Old School Tattoos
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Old school tattoos might well be called ‘traditional’ tattoos – these are the tattoo images that are immediately recognizable as such and that we would expect to see adorning the arm of an aging marine or biker for example.
In the early years of tattoo art, tattoos were frowned upon by society. Luckily this has changed, tattooing became much more widespread among all walks of life. Old school tattoos never quite disappeared from view, but a few decades ago they did sort of fade into the background. Other types of tattoos – like tribal or Celtic tattoos – were the ones we saw a lot more of.
The last couple of years old school tattoos have been gaining popularity again, up to a point where we can call them trendy. The old school tattoo designs are being adopted by a younger crowd. Grim reaper tattoos and old English tattoo letters are no longer the sole property of a certain element of subculture, like they used to be.
There is a difference, though – the old school tattoos might be the same, but the feeling around them is different. Nowadays, these older tattoo designs are worn with a sense of irony. The old school tattoos are appreciated for their timeless appeal. But the tattoo images themselves are worn in a slightly campy way, and valued for their vintage appeal.
Examples of popular old school tattoo designs include:
- Cherry tattoos
- Nautical star tattoos
- Native American tattoos
- Naked mermaid tattoos
- Swallow and sparrow tattoos
- Pin up girl tattoos
- Heart tattoos
- Harley Davidson symbol tattoos
- Anchor tattoos
- Eagle tattoos
- Fish tattoos (sharks for example)
- Navy and other armed forces symbols
- Dagger tattoos
- Rose tattoos
- Water tattoos
Harley Davidson tattoos are still the property of bikers, but most other old school designs are now found in places where you might never have expected to see them a couple of years ago.
Old school tattoos are usually simple in design, with a lot of black ink and little colour because in the early years of tattoo art there wasn't a big choice of coloured tattoo ink. The old school designs we see today are more colourful compared to the originals, thanks to the evolution of tattoo equipment.
Many of the old school tattoos have a ribbon with text, like a boat with the text "Homeward", a calendar girl with the words "My Ruin" or a broken heart with a ribbon that reads "Busted". Names of lovers or parents were also popular.
Sailor Jerry Collins and the Rockabilly Girls
The foremost American tattoo artist who helped to develop the tattoo designs that are now considered "old school" is Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins (1911-1973).
Sailor Jerry joined the navy when he was 19 and travelled around the world, getting his first tattoos and gaining exposure to the tattoo art of Southeast Asia.
He opened his first tattoo parlour in Honolulu's Chinatown, a place where sailors gathered to drink, pay for women and get tattoos. His tattoo designs are known all over the world and are in vogue again, thanks to the old school revival.
Sailor Jerry died in 1973. The royalties to his tattoo flash are now owned by two of his students, Ed Hardy and Mike Malone. In 1999 they started the company Sailor Jerry Ltd. and use Sailor Jerry's artwork on clothing (t shirts, belts, gloves, hoodies, sneakers), tattoo machines, stencils, playing cards, ...
They also produce Sailor Jerry rum, based on the rum that sailors used to make on board of their ship. The label of the rum features a Sailor Jerry hula girl.
Responsible for the popularity of old school tattoos is the1950s revival in fashion. Started by girls that were into retro, like those from the rockabilly scene, the old school designs got more and more mainstream and thereby reviving the art of Sailor Jerry.
Celebrities With Old School Tattoos
- Amy Winehouse is a celebrity that is tattooed like a sailor. Most of her tattoos have the old school look, most of them are on her arms. She has a horseshoe tattoo, a feather, a lightning bolt and some pin up girls (dressed and undressed).
- Winston Churchill, the famous English World War II politician had an anchor tattoo on his arm.
- George Clooney has a fake (temporary) old school star tattoo on his chest in the film From Dusk Till Dawn.
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