A penchant for pinups

Women eagerly striking sexy poses - for their men and for the boost to self-esteem - are keeping budoir photographers busy.

Makeup artist Elise Danh makes up Tara McConnell for the shoot. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)

During World War II, wives were known to mail pinup-style photos of themselves to their husbands. Striking sexy but shy poses with the front step as backdrop, the idea was to remind their men what was waiting for them when they returned home from war.

Today women of all shapes and sizes are going to the boudoir to pose - often in racy lingerie that would have made their grandmothers gasp. But the women say the best bang for their 500-some bucks is the boost in self-esteem from being the star of a several-hour photo session while looking pretty darn good.

Welcome to the aughties.

The demand for sexy shoots is great enough that some photographers have been able to devote their business to boudoir full time. After getting dolled up by professional hair and makeup artists, their clients pose for an hour or two in various states of undress. Some of the pictures are sexy, leaving little to the imagination, while others can be playful and mimic Alberto Vargas' 1940s pinup paintings.

Denise Weiss, 44, a Havertown mother of two who runs a Center City day care, says she was watching a makeover show when she got the idea to book a boudoir session.

"I thought, what would it feel like to be that glamorous for a day?" Weiss said. "My wedding anniversary was coming up and I really wanted it for myself. When you have kids and a career, you don't put that much effort into looking glamorous. It was nice to revisit my womanly side."

Weiss went to Lori Mann of Pink Kitty Studios in West Chester. Having opened her pinup photography studio in L.A. seven years ago, Mann eventually branched out to Colorado, northern Virginia, Dallas, and Pennsylvania.

She points to online picture posting's growth in the last 10 years as the impetus for the genre. As social networking and fan sites have gained popularity, women have felt more comfortable publishing personal pictures - even if they don't have picture-perfect bodies.

"Sites with alternative-looking women told women you can look different than blond Playboy girls," Mann said. ". . . It opened up different body styles being sexy."

For Mann's photography (prices start at $300 for a half day of shooting and five retouched photographs), she likes to invoke themes of Bettie Page, the 1950s pinup queen. Her studio contains sets including a kitschy kitchen with prop aprons and appliances that go along with the vintage lingerie her clients wear. Despite the tone of the photos, Mann maintains that women are not holding themselves back in a mid-century mindset.

"It has nothing to do with being barefoot and pregnant; lifestyle [trends] like rockabilly or hot-rod blend into it well," she said.

According to Weiss, her session had lasting effects. "I bumped up what I expect of myself. Ever since that day, I make an effort on myself. You have to make yourself feel feminine and beautiful."

Despite the crummy economic situation, Mann's business - clearly a luxury item - has fared pretty well. Her company had 80 clients in the Philadelphia region last year, and did $100,000 in sales nationwide.

Kimberly Noel, a Morrisville-based wedding photographer, got into boudoir photography two years ago when more women started requesting these kinds of shots - in addition to their traditional wedding albums - for their new husbands. Her gift packages, from $399 to $580, include fully retouched pictures displayed in an album.

By the end of last year, she had had 30 clients come in solely for boudoir shots, a number she's already reached this year. She anticipates the remaining five months will be even busier, and to keep up with the demand, she plans to shoot fewer weddings and portraits and expand her studio to include three more boudoir sets.

"Women in general today are more outgoing and modern," Noel said. "For brides, it's a different gift for their husband. You also get to feel like a supermodel and pamper yourself for a day. Every girl dreams of that."

And the men really like it, said Noel. "Grooms are blown away."

Candace Neavin, 33 and a mother of two, got photographs taken for her husband's birthday while he was on active duty with the Navy. Initially the idea came to her as a way of coping while her husband was deployed for more than a year and a half (more precisely, 551 days).

"You change in a year. You have to do anything you possibly can to stay a couple," she said.

As for her husband, "he was thrilled," she says. "He sent an e-mail like, 'Are you kidding me?' It was a morale boost."

And it helped her, too. "It was an ego booster. You can't walk around looking like that every day. You see yourself differently, like 'Wow, holy cow, I'm hot. . . .' I can go back to it when I'm feeling like crap, pop open my laptop, and look at my pictures."