I wonder exactly when the tattoo became a fashion accessory?
Not that David Dimbleby, the septuagenarian Question Time pundit who last week revealed a recently inked scorpion, is a high-fashion leader. But he does illustrate how tattoos have become not only acceptable, but even commonplace.
Tattoos have been around for centuries, but their fashionable visibility has been relatively brief. Royalty has been tattooed – King George V, for one. But at a time when a mere glimpse of stocking was considered shocking, no one saw them. Dimbleby’s tattoo, on his right shoulder, is part of that tradition.
“In climates in which clothes are unnecessary or inconvenient, tattoos… provided an alternative way of decorating the body,” Colin McDowell says in his new book, The Anatomy of Fashion. He refers to the decorated flesh of Native Americans in the 1580s, but he doesn’t see signs of it abating anytime soon.
Is the reason so many decide to “think ink” because, as in the balmy 16th-century Americas, clothes are unnecessary in the climate of contemporary fashion? We cast off corsets, padding and highly starched collars long ago; the onus is now on us to “fashion” ourselves through diet and exercise. The body beautiful is the ultimate fashion fetish.
But fashion changes. It’s fickle. I don’t have a tattoo – because I’m fickle, too. I’m sure I would regret it the instant the needle left my flesh. And in an era when celebrities are excoriated for red-carpet misjudgement, it takes guts to run the risk of your next style mishap being almost indelible. Cheryl Cole, I’m looking at you. From behind.