Loos’ Ornament and Crime

Just finished reading Adolf Loos’ article “Ornament and Crime.”

Written in 1908, Loos discusses the place of Ornamentation in modern society.

He stated that the evolution of man and culture was being hampered by Ornament.  What he believed was that Ornament was a waste of man-power, time, raw materials and business capital.

He believed that Ornaments had no place in modern society, socially or economically.

He gives the example of tribal man (Papuans, etc.) and calls their use of tattooing and craft as being primitive.  He further states, that modern men in his society who choose to adorn themselves in tattoos, were degenerates and criminals.

Loos closes his essay with:

 “Primitive men had to differentiate themselves by various colors, modern man needs his clothes as a mask. His individuality is so strong that it can no longer be expressed in terms of items of clothing. The lack of ornament is a sign of intellectual power.”

Loos’ essay can be read in full here: link.


I found Loos’ comments relating to body art and tattooing quite prejudice and uncivilised and therefore I could not agree.

As my example I would refer to Henna or Mehndi skin decoration as an instance where I see beauty.

Mehandi / Henna Skin Decoration

Mehandi / Henna Skin Decoration

For the people who see it as a link to their tradition and past, there is a deeper emotional connection.


Loos, A. Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays, Ariadne Press, 1997, pp. 167-177


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