How the Tattoo Industry Has Evolved Since the Early 1900s

You may be surprised to know that the history of body art dates back many centuries and has held an essential place in art lovers’ lives. The tattoo industry has been through a riveting evolution, having been practised since early times. 

So, where did the journey begin, how has this body art transitioned over the centuries, and most importantly, what were the different aspects of the human experience, the anthropological hit over the decades? 

Here are all your answers sealed in a well-detailed timeline on the evolution of tattooing.

The 3300 BC: The ramshackle of the tattoo industry.

The first traces of tattoos to be ever documented stands at 3300 B.C. from the remains discovered in the Alps. Back then, miles away from how tattoos are practiced today, practitioners held their practice by rubbing charcoals further into cuts, along the back, ankles, and feet. 

A Common Myth That Continues To Be Perpetuated Till Date…

The tribal tattoos served more purposes than just being ornamental. It’s true, many tribes did receive tattoos to level up their physical appearances, but this practice is what we can call – the exception rather than the rule. 

Tattoos in this era highlighted social accomplishments. Experts believe tattoos were used even as a medical treatment for pain, as x-rays from this timeline surfaced bone degeneration at the site of every tattoo, but little did they know, their ‘medicinal ways’ will be our go-to means of self-expression. Additionally, they were believed to have apotropaic (evil-repelling) powers too. 

The ancient tattoo practices through these times

Here’s the anthropological hit, contrary to how tattooing is practiced today, needle-and-thread, skin-stitching, and hand-poking were the commons. This is where the pattern was etched with sharp-edged pigment-tipped tools across parts of Arctic and Native North America. Whereas, Asia and America noticed an upsurge in the methods of scar tattooing. Here the skin penetrations were achieved with a lancet, and the pigment was drilled in immediately into the open wounds. 

The 1910’s, 20’s, and 30’s: The conception of the tattoo industry.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, tattoos were considered much more like ordinary and seedy practices. They were exclusively associated with people who were considered rather sleazy and seamy sections of the society like prisoners, circus freaks, etc. – a little cringe-worthy, right?

Well, I do have some concrete evidence to back me up here. For instance, sailors were actively engaging (and at times still do in some cultural sectors) as a mark of their travels or to display nautical tattoos. One is very famous and known by many, is an ‘anchor’ tattoo. All the tattoos related here had well-defined meanings in the maritime community.

The 1940’s: The tattoo industry and World War II.

In the 1940s, the ideas and taboos engulfing the tattoos started to cool down a bit. It was during World War II when men began to get tattoos showcasing their respect, love, patriotism towards their country, and armed forces. Anyhow, women were at war too, which made it acceptable for women to get tattoos. 

This era marks the transition where tattoos weren’t only confined to the so-called freaks, prisoners, sailors, and tattoos gained acceptance and recognition among society. It was just the start of a brand-new art form that was soon to be endorsed, exposed, loved by many.

The 1950’s: The tattoo industry collapses and breaks down.

Only if it was so easy for the tattoo industry to find its feet, the post-war 1950s marked the industry’s downfall. Over these years, tattoos gradually lost all their charisma and found its way back to their roots, which were more or less the times where the art was practised underground!

The 1960’s: The rise of patriotic tattoos in the United States.

We can genuinely define the 1960s as the middle age of tattoos. This was the era of the Vietnam War and women’s rights campaigns. People were getting more aware every second about the civil rights movements, and it was the golden period where television was a magic box, and rock and roll was the devil’s music. 

These were when society was highly troubled by cultures. It was when the tattoo industry started expressing that rebellious spirit of people dividing themselves into categories, social classes, and subcultures. 

However, many never liked the Vietnam War, and many were against all sorts of injustice. So, the only thing which was gaining popularity minute by minute was our ‘peace sign tattoo‘!

The 1970’s: The enduring tattoo period.

The 1970’s, the golden period for the tattoo industry where it gained popularity and became convoluted. This period saw a boom in the full-sleeve tattoo. During these times, the artwork became more and more detailed with every design – artists took interest and started practicing their shaping, shading, and curating depth in their designs more rigorously. 

While artists practiced more freely and art lovers celebrated this period immensely, they were still confined to the limits of the tattoo artist’s designs. See, now you know why plenty of boomers braced for the iconic, eye-catchy Janis Joplin’s tattoo and the wrist tattoo featured on the cover of Rolling Stone.

The 1980’s: The wacky 80’s tattoo fashion.

In this 1980s, heavy-bodied tattoos and long hair became the go-to fashion mantra for many, and the significant reason behind this was probably MTV. This channel inspired thousands of people to get out of their comfort zone to support tattoos pretty much as a way of self-expression while streaming different TV shows, sharing and glorifying punk music, skateboarding, street, indie cultures – this was the thunder of the 80s!

The most popular request the tattoo industry catered to was the tribal tattoos, the thick black line. Simultaneously, the New Schools Tattoos peaked at that point in the 80s, and it was safe to conclude that the tattoo industry’s prime time has arrived! 

The 1990’s: The upsurge of the feminine tattoos.

In the ’90s, the tattoo industry continued to broaden its horizons. It started catering to more requests, and artists began to expand their portfolios!

If the requests of tribal tattoos flooded the 80’s, the ’90s were swamped with butterflies, stars, hearts, and dreamcatchers. This was the era where women actively bragged about their feminine tattoos. 

The tattoo industry of the 2000’s and today.

Till the early 2000s, the idea of getting a tattoo was still growing and evolving. Tattoos – without a doubt – were gaining recognition as the coolest and rad-est thing one can pull off. 

Reality TV and social media contributed heavily to the tattoo industry’s transformation. This advancement of the tattoo industry changed plenty of notions and ill-beliefs surrounding the tattoo industry. Initially, people were scared of contracting diseases from the so-called seedy tattoo artists and studios. And now, even in uncertain times of a virus outbreak, tattoo lovers cannot wait to see themselves back in the studios.  

In simpler words, you can no longer throw a stone without hitting a tattoo studio, and there’s nothing other than the crowded streets sans-tattoo that makes us more conspicuous! 

No more worries! 

There’s no doubt the contemporary and ancient aspects of the tattoo industry surfaces one the most profound intellectual, biographical, artistic statements on the human experience, visual communication, and cultural diversity.

The tattoo industry is growing strong, and I hardly notice any signs of slowing down. Tattoos have become more mainstream with the overall higher presence of tattoos in society. 

Now, art lovers are switching careers to become professional tattoo artists. They are legit degrees supporting the inkwork, tattoo shop software smoothening day-to-day operations for the tattoo artists. 

It’s crystal clear – straight from designs etched in the skins of ancient remains at the Alps to the bright, bold, and artsy designs ink lovers adorn today – tattoos are isn’t skin deep; it’s further ingrained in our cultures and as individuals – and offer deep insights on the progression of the tattoo industry.

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