Jean Paul Gaultier spring/summer 2012 Source: WGSNTattoos used to be for soldiers, sailors, bikers and criminals but now we read that the prime minister's wife has a dolphin on her ankle. One fifth of British adults are now 'inked', according to a survey and celebrities are covered in them. Wayne Rooney has Just Enough Education to Perform (the title of a Stereophonics album), his wife Coleen's name and a Celtic motif on his right arm, a flag of St George and "English and Proud" on his left, and a pair of clasped palms and angel wings across his back. Angelina Jolie has the coordinates of her children's birthplaces, "Know your rights" in English and Latin, a tiger, a quantity of quotations and a black cross, plus the names of her two divorced husbands (now covered over with new tattoos).
For many their tattoos are a statement of their individuality, they have tattoos to mark important events, people and feelings- a visual record of their ongoing journey through their lives. Be warned though, 23% of British adults say they now regret the their tattoos (we all make mistakes in life and permanent reminders of them on the skin are bound to be unhelpful).
By the late 1800s, 90% of those serving in the British navy were tattooed and sailing iconography is still influential – particularly with the trend for retro "romantic" tattoos. An anchor could mean crossing the equator, the soul of a dead sailor or symbolise hope, now, rather than having a particular meaning, the anchor has also become an icon of tattooing – like the broken heart and the swallow.
This Guardian article recovers from lost memory the symbolism behind the more classic images. Did you know the teardrop could signify you'd murdered someone? Or that Samantha Cameron's dolphin could signify prosperity but also represent duality – a creature of the water, and a breather of air-two worlds at once....
Staff and students at Cardiff Met can find images and articles about tattoos in WGSN our fabulous new fashion database which can be accessed from the Electronic Library. Use JSTOR to find out more about their history.