During the 1910s, it was common for people to get tattooed to tell their personal story. Many people got tattoos to imply their jobs, such as sailors. Nautical tattoos such as anchors and swallows were popular, which were meant to signify the length of a sailor’s journey.
Overall, people with tattoos in the 1910s were seen as outcasts. Those who were not sailors were typically involved in the circus, and would even bring flash examples for other people to get tattooed while attending shows.
It was still very rare to see tattoos on the majority of society in the 1920s, but permanent cosmetics became popularized among women. In order to match the makeup trends of the time, they would get permanent makeup inked onto their faces.
This included tattoos such as permanent eyebrows and lip contour, so that they wouldn’t have to continuously purchase makeup in order to follow the Hollywood trends. Many women kept their ink a secret, as they didn’t want to be judged for being tattooed in a society where it was not yet accepted.
Social Security Numbers
The Social Security Act went into effect in the 1930s, and people had to memorize their own series of numbers. Many people actually viewed getting a tattoo of your SSN as a necessity in order to remember the numbers.
Regardless of tattoos still not being widely accepted, people did not consider people with SSN tattoos as outcasts or rebels. Sometimes, people would even add an artistic touch to the inked numbers, such as an American flag or dog tags. Of course, nowadays, with identity theft… this isn’t really a thing anymore.
Sailor Jerry Tattoos
Tattoo styles were making major transformations in the 1940s, which was when the iconic “Sailor Jerry” tattoo style became popular. A tattoo artist named Norman Keith Collins (aka Sailor Jerry) created pigments and was able to add color to tattoo designs.
This was truly when the traditional style first started, which is still a super popular tattoo style done today by many artists. These kind of tattoos include very bold and colorful designs. It was still common to see nautical and patriotic tattoos, but stylistically things progressed into the timeless traditional tattoo style.
In the 1950s, tattoos started to symbolize masculinity. Although tattoo themes remained similar to previous years, more men were getting inked to be viewed as rebellious.
Stylistically, many tattoos were still bold and colorful (that “Sailor Jerry” style.) The most common designs were anchors and ships, which were commonly placed on the chest.
Janis Joplin's Bracelet Tattoo
Tattoos became far more popular in the 1960s when Janis Joplin got tattooed on her wrist. Being one of the first celebrities to get tatted, many people wanted to get a replica done of her bracelet tattoo as a tribute to her.
Tons of women were also sporting tattoos similar to this style. Aside from that trend, another common tattoo design was the skull & crossbones.
Florals & Intricacy
This is when tattoos began to become a bit more mainstream. Within society at this time, it was seen by many as a method of self expression. People began to get lots of body art, such as full sleeves and bodysuits.
These tattoo designs often contained more intricacy, and were finally viewed as a real art form. Some of the imagery included soft floral pieces and art deco designs. Also, prior to the 1970s, the tattoo industry was mainly meant for men. When tattoos became popularized among women, the industry became so much larger.
Celtic Knot & Tribal Tats
The 1980s were truly an age of rebellion and self-expression. Bold, black designs were popular during this time. Common examples were the celtic knot and the tribal tattoo.
Rock & roll and punk music not only changed the entire music scene, but also inspired new tattoos and an increase in people getting tatted. MTV featured musicians with colorful tattoos, hair, and body jewelry. This encouraged people to express themselves in new ways that weren’t previously accepted.
Tattoos were influenced most heavily by celebrities and music in the 1990s. When Pam Anderson got a barbed-wire upper arm tattoo, tons of people wanted to match the design.
This is when upper arm bands became very common. Chinese letters, as well as the tribal tattoo, also emerged during this time.
Tattoos were safe & mainstream at this point, but we were seeing new placements on the body in the 2000s. Thanks to reality TV and social media, tattoo culture become so much bigger. Shows like Miami Ink & Ink Master attracted many new tattoo clients.
Many people were getting tattoos in new locations - such as their lower backs, shoulders, hands, and ankles. Some of the most popular designs were butterflies, stars, and the yin-yang symbol.
There was a huge variety of tattoos by the 2010s, but there were some trends that stood out. These include the infinity symbol, geometric designs, watercolor, and micro tattoos. Minimalism has become very trendy by this point in time, and is still very popular.
It’s not possible to define one fad at this point, because tattoos have become so normalized by the 1910s that the design concepts were (and still are) endless! There really is no limit when it comes to tattoo designs today.