Tattoos are an enduringly popular form of body art and for centuries men and women have daubed their bodies with ink designs, from tribal patterns to complex designs featuring dragons and all manner of mythological imagery.
Centuries ago, tattoos were primarily used as a way of identification: high-ranking members of the tribe wore inked symbols to mark their status. Today tattoos are strictly a fashion accessory and over the years different tattoo designs have dropped in and out of popularity, depending on the fashions of the time, but as tattooing inks and equipment have improved, designs have become more complex.
What were the tattooing styles from the 1980s?
If you take the time to examine how tattoo designs have changed over the decades, it is possible to spot a link between tattoo art and the fashion of the time. In the 1950s and 60s, tattoos were primarily seen on men. Bikers and gang members wore tattoos to mark their allegiance to their brotherhood, and prison convicts had tattoos inked for much the same reason.
The 1980s was a decade of big hair, big shoulder pads, and power dressing. Dallas and Dynasty were on the TV and power ballads were storming the charts. Madonna was Like a Virgin, Bon Jovi rocked, Dirty Dancing had everyone crying at the cinema, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were the coolest thing since, well, Scooby Doo!
What tattooing styles developed in the 1980s?
The 1980s was such an iconic era that people who came of age in the 1980s can usually remember every single thing about their favorite decade. Of course, TV programs and music was not the only memorable thing about 1980s: tattoos were just as striking.
Tattoo designs in the 80s became more exciting and slowly evolved from the monochromatic designs popular in the previous decades. Instead of just one or two colors, tattoo artists had a whole rainbow of different colors at their disposal, and so tattoo designs because brighter, more colorful, and a lot more creative. Clients no longer had to choose from few standard designs—instead they could take in their own designs and look forward to a more unique and creative tattoo as a result.
Fresh ideas and new technology lead to exciting designs and radical tattoo imagery. Out went the pin-up girls and anchors and in came tattoos featuring images from popular culture and finely drawn works of art. Health codes were implemented in tattoo parlors and safety became paramount, which meant that tattooing was no longer seen as a risky pursuit and the average man on the street was happy to have his first inking done.
Indeed, prior to the arrival of an international convention of tattoo artists, the Governor of California issued an official proclamation declaring, “At a time when these artists from around the world meet in California to share, teach and celebrate their skills, it seems appropriate to remind Californians that the tattoo is indeed one of the most ancient arts.” Or in other words, the art of tattooing was just fine in the eyes of the State of California and the Governor considered it “fine art” as opposed to a subversive art form.
The art of tattooing was even the subject of articles in the mainstream media and in 1986, an article on tattooing appeared in the Wall Street Journal in which the journalist described how the tattoo as an art form had evolved from “mediocrity” that was widely considered to be a “sleazy perversion”, into something that was now “just another form of self expression”. Or in other words, everyone and their uncle had, or was considering having, a tattoo.
Whereas tattooing was once seen as socially unacceptable for any but the lower classes, tattoo art began to slowly infiltrate through the middle classes and by the second half of the 1980s, tattoos were being viewed as edgy, exotic, and above all perfectly acceptable on people of any gender and background.
By the end of the 1980s, tattoo art had well and truly become a part of mainstream culture and, as Esquire noted in 1989, even serious artists were trying their hand at tattoo art, with designs appearing in coffee table publications and museums: “Fine art tattoos…appeal to an affluent, well-educated clientele…” And instead of selecting a design from the wall, the client goes to the tattoo parlor with an image, and working together with the tattoo artist, a work of tattoo art is created in the same way “as an art patron would commission a work of art.”
Tattooing and celebrity in the 1980s
Tattooing and celebrity culture has been linked since the early 1960s when Lyle Tuttle gave Janis Joplin her immortal heart tattoo, but by the 1980s, many more main stream celebrities were embracing the art of self expression by having a tattoo inked on their body. Cher was one of the big names in the 1980s to have a tattoo—she had flowers drawn on her cheeks. Rock bands were also frequently seen flaunting their many tattoos in the 1980s and heavy metal bands in particular were keen promoters of the art of tattoo.
What tattooing styles were popular in the 1980s?
The 1980s was the decade when old school tattoos evolved into new school tattoos and there is a distinct difference between old-fashioned tattoo designs and more modern tattoo designs predominately seen from the 1980s onwards. In the good old days of tattoo art, people tended to choose a tattoo from an existing design. These old school tattoos were typically simple words such as “Mom” surrounded by a flower or banner; pin-up girls with large breasts; anchors; hearts; ships, etc.
However, as the 1980s dawned and tattooing became more of a socially acceptable art form, tattoos were no longer only for sailors, soldiers, convicts and bikers—people from all walks of life were heading out to their local tattoo parlor for a tattoo. As the decade progressed, although tattoos and body art were still associated with a certain lifestyle, they were far more common than the previous decade and women were increasingly choosing to have tattoo artwork drawn on their body.
The new school style of tattoo art took over from the more traditional designs seen previously, and instead of simple designs featuring ships, pin-up models, and roses, customers were able to have more complicated tattoo designs that combined multiple tattoo styles in the same work of art.
Tattoo artists began to experiment with ink techniques and designs evolved into ever more complicated pieces. Traditional colors such as red, green, blue, and black were superseded by a rainbow of different hues as inks and tattoo technology became ever more sophisticated and tattoo artists grew more skillful
What are biomechanical tattoos?
The 1980s was the decade where biomechanical tattoos first became popular, although biomechanical tattoos have continued to evolve long after the decade came to an end. Biomechanical tattoos are designs based on the artistic concept of merging flesh with machine. This type of tattoo is often a highly detailed three-dimensional design that features realistic imagery of what might lie beneath the skin should the flesh be peeled back.
The best way to describe a biomechanical tattoo would be to imagine a part man, part machine hybrid. If the flesh and blood part of the being were partially stripped away, you would see metal components and wires instead of bones and tendons. In a sense, biomechanical tattoos are science fiction meets art—which is exactly where the inspiration for this type of tattoo comes from.
Early examples of 1980s surrealist bio-mech tattoos were black and dark line and shade drawings that were heavily focused on the creation of a realistic interpretation of flesh meets machine. Many early biomechanical pieces of tattoo artwork were heavily influenced by the graphic art of H.R Geiger, a highly influential creature designer whose work is perhaps seen to the greatest effect in the infamous 1980s sci-fi movie, Alien.
Biomechanical tattoos are also linked to the French “trompe l’oeil style of artwork, from the French word meaning “trick of the eye”. Such works utilize detailed imagery that is so realistic it is almost three-dimensional, which of course is perfect for rendering exquisitely drawn biomechanical tattoos.
Since the early days of biomechanical tattoos in the 1980s, the style has evolved and changed to suit modern tastes and fashions. Although early tattoo pieces were often inked in monochrome blacks and shades of grey, more modern biomechanical tattoos are lighter in theme and are much more likely to feature bright colors and “fun” elements.
For example, a modern biomechanical tattoo derived from designs seen in the 80s would not feature robotic mechanisms beneath a tear inked across the skin; instead, a tattoo artist might draw an open zipper from which pretty colorful butterflies are tattooed fluttering out on a trail of brightly colored ink.
There is of course much more inspiration to be drawn from the biomechanical tattoos of the 1980s. Perhaps the customer wishes to show a strange mythical creature lurking beneath their skin, or even allow viewers a sneak peek of a shoal of fish swimming up their arm. The possibilities are endless and limited only by the collective imagination of the customer and the tattoo artist.
What other tattoo styles found popularity in the 1980s?
Dark, bold geometric tribal tattoo designs became popular in the United States in the 1980s. Tribal designs of tattoo have long been an important symbol of body art across different cultures from the dawn of early civilizations. This style of tattoo is typically based on geometric patterns, lines and curves, and although simple designs of tribal tattoo can be extremely effective, the more elaborate tribal designs are often extremely beautiful.
Since the 1980s, tribal tattoos have increased in popularity greatly and today, tribal designs of tattoo and one of the most popular. They can be inked on just about any part of the body. Tribal bracelet designs are typically seen on upper biceps and wrists, but larger geometric, bold tribal designs look great on large expanses of flesh such as the back or chest. Tribal designs can even be used to cover up unwanted older tattoos.
I want a 1980s themed tattoo – what should I go for?
For anyone who fancies a 1980s themed tattoo, the world of mass media is a great place to start looking for inspiration as there are so many iconic images from the 80s that you will be spoilt for choice. Any adult who came of age in the 80s can probably recall a million and one TV shows or characters they loved. Perhaps you were a huge fan of Ghostbusters or ET—or maybe you can think of nothing more exciting than having a tattoo of a young Madonna on your shoulder?
However, if you want a more tasteful 1980s inspired tattoo, it is probably a good idea to skip over the whole Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle revival theme and choose a tattoo you can actually live with. Tribal designs are still fresh and modern, despite gaining immense popularity in the 1980s, so you could do a whole lot worse than have a stylish tribal tattoo design inked somewhere on your physique.
1980s inspired biomechanical tattoo designs are also another great choice for those who still look back to the 80s with a sense of fondness. You might not want a dark and macabre inking of an alien cyborg limb on your arm, but something a bit lighter in tone would certainly be an acceptable alternative.
But above all, 80s themed tattoos are often very much about “fun”. Think light, bright, and colorful and you really cannot go too far wrong when coming up with a 1980s inspired tattoo design for a part of your body.
I have a 1980s tattoo I hate – what can I do?
And if you succumbed to the lure of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle tattoo, you have three choices: live with it, have it covered up with something more tasteful, or spend a lot of money having it removed with laser treatment.