photographer carefully if you’re seeking a 1940s pinup-style shoot.   

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Related Video

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Thanks for your time!

Charles Mitri

Founder / Lounge Boudoir

Bella Mitri Boudoir

Charles Mitri

Charles Mitri is an award-winning boudoir photographer and also founder and writer of LoungeBoudoir.com, an educational blog and resource website for boudoir photographers worldwide. He lives in Yorktown, Virginia.

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