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Meg Hansen answers her front door wearing a vintage printed cotton housedress. Her red hair is now pulled back in a simple curled ponytail, her bangs curled under themselves and bobby pinned. As she sits down at her kitchen table, the sun catches a sheen of silk stockings and a flash of white slip.
She isn’t on her way to teach another pin-up workshop, or to a costume party, or to a pageant. And today she isn’t calling herself Stella Pearl, her pin-up persona and stage name. In fact, she’s just returned home from the mall, where she’d picked up a few extra shifts at her job at LensCrafters (she also works at Swoon Beauty Boutique).
While she doesn’t dress in full pin-up gear every day, due to issues of practicality and Montana weather, she always tries to display a vintage style—a coat of bright red lipstick, a cardigan, a pair of high-waisted jeans. The only other thing that stands in the way of a complete pin-up lifestyle? She doesn’t always appreciate the attention. Walking through the mall on her lunch break means stopping multiple times to talk to someone who wants to know about her hair or stockings, or a senior citizen who wants to reminisce about bygone days.
“This goes beyond a hobby. It’s a lifestyle,” she says, sitting at her modern dining room table in her 1940s bungalow. “Something about it feels more natural to me. Although I have appreciation for modern fashion, it has never felt right or natural on me. When I put a vintage dress on, something about it on my body feels right.”
Hansen’s love affair with the 1950s and ’60s started as she was growing up, watching reruns of “I Love Lucy” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show” on Nick@Nite and going to classic car and motorcycle shows with her father and brothers. Later, when she attended beauty school, she learned all the basics of vintage hairstyling, from victory rolls to finger waves. Her interest in tattoos (not to mention romantic interest in tattoo artists) and rockabilly culture (not to mention romantic interest in rockabilly artists) further influenced her lifestyle as a modern pin-up. But while she can point to these important events as stops along her road to creating her current lifestyle, she admits she simply loves most everything about the time period.
“It isn’t just the clothes and hair,” she says. “People had better manners. It is everything. The penmanship from that era, the décor. The cars were so sleek and beautiful.”
As for the issue of idealizing an imperfect past—like the confining gender roles of the 1950s—Hansen returns to the idea of her persona, Stella.
“Stella is from a wealthy family and has a ditzy personality. It’s fun to have that character, to be able to exaggerate, to have that release,” she says. “When I’m Stella, I like to play up the idea of those old stereotypes. Stella thinks chivalry is dead, that we don’t have values anymore. I enjoy poking fun at those ideas.”
Alysson King (pin-up name: Legs á la Mode) has similar thoughts on the juxtaposition between traditional and modern pin-up. Sitting at her Formica and chrome 1950s dining room table, she explains that what could seem like idealization is really innovation.
“This is the 1950s reinvented,” she says. “I feel like the modern pin-up girl is strong. She has tattoos. She can fend for herself. But remember that even back then, a lot of pin-up wasn’t mainstream. There was Bettie Page. There were whips and chains. It’s rebellious now, and it was also rebellious back then.”
King also lives the pin-up lifestyle, to the extent she can, though she seems to have a few more modern and rockabilly influences than Hansen. While her hair is curled and pinned, her platinum blonde hair has a bright blue streak. And while she sports red lips and cat eyes, she’s also wearing a comparably modern blouse and jeans. Parked on the street outside her apartment window is a classic custom 1949 Ford, sporting the vanity license plate PINND UP. Her boyfriend, who also loves all things vintage, restores classic cars and builds hot rods.
“When I think of a pin-up girl, I think of the utmost example of what a girl should be: hair done up, too much makeup, form-flattering clothing, heels,” King says. “It’s a classic art, with a super modern edge. Our grandmothers used to get their hair done once a week, with rollers, and sleep on a satin pillow. They used to sew their own dresses. The art is dying, and I’d like to see it go on.”
King, like Hansen, has a history that includes beauty school, tattoo parlors and car shows. She now works as a stylist and makeup artist during the day while spending free time on her pin-up passions. Unlike Hansen, she has sewed since high school and has made outfits from both modern and vintage patterns. Her spare room is completely devoted to pin-up, from her antique waterfall vanity to her sewing table, to her closet, which spills out into the main space in a jumble of shoes, purses and fabrics.
She pulls one stunning dress from her closet—wine-red velvet—that is in almost perfect condition. As she smooths down the fabric, she explains that it belonged to her friend’s mother, who sewed it herself from a Vogue pattern and wore it to a New Year’s Eve party in the early 1960s.
“So many of these pieces have history behind them,” she says, showing off the stitching along the seams. “And it is so cool to own something that is one-off. Everything back then was made this way. The cars were made of steel. I think it is so special to preserve it.”