How the skull symbol revolutionized biker fashion

Posted by lionel michelangeli on

How the skull symbol revolutionized biker fashion

How the skull symbol revolutionized biker fashion

Once associated with the dark and morbid world, skulls are now redefining the fashion industry

Skulls were once legends of forbidden territory sinister symbols, but are now used prominently as fashion statements. From trendy kids shirts to skull helmets, skull boots, skull leggings, bracelets, skull earrings, and skull hoodies.

If you love fashion, you'll notice something that hasn't changed in eons: the remarkable emblem of a skull. It is undeniably the same regardless of the type of mode at any time.

The fashion world is dynamic. Every once in a while, new tastes appear and disappear in no time. But oddly, this doesn't seem to affect the evergreen skull symbol which is revered by many in the fashion industry. The skull symbol is the most consistent image of all fashions, resisting trends that change in the blink of an eye.

I like to think that the deep fascination with skulls is what makes them last longer. Also, something else must make it so special despite its association with death, mortality, and the afterlife. So what is special about skull symbolism? To fully understand this, we must first dive into its past history.

How the skull symbol revolutionized fashion

History and symbolism of the skull

The enduring image of a skull has been around for centuries, dotting many cultures around the world. It is unclear how the human skull broke the mold in the mainstream fashion industry. But many believe the biker gang subculture was the first to put it in the public domain.

The skull motif has become ubiquitous among bikers and they just couldn't get enough of it. They etched the skull emblem into all fashion assortments including jackets, t-shirts , rings, helmets and more prominently on their bikes. They even had a skull tattoo on them.

Today, bikers adorn themselves with skull stickers, skull seat covers, skull patches, skull jewelry and other skull accessories, along with their bikes, in a show of uniqueness and an unwavering commitment to motorcycling. It also shows their loyalty to the club and the fraternity. A motorcyclist pledges to carry on the legacy and pride until death.

Too cool for school, the skull was adopted by Hollywood, which further cemented its use in fashion. Today, the symbol is everywhere. Celebrities wear skull clothing , including hoodies and other skull fashion items on the grandest of stages.

But where did it all start? The earliest known use of the skull symbol dates back to the 16th century. German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer was one of the first artists to remind people of their mortality by using skulls in his paintings and woodcuts. His work, which included engravings, portraits, and altarpieces, featured the symbolism of the skull. Some of his famous works such as the Knight, Death and Devil master print featured a skull symbol engraving.

Many people avoid kissing the skull due to its association with darkness, danger, and mortality, but that's just the surface of an ingrained symbolism. Skulls have been used in many ancient cultures to convey unique messages and symbolize later meanings.

Arts and Culture

The lethal association of the skull symbol did not begin now. As early as the 16th century, literary geniuses like Shakespeare used the skull to represent death. A classic example is when the skull of Yorick, in the play Hamlet, is used to evoke the question of life and death. It helps the main character reflect and meditate on the unifying experience of death and emphasize that all humans must go through it.

For a long time, the use of the skull motif was accompanied by "Memento Mori"; a statement in Latin that translates to "Remember that you are going to die." The mantra was used during medieval Christian Latin to reflect on mortality and to emphasize the transitory nature of life and the things of the world.

Even more gruesomely, the skulls of dead enemies were used as drinking vessels in ancient rituals in England.

In recent days, human skulls have been used to represent a dystopian society taken over by aliens, machines or robots. The movie 'The Terminator' blatantly shows a pile of human skulls after machines defeat humans. Heavy use of symbolism is also represented in major franchise films such as the sequel to Nicolas Cage's ' Ghost Rider '. Notably, his bike is adorned with skull symbols and cool skull designs that resemble the human exoskeleton.

Skulls have come a long way to represent bravery and a relentless fighting spirit as used in military uniforms ranging from United States Special Operations units to other military gear.

The Jolly Roger flag is a symbol synonymous with pirates and traces its history back to the 1710s. It consists of a skull with crossbones and was one of the first fearmongering symbols used by pirate captains. Famous French pirate Emmanuel Wynn used the skull and crossbones in his ship. The ubiquitous use of the skull in fashion is quite often associated with the wildly popular Pirates of the Caribbean sequel starring Johnny Depp.

While many people will quickly associate skull symbolism with the dark world, in some cultures the skull is a symbol representing the afterlife and mortality. For example, a skull with wings symbolizes a spiritual experience of freedom and transcendence. It also reminds people that the afterlife awaits their soul.

For centuries now, the Christian religion has retained the symbol of the skull to remind mortals of their afterlife and the celestial paradise that awaits them. Christian saints are often depicted with crucifixes and skulls.

The hidden danger

The sinister origins and blatant association with the underworld have made skulls a major danger sign. In contemporary usage, the skull is often the go-to symbol for warning others of potential danger that may encounter them. For example, toxic items have a skull and crossbones symbol to indicate death and deadly consequences. Pirates use the symbol in their flags to warn others of impending danger if they decide to lock horns with them or refuse to give in to their demands.

Charms and reversal of misfortunes

Contrary to popular association with bad luck and misfortune, skull symbolism has been associated with luck in many cultures. It has been referenced in ancient works of paintings, writings, prints, and other media discovered by anthropologists.

Many cultures, such as the ancient Aztecs, were known to use the skull symbol for good luck. Also, they carved skull designs into stone carvings, wove them into clothing, molded them onto pots, and formalized them into hieroglyphics.

Even in a more contemporary application, players use the symbol of a skull with the roll of a dice, coupled with the number seven and black cats. This arguably grim depiction is believed to reverse bad luck, and if the player has had a bad streak, they will eventually hit a frenzy of wins on the table.

The Celts used skulls to represent the throne of power and revered it as the house of the soul. Other primitive and ancient cultures used skulls to celebrate the memory of their deceased relatives and as a lucky charm that would ward off misfortune, evil, disease and other disasters. Apart from providing welfare and protection, ancient cultures wore skull ornaments as a fashion sense, which was pretty cool back then as it is today.

heavy metal music

Popular subcultures have long used skull fashion and symbolism to represent nonconformity, rebellion, free-thinking, toughness, and bravery in the face of danger and death. A classic example is the ubiquitous use of skull motifs in heavy metal music, and more recently in 1980s grunge music.

The vivid imagery of the skull used in heavy metal as a genre evokes a sense of freedom and seditiousness that legions of fans can relate to as well. Also, heavy metal mascots have played a major role in the musical genre, including some of the very popular mascots of popular bands. For example, Chaly from Overkill is a monstrous mascot with bat wings on a flying human skull. Does that sound badass enough to you? The mascot is surely a harbinger of fate with its dazzling skull fashion integration. Other heavy metal mascots that use skull symbolism include Vic from Megadeath and the creepy Eddie from Iron Maiden.

Haute couture

Haute Couture is a high-end fashion category that involves the creation of bespoke garments made entirely by hand. Usually, the clothes are created by the biggest fashion houses to satisfy a luxurious clientele. In what is considered a stroke of genius, British fashion designer Alexander McQueen introduced the skull to this fashion category. He personified a rebellious style which added even more to the popularity of the skull symbol. Many of his subsequent designs included the skull symbol in a prominent way that it was so easy to notice.

The growing popularity of her design has become compelling in the fashion industry and her trademark skull in Haute Couture has become a lasting legacy. Today, the Skull print scarf pioneered by Alexander McQueen is a hot piece of cake in the fashion accessories category. Other fashion designers embodied the steps of McQueen like Ed Hardy, Lucien Pellat-Finet who incorporated the motifs of human skill in their designs.

What does the motorcycle skull mean?

The deep appeal of skulls finds perfect expression among bikers around the world. From vintage Harleys with skull grips, to skull helmets, skull rings, skull boots, skull hoodies and bracelets, skull leggings, you'll find the skull symbol ubiquitous and enduring. But what does this mean for motorcyclists? Does it represent death? Obviously, for those unfamiliar with the bike subculture, the skull symbol may seem incongruous and in fact opposite to what it is supposed to mean. But the reality is far from it. Unlike the symbolism used in popular culture, skulls in motorcycling serve many purposes, including:

  • Commitment till death - riders are passionate about their lifestyle and their choices and the skull is the perfect emblem that represents their dedication to motorcycling and helping others in their club.
  • As a symbol of identity, the contemporary use of skull symbolism is almost synonymous with bikers. Even the logos of motorcycle manufacturers such as Harley-Davidson have logo variations that use the skull symbol. Also, the skull symbol helps to identify other bikers and chase away people who do not identify with the group of bikers.
  • A visual hallmark of fate - the skull symbol is a constant reminder of our mortality and that death accompanies everyone at all times, no matter how safe your ride.
  • Continuity even after death - the skull is often seen as a symbol of mortality, but it can also represent continuity even after death. Consider this: once there is death, the flesh wastes away in the earth and what is left is the skull and bones. The human skull remains unchanged and is instantly recognizable regardless of the passage of time. For motorcyclists, the skull is a timely reminder that they can enjoy the moment, have fun with the hope that the Brotherhood will continue long after they are gone.
  • How the skull symbol revolutionized fashion
What is the future of the Skull in fashion?

The universal appeal of the skull symbol shows no signs of waning. The use of skull patterns in fashion will continue to dominate and break new boundaries. Historical value, symbolic meanings, references and diversity add to the rich tapestry of this ancient and enduring symbol. The skull is not only a representation of art, but also a record of our past history.

Today, the dark associations are beginning to crumble, and many people are embracing the symbol in their daily lives. Whether you want to look cool or embody your nonconformity, the skull emblem is a perfect way to express your feelings, thoughts, and aspirations.

Maybe the skull face will one day be used in banknotes? I'm sure it's not that hard to imagine that possibility.

Traditional celebrities wear skull clothes, skull earrings and rock them everywhere they go. Major franchise films such as Pirates of the Caribbean have made strides in spreading the use of skulls. If Johnny Depp is one of your favorite movie actors, I'm sure you'll have no problem donning a skull t-shirt or headgear.

How the skull symbol revolutionized fashion

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