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Piercing History

Body Piercing, Body Jewellery In Western Culture, A Short History

Body piercing originated thousands of years ago within ancient tribal societies where body piercings were used as a rite of passage and considered a badge of rank. Body piercing disappeared from most western cultures where it was considered the practice of barbarian tribes until the Elizabethan era when sailors came into contact with tribes who believed that ear lobe piercings enhanced long distance vision. This was of obvious benefit to sailors who spent most of their time on the open ocean. Interestingly enough modern acupuncture techniques support this idea. The next major appearance of body piercing came later in the Victorian era when genital piercings became fashionable, allegedly to impose chastity in women and to prevent the male genitals from showing in the tight trousers fashionable at the time. Although the fashion for genital piercings mostly died out after this time ear lobe piercings continued to be fashionable in women up until the present day. The current resurgence of body piercing can be traced back to the 1970's and an eccentric millionaire called Doug Malloy who lived in Los Angeles. He spent his time researching the history of body piercing, practising on himself and seeking out other like minded people. Having found a few people who were interested in the subject, he encouraged them to learn to pierce, manufacture jewellery and set up businesses of their own. These few included Alan Oversby (Mr Sebastian), the father of British piercing, Jim Ward, credited with the invention of the ball closure ring and Fakir Mustafar, co founder of Gauntlet with Jim Ward. During this time there were no guidelines on how to pierce or even jewellery to be fitted into the piercings that they were performing. Consequently they learnt through researching into medical practice and trial and error, more often than not from piercing themselves.

Eventually Jim Ward and Fakir Mustafar set up the first body piercing and jewellery shop in the world. The shop in Los Angeles was called Gauntlet and quickly built up a large customer base starting with S&M practitioners and punks and ending up with people from all walks of life who were interested in body piercing. The business eventually encompassed three shops, a manufacturing unit and a magazine publishers before unfortunately succumbing to financial difficulties.

Mr Sebastian returned to England where he set up a business as a tattooist and body piercer working underground with a few people who knew of him by word of mouth. He perfected his methods relatively independently from his American contemporaries and has had an enormous influence on most of the professional piercers working today. He never left the underground scene to go "public" and was subject to large amounts of prejudice ending up by being charged by the police for malicious wounding for performing piercings.

Strange as it now seems body piercing was almost made illegal in the mid 1980's,the final law stating that it was only legal to pierce someone for "decorative" reasons. Play piercing and piercings done in a sexual context are still illegal today.

Since then body piercing has slowly moved into the mainstream as the population has increased and more people have felt the need to display their individuality. This has lead to a point where today, piercing has become a mainstream fashion trend, popular with a large cross section of society, both male and female, from lawyers to builders to college students to pensioners and seems set to grow into the future.

Alan Oversby (Mr Sebastian)
20/02/33 - 08/05/96