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6 Classic Western Tattoo Ideas That Will Never Go Out of Style (And the Meaning Behind Them)

Find the perfect western tattoo for you!

girl with western tattoos leaning out of car
Credit: Shutterstock / Jacob Lund

Whether you’re a fan of the Wild West or just want a unique, bold tattoo, western tattoos are the way to go.

What are Western Tattoos?

Western tattoos originated in the late 19th century as a way for sailors to identify themselves. They would get anchors and similar designs to signify strength, courage, and stability—important values in the life of a sailor. The ink also indicated the sailor’s respective rank or length of time in the profession.

Eventually, cowboys joined the trend, sometimes getting tattoos of their favorite rodeo events. In this way, they could flaunt their skills and impress their competitors.

Today, western tattoos are still a part of popular culture. They remain rather similar to the traditional style with some modern twists, like bold outlines and saturated colors.

1. Cactus

One popular western tattoo design is cacti, as they were prominent in the dry climate of the Wild West. Known for being adaptable, cactus tattoos represent the ability to change and the desire to try new things. They are for people who are adventurous, resilient, and like to live a high-risk lifestyle.

Cactus tattoos can also symbolize one’s ability to care for others, as cacti have protective powers in their flowers. In such a fashion, they could symbolize a parent’s love or other forms of deep affection.

Since they are a rather simple design, there is a lot of versatility in the placement of cactus tattoos. However, as a reminder to live life to the fullest, it would seem best to place your cactus tattoo somewhere you can see it every day.

2. Cowgirl

The cowgirl tattoo design is often used as a way to highlight the adventure and freedom of the Wild West. For some, this style of tattoo is a way to celebrate bravery and the desire to be free, as seen in the culture of the time. It also serves as a more modern twist on the traditional western tattoo of a cowboy, emphasizing women’s role in American history.

As a representation of female power, cowgirl tattoos seem best placed on a highly visible part of the body. However, some of these tattoos can be construed in a sexual light, suggesting they should be put somewhere more hidden on the body.

3. Cowboy Hat and Boots

Cowboy hat and boots tattoos often serve as memorials or symbols of retirement from something you are leaving behind. They represent the moving of one stage of life to another.

Personally, I think it would be most fitting to have a hat on the upper part of the body and boots on the lower part. Though, since these tattoos are pretty small, there is a lot of versatility on where to place them as well.

4. Horseshoe

In the crafting of horseshoes, blacksmiths use the basic element of fire, which was considered good luck. The blacksmith is then said to pass on any good luck they had in the crafting of the horseshoe.

Further, since horseshoes are harder to come by in modern times, the sight of one is often seen as lucky. Thus, the horseshoe tattoo symbolizes good luck, success, and wealth. However, this tattoo can also represent happiness.

People most frequently feature these tattoos on the hand, inner bicep, or upper chest.

5. Human Skull

A human skull tattoo often represents death and, specifically, one’s resistance to the fear of death. They can also serve as a reminder that death is inevitable, so you should live life to the fullest. As seen in Wild West culture, cowboys tended to defy this fear through the performance of daring adventures and dangerous rodeo stunts.

Since skull tattoos can be a bit scary, placing them in a spot that isn’t often publicly visible seems like the best way to go. Though, as a reminder of the shortness of life, also keep in mind the idea of placing it somewhere you can see it every day.

6. Longhorn Bull

Longhorn bull tattoos have long been popular because they represent the essence of masculinity. In that vein, the strength and determination of this animal symbolize the traits cowboys strived for.

Being large and powerful animals, people often place these tattoos across their shoulder blades or on the sternum.

Written By

hi! i'm nic (she/they) and i am a second year english lit major at the university of san francisco! i enjoy writing about queer topics, social issues, and fashion :)

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