How Did Boudoir Photography Come About?

Photo by Petr Ovralov on

“Lingerie is the maximum expression of a woman’s femininity.”

~ Dolce & Gabbana

Boudoir... it’s an intriguing and pretty word to say. I’m sure that when you hear the word boudoir, the first thing that comes to mind is women in lingerie. This is the typical image that is recognized. However, when we attached this word to photography, the style of boudoir photography is so much more than being a pretty woman taking sexy pictures in lingerie.

Modern-day boudoir photography has been embraced as a form of female empowerment, sensual and sexual freedom, and celebration of the human body; but where did boudoir photography come from? To answer this, we must go back one century and also to the root of the word. Boudoir is a French word that refers to a woman’s dressing room, bedroom, or private sitting room. If we, then, attach this word to photography, we gather the understanding of a photography style that captures its subject in an intimate setting, and even vulnerable or literally and metaphorically stripped state.

Photo by Ferdinand Studio on

Let’s take a step away from this modern interpretation and continue to go back in time. Before the first appearance of this word in the eighteenth century, we can see a fascination for the human body as art from ancient times. Artists and art enthusiasts alike throughout history are not unfamiliar with the captivation of creating and preserving nude art for a variety of reasons from religious to personal. Consider the classical statues of the ancient Greeks and Romans, artwork from the Renaissance period, and humanism. The human body is idolized.

So, the concept of portraying the human body for art and exhibiting nude artwork is nothing new. You don’t even flinch when you see them in renowned art museums such as The Met or De Louvre.

Birth of Venus

Now, fast forward to eighteenth-century France with the entrance of the boudoir, a private sitting room that typically came as a gift from a woman’s spouse for her to entertain friends, and of course, men were not permitted except by invitation. This place that was primarily for women somehow evolved to dawn a mystery of sexual intrigue. Personally, I suspect this may have resulted from the prevalence of a patriarchal society. A place where men can only go if invited? Certainly, they presumed more was going on.

Let’s take this idea to the 1920s where we find boudoir photography is emerging as a photo niche. The style is attributed to Albert Arthur Allen, a French artist whose subject focus was women, particularly plus size women. Unfortunately, he and his work were pressed by scandal as the boudoir style was not socially acceptable yet. Later on, it would grow popular with the desire to capture a woman’s natural beauty as opposed to the social expectation of the perfect woman’s body.

Photo by Ferdinand Studio on

This popularity allows for the development of this style as we see more and more women reveling in what is essentially womanhood and femininity. The photography style expands with pin-up in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Betty Gable, a notable icon for this style, was the first person to