The original painted ladies: Vintage photographs reveal incredible head-to-toe tattoos on women in the Twenties, Thirties and Forties
16:09 GMT, 13 August 2012
23:16 GMT, 13 August 2012
From bike gangs, to star-crossed lovers and rebellious teenagers, tattoos are often thought of as modern day markings, usually of the wayward and tough.
However tattoos are far from a new cultural phenomenon. Decades before Jimmy Buffet sang 'It's just a permanent reminder of a temporary feeling', women all over the world were proudly adorning their entire bodies in defining ink.
Whether it was 1926 in the Bronx, the Thirties in England or 1946 in Japan, these incredible vintage photographs reveal how tattooed ladies paved the way in tattoo design for the rest of the world.
Vintage ink: An American woman with a tattooed body
suit in 1931 (left), and Mrs John Conway of the Bronx, whose designs are on
exhibition at the Harlem museum, was tattooed by her husband in 1926
While according to scientists, the earliest record
of tattoos was found in 1991 on the frozen remains of a
Copper Age 'Iceman' dating from about
3300 B.C., the art of tattooing has been practiced in Japan – for beautification, magic, and to mark criminals – since around the fifth century B.C.
Restricted from wearing kimonos usually worn by royalty and the elite, lower class women rebelled by wearing tattooed body suits, covering their torsos with illustrations
that began at the neck and extended to the elbow and above the knee.
Wearers hid the intricate designs beneath their clothing and it was these repressive laws that gave rise to the ornate Japanese designs known today.
Body art: By the end of the Twenties, American circuses employed over 300 people with full-body tattoos who earned up to $200 per week – New York performer Betty Broadband pictured in 1947
Tokyo drift: Unable to wear kimonos, usually reserved for royalty and the elite, Japanese lower classes in Forties rebelled with tattooed body suits
Japanese government, viewing the practice as subversive, outlawed tattoos in 1870 as it entered a new era of
international relationships. Tattooists then went underground,
where the art flourished as an expression of the wearer's inner beliefs and aspirations.
Tattooing was then rediscovered by Europeans when exploration brought them into contact with Polynesians and American Indians.
The word tattoo comes from the Tahitian word tattau, meaning 'to mark,' and was first mentioned in explorer James Cook’s records from his 1769 expedition to the South Pacific.
Japan's rebels: The government outlawed tattoos in 1870 as it entered international relationships, so tattooists went underground, where the art flourished in the Forties as an expression of the wearer's inner beliefs
Girl with the dragon tattoo: An English woman wearing a pair of elegant crystal earrings is seen getting her first tattoo in 1930
Because tattoos were considered so
exotic in European and U.S. societies, tattooed Indians and Polynesians
drew crowds at circuses and fairs during the 18th and 19th centuries.
New York inventor Samuel O'Reilly
patented the first electric tattoo machine in 1891, making traditional
tools used in Japan a thing of the past in the West.
Husbands tattooed their wives with examples of their best work, where they happily played the role of walking advertisements.
Modern day: Bernadette Macias (left) and Harmony Rosales, 30, of Monrovia (right) show off their tattoo art at the 2012 Musink Tattoo Convention
At this time, cosmetic tattooing became popular, blush for cheeks, coloured lips, and eyeliner. With world war I, the flash art images changed to those of bravery and wartime icons.
By the end of the 1920s, American circuses employed more than 300 people with full-body tattoos who could earn an unprecedented $200 per week.