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Ever wonder what’s behind some of your favorite tattoo art elements?  Or why sailors got a particular tattoo?  Well stay tuned, because we’re serving up the cure for curiosity.

flash art meanings and symbolism(source: WGSN)

Most of us are aware that the popular style of vintage tattoo art attributed to one “Sailor Jerry,” is actually based upon the tattoos of, well, sailors.  But did you know that historically certain tattoos marked rights of passage and were only allowed when a sailor hit a particular milestone?  Swallows, for example, meant that a sailor had officially traversed over 5,000 miles of ocean, and a dragon meant that he’d crossed the international dateline, or in lay terms sailed to Asia from the West.

temporary tattoos featuring dragons

Other popular flash art elements have more obvious meanings out of context, like the anchor, the heart, and the rose.  Anchors were a symbol of stability for a traveler, and would often be marked with the name of something or someone that keeps the wearer grounded.  Alternatively, they might also be emblazoned with a reminder to remain steady, like the famous phrase “hold fast.”

Not all tattoos have popularly accepted meanings, but by looking at body art history, we can stay connected to our past through the ink that we’ll wear well into the future.


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