Although Maori women were also tattooed on their faces, the markings tended to be concentrated around the nose and lips. Although Christian missionaries tried to stop the procedure, the women maintained that tattoos around their mouths and chins prevented the skin becoming wrinkled and kept them young; the practice was apparently continued as recently as the 1970s.
This sort of tattoo is quite a commitment. They involve hours of work in the chair, concentrated effort by the artist and lots of money on the part of the canvas. Sleeves have come and gone in popularity but have gained more popularity in recent years as tattoos have gained traction over the years. Once someone chooses to get a sleeve, they often opt to get another sleeve and often continue by getting chest pieces and their backs done.
Hildebrandt began traveling from camp to camp to tattoo soldiers, making his popularity increase, and also giving birth to the tradition of getting tattoos while being an American serviceman. Soon after the Civil War, tattoos became fashionable among upper-class young adults. This trend lasted until the beginning of World War I. The invention of the electric tattoo machine caused popularity of tattoos among the wealthy to drop off. The machine made the tattooing procedure both much easier and cheaper, thus, eliminating the status symbol tattoos previously held, as they were now affordable for all socioeconomic classes. The status symbol of a tattoo shifted from a representation of wealth, to a mark typically seen on rebels and criminals. Despite this change, tattoos remained popular among military servicemen, and the tradition continues today.
Tattoos used to be the preserve of criminals and toffs. And sailors. In the 1850s, the corpses of seamen washed up on the coast of north Cornwall were “strangely decorated” with blue, according to Robert Hawker, the vicar of Morwenstow – initials, or drawings of anchors, flowers or religious symbols (“Our blessed Saviour on His Cross, with on the one hand His mother, and on the other St John the Evangelist”). “It is their object and intent, when they assume these signs,” says Hawker, “to secure identity for their bodies if their lives are lost at sea.”
Perhaps the main difference between ancient and modern tattoos is that in the contemporary West, a given design’s message is often harder to decipher than those of tattoos rooted in specific cultural traditions. It was easy for fellow Maoris to read meaning in the markings on each other’s faces. But why, oh why, would you plaster your scalp with an picture of a continental breakfast, or ink a puking yellow mouse on your back, as certain bold souls showcased here did? (That’s not to suggest that tattoos have lost their tribal significance. Just look to the tattoos of prison gangs, skinheads, biker clubs, punk rockers, and other subcultures.)
The word tattoo, or tattow in the 18th century, is a loanword from the Samoan word tatau, meaning "to strike". The Oxford English Dictionary gives the etymology of tattoo as "In 18th c. tattaow, tattow. From Polynesian (Samoan, Tahitian, Tongan, etc.) tatau. In Marquesan, tatu." Before the importation of the Polynesian word, the practice of tattooing had been described in the West as painting, scarring or staining.