M&B_194_-forWebIn 1939, Betty Broadbent appears in the first televised beauty pageant, thus crossing the circus and beauty pageant worlds and effectively becoming “mainstream”. However, the art was about to take a downturn. During the depression, many people got tattoos in the hopes of making money in the entertainment business, but the increase in tattoos resulted in a decrease of the novelty; by the Second World War, tattoos began their decades-long foray into the shadows as a mark of dishonor rather than fashion and intrigue.

The pin-up becomes a popular motif, as evidenced in the nose-art on WWII airplanes. Many attribute a famous photo of Betty Grable posing in a swimsuit as the inspiration for a multitude of pin-up girls on calendars, signs, airplanes and of course, tattoos. Near the end of the war, when recruitment efforts were in full force, many tattooers made good coin covering up naked ladies that had been tattooed on guys in the ’30s. Unfortunately this proliferation, combined with the propriety that followed the Second World war, would ultimately be detrimental:

“Charles Wagner’s contribution to the war – tattooing skirts on nude figures ornamenting the arms and chests of would be sailors wasn’t sufficient to ward off a $10.00 fine yesterday in Bowery Court, where he was found guilty of failing to sterilize his needles. Wagner, 67 years old and a Chinatown institution for forty years, pointed out that many a marine or sailor now at grip with the enemy would have been rejected because of the crude ‘art’ on their bodies”

– NY Times article from 1944 (as found on Tattoo Archive).


Model: Katya McQueen

Hair: Kendra Kulych

Make-up: Jen Green

Photography: Dan Bushnell

Art Direction/Graphic Design: Sarah Gallagher and Dan Bushnell

This poster’s model’s tattoos were drawn by hand from looking at flash by these 3 artists working at the time:

Milton Zeis http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/zeis.html


Bert Grimm http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/grimm_bert.html


Cap Coleman http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/coleman_august_cap.html


Further Reading:

Norman Keith “Sailor Jerry” Collins http://tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/collins_norman_sailor_jerry.html

Amund Dietzel http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/dietzel_amund.html

Betty Grable as pin-up inspiration: http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/grable_betty.html

Not all pinups were beautiful: http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/lena_the_hyena.html

Joe Lieber: http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/lieber_joe.html

Mifflin, Margot (2013). Bodies of Subversion: a secret history of women and tattoo. Brooklyn: powerHouse.






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