Tattoos are widely regarded as a highly individual art form, with a person's tattoo being a unique expression of an interest or meaningful part of his or her life. But just because tattoos can be personal doesn't mean that they're all unique. Like any other facet of personal fashion, tattoos go through trends. Certain designs or styles ebb and flow in popularity based on factors as arbitrary as they are fickle, leaving legions of tattooed trendsters inked with kitschy designs in their wake.
Here are some popular trends that over the years have gone from rad tattoos to bad tattoos.
One of the longest-standing tattoo designs is now one of the biggest and most groan-worthy tattoo trends. Tribal designs actually date back thousands of years, according to Richmond Tattoo Shops, and sprung out of the multicultural mosaic of Polynesian, Tongan, Samoan and Maori societies. Contrary to what your average tribe-tatted Gen Xer would have you believe, "tribal" tattooing isn't a singular entity – the practice varied from culture to culture, with each society using different designs on different body parts for varying purposes. Original tribal tattoos were used for everything from identifying tribal membership to denoting social status to displaying military accomplishment. Certain designs were even instrumental in various spiritual practices.
Today's modern tattoo culture has co-opted this ancient practice as part of the "back-to-nature" reclamation attitude common to Generation X. Nowadays, the "frat tat" as it's cheekily known is much more synonymous with muscle-bound gym rats and soul patches than any cultural or tribal significance.
Feathers and dreamcatchers
Another classic example of Americans adopting and appropriating cultural traditions in tattoo form can be found on the ribcages and behind the ears of many millennial women. Feathers and dreamcatchers have made a resurgence back into popular culture through the needles of tattoo shops across the U.S. According to tattoo blog TattooedMartha, the dreamcatcher trend was recently popularized by pop star Miley Cyrus, herself no stranger to questionable tattoo choices. The feather tattoo trend is a recent development, sharing a similar theme of Native American naturalism and wistful freedom so often desired by young cubicle-bound employees.
This is it. The big one. The tattoo trend to end all tattoo trends. The infamous butterfly tattoo is so ubiquitous among young women that it's become the butt of its own joke – the term "tramp stamp" is well known even by those outside the tattooing world. According to Bullseye Tattoos, the design is so common because of its frequent appearance in various cultural mythologies and symbolism. From metaphors for butterflies representing the freedom of the human soul to the more biologically grounded symbolism inherent in the idea of metamorphosis, we've been finding constant comfort from these winged insects for years, and the explosion of modern tattooing has given this relationship a more permanent focus.
Of course, symbolism, like beauty – or tattoos for that matter – can often only be skin-deep. The truth is, butterflies are so ambiguous and widely applicable a symbol that they can be adopted by just about anybody, to mean practically anything.
Many westerners have a special place in their hearts for Asian characters due to the beauty of the visual language. This means that Kanji and Chinese character tattoos are common over here in the U.S. Of course, appreciating a language doesn't mean you can understand it, and as a result, the translation errors and ensuing tattoo regret can be as comical as they are unfortunate.
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