• Valerie Simpson

The History of Boudoir Photography | Then & Now

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

March is Women's History Month, where we celebrate the achievements of women past worldwide. We celebrate the things that make us, us; the strength, the wisdom, and the beauty. Boudoir, also, celebrates all those things, so for WHM I'm going to give you a little history lesson on Boudoir photography as we've come to know it today.


According to Wikipedia, Boudoir Photography is "a photographic style featuring intimate, sensual, romantic, and sometimes erotic images of its subjects in a photographic studio, bedroom or private dressing room environment, primarily intended for the private enjoyment of the subject and his or her romantic partners." I'm going to go ahead and say that is isn't a particularly accurate description, and TBH was probably written by a man. Boudoir photography ACTUALLY is a photographic style featuring intimate images of a subject in such a way as to accentuate the beauty and power of the human form, and occasionally to celebrate the intimacy between partners, either taken together or as a gift from one to the other. (Quote that, Wikipedia.)


The term 'Boudoir' is a French word for a women's sitting room, not even the bedroom. In Victorian Era the Boudoir was where a woman received her female guests, and was a fully furnished sitting room, separate from her bedroom (it was typically located between the formal dining room and her bedroom.) Men were allowed into a woman's private Boudoir by invitation only, and the room, as well as it's furnishings, were often a wedding gift from the husband to the wife.



Boudoir of Empress Maria Alexandrovna in the Winter Palace at the State Hermitage

(Saint Petersburg).


Early Photography

Nude and sexualized female forms have been around almost since the birth of photography (and really, who's surprised here?) French postcards were produced as early as 1840, and well into the early 20th century. Illegal to be produced in the US, and not even legal to go through the mail, French street vendors, tobacco shops, and a variety of sellers bought the cards to be sold as souveniers for tourists.



Naples Italy (Mount Vesuvius is behind the model)


Early 1900's

California-based photographer Albert Arthur Allen was known for his nude portraiture, most of which were considered scandalous by American in the 1920's. He was indicted for sending nude photographs through the mail, and spent years fighting those charges in court. His work wasn't widely accepted or recognized until well after his death, with his first art exhibition in 1979.


The Pin-Up Model became wildly popularized during WWII. The US government, knowing it needed young men to defend the country, and knowing that sex sells, used pin-up models to encourage those boys and give them something to look forward to come home to. They often used slogans like "A Girl Worth Fighting For" and "Come Home To Your Girl A Hero!" Pin-Up and vintage boudoir is still wildly popular and one of the most fun types of boudoir both to shoot and to model.


Actress Betty Grable was one of the most famous of the Pin-Up Models, and known for her "Million Dollar Legs." She was the first actress to take out insurance on a body part, and one of her photographs was distributed to over five million troops during wartime.



Betty Grable


Late 1900's

The 1950's and beyond gave us Cheesecake, Betty Paige, and Marilyn Monroe. Women had come into their own and embraced their sexuality, rather than be scandalized by it. Jayne Mansfield, Eartha Kitt, Ava Gardner and more were all inspiration for artists like Gil Elvgren, Art Frahm, and Alberto Vargas. Pin-Up was everywhere.


Boudoir photography as we now know it, specifically the empowerment of (usually) female clients, rather than hired models, being taken in a private studio dates from around 1980. It became popular among women seeking to create a private collection of professional portraits.



Gil Elvgren's model photo + finished painting


Boudoir Today

Today, Boudoir photography is widely accepted. It is common for women to give Boudoir albums as a grooms gift and for anniversaries, as well as to celebrate themselves for milestones, birthdays, and even divorce. No matter the reason, Boudoir sessions give the client the gift of seeing themselves in a new light, with their strength, confidence, and beauty on full display.


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