It seems that everywhere you turn, tattoos are gracing bodies young and old, from all walks of life, each as distinctive as its wearer. This phenomenon has so intrigued me that I decided to do a little digging. Something told me these little (and sometimes not so little!) pieces of artwork were often more than just accessories or decoration: I had a hunch there were some fascinating stories hidden just below the surface. I was right!
When tattoos tell a person’s story as a fashion statement or accessory, they are often highlighted by clothing or used in place of the accessory itself. A wedding band tattooed on the ring finger is often chosen by someone concerned about losing their band or preferring not to wear jewelry. A bracelet or cuff tattoo might be chosen for its visual impact, also by someone who doesn’t want to wear jewelry. For me, the attraction is not only learning the story behind the tattoo, but in seeing how people select clothes to showcase their body art. This fascination took me to various coffee shops around the Triangle, where opinions about tattoos were just as diverse as the java varieties.
Through many insightful conversations, I found a few common fashion threads. One is that perceptions and acceptance of tattoos have changed pretty dramatically in recent years. According to a Pew Research study published in late 2013, 40 percent of Americans aged 26-40 have at least one tattoo. Among all who have a tattoo, a full 29 percent admit their tattoo makes them feel “rebellious.” Behind these statistics, however, are real people who have chosen an image to mark a milestone, in Girl with tattoo remembrance of a loved one, as a symbol of a religious or spiritual journey, or as I see today, to make a bold fashion statement.
Many of the women I met shared that they started with a tattoo that reflected something they were passionate about. Others were simply drawn to images they thought were pretty, and they chose locations on their body to maximize visibility. Their tattoos were there to tell a story. Whether on the nape of the neck, between their shoulder blades, the chest area, lower back or ankle, the choice of a specific body region was a clear statement in itself. These women told me they often choose clothing to highlight their tattoo, including open neck or racer back t-shirts, strapless dresses, cropped tops or thong sandals.
As for the guys I chatted with, I noticed a similar desire for expression. The trend of starting with tats on the arm and calf and adding to the adorned limb to eventually achieve a sleeve was pretty commonplace. The guys shared equal amounts of wanting self-expression and comfort in canvassing their bodies with tattoos. They didn’t seem to feel any regret, only self-assuredness in their choices. For most of them, whether all their tattoos were completely visible seemed less important than it did for the women. Their daily dress or fashion choices aren’t made to highlight their personal story or journey of self-expression found in their tattoos.
Keep in mind I wasn’t visiting creative think tank offices, recording studios or bars, but simply places where everyday people gather for a cup of joe. As a stylist, I was most interested in hearing and seeing how tattoos made them feel and whether they chose it as their own fashion or life statement, or as an act of rebellion.
I find it encouraging that there seems to be greater acceptance of tattoos among those who choose not to tattoo. Judging how others adorn their own canvas is no different than making a snap judgment within the first few minutes of meeting someone new. For me, I make a statement with my clothing, shoes, jewelry and hair, and use these as self-expression. My statement is my story.
From my closet to yours,