When people think of a teardrop tattoo, the first things that come to mind are usually incarceration, thugs, and suffering. This is not surprising because, as far back as the 1940s, this piece has been used, generally in a prison setting, to represent either a murder committed, or a murder witnessed. Prior to that – roughly during the 1920s, in fact – teardrops were used as an emblem for mourning and closure, usually by those in the service. Today, these pieces are still applied to jailhouse and gang activity; however, they are sometimes used to express inner turmoil, and the inability to shed real tears, despite any feelings of loss or sadness.
How a teardrop tattoo is fashioned, and where it is placed is often more important than the quality of the actual design. The majority of these pieces are located below the wearer’s eye, just near the corner, or trickling down the cheekbone, but – when used without the common symbolism – they may be placed anywhere on the body or face. Although an empty or filled tattoo once meant that the wearer has either been involved in or witnessed a murder, in more modern times, a teardrop that is done in outline is representative of a friend or loved one who has lost their life by the hand of another person; conversely, if the teardrop is filled, it shows that the friend or loved one has died by their own hand.
A teardrop tattoo does not necessarily have to be of the common, thug-related variety. Teardrops, to many people, have come to be a touching symbol of remembrance, or an emblem for the wearer’s own internal stirrings. In these cases, you may prefer to keep the piece off of your face, and you may wish to get a bit more detailed. For instance, a trail of teardrops can be placed around, or slide down an arm; a medium-sized, single tear could be placed on an ankle or wrist, or a very large teardrop could take up the entire back. These tears might be cartoon-like, shiny and blue; they may be black, red, or a simple outline. Outline styles may even include scrolling patterns, Celtic knot work, or the image of another person reflected off of the tear’s glint.
When considering this style of art, it is important to keep in mind the many social stigmas that come along with it. Regardless of your personal reasons, most people still associate these designs with pain, incarceration, and death, so you may want to decide on a more discreet location for your teardrop tattoo.