Skulls and bones: Flag of Inconvenience
The skull and crossbones image immediately reminds us of pirates of old with the flag itself bearing the name Jolly Roger.
It seems that the name “Jolly Roger” has been translated by the French “jolie rouge“; for others, however, the name of the flag comes from one of the devil’s names: Old Roger. Originally used to adorn graveyard headstones to ward off evil spirits the symbol soon found its way to sea.
Today we know it as a skull facing two crossbones, but at the beginning the pirate flags were not all the same: many had a red background to symbolize the blood, others brought different designs.
Among those gone down in history, in addition to the classic skull and crossbones, there is the one with an arm that holds a scimitar, the one with a pirate toasting with death, dancing skeletons to symbolize the mocking spirit of pirates in front of death, or still a skull that dominates over two crossed swords.
In many flags there is another symbol dear to the pirates: the hourglass, a sign of the fast passing of time, and consequently of the approach of death; on the flag of the legendary “Blackbeard” pirate, Edward Teach, appeared a skeleton holding an hourglass in one hand and an arrow in the other, in front of a bleeding heart.
But one thing is certain: whether it was black or red, when you saw a pirate flag appear on the horizon, you knew it was not going to end well.
In fact, the pirates used the flags to “communicate” with the ships that were approaching: usually, to approach an unfortunate ship, pirates would raise the flag of an allied state and only once in proximity, the true intentions were revealed through the Jolly Roger.
Sometimes just showing the symbol of piracy was enough to scare the crew of the ship that was intended to loot, so that it surrendered without fighting. In the case in which, instead, there were signs of fighting, the red flag was hoisted, symbol of an imminent carnage.
During the Second World War, the British Royal Navy submarines returning to port and American planes used the Jolly Roger to indicate a “kill”The pirates of folklore might have passed but the highways of the sea are still stalked by pirates, more likely in a fast boat and having no need for the show of a flag to announce their intention.
Its use in the last 100 years is more related to the underworld and sub culture. In some cases, it is used as an esoteric symbol, such as the secret and elitist society of Yale “Skulls and Bones”, founded by students of the prestigious University in 1832. It is said that people who became very influential were members during the university period , including the two presidents Bush. The strange rituals that are said to be practiced inside their building, called “The Grave”, have always fed many stories, legends and conspiracy theories.
But mostly, the famous skull with crossbones has quickly moved from a symbol of death to a more underground and rebellious fashion code: worn as a tattoo as a symbol of freedom and adventure, drawn with the marker on punks’ leather jackets, proudly sporting motorcycle patches or place to decorate many rock and metal albums.
The skull and crossbones represent the freedom of not conforming to society, the bravery to stand out of the crowd.
Underground has always been drawn to the Skull and Crossbones. Although the skull and bones has been used by many in fashion, few can consider themselves truly represented by this as it represents a lifestyle and contains a story that Underground knows well and that has been leading for thirty-five years.
There is no ownership of the symbol and no bragging rights-it belongs to all that are truly rebellious- the outlaws the outcasts and the outsiders.
When we started looking at this, we hadn’t realised how big a part the symbol had played through our products over the years. Time for a quick review.
Words by Federica Diaz Splendiani