Tattoos hit the Mainstream

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The conservative weekly news magazine U.S. News & World Report, in November of 1997, informed its readers: “Tattoos … have become widely acceptable, appearing on celebrities, in toy stores, and as games on the Internet. In the United States, tattooing was the sixth-fastest-growing retail business in 1996, after Internet, paging services, bagels, computer, and cellular phone stores. Since then, the industry has been expanding by more than one studio a day, a 13.9 percent increase in nine months.” [15]

Public Celebrities

The same month, the Chicago Tribune reported: “Tattoos have begun to appeal to people from every walk of life…tattoo parlors are experiencing a growth trend due to three major changes in the tattoo industry: a greater number of tattoo ink colors, the fact that fine artists are entering the field and the proliferation of celebrity tattoos…because many famous, high profile people in music and sports have tattoos, they have become more socially acceptable.” [16]

Lawyers, Accountants and Homemakers

Florida’s Palm Beach Post, in November of 1997, explained that the local tattoo industry that once catered almost exclusively to “bikers, sailors and topless dancers,” is now applying ornate art works to the skin of “lawyers, accountants and homemakers.”[17]

Professional Athletes

“Professional athletes had a lot to do with the mainstreaming of tattoos,” the Post said. “They made them visible, socially acceptable and desirable.” Sports Illustrated noted: “Tattoos have become the sport’s world’s most flaunted form of self-expression. Ten years ago, only boxers or wrestlers had visible tattoos; today, they are everywhere, in every sport.”[18]

In 1997, when it conducted a preseason survey of all 29 NBA teams, the Associated Press reported that 35.1% of all NBA players had tattoos. [19] Professional sports observers estimate that similar percentages of America’s national league football, hockey and baseball players also have tattoos. Aside from raising the visibility of tattoos, these legions of sports figures — who also constitute one of the country’s largest groups of millionaires — have had a major

Photo: Joseph Graf
The high-profile flaunting of tattoos by rock musicians, movie stars, fashion models and celebrity sports figures has had a major impact on the tattoo business.

impact on the nature of the tattoo business. Much like millionaire rock singers, movie stars and fashion models, they have created a new market for high-end custom tattoo art studios geared to an affluent and demanding clientele that only patronizes vendors who provide high standards of service in clean, respectable surroundings.

Madison Avenue Executives

Other professional groups are also helping support the rise of a new upscale genre of tattoo art studios quite different from those seedy establishments once found only in urban tenderloin districts. For instance, in its May 1998 review of the development of the local tattoo art studios since that business was legalized in March of 1997, the New York Times reported “Tattooing in New York is coming of age…the art form has evolved from drunken-sailor initiation rite to quirky fashion statement…tattoos have moved beyond peace signs for hippies and skulls for bikers. A recent fashion in tribal designs — inspired by the work of American Indians and tribes from places like Borneo and Thailand — is now displayed on the ankles and arms of Madison Avenue executives.”[20]


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