Monday, 17 March 2014

Whatever Happened to the Tramp Stamp?

If you want to understand what the latest trend in tattooing is, visit Bed, Bath & Beyond.  The patterns sold on throw pillows, shower curtains and lamp shades reflect exactly as to whatever the latest trend in the tattoo shop is.

I first noticed this connection decades ago when the hottest trend in tattooing was dolphins and little suns and moons with facial expressions.  The exact same sun and moon patterns customers were asking for were available as tapestries and pillow covers while I was shopping for toiletries.  The following years kanji (Chinese or Japanese words) was what every would be tattoo customer demanded and sure enough, bed linens and shower curtains were festooned with Asian sayings for 'Love' and 'Happiness' and 'Loyalty'.

It's not tattoo artists who dictate massive and sudden trends in tattooing.  Rather, we react to the whims.  The tattoo process is performed by the routine ritual of the client approaching us with an intention and the tattooer interprets that intention with a tattoo.  There was for a long time the process where customers picking pre-made tattoo designs out of flash books, racks or off the wall but now this method of tattoo shopping is nothing more than a vestige of how people shopped in the 20th Century.  Customers prefer to source their tattoo designs on Pinterest, Google Image Search or fashion blogs first, before consulting with a tattoo artist.  Because of this, an echo chamber is created of normalized tattoo trends and it all becomes amplified and builds on top of its self until an over played tattoo turns in to a cliche.  These ubiquitous themes live as some sort of social undercurrent, fleshed out in a weird zone where tattooing overlaps with fashion.

The prime example of a tattoo turned irreparably sour is what's now sardonically referred to as the 'Tramp Stamp'.  That lusty lower back adornment of tribal patterns was staple tattooing for anyone slingin' tats during the 90's.  There was a male equivalent of course - the tribal armband.  Both his and her patterns were as much sexual expression as they were a social statement of the time.

Regretfully, the tramp stamp comes loaded with the burden of being a target of sexual prejudice from the onset.  What's a mildly provocative image for a woman to use to enhance her figure in her youth becomes a target for ridicule, lambasted over the sexual politics of how a woman defines her beauty and sexuality as she grows older.

Of course the latest trend for mildly sexualized tattooing is what I call the 'rib scribble'; life affirming words and quotes tattooed in cursive script on the ribs.  In a bid to prevent an over saturation of what's a technically difficult tattoo to apply on sensitive skin, some tattooers attempted to manufacture a campaign of disqualification for the rib tattoo by dubbing it the new tramp stamp with names like 'ho handles' and 'skank flanks' (my favourite) but traction with that hasn't taken yet.

I deeply appreciate the tramp stamp as tramp stamps kept me in pizza and lap dances all throughout the 90's.  Now rib scribbles pay my mortgage and well, allow me to order pizza.  There will always be customers who are happy to only skim the surface on tattooing.  But sadly if you only skim something. you only see the superficial.

Still, without judgment, I endeavour to do every tattoo, no matter how small, simple, mundane or complex with the maximum of effort I can manage. I wish to do every tattoo as if it were my last, not because each tattoo is my legacy but because I think people deserve it.

Tramp stamps included.

Adam Sky,
Rose Gold's Tattoo
San Francisco, California

1 comment:

  1. I always hated the term Tramp Stamp; great article Adam!