Tattoo trends: a 20 year perspective


As a tattoo artist with over two decades of experience, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing the ebb and flow of various tattoo trends.

Each era brings its own set of popular designs that capture the cultural zeitgeist. However, as time marches on, these once trendy tattoos can often feel like time capsules, forever marking the era in which they were most popular.

The Evolution of Trends

In the late 90s and early 2000s, tribal armbands were all the rage. They symbolized strength and connection to ancient traditions, becoming a staple for many first-time tattoo enthusiasts. Similarly, the nautical star tramp stamp was a go-to design for those looking to add a touch of rebellious flair to their lower back. These designs were more than just body art; they were badges of identity and style. As we moved into the 2010s, new trends emerged. Drippy bead mandalas, with their intricate and mesmerizing patterns, captivated many. Then came the lions with clocks, symbolizing strength, power, and the inexorable passage of time. Lower arm forest sleeves combined natural beauty with a hint of mystery. These concepts are very alluring and are popular with the masses.

The Timeless vs. The Trendy

While these trends were exciting and fresh at their peak, they often come with a timestamp. Seeing a tribal armband or a nautical star tramp stamp instantly evokes a sense of the early 2000s. This timestamp effect isn’t inherently negative, but it does mean that such designs can feel dated as the years go by.

Imagine being out in public and spotting someone with the exact same sleeve tattoo as you. What was once a unique expression of your style now feels a bit less personal. This scenario is quite common with trendy designs that many people choose during their peak popularity.

That’s why I encourage my clients to think beyond the trends. Use them as a source of inspiration, but don’t let them be the final word. The beauty of tattoo art lies in its ability to be both deeply personal and endlessly creative. Your tattoo should be a reflection of you—your experiences, your style, your journey.

As the years progress, I often get asked to coverup these once trendy designs.

Creating Custom Designs

Working with your artist to develop a custom design can ensure that your tattoo remains timeless. A good artist will take the essence of what you love about a trend and transform it into something unique to you. Whether it’s integrating personal symbols, blending different styles, or creating entirely new patterns, the possibilities are endless.

Longevity and Personal Expression

Remember, a tattoo is a lifelong commitment. By choosing a design that is uniquely yours, you ensure that it will continue to resonate with you throughout your life. And you won’t bump into somebody with the same tattoo as you.