Tattoos: Made for Princesses or Pirates

The history of tattoos is a very rich and old one. From traditions to taboo. However, in today and age where it has become more acceptable, we still find it’s a form of art that is divided by opinions. – Tattoos: Made for Princesses or Pirates

Did you know, that tattoos date back many thousands of years? With the oldest discovery of tattooed human skin to date is found on the body of Ötzi the Iceman, dating to between 3370 and 3100 BC.

Tattoos and body piercing are done as expressions of independence, for religious or cultural reasons, or to adorn one’s body

I personally have over 10 tattoos with the first one dating back to 1998. Being brought up in an Afrikaans family and church. I have dealt with my share of opinions and judgment throughout the years. So let’s take a closer look at the art form evolution of tattoos in western culture through the 20th century.

The 1910s

At the turn of the 20th century, the majority of tattoos were found on sailors or circus performers. Young sailors would be tattooed after joining, almost like an initiation. Seaman would also get tattoos that symbolized different achievements. Like the different destinations as well as the length of their journey.

Tattoos: Made for Princesses or Pirates

The 1920s

During this time cosmetic tattoos became very popular among women. Many would get makeup trends tattooed on their faces, as makeup was too expensive to buy. And here we thought we are on-trend getting our lip liner tattooed in 2020. – Tattoos: Made for Princesses or Pirates

The 1930s

Social security numbers appeared in the 1930s. many resorted to tattooing their numbers onto their bodies. However, tattoos were still not socially accepted. Still, only performers, sailors, and criminals wore them.

The 1940s

Tattoos at this point were mostly around military motifs. With an increase in patriotic tattoos, due to WW2. The 1940s also saw the birth of the iconic ‘Sailor Jerry’ style of tattoo, created by Norman Keith Collins. He added colour to tattoos by creating his own pigments and adding them to his tattoo designs.

The 1950s

Tattoos in society shifted once again during this decade. Tattoos became a symbol of masculinity. So, tattoos became trendy especially among “bad boys”. Which still gave it a negative social stigma and if you had one you were more likely to be labelled as a criminal or thug. It seemed society sifted backwards again and it was seen as the mark of the outcast.

Tattoos: Made for Princesses or Pirates

The 1960s

Patriotic tattoos dropped in popularity, due to the Vietnam war, and New York parlours were blamed for the increase in hepatitis throughout the 1960s. Which I’m sure we can safely say was not true, but yip, it didn’t give tattoos a good name.  A lot of people held back on getting inked during this period. Celebrities, however, did not. They had access to one of the best tattoo artists of the 60s, Lyle Tuttle.

The 1970s

Finally, tattoos were really becoming more mainstream and popular, no more just for the outcasts. More and more regular folk started getting inked; it wasn’t just sailors and military men anymore. Tattoos became a form of self-expression through body art. The peace symbol made its mark.

Tattoos: Made for Princesses or Pirates

The 1980s

The 1980s were all about rebellion. Tattoos were brighter and bigger and rock and roll changed the music scene, which had a big impact on the growth of the tattoo industry. People saw their favourite rock artists sporting ink, and wanted to get tattoos to match. Long Live Rock n’ Roll.

The 1990s

The tattoo trends of the 90s were heavily dictated by popular celebrities of the decade. How can we forget Pamela Anderson’s barbed-wire armband? Tattoos made popular in this decade were tribal designs, Chinese letters, and sun tattoos. You weren’t anybody in the 1990s if your tattoo didn’t match one of these super trendy fads; if the Spice Girls did it, you knew it was cool.

The 2000s

Can you say “tramp stamp”? The millennial decade is when we start seeing lower back tattoos explode onto the scene and celebrities like Rihanna steered the tattoo trends through the noughties with star wave tattoos. – Tattoos: Made for Princesses or Pirates

Tattoos: Made for Princesses or Pirates

The 2010s

The 2010s are the pinnacle of trendy tattoos; it’s not just about what you get, but where you get it. Tattoo placement is just as much of a fad nowadays as the designs themselves. We adorned quirky and creative designs and smaller tattoos are on-trend. Making your finger the perfect spot.

The Origins of Tattoos | Why are Tattoos Permanent?


For the 2020s has its own story still to come. And whatever it is, it is clear tattoos are here to stay. And even though the original meanings of many tattoos are lost. However, body decorations such as scarification, tattoos, and piercings have always been an obvious means of distinguishing individuals within a group, and groups within a society. On a personal level, a tattoo is part of one’s identity.

Do I wake up some mornings, and look at some of my tattoos and wonder what I was thinking, definitely. But do I regret a single one? No.

“Show me a man with a tattoo and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past.”
― Jack London

Kim Grobbelaar

Tech Editor

Kim Grobbelaar is a qualified sound engineer who always finds herself around audio and technology. She works as a Product Manager at First Distribution. Kim gets excited about all things tech and is crazy about useful and sometimes not-so-useful "gadgets". She has a strong passion for empowering women for change in our country and runs her own online store. Kim is not a person that can sit still for long, in her spare time she is busy studying financial accounting.

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