14 September 2010

Ink and Bow Ties

I had been considering a post about my tattoos for a long time now. I tended to go back and forth on the subject. I know you've seen them, a little bit, in Summer posts where I'm wearing tennis shirts. But for every time I think I'll just come right out and show them, I remember how silly I think it is to go out of your way to get people to notice your tattoos and I reconsider. Then I saw this post on A Suitable Wardrobe, and my mind was made up to just come out and mention it.
So there they are, in their full glory. Paired with a white undershirt and blue jeans, natural counterparts.

So here's the thing: I have a lot of tattoos. I don't hide them on purpose, and I don't flash them
around on purpose either. I have them for myself, and I don't regret them one bit. I've never been in uniformed service, on a ship or otherwise, I've never been to prison, and I've never been a member of a motorcycle gang. I'm just a creative type of person, and I like artistic things. What can I say?

Every year when the weather warms, I get a lot of questions about them. Given the way I dress and carry myself, people are often surprised that I have them. It's confusing to see a bunch of tattoos poking out of the rolled up sleeve of a blue oxford shirt. People don't know what to make of it. I can understand that, I guess. But the fact of the matter is, there's just nothing to make of it.

I have my tattoos because I like them. True, there was a time when only certain admittedly undesirable types, would have them, but those days are long gone. This may be much to the chagrin of an older generation of folks, and I understand that too. But these days, this kind of stuff just doesn't matter anymore. It's not worth getting shocked over it. I'll admit, there are lots of times when it's best to keep them concealed. But if that's the case, chances are that the type of clothing that would reveal them is inappropriate anyway. The post on ASW focused on serving jury duty, and being appalled at all the t-shirts and tattoos. I agree, about the t-shirts, not the tattoos. The last time I served, I wore a blue shirt, striped tie and a blazer, with all those tattoos hiding underneath. I was dressed appropriately for the occasion. That's where the confusion enters it, I think. Many people just don't figure a tattooed fella to know how to dress, or carry himself, or behave in a courteous and professional manner. These days, that's just downright ignorant, sorry, but it is. What they fail to remember is that the heart surgeon who saved Grandpa's life last year is as likely to be tattooed as anyone.

I dress the way I do because I like it. I have my own sense of style, one that is informed by the lessons of my father, my time spent in menswear retail, and a Boston upbringing. Some folks find this infuriating too, because I'm not a WASP, or something. But really, clothes are clothes. Race and religion don't really matter when choosing a shirt and a tie, do they? Nor do tattoos, taste in music, political affiliation, or economic status. Clothing should express one's personality, but it doesn't have to deny the aspects of it that don't necessarily match. My tattoos do not mean that I should spend the rest of my days in a Harley Davidson t-shirt drinking canned beer on the street.

Men's clothing has always been full of rules. These days, they are mostly gone or irrelevant. It kind of a shame, because knowing those rules really helps a man to dress well. Lots of them were foolish, but most of them existed for good reasons. Being married to a set of rules that is carved in stone with no variation or room for interpretation is silly, in clothing and in life. I mostly wear plain front pants, but sometimes pleats are O.K. I prefer an un-darted jacket, but not always. I like white bucks after Labor Day. And I have a lot of tattoos. It's true, I've preached on here before about our current lack of style and decorum in general as a society, and I would love to see a return of the generally well appointed gentleman. But I would never wish to see people sacrifice individuality in the name of being well dressed. That's not style, that's just conformity at it's worst.

I've always believed it was best to embrace all aspects of one's personality, that there's no reason why one person can't have several different ideas. That's how tattoos and a bow tie find there way into the same ensemble. In a time where young girls go out to the liquor store for a six pack in their bed clothes, nothing about what I do should be considered freaky.

Enough ranting. Tomorrow it's back to playing "dress up".

p.s. I have in the past had my moments of rage about A Suitable Wardrobe, but kudos to Will for including my coment in his discussion of tattoos and menswear.


Jay said...

I really enjoyed this- I've been reading this blog for a couple years, but am not much of a commenter but this post really jumped out at me. The biggest reason I avoid forums and most comment sections is the level that people elevate style rules, and obsession with authenticity over creativity and personal flair. I am very much in favor of using a set of guidelines in dressing ones self, but I am always excited when I see people transcend those rules and get it right.
As for the tattoos, I have always loved tattoos paired with a snappy well put together outfit. I have a couple, including one on my forearm that was home-done. I have always gotten a kick out of people's surprise when they see me out of a coat and tie, how much the tattoo's I have contrast the more traditional clothes I wear.

Anonymous said...

I think the tattooed gentleman thing confuses people. People look at me and they don't know what to think. (With myself, being black and "well spoken" probably adds to the mystique) I like it. Its a way to mess with people's perceptions that isn't likely to get you into trouble. I've only recently discovered style (and tattoos for that matter) but I think I'll keep it up, if only for the shock and awe I leave in my wake.

Anonymous said...

To break the awed silence, Wardrobe, I have to say that, on the whole,I love your stuff - not the green blazer, obviously, but most of the rest. On this occasion, however, I'm afraid that you protest too much.


Stephen said...

Excellent post!

Stephen said...

Also, do you still get tattooed?

Anonymous said...

Very well worded post. I have tattoos as well and work in a professional work environment. Like you said, if you are wearing clothing that overly reveals those tattoos, you are probably too casual any way.

David L. Willis said...

What a wonderful post. While I have no tattoos, I totally agree with your expressed viewpoint(s). I have been reading your blog for a while, and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I "suit up" everyday, even when not seeing clients. I just think it is appropriate for my profession, even if I am just walking down the street to buy a lottery ticket.

However, I must say that there is much to be said for drinking canned beer on the street. It just depends on the can, and the street.

Kindest regards,


Brandon said...

I'm not personally interested in getting a tattoo, but I have pierced ears to go along with the jacket and tie I wear to work every day. Dressing well does not preclude body modification.

Sälli said...

Excellent post. When I was getting my first (and so far the only) tattoo, I was slightly worried about the possibility of some day working in a place where tattoos would not be welcome. But then I just figured that in that case I will be wearing a proper suit, and as long as a suit covers up my tattoos, I'll be fine. So, the ink runs from my right shoulder to the middle of the forearm.

When I wear clothes that leave it visible, I like the way it looks. But when the occasion really requires me to dress up, I like the tattoo maybe even more. I know it's there, I know it's part of what makes me who I am, and for somebody who judges me solely by the way I look ("a good-looking, fitting suit = a smart guy" vs. "tattoos = an asshole"), I know that under my shirt, it's quietly screaming "Got you! Now go to hell!"

CLG said...

Theres nothing wrong with Tattoos and J.Crew Neckwear or anything, its just that people tend to make assumptions. As humans we are a curious bunch, we like associating things and Tattoos and oxfords are not a common pairing. Though i have no ink on my body, id LOVE to...one day.

At the end of the day we are individuals, not reflections of closedminded society with its preconcieved notions and lack of appropriate dress.

Max said...

Of course you went with classic, American-style tattoos.

Collin said...

Never would've guessed. Props for posting this. I don't have any tattoos, but I do think there is something really cool about a guy rolling up the sleeves of a classic oxford to reveal his other set of sleeves. I am 23, though.

Can we get a close up of that pizza tattoo?

-Varsity Aesthetics

JB_Dub said...

"True, there was a time when only certain admittedly undesirable types, would have them, but those days are long gone."

I wish more people would realize your point here, but alas the stigma of having tattoos will remain. Good entry.

Anonymous said...

"a time where young girls go out to the liquor store for a six pack in their bed clothes"

That's even more horrifying than your tattoos.

Anonymous said...

"But I would never wish to see people sacrifice individuality in the name of being well dressed. That's not style, that's just conformity at it's worst."

I don't have any tattoos, but the statement above is something I worry about as I work on being a better dresser. You killed it, man. Well said. thanks

Anonymous said...

Love this post. I have some pretty big forearm tattoos that occasionally make their appearance, which unsettles people who think I dress like an Oxford don.
Also, I was very amused by your "moments of rage about A Suitable Wardrobe." I think I alternate between that and eye-rolling -- but then he also posts great material, so I'd never count him out.

Giuseppe said...


Neither is as horrifying as your attitude. It must be a real drag being so disgusted so often over practically nothing.


It's been a few years, but I do have some new plans in the works.

Young Fogey said...

You've hit on an important point here: what is versus what people wish.

Here are some for the is column:
* Tattoos are more prevalent than before.
* Tattoos are less stigmatized than before.
* Some people look askance at the tattooed.
* Some people look down on the tattooed.

Here are a couple for the wish column:
* Whether or not someone has a tattoo doesn't matter anymore.
* Well-educated professionals are just as likely to have tattoos as anyone else.

Many people of my acquaintance frown upon tattoos. Some people consider them a "caution" sign: the owner may be OK, but is going to have to work a little harder to demonstrate that than someone without. (As far as I'm concerned, you "passed the test" ages ago.)

Maybe my experience is limited, but I see a lot more tats on the low end of the socio-economic scale than I do on those higher up. Even in the military, tats are pretty common among the enlisted but rare among the officers (who, unlike enlisted personnel, must be college grads). I happen to be a well-educated professional, and very few of my colleagues have ink (though I do know of exceptions).

Your tattoos tell interesting stories about you, and I for one would love to hear those stories some day.

And I agree with anonymous, though not to the level of being horrified. Appalled is more like it. I was appalled back in college when I saw girls wearing sweats to class, and I was appalled last week when some joker at work gave a presentation in sweats. (Then again, if what the young'uns do didn't appall me, I wouldn't be much of a fogey, then would I?)

Giuseppe said...


I have an old friend who is a tattoo artist. He did many of mine. You'd be shocked, or "appalled" or maybe even "horrified" to know who has been getting them these days, It's not only who you think it is. Trust me.

Anonymous said...

A discreet tattoo on the upper forearm or bicep may be forgiven, especially if it commemorates military service, but the excessive tattoos in the photo here just scream trash.

Anonymous said...

Would you trust a tattooed physician wearing sweats?

Not me, paisano.

A. Monkey said...

I believe Mr Boehlke's writer compared americans to japanese? Therein lies the crux of the matter. For "westerners" in america as well as europe, clothes as well as tattoos is a way to express ourselves as individuals and tell the surroundings who we are, or rather, who we'd like them to think that we are. I don't think that was the case back in the suit&tie-at-the-office days in the West either. In those days, it was more of a uniform, actually a way to hide individuality, or at least play it down. That is probably the case in Japan too.

So yeah, ask a sociologist or something. Since our convention these days is to express ourselves, suit&tie-wearers like myself (or Giuseppe for that matter) should be aware that we are not an elite. We're trying to do the same thing as the guy down the street wearing FUBU.

Finally, tattoos and suit? Sure, it's just a sign that you have more than one side to your personality. Which is nice, rather than appalling or confusing.

Giuseppe said...

Anon and Anon,

Thank you for proving my point.

Ignorance knows no confines.

Brandon said...

Unless the tattoos are of swastikas, confederate flags, or other similar swill, I'm wondering how they can scream "trash." I'll refrain from sharing my thoughts of what anon's comments suggest about him/her.

Anonymous said...

Anon and Anon proved your ignorance.

Tattoos like this are trash, no matter how many button down shirts and Shetland sweaters you employ to cover them.

In fact I would be willing to wager that your "trad" obsession is some deep psychological, subconscious expression of the need to cover up your ink.

Wrenkin said...

I'm perhaps a little too stuffy to get a tattoo myself, but I don't understand the hate. Maybe that's just because I'm in my 20s, who knows, but I actually unsubscribed from one style blogger a while back after he left his regular programming for a rant about a server who had the audacity to let a tattoo show.

Then again, I do understand it, hatred of tattoos being an upper class mannerism just like, whether we like it or not, bowties, but I prefer not to let my mind wander down that path. There be grey sweat suits, which are philosophically supportable, but just plain ugly.

Unknown said...

I've been reading for a while and am a fellow "thrifter" for the finer things.

I am also tattooed and I have a feeling that, being a girl, I get judged pretty harshly in certain circles for that. whatever. I pair my tattoos with Lilly Pulitzer sun dresses, Ralph Lauren EVERYthing, and the total Punk/Prep aesthetic...(remember that section of the TOPH?)

One of the most attractive male types, to me, is the Nice Suit, sleeves rolled slightly to reveal some very good work. (the operative part being "good work.") David Beckham in a suit, with all that ink? Perfect.

As much as I've enjoyed your blog, this one put it over the top. Nicely done. :)

Giuseppe said...

Calling someone a piece of trash is about as trashy as it gets. Thank you, also, for helping make my point.

Thankfully, your brand of ignorance gets a little, just a little, rarer each day.

As for my so called "trad" obsesion:
I like clothes, but I guess I'm not allowed to wear these ones. Funny, I always thought that since I found them in a store and bought them and I liked them I would be allowed to own and wear them.

If you find me so disgusting, feel free not to read this blog. I doubt you will be missed.

Giuseppe said...


I never owned, or even read, TOPH. There's a full post coming on that topic later.

Johnny said...


Since I'm the person who wrote the message Will posted (with my permission), I'd like to comment.

Your blog is probably my second favorite men's clothing blog, after Will's.

And what you say is true that someone won't know that another person has tattoos if they're dressed as well as you.

I actually never saw any tattoos during my stint on jury duty (although I'm sure plenty of people had them), because most people were what now passes for "dressed up" (generally jeans and shirts with at least short sleeves.)

My comment was more a general observation about what I see in stores, restaurants, etc. Like you, I'm sick to death of seeing people walking around in wife beaters, shorts and flip-flops everywhere they go this time if year. I also happen to notice that most such people I see have tattoos. I simply made the observation that people will always have the desire to decorate themselves, but that it seems many do it with tattoos now instead of with clothes.

It is true that I personally dislike tattoos (and I'm younger than you), but I didn't even really pass judgment on this phenomenon, except to say that I find it kind of weird, if for no other reason than it's happened so abruptly in our culture (over just the past couple of generations).

I could make the same observation about how women often wear flip-flops in situations I find inappropriate, and decorate their toenails with little designs instead of decorating their feet with shoes.

I have no problem believing that you got your tattoos for yourself, rather than for others, since you rarely show them off. (The way you dress also shows how non-conformist you are.)

But, since you mentioned conformity, I don't think your motivations for getting inked are the same as many other people; I think most people get them just because others do. It's funny how conformist most people are -- they used to dress up and not get tattoos because that's what everyone else did; now they dress like slobs and do get tattoos just because everyone else does.

Anyway, I'm glad you feel my post on ASW is worth a post on your terrific blog.

Keep up the good work -- and the good fight against the casual cancer.

Claude said...

Guiseppe et al.,
As someone with a distinct past in punk rock (clearly mentioned in the O.P.H., for those who take that book literally) and as someone interested in my appearance I really enjoyed this post. Very recently, I surprised a few students in my Grad program by wearing my sleeves rolled up-they hadn't known I was tattooed. No negative reactions whatsoever.
I think the classism (at a minimum) that some attach to their comments is a terrible shame, but I suspect that those of us who go our own way in life will be much better prepared to deal creatively and with courage to all the diversity and situations we encounter.
In today's world, those among us who "dress well" are a fading minority, outside of a few specific institutions, which are going to contine to shift demographically as the access to education continues to increase.
Those who protest know this, and it's fine for them to have their opinions. The attitude you seem to convey in your writing is one of FUN, and one of accessibility- knowledge is what is being shared, not just how to buy quality second-hand threads. I think that's great, and I'm going to keep reading.

Anonymous said...


What you fail to understand is that the so-called hate mail is from fans of you and your blog who are appalled by tattoos.

Allow people the freedom to be appalled, please.

Jeff said...

Who's your go-to artist in Boston?

Giuseppe said...


I understand that completely. You are all allowed to experience whatever emotions you may at any time. I just don't take kindly to be called "trash".


Amen, brother.

Anonymous said...

What's with the sass here? Guiseppe wrote an honest post about how *he* feels about tattoos. Also, he's clearly not "trash," so not only are his opinions valid, it's likely that they are, in fact, true.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with tattoos. The worst you can say about them is that, for many people, they're often poorly thought out.

Freedom to be appalled is one thing, loudly passing judgment (especially in such terms) is another. You're free to do it, I guess, but it's not very classy.

Hmm. Whatever.

Anonymous said...

47 this year and have thought about getting a tattoo every year from when I turned 25. May be next year...

DY said...

Well said sir. I too, am a well dressed, tattoo inked man. Some of my friends are as well, male and female.

When we roll deep and are dressed to impress its sometimes surprising to see the looks we get when folks catch the ink.

The way I see it is in a way if I could not see. If I were blind basing my opinion on one's character rather than their physical image.

People with tattoos come in color.

C said...

Great post G. Obviously I like the ink/Ivy connection.

Young Fogey said...


Like many moderns, you seem to confuse disapproval with hatred. It's hard to blame you; it's all we see from a disturbingly large portion of the commentariat, especially in the highly biased news world. However, they are distinct. The main difference, I'd say, is the much higher level of rationality found in the former than the latter.

Although I can appreciate the artistry of some tattoos, I don't have any desire to get one myself. Doesn't mean I hate them. True, there have been some unkind comments in this thread, but nothing approaching the level of real live actual hate.


Yes, I know that tattoos are showing up on all kinds of people you wouldn't expect to have them. I'm just relating my experience (which includes locker room time at some very nice places). I'm sure you'd agree that there are still, and may always be, some segments of society who frown upon tattoos, and members of those segments are unlikely to be inked. That's all.

Johnny pointed out how abrupt the widespread acceptance of tattoos has been in Western culture. It is a natural outgrowth of the leftists' anti-Western Cultural Revolution. They reject everything traditional about our culture (e.g., suits, ties, hats, Christianity, Western literature, Latin, monogamy, moderation, etc.) and embrace everything that is Other (e.g., primitive/ethnic tattoos, hippie-ism, non-Western religions, dashikis, sexual libertinism, "non-conformity," ethnic/women's/queer studies, indulgence, etc.) However, we are seeing a partial rejection of this extremism of the Baby Boomers among the younger generation. Conor is an excellent example of same: married young, dapper traditional dresser, English major, church member--and yet tattooed.

We shall see where the pendulum swings next.

ADG said...

I'm gonna get some more ink, I just don't yet know what/where.

Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate, that the gentleman (and I use the term...loosely)who referred to the author of this fine blog as trash, exemplifies the snobishness that I find relatively prevalent among a segment of the well off. I have no clue of course, what the socio-economic level of the individual poster is, but there seems to be this attitude that if one is not wealthy, one cannot be a "gentleman" or that one cannot dress well without spending excessive sums of money. I am 41, I wear a small silver hoop in each ear, have a shaved head, goatee, tattoos....and I regularly wear bow ties, neck ties and even an ascot on occasion to my job as a outpatient mental health therapist. I have a modest income and a family, so my shopping is often thrift stores and e-bay. This is my favorite blog. Keep up the good work

tintin said...

When I was in the Army there was a bordello in Spring Lake just off Ft Bragg. Actually it was a trailer but bordello sounds classier.

The woman who ran the place had a girl there called the screamer. There was always a huge line for her. I hate waiting in line and asked the madam what she was doing. She told me what she was gonna be doing with me and so I eagerly layed my money down.

There was a tattoo of a red rose around her navel and a green stem with thorns traveled all the down to what she called her, "pot of dirt."

Everytime I went back (and I went back a lot) she would give me a hug and whisper something nice in my ear. I never did get a chance with the Screamer but I'll never forget the Madame's rose tattoo.

I had ambitions of working in what the army called, sterile units. They were used in secret operations overseas, clothed and armed in an assortment of fgn countries uniforms and weapons and you could not be inked less your dead body be reconciled back to the US. I never got inked and I never made it to one of those units. I'm sterile now but for other reasons.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of whether a man or a woman has tattoos, they are not attractive and are a major turn-off. Just imagine what the ink and your skin will look like years from now. You may write what you wish, but it's disappointing - a refined, polished person would never do this.

initials CG said...

Giuseppe, I will shoot you if I catch you walking in Rome with you shirt off, pecks blazing, sporting tattoo's....

Giuseppe said...

A truly refined, polished person would never be so judgemental either.

Tin Tin,

always good for a laugh, buddy.


If I ever wind up walking the streets of anywhere in my undershirt, feel free to put me out of my misery.

Craig said...

I've been reading you long enough to see your tattoos show up in at least one other post, and thought about saying something nice and supportive at that time but didn't. Now, of course, I'll just be another voice in an already over-long comment thread, but: I'm also visibly tattooed (and have stretched earlobes, also) and try to dress well, and it's quite nice to see a well-put defense of the position.

Snobs and haters will say what they will - pardon my French, but fuck 'em.

Jason said...

I am quite surprised by the open hostility and pathetic snobbery seen in the comments section. Especially since no one is forced to look at this blog. People just being mean for the sake of being mean is classless.

I first started looking at this blog specifically because I noticed the tattoos and a mention of skinhead/punk style. I then really came to love the info and attitude that this site consistently delivers. That being said, I also have tattoos. I am sleeved with some pretty brightly colored tattoos. I strive to dress well on a daily basis even though I don't need to (being a chef), but I like our beloved curator of this site, I enjoy looking good.

Kudos to this site. Keep up the good work.

Theo said...

skipping the debate for a second, nice bad brains lightning bolt on the right arm there. one of my all time faveo bands.

Anonymous said...

Good post. I know that my generation (Y) doesn't have any hangups about tattoos. We've been seeing them for our entire lives, in all manner of contexts. Even those who don't want them don't see them as unusual or a class issue, and it's no more about conformity than girls getting their ears pierced is. When a particular mode of self-adornment is understood as a universal option, people will wind up going for it.

I'm another clean-looking fellow with some serious ink - it starts just below my elbow and continues all the way up onto my back. I generally keep it under wraps because I'm in law school... and because controlling other peoples' perceptions is part of the fun.

Tattoos should be judged like anything else in a person's appearance. If they're high quality, original, and complementary to the body, they can be incredibly attractive. I know I've received quite a lot of female approval for mine, and it's not like I'm just hanging out with punk rock chicks either.

The sort of folks who say "it'll look awful when you're old!" are short-sighted - when I'm 80 I expect that my naked arms will be less than lovely regardless of my tattooing.

Whatever. Haters gon hate.