Over the years, tattoo styles and trends have changed.

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In 1984, a woman watches as a client uses ink in a Rhode Island tattoo parlor. 
Mary Murphy/AP

Over the years, tattoos have moved from being a fringe practice to becoming a commonplace. 

Tattoo designs have gone through all sorts of trends — from simplistic black-and-white drawings to body art and sleeves to micro tattoos.

According to a 2019 Ipsos pollAn estimated 30% of Americans own a tattoo. 

Here are some examples of how tattoos have changed over the years, from the traditional sailor’s tattoo to the tribal tattoos popularized in 1990.

New York City is where modern tattoos were born. Martin Hildebrandt started tattooing soldiers in the mid-19th century to identify them in case of death.

A soldier is tattooed while another looks on aboard a ship in 1890.
In 1890, one soldier is tattooed while another watches from aboard a vessel. 

Sources: TimeGrey Journal

In circuses and other freak shows of the late 19th or early 20th century, tattoos were common. Many performers had tattoos.

American circus performer Maud Stevens Wagner, one of the first American female tattoo artists
Portrait of Maud Stevens Wagner (American circus performer, one of the earliest American female tattoo artist in 1907). 

Source: Grey Journal

Black tattoos were a popular trend in the early 20th-century. These tattoos were boldly adorned with graphic images and lining.

Two women displaying their back tattoos in 1925.
Two women in 1925 had their back tattoos. 

Source: Inked Mag

Some people decided that having the number tattooed on the body was more convenient than trying to remember it when the US introduced social insurance numbers in the 1930s.

A lumber worker with his social security number tattooed on his upper arm as a women rests her head on her hand behind him
He is a lumber worker who is unemployed and has his social security number tattooed on the arm. 

Source: Custom Tattoo Design

The butterfly tattoo was popularized in the 1990s, but they were used in England as early as the 1930s.

A woman was tattooed in 1935 in England.
George Burchett (a British tattoo artist) applies a beauty spot to the back of an unidentified woman below a tattoo depicting butterflies at his tattoo parlor in London, England, circa 1935. 

These were the years when tattoos became popular among women. Because of its subtlety, people didn’t realize it at first. The majority of tattoos were cosmetic, and they were used to duplicate makeup. 

These tattoos can include permanent eyebrows and beauty spots, as well as skin-tinted areas. 

Source: Grey Journal

Sailors are among the most well-known early tattoo converts. They used tattoos to tell their stories, or to show where they were.

A sailor aboard the USS New Jersey inspects another sailor's tattoos
In December 1944, a USS New Jersey crewman examines the tattoos of another man. 

Source: Refinery29

Different symbols could be used to signify different things. A turtle meant that the sailor had crossed over the Equator. A swallow signified that they had sailed more than 5,000 miles.

Four men who work as cooks aboard the HMS Belfast show off their tattoos.
Four HMS Belfast cooks proudly display their tattoos 

Source: Refinery29

After World War II, British and American tattooists created a new art form. Their travels to Asia and how tattoos were done there influenced their decision.

British tattooist George Burchett applies a Chinese dragon tattoo to an arm
George Burchett (British tattooist) applies a Chinese dragon tattoo on Private Keaney’s right arm, in Burchett’s London tattoo parlor circa 1940. 

Sources: Inked MagRefinery29

Sailor Jerry (formerly Norman Collins), was one of the most prominent tattooists of that era. His most loved designs were the anchor and ships. He liked American patriotism symbol like the American Flag or bald Eagles.

His tattoo designs remain popular today.

Sources: Inked MagRefinery29

They became more popular in the 1950s due to Sailor Jerry’s tattoo popularity.

A woman is tattooed in 1950
A 1950 tattoo of a female. 

Source: Inked Mag

Tattoos were linked to masculinity in 1950s. Marlboro men, WWII vets and Marlboro veterans had tattoos. Due to veterans being often honored for their sacrifices, tattoos became more common.

Veteran Jack Stapleton, a fireman during the Second World War points to one of many tattoos on his arm
Jack Stapleton, Merchant Navy veteran and a World War II fireman, points out one among the many tattoos 

Sources: Grey JournalCustom Tattoo Design

At that time, tattoos were outside the mainstream.

A tattoo artist at a Rhode Island shop etches a design featuring a heart, flowers, and the name "Jenny" on a client's arm.
A tattoo artist creates a design that features a heart, flowers, and the name Jenny on a client’s arm. 

Sources: Grey JournalCustom Tattoo Design

The 1960s saw tattoos becoming more popular. Janis Joplin was the singer who popularized tattoos by having a Florentine bracelet tattooed on her wrist. This tattoo made it onto the Rolling Stone front cover.

Rock singer Janis Joplin
Rock singer Janis Joplin. 

Sources: Inked MagRefinery29

Although they are not acceptable for everyone, they were an option for many who joined counterculture movements to express their rebellion and individuality. The best part about tattoos was their permanence.

A woman smiles from a table as her husband shows how he applies tattoo.
A woman smiles while her husband tattoos her. 

Sources: Inked MagRefinery29Grey Journal

In the 1970s, more mystical tattoos began to appear — images of castles and fairies, alongside classic biker tattoos like skeletons and flames.

A tattoo of a unicorn in 1984.
1984 tattoo: Unicorn tattoo 

Sources: Inked MagRefinery29

In the 1980s, tattoos became popular in punk culture. Many punks had tattoos to match their piercings and spiked hair.

Two tattooed punks in Amsterdam in 1990.
Two tattooed punks lived in Amsterdam in 1990. 

Source: Inked Mag

Thanks to technological advances, tattoos also became more sophisticated. Tinier and easier-to-use inks were made. People started to treat their bodies as canvases.

Tattoo artist Lannie Glover at work
Lannie Glover, a tattooist at work. 

Sources: Refinery29, Custom Tattoo Design

This is when tattoo sleeves and bodysuits became very popular.

Contestants compare body art at a tattoo show in Australia.
Contestants in Australia compete to have their tattoos compared at a tattoo contest. 

Sources: Refinery29, Custom Tattoo Design

Tattoos have seen a huge boom worldwide in the 1990s. There were 10,000 tattoo artists working in the United States in 1995. In tattoo art, there were only 500 artists thirty-five year ago.

A woman named Rose Pulda showed off her tattoos in 1995.
Rose Pulda from Roseville showed off her 1995 tattoos. 

Source: Refinery29

First tattoos were being done by women. This led to an increase in feminine tattoos like the butterfly tattoo.

A butterfly tattoo.
A butterfly tattoo is applied to the shoulder of a customer. 

Sources: Inked MagGrey Journal

Celebrities greatly influenced the tattoo industry. Pamela Anderson made tattoos such as the barbed-wire armbands very popular.

Pamela Anderson with her barbed-wire armband tattoo.
Pamela Anderson with her tattoo of a piece of barbed wire armband. 

Sources: Inked MagGrey Journal

Celebrities such as 50 Cent, Eminem, Tupac Shakur and Eminem promoted the trend.

Tupac Shakur performs in 1994.
1994: Tupac Shakur’s performance. 

Source: BBC

Cultural appropriation was popularized in this decade as more people began to love tattoos made from Chinese letters and tribal tribes.

A tattoo design on a person's upper bicep with Chinese characters.
A tattoo of Chinese characters on the upper bicep. 

Source: Custom Tattoo Design

New School was a popular fashion trend in 2000s. These cartoony tattoos combined neon colors with more conventional forms.

A man with a new school tattoo on his back in 2003.
The annual New York Tattoo Convention saw a man display his tattoos on his back. It took place in New York City, May 17, 2003. 

Source: Refinery29

It wasn’t only the type of tattoo that was important in the 2000s; it was also about the location. Lower back tattoos were more popular in this time.

A lower back tattoo from 1998.
A lower back tattoo was popularized by 1998. 

Source: Allure

The most popular tattoo design is the famous butterfly.

A man has the Chinese yin-and-yang symbol tattooed on his foot.
On the sole of his foot is the Chinese symbol of yin/yang. 

Source: Custom Tattoo Design

It was a period where some tattoos would probably be regretted later — especially given their permanent nature.

Eric Hartsburg, an Indiana-based wrestler and one-time fan of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who tattooed the Romney campaign logo on his face
Eric Hartsburg, an Indiana-based wrestler is one-time Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s supporter. He tattooed the Romney campaign logo on his forehead. 

FDA approved Picosure Laser in 2012. It made it easy to get rid of tattoos.

A man undergoes treatment for removal of his tattoo with laser method
On April 23, 2022, a Jakarta man receives laser treatment to get rid of his tattoo. 

Source: Allure

Throughout the 2010s, celebrity culture — with the help of social media — made tattoos even more popular. Celebrities like Lady Gaga or Rihanna have helped tattoos appeal to their millions of followers.

Rihanna poses with her tattoos in 2009
Rihanna with her tattoos in 2009. 

Sources: AllureVice

In 2012, 21% of Americans were tattooed.

Darryl Veer, owner of tattoo shop "Tradtoo," looks at pictures of previous tattoos
Darryl Veer, the owner of “Tradtoo”, is seen looking at photos of tattoos done in Lelystad (Netherlands) on January 10, 2023. 

Source: Ipsos

The tattoo artist Dr. Woo.

Tattoo artist Dr Woo in 2017.
Dr. Woo is a tattoo artist. Woo in 2017. 

Source: Vice

Ink Mag identifies micro tattoos as one of the most important trends.

A woman with a tiny hanger tattoo on her neck
A small hanger tattoo was placed on the neck of a woman on February 25, 2016. 

Source: Inked Mag

Popular were tattoos on the fingers with quirky designs, such as hearts, smiley faces, and mustaches.

A love heart finger tattoo.
A love heart finger tattoo. 

Source: Custom Tattoo Design

Geometrical shapes are another hot trend. This tattoo depicts a soldier’s three Middle East trips.

A soldier points to a tattoo symbolizing his three deployments in the Middle East
Soldier Farley Fergerson points to a tattoo that represents his three deployments to the Middle East. 

Source: Allure

Stick-and-poke tattoos — a form of non-electric tattooing — were also on trend. By 2019, tattoos will be in use by 30% of Americans.

A tattoo artist works on a man’s back with the stick-and-poke method
A tattoo artist works on a man’s back with the stick-and-poke method in 2016. 

Sources: Refinery29,  Ipsos

Insider received information from tattooists telling it that the most in-demand tattoo designs are micro tattoos, bold subtle line tattoos and full-color tattoos.

large tattoo
This stock photo shows a male with a lot of tattoos. 

Pre-drawn, white-ink, and tribal tattoos are less common.

Source: Insider

Technology will make it much easier to get and take off tattoos.

A participant gets a tattoo by a tattoo artist at the Land of ink Bangkok Tattoo Convention
Participants receive a tattoo by a tattoo artist at the Land of ink Bangkok Tattoo Convention 22,22 in Bangkok, Thailand. 03/12/2022 

Source: WKYC

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