The Meaning Behind Popular American Traditional Tattoos

If you’re into tattoos and body art, you may be familiar with the American Traditional tattoo style, which consists of bold linework coupled with deep, bright colors such as red, yellow, blue, and green. These tattoos typically represent nautical imagery, women, flowers, skulls, or animals. According to, here are some of the most popular American Traditional tattoo designs and the meaning associated with each.

Pin-Up Girls

American Traditional style tattoos were popular among sailors, hence the popularity of pin-up girls. These tattoos remain a popular way of paying tribute to sexy, empowered women.


Because this tattoo style was commonly found on American sailors, nautical themes, like anchors, are widespread. Many sailors would get anchor tattoos after crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Today, anchors are seen to ground their wearers, much like they would a boat in the water. Names are commonly found alongside anchor tattoos to pay tribute to loved ones.


To a sailor, the lighthouse was a beacon of hope, reminding them that they’d be home soon. In today’s American Traditional tattoos, the lighthouse could signify light or comfort ahead.


Octopuses intrigued sailors, and their mysterious nature continues to fascinate people to this day. A tattoo of this creature can represent many things, including mystery, tenacity, or creativity.


A vital survival tool, a compass can navigate you in the right direction. It can guide you home. American Traditional compass tattoos symbolize a moral “true north” or the significance of finding stability in the journey of life.


Oftentimes, a tattoo reminds us of who we are and who we aspire to be. Many animal tattoos originate from this fact. A portrait of a bear, for example, can be used to show your power, a wild side, wisdom, or mental strength.


Snakes are symbolic in many folk stories and religions, representing the ability to take on obstacles or an aspirational transformation. Others use snake tattoos as a warning symbol, signaling that they are like a venomous snake: peaceful until provoked.

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