One of the reasons that getting a tattoo comes with a side of edge and an air of badassery is that many badass (or just bad) people used to get them. When gangsters and criminals sat down for a tattoo session, the ink often stood for a badge of dishonor. When they went to prison, they continued to get tattooed, and the symbols developed into a loose underworld code.
Pop culture and media have spread those tattoo images around, exposing a whole new audience of body art collectors to them. But while a certain design may be appropriated by the masses, it still may hold a strong meaning for those who live by the old codes. "I’m more comfortable tattooing things today that I wouldn't have five to 10 years ago, since now you can get almost anything removed with lasers,” says Maxime Buchi, tattoo artist and founder of Sang Bleu London. “But you need to understand that you may to have to answer some questions if you go to the Russian banya.”