Tramp Stamps and Other ’90s Tattoos Are Making A Comeback, Artists Say
From tribal to barbed wire, nostalgic ink is back in style.
If you grew up in the ’90s, you may have never expected to see the tramp stamp — that lower-back tat that sits just above a low-rise jean line — come back in style. But, you probably also wouldn’t have predicted the return of those low-rise jeans, either. Against all odds, the tramp stamp, along with other ’90s tattoos, is making a comeback.
While tattoos have been around for thousands of years, according to Smithsonian Magazine, the ’90s had its own particular styles, including barbed wire, tribal, and cartoons from the era. Tatted up pop-culture icons, like Dennis Rodman and Pamela Anderson, sent people to tattoo parlors in droves, according to tattoo website NAAMA Studios.
Today, three out of every ten Americans have at least one tattoo, according to an Ipsos poll, and the industry is now the 6th fastest growing in the country, according to Fortune Business Insights. With more and more people opting for permanent ink, they’re looking back to decades past for inspiration.
“Like with all trends, I think things become ‘retro’ after about 30 years and become cool again,” Australian tattoo artist Clare Clarity tells The Sydney Morning Herald.
Here are six ’90s-inspired tattoo trends to check out next time you’re thinking about some ink!
1. Barbed wire tattoos
“Barbed wire tattoos were first associated with people in prison, however thanks to the re-emergence of celebrities like Pamela Anderson, they are back in vogue,” explains Mikhail Anderson, owner of First Class Tattoos in New York City.
We can thank Pamela Anderson for this trend taking off back in the ’90s, referring to the ink that was wrapped around her left bicep as “feminine.” In 2014, she had it removed, but maybe she should have kept it. Now that the Baywatch star is back with a new documentary and book, the barbed wire tat is back, too, but with more ornate designs.
2. Tribal tattoos
With more than 700,000 Instagram posts with the hashtag #tribaltattoos, it’s clear this tatted trend is back, but with a more evolved spin.
“Tribal tattoos also appear to be growing in popularity, albeit this time the younger generation is using this style of tattoo to reclaim and highlight their own cultural identity, rather than appropriating others,” says Anderson.
3. Chinese characters
Chinese characters were a popular choice back then, but regret for them was about as likely as the morning after a one-night-stand. Why? Because the internet and Google specifically — which didn’t emerge until 1998! — wasn’t readily available during that time period, so people were frequently getting letters that meant something different than what they thought. Yikes.
Now, in 2023, we have the technology to prevent that from happening. “First things first, make sure the letter you choose has the right translation by going on Google images and finding at least three images that say this means what it does,” explains Jay Laviolette, owner of Pure Ink Fury in upstate New York. “It’s not up to your artist to make sure it means what you want it to, you need to do the research first.”
4. Sun tattoos
Sun tattoos were all the rage back then, and in one spot in particular. “People would ask for sun tattoos like for example around the bellybutton, which is not ideal because if you’re young and haven’t had kids yet, the stomach is an area that will stretch and it may not look right,” explains Laviolette. “You’ll often see people coming in to have those re-done.”
So, if you’re thinking about this one, heed Laviolette’s warning and choose another spot, instead.
5. ’90s cartoon tattoos
Bring on the trolls, He-Man, Taz (aka The Tasmanian Devil), and other ’90s cartoon tattoos are also reemerging. “All the nostalgic pop-culture stuff is coming back around, and people are rediscovering it in the tattoo realm as a lifelong fan. We are seeing a lot of requests for stuff like this,” explains Laviolette.
6. Tramp stamps
“If it never started being called a ‘tramp stamp,’ I believe it would still be one of the most popular spots for tattoos,” says Laviolette of perhaps the most taboo tattoo from the ’90s. “That said, lower back tattoos are re-emerging as a popular spot but not with the same designs as in the ’90s, because it was and still remains, so taboo,” he adds.
So what exactly makes it a ‘tramp stamp,’ if not for the placement? “It’s not the placement itself necessarily, but the combination of placement and designs like those tribal styles, or symmetrical swirls coming off the sides of a butterfly or a heart, for example. People are avoiding those now, but getting inked in that spot more so recently.”