In February of this year, Dan Brooks wrote a story for New York Times magazine called “The Existential Anguish of the Tattoo.” In it, he addressed a relatively new truth. “Tattoos began as a gesture of rebellion and became so ubiquitous as to carry no stigma at all.”
Six months earlier, a story by Amy Larocca appeared in New York Magazine on the relationship between Marc Jacobs and his tattoos. It underscored a similar point. “The tattoos just are what they are: another piece of fashion, the world that has thus far defined a great deal of his life. His tattoos might as well be another collection, like the time he was inspired by Debbie Harry, or the time he couldn’t stop thinking about mods.”
Three months before that, tattoo artist Scott Campbell sat front row at the Marchesa fashion show next to his wife, Lake Bell, who had recently appeared on the cover of the aforementioned magazine cloaked in monochromatic roses drawn on by her husband. If you were lucky enough to grip an unobstructed view at the show, you could see that underneath the intricate lace work and tulle gowns emblematic of the brand were tattoos (presumably temporary) inked by Campbell.
And as recently as last month, couture-capable designers like Vika Gazinskaya and couture-de-facto designers like the team behind Maison Martin Margiela were showing their imminent fall and summer collections respectively. Both included tattoo-inspired prints; in the case of Gaziskaya, they were hand-painted prints. At Margiela, they were embroidered patches sewn together.
With tattoos slipping into the mainstream fashion consciousness, (much the same way piercings staked their claim several years ago,) there arises the inevitable question of: why now?
To answer that, though, it’s important to consider whether you have a tattoo, or would get one at all.
When I was sixteen, I fantasized about a little mustard-colored butterfly, which would flap as I laughed, against my left hip bone. It was very Kelly Kapowski during her 90210 months. It would now serve as an indubitable placard of basic bitch-ness.
That phase passed quickly. I didn’t consider a tattoo again until recently. In 2014, would I get one? Probably not. But not for the same reason I’d have said no as recently as three years ago. Back then, I agreed with an ideology that had been imparted on me: to have a tattoo is to scream using your body instead of your mouth.
Today, to have a tattoo is to be in fashion. And in some sense, to foretell nostalgia.
In Brooks’ Times story, he notes that, “Getting a tattoo may be a way for your past sense to dominate your present self but getting sick of your tattoo is a way for your present self to betray your past.”
I don’t think I could handle bringing the present me into the future and subsequently wanting to divorce myself from her.
There is an undeniable if not somewhat admirable sense of hubris tethered to the tattooing process, and whether or not you are willing to acknowledge that the ink on your body will represent even a morsel of who you are in perpetuity does not change that fact that it will. (Even if “who you were” was plainly an aesthete.) Similarly to a tattoo, this fact hasn’t changed through the motions of the anterior appearing in popular culture. First, as a totem of rebelliousness and now, for being au courant.
But why have they become so fashionable? It’s possible that it has something to do with the hyper-transience of our current lives. The fact that what we put out is subject to get buried under what everyone else puts out might detract from our respective senses of identity. Getting a tattoo hones in precisely on who we are, or who we think we are, and makes that point with unceasing conviction.
It could conversely mean something as simple as appreciating that fashion always dips its hand into the zeitgeist of days past. Or maybe I’m completely off. Do you have a tattoo? Why’d you get it? If you don’t, do you want one? Why now? Why not?