The 1960s were a decade of change: the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and the sexual revolution were part of a shift in consciousness that rejected so-called “traditional” values and demanded social equality and political accountability. For the first time ever, women have actual control over an integral component of their freedom with the introduction of “the pill”. Women are casting off traditional notions of womanhood; in gaining independence they reclaim their bodies in fashion right down to their skin, symbolized by burning bras and eventually, tattoos.

Tattoos still have negative connotations in the eyes of most. Since tattooing was made illegal in so many places in the 1950s, or strictly regulated to the point of being driven underground, it makes sense that those who did get tattoos during that time existed on the fringes of society already: bikers, gang members and associates. This attitude became entrenched and pervades today.

Janis Joplin was one of the first celebrities to have a visible tattoo and it was the topic of many interviews with the singer. Joplin re-defined beauty during her career: having been bullied in high school and then bullied in the press for not being a traditional beauty, Joplin skyrocketed to fame propelled by her utter confidence and talent. She spent more time as the singer for Big Brother and the Holding Company than as a solo artist, but is most famous for her solo career.

Joplin was tattooed by Lyle Tuttle in San Francisco in the late 1960s while singing with Big Brother and the Holding Company: a very visible Florentine bracelet on her wrist, and a secret, tiny heart tattoo on her breast. She claims the wrist piece was for everyone, but the heart was for herself, and also “a little treat for the boys, like icing on the cake.”. After her death in 1970, hundreds of women came to Tuttle to have Janis Joplin’s bracelet tattooed on them, launching the tattoo back into fashion and acceptance.

Ed Hardy was active as a tattoo artist from the early 1960s on into the ‘90s, and claims to have watched his female clientele grow from 5% to 60% during his career.


The muse: Janis Joplin brought tattoos out of the “dark ages” and back into the mainstream consciousness with her blatant wrist tattoo.

Model: Holly Smith

Hair: Katelyn Smolne/The Tenacious Bang

Makeup: Sam Darling

Photography: Dan Bushnell

Art Direction: Dan Bushnell, Sarah Gallagher

Hand Lettering: Sarah Gallagher

Shout out to Victor Moscoso and Wes Wilson,  who spawned a whole new  era in typography and graphic design. The styling of this poster was inspired by the psychedelic posters advertising bands at San Francisco’s The Fillmore in the 1960s.

References and Further Reading

Mifflin, Margot (2013). Bodies of Subversion: a secret history of women and tattoo. Brooklyn: powerHouse.

Janis Joplin at the Tattoo Archive: http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/joplin_janis.html

Portland Centre Stage blog, including link to Dick Cavett interview with Joplin talking about her tattoo and her relationship with Lyle Tuttle: http://www.pcs.org/blog/item/janis-joplin-tattoo-trailblazer/ (forward to the 6:00 minute mark).

Lyle Tuttle official website: http://www.lyletuttle.com/

Tattoo Artists from the 1960s

Jack Dracula http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/dracula_jack.html

Eddie and Ester Evans: http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/evans_eddie_ester.html

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