What is Boudoir?


 Photo by Albert Aurthur Allen

Photo by Albert Aurthur Allen

The word “boudoir” is French in origin and is derived from the french verb bouder to sulk or pout. Earlier in history, sulking was a highly personal activity that was reserved for a particular room in your home. This is much different than the public outbursts we’re so used to seeing on social media today.

This bouder room was like a personal sanctuary where you could withdraw to and sulk in (likely for a variety of dramatic purposes). However, over the years, the term has evolved from a place to let off steam to a personal or intimate setting such as a personal dressing room, bedroom or walk-in closet. Marquis de Sade, a French aristocrat known for his libertine sexuality, developed a reputation for “le boudoir” based on the immoral exchanges and frolics that happened within. From that point forward, the boudoir was considered somewhat scandalous.



In the early 1920’s, boudoir photography was considered disgraceful and it was illegal to take or possess nude or risqué images during the prohibition era. While the boudoir movement certainly had pockets of female-empowerment in the 1800s, it lacked the unity and forward momentum to become a global trend. That all changed by the 1920s with the help of an artist named Arthur Allen.

Originally from France, the San Francisco-based artist was no stranger to controversy. By the 1920s, he had already been arrested multiple times for his art and photography. Much of the reason was due to the fact that nudity was still illegal within photographic art. But like other strong-willed artists, Allen pressed on with his photography despite the legal challenges he faced.

When you take the time to look at Arthur Allen's photography, you'll quickly see beyond the surface-level dismissal of his work as obscene or pornographic. His portraits showcased artistic expression that reflected the beauty of women – no matter their size or shape. And this type of vision is one of the primary components of boudoir which has endured until today.

Allen’s work continued to impress both photographers and artists alike for years after his career. Despite the controversy and legal struggles, he persevered and released several more works that captured women in their intimate, highly personal forms. Looking back at his catalogue, his usage of models of all shapes and sizes has definitely inspired the empowerment revolution that fueled the ongoing forward-motion of boudoir photography as a genre.


 Photo by Albert Aurthur Allen 

Photo by Albert Aurthur Allen 

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As the 20th century pressed on, the focus of the 1940s and 1950s became the pin-up girls. While this style first became noteworthy back in the 1800s, it truly emerged into popular culture during this period.

Drawings of pin-up girls came into prominence through Esquire Magazine during this time. And these images were sent over to the soldiers overseas to help them cope with the struggles of war. This immense popularity continued to fuel the boudoir style of sensual and intimate portraits – both in the pin-up girl format and beyond.

Right alongside the pin-up girl “revolution,” the Hollywood culture began to expand much more directly into the public spotlight. And one of the largest stars within this generation was Marilyn Monroe. Monroe started her illustrious career right within the boudoir pin-up photography world. Once she made her break into Hollywood, however, pin-up models shifted from a popular soldier’s wall hanging to a mainstream icon of femininity.

Around this time, several photographers emerged and were popularised with their photographs of Monroe. Englishman Cecil Beaton is one of the most famous examples with a series of intimate, boudoir portraits of the Hollywood powerhouse. 

Another photographer by the name of Sam Shaw was also famous for his intimate portraits of Marilyn Monroe. Shaw's work looked beyond Monroe’s reputation as a cultural sex symbol, showcasing her raw innocence and genuine candor in his pictures. This type of dynamic is what continued to grow as the focal point within the genre of boudoir portrait photography.

With such a celebrated history behind it, boudoir photography has come a long way to where it is today. The modern day boudoir is an experience every woman should have at least once. It's about celebrating yourself in a way you have never done before. The popularity among the public has grown, becoming a common gift for a significant other or as an act of women empowerment.