Peak Tattoo: What the Future Holds for Body Art

Is the tattoo finished? AskMen survey

While Nick Kyrgios rather grumpy lifted his runner-up trophy at Wimbledon this summer, style watchers must have been paying close attention – not to his reversed baseball cap or basketball jersey, those sweet rebuffs at All England Lawn Tennis Club, but his arm covered in tattoos. While every other sport has embraced ink, tennis – with its etiquette, propriety and dress codes – has long fought back. But now it’s slowly catching up: if 34% of football players at the 2018 FIFA World Cup had visible tattoos, 9% of the top 100 tennis players now have them too, compared to virtually none ten years before.

But then one in five of the UK population now has a tattoo, according to research by Statista. That’s 30% of all 25-39 year olds; more than one in five people aged 40 to 59 do the same; and nearly one in 10 over the age of 60, with the older generation most likely to still associate tattoos with criminal and outcast stereotypes. A 2019 IPSOS poll found nearly one in three Americans now have at least one tattoo.

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Another survey from the same year even suggests that in certain professions — fashion design, beauty, hairdressing — there is a strong preference among employers for their employees to have a tattoo rather than not (unlike medicine, law, to politics and, surprisingly, the military). The covers of ambitious fashion magazines are filled with body ink. People like Chaim Macklev, the tattoo artist behind the Dots To Lines studio in Berlin (, are now collaborating with corporate giants like Mercedes and Jagermeister. And that must mean something that companies like Cynosure and Palomar are seen as great investment opportunities. These are tattoo removal systems.

Have we reached the peak of the tattoo?

“It’s remarkable how tattooing has changed since I started in the late 90s. Both in terms of the levels of interest from all kinds of people and the type of work you’re seeing now. From super-fine lines to photo-realism, it’s the kind you wouldn’t have thought possible on skin just a few years ago,” says Bodie O’Leary, artist/owner of High Society Tattoo at Margate, UK ( “Tattoos are everywhere and the industry has become very commercial – you now have tattoo artists carving cars for Lexus so obviously it’s all crossed over into the mainstream. Of course from my point of view I can’t never have too much work.

So has tattooing become just another consumer choice, stripped of its exciting association with rebellion, with the underworld and individuality? Have we, perhaps, reached the peak of the tattoo? Those who led the tattoo revival turn 50 in the middle of this decade. Has the pendulum swung, with their children perplexed and somewhat disillusioned by the idea of ​​tattoos themselves? Even those who fell in love with a certain type of tattoo at the height of its popularity – Chinese symbols, Celtic bands, 50s retro – may have regrets now.

“Of course, there will certainly be generational cycles – our children are unlikely to be attracted to tattoos. And people who treat tattoos as clothing or fashion represent perhaps the least ‘sustainable’ way of see the tattoos. But really tattoos aren’t going anywhere. After all, tattooing predates mono-atheism,” says Morgan English, archivist and founder of, a digital gallery exploring pre-mono-atheism tattooing. guard, and board member of the Center for Tattoo History and Culture.

“What we’re seeing is that more people are happy to express themselves using tattoos and there are fewer barriers to doing so – in terms of employment, for example,” adds she. “Really, given their long history, tattoos haven’t really been de-stigmatized until very recently. They’ve been isolated to most people for a few hundred years. And that process of de-stigmatization is still going on. Yes, the market is incredibly saturated now, but that’s fine because tattoos should be for anyone who wants one.

A change of attitude

Indeed, tattoos have seeped into the mainstream of Western society for longer than popular culture suggests, even though they tended to be inked where clothing would cover them. Less than a century after Captain James Cook’s 18th century voyages to the South Pacific and the discovery of tattooed Polynesian islanders – “tattoo” comes from the Tahitian word “tatau” – getting tattoos had become something that appealed to those who enjoyed the higher realms of life: King Edward VII, George V and Tsar Nicholas all had tattoos. Winston Churchill had a tattoo. His mother too. “The Harmsworth Monthly Pictorial Magazine” wrote “strange tales of a strange craze” for tattoos, and that was in 1898. It was later that tattoos became more underground when they were adopted by the working classes, soldiers, sailors and prisoners. . The procrastinating middle classes avoided them somewhat.

But while claims that getting inked is an act of individualism seem increasingly flimsy, where there’s still a shift is toward more individualistic and progressive tattoo choices. The ubiquity of the tattoo has given rise to a new confidence, believes Macklev, a self-proclaimed computer scientist who didn’t get his first tattoo until he was 30, then spent a few years figuring out how to be ” a tattooed person. .”

“What we’re seeing is not that tattoos have reached their peak, but because they’re so much more visible, people are more open-minded about them,” he explains. “You’re not only seeing more people who’ve never had tattoos getting into really big chunks, but also people you might never expect to get tattooed – not the” typical rebels, but people who are sedentary and more conservative in the rest of their lives – get one too. People who never wanted one are now more willing to see tattoos in the light of art, such as contemporary and modern, rather than traditional styles. [of tattoo] who have dominated for so long.

Morgan notes an increased interest in more esoteric tattoo techniques – the revival of nearly extinct tattoo practices like the stick and the poke, for example – but also ingenious tattoo styles that borrow texture and aesthetics from others. media forms, such as painting or cross stitch. , or those that glow under ultraviolet light. More and more tattoo artists no longer come from the traditional background of apprentices, but from formal training in art and design. Cutting-edge tattooing could best be understood as prominent or dominating tattooing, with enough demand to sustain an estimated 10% year-over-year industry growth over the past 20 years.

Take, for example, the tattoos that adorn the body of industrial design superstar Karim Rashid – 23 in all. They are very graphic, to his own design, and more “like luggage or passport stamps,” he laughs. “I developed the language of my [tattoo] icons over a period of 35 years. It was a way to mark my work, to denote my creative contribution [such that] they started to be an integral part of my life, even to the point of tattooing me twice a year with them, each different symbol being done in a different city.

The future of tattooing

Always futuristic, Rashid believes that, far from appearing like an old hat, the tattoo will continue to evolve, through art and technology. He is eagerly awaiting the advent of what he dubs the “smartoo,” a smart tattoo implanted on a genome chip that will store personal information, passport, banking information, etc., give medical diagnoses, serve as keys home and even talk to other “smartoos” within a certain range. It may take a few years – and some will be grateful – but Rashid says they underscore the ability of an ancient tradition to be relevant for the times.

“No, I just don’t feel like tattoos are about to flip to an uncool side. Some scenes might abandon them, the same way hipsters ditched their beards and started growing mullets, but the world of tattoos is just too big now,” says Bodie O’Leary. “People get caught up in this idea that a tattoo has to ‘mean’ or have meaning, or it has to set you apart in some way. But those are just pictures. It’s just something you like, for you.”

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Christopher S. Washington