The History of Tattoos: from Prison Tats to an Art Form


The History of Tattoos is really interesting. The oldest evidence of human tattoos was found on mummified skin – dating back thousands of years. Tattoos earned a bad reputation already when the Christians deemed them to be part of the Wiccan faith. However, today, it certainly feels like tattoos have won popularity as well as social acceptance. But how did this happen?

Let’s take a look to History.

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Tattoos throughout history

Between the 18th and 20th century, tattoos could only be found at carnival freak shows and had a negative perception back then as well. Later on, in the early 20th century, tattoos became popular under sailors and marines because they showed belonging to a group. Ink was undoubtedly a must, as the quote from Samuel O’ Reilly, a famous New Yorker tattooist, indicates: “A sailor without a tattoo is like a ship without grog: not seaworthy”.

History of tattoos - Sailors


The Nasty Reputation in the 50s

Nonetheless, it was only during the early 50s when tattoos became a nasty reputation because they were associated with criminals, bikers and other social outcasts. The term “prison tats” evolved and was related to tough and intimidating ex-convicts.


Peace and Hepatitis Changed the Reputation in the 70s

Not too long after, in the 70s, the perception of tattoos had changed into a more peaceful one since people where getting peace sign tattoos to show that they are against the war. However, shortly after this, a sudden hepatitis outbreak forced all tattoo parlor to close down, and tattooing became utterly illegal in New York due to health risks. It wasn’t until 1997 when the ban was finally lifted.


The First Tattooed Barbie Doll was only the Beginning

Things started changing later in the 2000s when Matell brought out the first tattooed barbie doll. More and more people were getting tattoos, and many of them were celebrities, athletes, and known people from the fashion industry, which polarised in the media. 

A study in 2008 found that 24% of Americans aged between 18 and 50 had at least one tattoo. They also claimed that it made them feel sexier. This change helped to get rid of the stigma associated with tattoos and tattoos became more popular than ever before. 

Tattoo Woman Style Glamour Alternative Lifestyle Concept

The history of ink is certainly fascinating since it has been such an inherent part of so many cultures and used for many different purposes, such as medical healing. What we can definitely say by looking at the history of tattoos is that they might have become trendy in the Western world only in the past fifty years. However, now are certainly socially acceptable.

We at love tattoos and want to offer a platform for all tattoo lovers by launching the Fresh Faces Tattoo Contest.

Make sure to check out our contestants, vote for your favorites and if you have tattoos, you should definitely apply now!