Top 10 Old School Tattoos

Famous Old School Designs and Meanings

Shiver me what? You want an old school tattoo? Long before Ed Hardy came into the scene there was a mighty sailor who left a permanent mark on the tattoo industry. Sailor Jerry, also known as Norman Keith Collins, was a rugged man with a pipe and a penchant for inking Asian-inspired designs depicting life at sea. Born in 1911, Norman Collins learned the art of tattooing at a young age as he hopped freight trains before finally enlisting in the Navy at 19.

Sailor Jerry kept penpals and played the saxophone in addition to his creative tattoo work. As he remained close with Japanese tattoo masters throughout his career, his artistic and accurate hand led many average men into the world of body art. Clad with bottles of booze, women and wild cats, old school tattoos were tough and made their colorful way mainstream.

Make a wise choice, Matey!

of 10


Mermaid Tattoo
Getty Images

She sings a pretty song at sea only to lure men into her evil trap. Or so legend says. Mermaids remain a mystery, yet their beauty endures in a classic and colorful piece fit for your arm. Long a reminder of life at sea and the beauty and mystery of the deep, a mermaid calls to every sailor. Why not answer her song?

of 10


Anchor Tattoo
Ahoy! Your ship has come in. CC Image courtesy Eric, eh?@Flickr

Ahoy! Keep your ship stable with a symbol of stability and strength. Anchors are a popular relationship tattoo and are a classic choice for couples that share a love for the sea. As sailors led the tattoo bandwagon as body art pioneers, their ships led the way for all to follow. The anchor boasts the travels and stories of men at sea.

of 10

Nautical Star

Nautical star tattoo
A nautical star tattoo leads the way. Cc Image Courtesy Tinali778@Flickr

A fitting naval symbol, sailors used the nautical star to guide them on their journey. Today, the nautical tattoo can also indicate a gay or lesbian sexual preference. Stars also signify life at sea, as in the popular Sailor Jerry style. Wrists and arms make a desirable placement area for star tattoos.

of 10


Banner tattoo
Kelly Castro/Getty Images

Whether they scream “Homeward Bound” or “Mom,” banner and ribboned tattoos are even better when they include a small heart. Banner tattoos can include family names, parents names, lover names or even the name of your trusty ship. “Love. Kills. Slowly.”

of 10


The temptress tattoo
The temptress tattoo seduces both men and women. Image Cc Courtesy Strandell@Flickr

She’s got the bosom and she’s not afraid to flaunt it. Neither is he. Scantily clad women are a tattoo favorite for men. Pin-up styles and retro ladies lead in racy and seductive portrait pieces that have old school flavor. For an Asian inspired tattoo, consider opting for a hula dancer or Native Indian woman in addition to the popular Betty Grable inspired designs.

of 10


Swallow tattoo
Johner Images/ Getty Images

This sea-faring bird flies miles and miles. Sea-travelers, take note; get your wing tattoos and join the flock. Back, shoulders, ankles, wrists, toes, anywhere really. There’s always room for an avian tattoo. Swallows gained popularity amongst sailors and remain an old-school favorite design.

of 10

Patriotic eagles or flags

Eagle tattoo
Pay tribute to the States with an eagle tattoo. Image Cc Courtesy Cam Genereux@Flickr

Even the Sailor Jerry clothing line is made in the U.S.A. Keep it real, go old school and support your country with a flag or an eagle tattoo. Sailors and military alike continue to opt for this old-school support of freedom. Patriotic designs can include dog tags, flags, and names of fallen brothers.

of 10

Glass bottles

Glass bottles
Send your letters off to sea in a unique bottle tattoo. Image CC courtesy seafaringwoman@FlickR

Whether to send a letter off to sea, to celebrate the wild and partying nights or for those who have chosen a sober path, a bottle is a classic old school tattoo that looks right at home on the arm. Add a ship inside for character, add flags to celebrate freedom and travel or opt for a skull and crossbones in reference to your pirate ways.

of 10

Wild Cats

Wild cat tattoo
Bruno Raffa / EyeEm / Getty Images

Cats listen to nobody. Enough said.

of 10


Old school tattoo
Roll the dice for a cool old school tattoo. Image CC Courtesy Jonney@FlickR

Feeling lucky or ready to kick no luck to the curb? Roll the dice and opt for a lucky number seven tattoo. Bad luck streak? It’s okay. Roll again. Old school tattoos are all about taking chances and living life on the edge.