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Article: The History and Evolution of Tattoo-Inspired Streetwear

Tattoo inspired clothing
Skull t-shirt

The History and Evolution of Tattoo-Inspired Streetwear

Tattoos and fashion. Two forms of art and self-expression that should be powerfully connected, yet they’ve often been pitted against each other over the decades.

Recently, things have been changing. With the birth of tattoo-style clothing, the creativity of tattoo artists and fashion designers has been combined to offer a powerful expression of individuality.

Arguably one of the most well-known tattoo art clothing brands was pioneered by Ed Hardy in the early 2000s. A boundary-pushing tattoo artist since the 70s, Ed Hardy eventually brought his designs to fabric and created instant hits among the stars and average Joes. Today, Ed Hardy designs have been worn by the likes of Rihanna and Angelina Jolie, cementing the position of tattoo-style apparel in the world of luxury fashion for good.

That first venture into the intersection of two unique forms of art created a cult following of tattoo clothing lovers and collectors that are always on the lookout for new designs to add to their wardrobes to reflect their personal style.

And as tattoo art and fashion continue to evolve, the union of these two art forms is bound to produce unique clothing that excites and pushes boundaries.

The Evolution of Tattoo Art

The history of tattoos stretches back thousands of years, with the earliest evidence of their existence dating back to ancient Greece and Egypt around 4000 BC.

At the time, tattoos were used to symbolize social status and offer spiritual protection to the person that wore them. As time went on, tattoos became integral to the cultural and spiritual beliefs of a number of countries, including:

  • Samoa - Here, the tattooing process was extremely painful and used as a way to test the strength of the people who wore them.
  • Egypt - In ancient Egypt, tattooing was mainly done on women and could have been used as a form of medical treatment.
  • Greece and Italy - Tattoos were seen as a form of punishment for criminals in ancient Greece and Rome, which may have been why tattoos were later stigmatized by more modern cultures.

Tattoos in Modern History

By the early 20th century, tattoos were still seen as scandalous, rebellious, or barbaric forms of self-expression in most of the western world.

Despite the negative connotation of tattoos, the 1900s also produced popular tattoo styles that are still around today, such as:

  • Nautical tattoos - Sailors would get nautical tattoos like anchors for a number of reasons. Back then, a swallow tattoo meant a sailor had traveled 5,000 miles, while a turtle tattoo meant they had crossed the equator.
  • Sailor Jerry tattoos - During World War II, tattoos underwent a revival of sorts thanks to the patriotism associated with sending soldiers off to war. Men would often get tattoos that commemorated their units or positions in the military, while women would get dove tattoos to show their support. The war also gave birth to Sailor Jerry tattoos like the classic pin-up girls, palm trees, and “mom” designs.
  • Peace sign tattoo - During the social upheaval of the 1960s and 70s, the peace sign tattoo became extremely popular, as well as tattoos in support of several civil rights movements.
  • Tribal tattoos - During the 1980s, tattoos truly made the move to the mainstream as more and more people started seeing them as a form of self-expression. One of the most popular styles at the time was tribal tattoos.
  • Feminine tattoos - As tattoos became more popular and accepted, designs became far more varied and catered to a range of different personalities. With more women getting tattoos by the 1990s, feminine designs like butterflies, hearts, dolphins, and stars surged in popularity.

By the 2000s, tattoos had become extremely popular and the art it was inspired by became equally varied. Today, some of the most popular tattoo art includes staples like:

  • Old school (American traditional)
  • Realism
  • Watercolor art
  • New school
  • Blackwork

With the ever-growing popularity of tattoos thanks to Ed Hardy’s influence and its celebration by A-list celebrities and fashion icons, designers have been taking notice of this powerful form of self-expression, and including it in their clothing designs.

Introducing Tattoo-Inspired Clothing

Art inspired clothing

Tattoo art-inspired clothing is relatively new to the fashion world. In the late 1990s, fashion designers like Jean Paul Gaultier and Issey Miyake started incorporating tattoos in their designs and collections.

Since then, tattoo art has become a powerful influencer for streetwear fashion over the years. From graphic tattoo shirts to tattoo sleeves, tattoo-inspired clothing is a fun, unique way to bring edge and style to any outfit.

As a popular tattoo brand clothing store, Sullen often works with tattoo artists to create unique clothing designs that incorporate tattoo motifs into their clothing.

Some of the most popular tattoo styles featured in our Sullen clothing range include:

  • New school
  • Realism
  • Blackwork
  • Old school (American traditional)

With bestsellers like our skull graphic tee or unique pieces in our Artist Series, we have tattoo-inspired clothing to suit every style.

Sullen Clothing

Sullen Clothing started as an amalgamation of Southern California’s beach culture and tattoo art. Today, Sullen’s “Art Collective” consists of driven tattoo artists and designers that bring out stunning tattoo designs influenced by co-owner Ryan Smith’s professional tattooing experience.

Browse and shop our new tattoo-inspired streetwear collections for men and women, and join the self-expression revolution.

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