Monday, April 18, 2011

Outfit post - Tattoos: Fashion statement or sexual device?

First it was Ari Marcopoulos’s short film “No Way Back” for Yves Saint Laurent men’s spring/summer ‘11 collection, featuring famed tattoo artist Mark Mahoney.  Then it was tattooist-to-the-fashion-elite Scott Campbell’s SS’11 collaboration with Louis Vuitton.

Tattoo art and fashion have never been more linked. Chanel – as well as Rodarte and John Paul Gaultier – sent models parading down their spring ‘10 runway adorned with delicate temporary tattoos; Chanel’s are now sold for $75.00 per sheet. Marc Jacobs enlisted Campbell again to apply temporary work on his models for the men’s SS’11 Louis Vuitton show. And mass retailers including Topshop have released temporary tattoos as well.

We all know that high fashion houses have done things like brand a trash bag, call it a trend, and have a waiting list before you say, “Omigod, that trash bag is $2,000?” For many aficionados, tattoos are not a passing trend, but high-end services like Jones’ have dragged tattooing out from under its slightly subversive rock and made it even more mainstream-friendly.

A few months ago, in the NY Times Opinion section, Steven D. Levitt at Freakonomics asked (and answers) the debate of why people get tattooed. He zeroed in on the one motivation he believes we possess to get inked (and do everything else): Sex. After rejecting the idea that "intrinsic beauty" isn't the reason most people get tattoos, Levitt suggests that it is the permanence itself which swayed 40% of people aged 26-40 to decorate their skin. The irreversibility of tattoos provides evidence of our commitment to a group, a person, or even an abstract concept. They are signals to the outside world - but, Levitt asks, "who are tattoo-getters trying to signal to?" His answer? Potential mates.

Levitt makes the assumption that tattoos are far more outwardly-directed than inward. He believes that, if it is visible to the public, it must be intended for public consumption. He seems to fall into the trap of equating tattoos with a specific attitude - one along the lines of the tattoo as a signal to the outside world that one is impulsive and likes risks. These are traits some consider attractive in the opposite sex.  He never uses the word slutty but the implication is there, especially when you consider his broader, sex-based argument.

Personally speaking, none of my 10 tattoos were birthed from a desire to attract men. I like the idea that tattoos are becoming more linked with fashion. I can't speak for every tattooed 26-40 year-old, but I can say this: Most of the people I know with tattoos get them for one of three reasons. Either A) They simply like how it looks; B) It is symbolic; and C) They want to be part of the inked tribe (and of course there is D: All of the above). For those of us with ink, it is usually more complicated than just signaling to the public that we are risk taking maverick-y oversexed types. And when a full 40% of American adults have submitted their skin to be permanently marked, maybe we need to stop thinking of tattoos as an outsider thing (or reduce them to base symbols of hypersexuality) and realize that they are really quite normal.

Do you have any tattoos? What was your motivation for getting them? What are your thoughts regarding Levitt's opinions regarding tattoos? And how do you feel about tattoos as fashion statements? Do you think they enhance or distract from a fashionable look?

Vintage thrifted sequin top; Current/Elliot tie-dye jeans; Jessica Simpson pumps; Forever 21 rhinestone bracelets; Forever 21 cross earring; TIKKR watch; Frye clutch

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