“I swear I had the idea first,” Kendall Jenner said in a post on her app in July when discussing the nipple piercing she and her younger sister Kylie both have. The trend, that placing studs or rings into one or both nipples, might be popular among today’s young trendsetters, but it is definitely not new. In fact, it dates all the way back to the first century B.C.
“Nipple piercings are a lot like septum piercings in the sense that they’ll be popular for a period of time, then it dies out, then it blows up again, usually once a celebrity gets ones,” Cassie Lopez, a piercer at New York Adorned said in an interview.
The exact details of its history are a bit hazy, but male nipple piercingsreportedly take us back to Ancient Rome where warriors would pierce their nipples as a sign of strength, according to the Encyclopedia of Body Adornment. And prior to the 20th century, both American and British sailors are thought to have had their nipples pierced as they crossed certain latitudes and longitudes.
Female nipple piercings, on the other hand, first rose to popularity in the 14th century during Victorian times among wealthy women who would adorn their nipples with jewels, according to the Encyclopedia of Body Adornment. This trend popped up again in the late 1800s when women would supposedly wear what they called “bosom rings.”
Nipple rings didn’t regain popularity until the punk rock era of the 1970s with the help of piercer Jim Ward, who MTV coined, “the granddaddy of the modern body piercing movement.” And then again in the ’90s with celebrities like Lenny Kravitz, Janet Jackson and Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee.
Throughout the early 2000s, Christina Aguilera, Pink and Nicole Richie proudly rocked the look, but it wasn’t until 2016 that the piercing once again became a full-blown trend.
“Nipple piercings are definitely more popular now than ever,” said Lopez, who has been piercing for over 13 years. In addition to Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Bella Hadid and Rihanna have also been spotted flaunting their nipple piercings, which led publications such as Yahoo to claim “nipple piercings areofficially a trend,” or Glamour which simply said it was “cool right now.”
Part of the reason for the increased desire for the piercing could be the #FreeTheNipple movement that has been rampant within the past two years, even with Kendall Jenner herself.
WTF!? Kendall Jenner nipple piercing 😵 pic.twitter.com/xomuZh1ZWq
— Jeanna Joyce ツ (@zedlavjoy17) June 22, 2016
“I really don’t see what the big deal is with going braless,” Jenner wrote on her app in a post titled “Free the Nipple” after images of the 20-year-old without boob support emerged on the internet. “I think it’s cool and I really just don’t care! It’s sexy, it’s comfortable and I’m cool with my breasts.”
Jenner, Rihanna and Hadid have regularly been photographed with their visible nipple piercings.
“It’s an easy piercing to hide so I think people really enjoy having that little bit of edge without the world knowing it’s there,” Lopez said when asked why she believed the piercing was so trendy as of late.
In addition to the actual piercings that have been flooding social media, nipple piercing clothing, or tees with piercings on them, have gone viral recently with headlines like, “If you’re too scared to get your nipple pierced, you need this T-shirt” and “Now you can get fake nipple piercings thanks to new clothing trend.”
One of the company’s making these products is New York City-based streetwear brand Life in Perfect Disorder.
“Life in Perfect Disorder came to fruition after wanting to expand the business (LPD New York) into ready-to-wear and objects that I feel capture the mood of contemporary New York life,” Benjamin Fainlight, the brand’s founder and creative director, said in an interview. “The idea of piercings came up organically, probably because piercing and tattoo shops are a natural feature in the NYC landscape and hard not to see on a daily basis.”
“The intention never really was to cater to people who are too afraid to get a real piercing nor to follow any trend — the Pierced Nipple Tee just seemed like a seamless extension to the rest of the collection we debuted it in,” he said. “It also fits nicely with our motto, ‘Come As You Are’ — people like the shirt because you’re not covering up who you are, you’re letting people know from the start.”
Though Colton Haynes might tell you otherwise, it seems nipple piercings have remained largely a women’s domain despite first becoming popular among Roman men. Perhaps the trend will soon come full circle with more dudes running to making a piercing appointment.
“Even with the rise in popularity of piercings in general, nipple piercings are still kind of taboo, which tends to make them more intriguing,” Lopez said. “I honestly don’t see the trend dying out.”