A classic tattoo is something with history.
Something where the image has stood the test of time over the past 50 years or so. An image that has sprung up again and again, regardless of what time period.
Black and white lion tattoo. This could have been done in the 80’s—you wouldn’t know if it’s taken good care of or touched up now and again.
Skulllllsssss…. (this one by Jeff Gogue) They can look badass, girly, realistic, classic, dot work, stylized… doesn’t matter. These still don’t look as silly as a lot of the ones below. They look aged because of the style that was popular at the time, but not because of the subject.
The Rose. Maybe the single most common tattoo image. Sailor Jerry did them; they came back in the 90’s with tribal; today we do them every which way. As long as they’re crafted well, they’ll never look as out of place as the cliche tattoos we’re about to talk about. (I’m including this picture specifically because of how common banners are. I’d also consider them classic.)
A cliche or kitsch tattoo is a passing trend.
Really, what we consider trendy now is going to end up looking like all of this stuff. Let’s examine a little bit further:
These fairy tattoos were trendy 15 years ago, but now they look dated. No matter what style you do this in. Even if Seth Wood does a fairy, it’s still going to look super 90’s. The only thing that inspired it was what was cool at the time.
Barbed wire tattoos. Any way you slice it bro, that shit is going to look mad 90’s.
You’re all going to hate me now, but guess what this feather is going to look like in 10 years…
This isn’t to say everything falls into either of these categories. But popular imagery does. If something is a common tattoo during a time period, time will tell whether it can hold it’s own or not. More original tattoos will hold their own better than the kitsch ones, without a doubt.