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The History of Boudoir Photography

Brunette boudoir model in black bra carrying a feather tickler
Brunette boudoir model in black bra history of boudoir photography by Caroline Malouf

Boudoir Photography

Boudoir photography is often characterized by intimate, romantic, or suggestive contents and style in which a person, usually in a bedroom or private setting, is the focal point. The term “boudoir” originates from 18th century French, literally translating to “a sulking place,” but commonly referring to a woman’s bedroom. In the origin of the work, sulking was viewed as a private activity, commonly reserved to a private room.

In many ways, boudoir art has been leveraged to empower women and help them control how their bodies are perceived. There is no specific style of boudoir in regards to lighting or composition because boudoir photography aims to truly represent its focal point: the client. As a result, while nudity is often a component of boudoir photography, the photographer will often focus more on highlighting vulnerability, rawness, and intimacy in the photos.

The Origin of Boudoir Photography

Boudoir as an art originated in painted form, such as “The Odalisque” by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, and often focused on implied nudity. However, in the 1920s, boudoir began to be interpreted in photographic forms as well, beginning with the work of Albert Arthur Allen from France, who largely photographed larger women posing in romantic ways against ornate backdrops. However, in the 1920s, nudity in photography was generally illegal and therefore boudoir was not commonly accepted by the public.

In the 1940s, boudoir began to focus on pin-up girls, whose curvy figures aligned with the beauty standard at the time. This period of boudoir often involved corsets, men’s ties and hats, and stockings, being the first evolution of boudoir that involved various props. Alongside the pin-up girl revolution was Hollywood culture; Marilyn Monroe began her career with boudoir pin-up photography, and ultimately evolved into a mainstream icon of femininity.

Boudoir continued to evolve into the 1970s, when photography began to take its place in the progressional world of art. Photography became more mainstream in magazines and in production. While in the ‘40s, representations of women were idealistic and exaggerated, representations of women in the ‘70s became more prolific and raw. Women without underwear began appearing more frequently in photography and other artwork, which helped boudoir become more accepted and mainstream within mass media.

In the modern day, boudoir photography is much more accepted than in the past, and is even encouraged and celebrated as representing real women’s bodies. This style of photography has also become a popular medium as a wedding gift from a bride to groom. In addition, boudoir photography has also taken on new life as photographing men or couples together.

Works Consulted

Leigh, Marisa. “Where Did Boudoir Photography Come From?” Huffington Post, Huffington Post, 3 February 2014.

Tallerico, Jennifer. “What is Boudoir Photography and How to Get Started With It,” Expert Photography, Expert Photography, n.d.

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