The Evolution of an Art Form

The term boudoir photography conjures a wide variety of emotions, even for people who don’t know exactly what it means. Some may consider it one of those taboo subjects that shouldn’t be talked about in polite company.

This hesitation most likely comes from a lack of understanding about what boudoir photography is and where it comes from. In reality, boudoir as an art form isn’t just photos of scantily-clad women in sexual poses, it’s a sophisticated, tasteful, and elegant exploration of sensuality and form. Creating a beautiful boudoir portrait takes work, and there is history behind it.

Let’s pull the curtain back and take a look!

First of all, what is boudoir?

A combination of fashion, fine photographic artistry, and intimacy forms the heart of boudoir photography. Common characteristics of these photographs are that they show their subject in a private setting, such as a dressing room or bedroom, and that they generally focus on the subject at a personal level.

How did it get started?

Back in the 1920s, owning fully nude photographs was actually considered illegal, but photographers were still looking for ways to push boundaries and share intimate moments on film. In order to get around restrictions, nearly nude and highly stylized photographs were taken, using artful posing or props to make sure there wasn’t too much exposed skin on camera. Usually the subjects were women with fuller figures relaxing in elegant, luxurious settings. These images, while not explicitly illegal, were known to skirt the line of what many felt was proper for the time.

These 20s-era beginnings of boudoir were a natural extension of classic paintings and illustrations that had long explored the same themes.

sailor pinup girl

The 1940s Shift

Around the time of World War 2, the typical subjects of boudoir photography switched from wealthy-seeming fuller-figured women to classic pinup girls. Photographers started incorporating different props and pieces of clothing that weren’t normally considered a part of boudoir. Women posed in work clothes, men’s ties and hats, or even military uniforms, or showed more skin than ever before, and the purpose was to tantalize the viewer and let them indulge in their fantasies.

A boudoir mainstay, the corset, also became popular with pinups. It helped models achieve the hourglass figure that was considered the feminine ideal of the time.

The Freedom Of The 1970s

The counterculture movement of the late 60s – think hippies, free love, and rock and roll music – permanently changed opinions about sex and sexuality for many. By the 70s, attitudes were far more relaxed, and boudoir photography became more widely accepted as an art form.

Photographers and artists embraced this newfound freedom and began experimenting with different themes and locales. Boudoir photos were no longer seen as “for men’s enjoyment” and publications aimed at women, like fashion magazines, began featuring boudoir style portraits of models and celebrities.

The subjects of boudoir photography became much more diverse too, as the world moved towards accepting different types of beauty, from vamp to girl next door. While posing for a boudoir shoot had always been liberating for some subjects, the idea of  taking sensual photos as a way of empowerment, embracing your own sexuality, grew alongside women’s rights. 

Culture Shift

As the world continues to shift, so does boudoir. Female empowerment is a huge part of why boudoir photography remains popular to this day, and the idea of doing a boudoir shoot is no longer just a fantasy for many women. It’s now a way to celebrate your beauty and your body, no matter who you are. Modern boudoir shoots are about taking charge of your sexuality and portraying yourself how you want to portray yourself, not to meet any expectations.

We have come a long way, but there’s still so much more to do! By continuing to express ourselves through this art form, unashamed and proud, boudoir can continue to empower women for generations to come.

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