The History of the Rose Tattoo

The History of the Rose Tattoo
17/02/2019 SarahB
In Uncategorised

Rose tattoos are gaining massive popularity these days.

It seems every other bloke has a rose on the back of his hand, but where do they come from? What do they mean? Why do we care? Or don’t we?

Roses, particularly red roses, are probably one of the most recognized flowers in the world today. They have long been a symbol of love, last week over 110million (yes MILLION) roses were gifted on Valentines day. The color red itself was initially a primal symbol for life that eventually evolved into a metaphor for profound, deep emotions; so the rose became the definitive symbol for romantic feelings and represents a true love stronger than the thorns that surround it.

Roses and Tattoos

Roses gained popularity as a tattoo in the 30’s as sailors often got them inked on their bodies as reminders of their wives, girlfriends and mothers while they were at sea. I still find having your mam’s name tattooed a bit odd but that’s just me. Sailors being the trend setters they are rose tattoose soon spread to the general public. Men would get rose tattoos with their lovers name on their chests, over their hearts to show their devotion. This later evolved to more symbolic pairings of roses with other traditional tattoos. Bet you didn’t think your tattoo had so much symbolic meaning eh?

While a skull on its own represents death, a rose paired with a skull traditionally represents life after death, defeating an enemy and starting a new life. Quiet poetic really since everyone can probably relate to defeating an inner demon we thought would destroy us.

Sailors often added anchors to their rose tattoos to symbolize deep devotion and commitment to a loved one while they were away. A visual representation of a loved one being their anchor in a storm.

The traditional rose and dagger tattoos probably have the most profound meaning. It represents the belief that evil always conquers innocence, the constant struggle with good and evil. Yikes. Of course how the rose and dagger are interacting impacts the meaning but, yeah the traditional dagger through a rose is pretty dark.

Looking for something to represent eternal love? A clock or stopwatch with a rose represents just that. Often the time on the clock represents a significant date that’s important in that relationship or is totally blank to represent the timelessness of their love.

Pink roses traditionally represent motherly love. They symbolize elegance, gentleness and grace, all things a mother is. These were popularized by sailors, man, sailors really loved their mums! Speaking of mums its mothers day soon, maybe get her some pink roses, or check out our gift guide here for some more ideas.

Black roses, adored by goth girls worldwide, represent grief and sorrow; but they are also a symbol for strength and rebellion. In some cultures they are tattooed on soldiers returning from battle to represent their long and hard battles, the pals lost to battle and their closeness to death.

Swallows represent home as they can travel great distances but always find their way back. This inspired my first tattoo and our ‘home collection which I am going to shamelessly plug here. Stick a rose in the swallow’s mouth and it symbolizes your devotion to a loved one back home. Those trend setting sailors at it again.

You know how when you break up with someone or get dumped and you go get a new haircut? Or pierce something? Well a rose with a butterfly is the tattoo equivalent of that; You’ve been transformed by love, well the loss of it, like a little caterpillar into the beautiful butterfly you are.

Feel like you’re unlovable? Or guarded from love? Are you cautious in romantic relationships? Get a thorny rose. They’re beautiful and desirable from a distance but if someone gets too close and they’ll get hurt.

Blue roses don’t exist in nature. They have always caused intrigue in myths and legend as a result of the human wish to seek the unattainable, therefore it symbolizes true, unattainable love. For the religious types they represent the Virgin Mary as her cloak is blue and roses are associated with rosary beads.

As if the colour and what you pair it with isn’t enough to think about,

The shape and whether its open or closed creates a whole new meaning to your rose tattoo.

A bud, or if the petals are closed represents a new beginning or youthfulness. A full bloom represents growth, its at the peak of its beauty just like you and symbolizes eternal beauty. Lastly a wilting flower signifies unrequited love or death.


Phew! That was a journey.

Thanks for sticking with me. Now, these days the meanings and symbols of tattoos have largely been lost. We just like stuff that looks good, but I think its kinda fun to know where the core designs in traditional tattooing come from and how they have evolved over the years. Its pretty interesting too I think. What we can takeaway from this is that its all about love whether that’s for your lady, your mum or yourself.


Speaking of love, If you loved this, thought it was interesting or just love me then please share it on the social media platform of your choice and if you’re not already go give us a follow on Instagram and Facebook,


Thanks again,



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