Once the domain of sailors and bikers, tattoos have unquestionably gone mainstream. A recent Pew Research poll found 40 percent of Americans aged 26 to 40 are inked, and younger Millennials are on track to outpace that figure. The ballooning popularity of tattoos is making it harder to stand out from the crowd.
While uniqueness isn’t the only—or even the primary—reason people get inked, the belief that your tat is personally meaningful has always been an important part of what makes the practice appealing, according to a University of Arkansas study.
If you’re getting an American flag or your college mascot on your bicep, you recognize that plenty of other guys are sporting similar tats. But if your goal is something more distinctive, and you’re worried the tattoo you have in mind might become your era’s Chinese character, here are some of the current trends tattoo artists are seeing in their parlors.
INSPIRATIONAL WORDS OR PHRASES
Maybe it’s a line from a book on the inside of your arm, or a single word on your back. “Any kind of inspirational quote is huge right now, and really fucking annoying,” says Topper, 47, a tattoo artist at Philadelphia Eddie’s Tattoo. “Guys think it makes them seem intellectual or something.”
NATIVE AMERICAN THEMES
“Native American stuff is really popular among hipster dudes right now,” Topper says. While he sees a lot of women asking for a thin, almost childish pencil drawing of an arrow, he says guys are more into rough looking arrowheads.
RUSSIAN PRISON TATTOOS
Blame Viggo Mortensen for looking like such a badass in Eastern Promises. Whether it’s twin stars on the front of the shoulders, or cathedrals, skulls, and other imagery painted across a guy’s chest and stomach, art cribbed from Russian prison tats is in fashion right now, Topper says.
It’s hard to call these “trendy,” because nautical tattoos have always been popular, says Bill Funk, owner of tattoo shops in both Philly and Hawaii. But anchors and ships are currently in fashion among a certain category of young, beard-sporting urban male—the type who probably has as much to do with the sea as a Nebraska farmer.
DWAYNE JOHNSON-STYLE INK
“Celebrities inspire a lot of requests,” Funk says. He singles out Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as one of the most emulated superstars when it comes to men’s tattoos. He says it’s not uncommon for guys to come in and ask for an exact replica of The Rock’s Polynesian shoulder artwork.
OUTLINES OF STATES
National symbols like flags and eagles are always popular. But lately, state symbols—especially the outline of a state—has become a request du jour among men, says Matt Marcus, owner of New York City’s Three Kings Tattoo.
“You see a lot of what I think of as ‘the new tribal,’ “Marcus says. “It’s dot work and really sharp, delicate lines.” These are especially big among athletes and “MMA types,” he says. “They’re these abstract things that highlight parts of their bodies.”
It started among women. But rib tattoos have become pretty popular among dudes too, Marcus says. Topper agrees. “Anybody asking for stuff on their ribs—that’s really fucking trendy right now,” he says.
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