Beauty Trends

How Tattoos Have Changed Over the Last 30 Years

This year is Allure’s 30th Anniversary, and we’re celebrating by looking back at iconic moments in beauty from the past three decades. You can read more articles like this one here.

Tattoos have been around for thousands of years. Century after century, they have been considered a mark of self-expression for cultures around the world. But even with such a rich history — and profound meaning for so many people — they haven’t always been socially acceptable or even allowed in the United States.

Less than 30 years ago, it was illegal to get a tattoo in New York City, not to mention a largely taboo topic in many other parts of the nation. Still, that’s not to say tattoos weren’t a popular form of body language. Butterflies and barbed-wire armbands were considered the height of fashion across America in the early ’90s.

Then, within a decade, tattoo television shows premiered to cast a whole new perspective of the industry. With the rise of social media, tattoo artists became influencers. Since then, the artistry has become more refined — and more widely respected. Top artists have millions of followers and year-long waitlists for their signature style of work.

Though the pandemic has complicated the idea of impulse art, the desire for tattoos is as strong as ever — and the future of this fine art is bright. Here, a look back at the last 30 years.

1993: Sleeves of temporary tattoos on Jean Paul Gaultier’s runway helped inspire one of the ’90s’ most controversial tattoo trends: so-called tribal tattoos that are permanent records of cultural appropriation.

1997: “It’s illegal to get a tattoo? I mean, come on,” one local tells The New York Times. Then, finally, the city’s nearly 40-year tattoo ban (blame a 1961 hepatitis B outbreak) is lifted.

1999: Cher gets a laser procedure to remove all of her 16 tattoos. “I had my first tattoo at 27, and at that time it was a statement,” she says. “Now, just about everyone has one, and it’s boring.”

Early 2000s: Fairies and butterflies grace the lower backs of Gen X, framed by low-rise jeans and midriff-baring tops.

2005: The drama! Five tattoo artists open shop (and fight and draw impressive tatts) on TLC’s Miami Ink, a reality show that brings tattoos further into the mainstream.

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