Rose and Skull Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

Rose and Skull Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

We all love the classic, the ever famous, the good-old-standby: The Rose and Skull tattoos. This design has been around for decades, but have you ever considered what it means?

Rose and skull tattoos represent the dichotomy between love and hate – life and death. The rose symbolizes beauty, while the skull represents an end. They’re popular designs that artists can customize for any client. 

I think this is one of the few tattoos I don’t have, but now I might give this a try! For this article, let’s explore what the tattoo combination means, some characteristics, and great locations for the tattoo.

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What is the History of Rose and Skull Tattoos?

The rose flower originated from Persia and was traditionally considered masculine due to the plant’s thorns. Rose tattoos grew in popularity in the 1930s thanks to sailors having the flower tattooed to remind them of their girls back home.

Skull images appear in cultures worldwide and even back to cave paintings in prehistoric times. The history of skulls and roses combined will change depending on what culture you consider.

If you’re talking about modern United States culture, the history is punk rock and gruff symbolism.

But if you’re talking about Mexico or some Catholic religions, the history is a memorial of the dead.

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What Do Rose and Skull Tattoos Symbolize?

While roses symbolize love, fertility, affection, and romance, skulls symbolize death, fear, and an end. Putting them together is almost like creating a yin/yang symbol. The combination represents a fierce defiance of the end, or a refusal to be defeated.

Though roses were originally a symbol of masculine strength, that has changed through modern history as roses are now more associated with women. With skulls being masculine, their combination could signify a union between masculine and feminine energy.

When tattooing a rose with petals falling off, it represents dying love (much thanks to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast). A dying rose paired with a skull could symbolize death or masculine energy winning. 

Tattooing skulls without their bottom jaw represents loose or untrustworthy morals. This design dates back to Elizabethan England, when drug dealers and prostitutes wore the design to indicate their profession.

 When paired with a rose, it could symbolize the lack of feminine power (or an outrageously high feminine power, depending on your politics).

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What Do Rose and Skull Tattoos Mean?

Everyone gets a tattoo for different reasons and meanings. Sometimes, tattoos don’t need to mean anything at all – as long as you enjoy them. 

These days, we can see rose and skull tattoos on bikers, truckers, and “hard-edged” folk in the United States.

The tattoo combination represents someone who you shouldn’t mess with. They mean, “I’ve been through some stuff.”

On the other hand, Mexico celebrates the Day of the Dead, in which roses, flowers, and skulls are often combined in the same images. These skulls are Calaveras (which literally means “Skull” in Spanish), brightly colored, and are often called Sugar Skulls.

The combination of roses and sugar skulls does not mean a dramatic dichotomy of life and death. Instead, they represent close familial ties and an honoring of the dead. 

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Characteristics of Rose and Skull Tattoos

The tattoos are often brightly colored or greyscale. With bright tattoos, you’ll usually find the stunning red roses outlining a dark, shaded skull. You can also ask your artist for yellow or pink roses. The skull usually has its teeth bared and the empty eye sockets staring straight ahead.

It can be difficult (but not impossible) to indicate roses in greyscale tattoos. The flower has a distinctive shape, and adding thorns to the stem can make the image clearer. These tattoos appear much more somber as if the roses are already dead.

The most popular rose and skull tattoo is a human skull with a single rose atop the head. No one is sure where the trend started. I also want to mention that there’s no reason the skull has to be human. Snake, deer, bull, wolf, and big cat skulls are popular choices. 

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Styles of Rose and Skull Tattoos

You’ll find a lot of different styles in rose and skull tattoos. You’ll most likely see Traditional and Old School Tattoos for full-color tattoos. The style displays bold black lines, bright colors, and dramatic images. 

You may encounter a Tribal Tattoo style. Because they feature repeating and interlocking patterns, artists can have a lot of fun designing a skull with the same aesthetic.

Black and grey style tattoos are popular within roses and skulls because there are many possibilities for shading within the petals and eye sockets. Black and grey can also include blackwork tattoos.

Geometric tattoo designs are newer but are quickly gaining popularity. They feature symmetrical lines that create the final design, along with extra dots, dashes, and shading. A geometric style is an excellent choice for a rose and skull tattoo if you want something different.

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Where Do Rose and Skull Tattoos Usually Go?

Rose and skull tattoos typically go on the front of the thigh or the side of the upper arm. These are two areas with plenty of space for the artist to design a complete, intricate tattoo. If you’re the go big or go home type, there are full-back pieces designed around skulls and roses.

How To Choose an Artist for a Rose and Skull Tattoo

This is a bit of a trick statement. Choosing an artist depends entirely on which style you want your tattoo to display. Because each style above is so different, you’ll want to research which style fits you the best first.

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