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B Side, Fashion & Style

How Nigerian Gen Z Women are Making the Tramp Stamp Cool Again

Fashion, like history, has a cyclical nature. What was once out is often cool again, and the tramp stamp appears to be no exception.

  • Melony Akpoghene
  • 8th July 2024

The butterfly. The tribal design. The delicate script that curves suggestively across the lower back. The annals of fashion history are littered with trends that rise, fall, and rise again, often reinterpreted by new generations with fresh perspectives. In the late 90s and early 2000s, the tramp stamp tattoo was a ubiquitous symbol of youthful rebellion. It adorned the backs of celebrities and teenagers alike, a badge of individuality against the backdrop of a conformist and socially conservative era.


But as trends shifted, so did perceptions of the tramp stamp. It became associated with negative connotations — a marker of trashiness and a target for misogynistic jokes. Its popularity plummeted, relegated to the realm of fashion faux pas. Nigeria’s Nollywood film industry contributed to it as its erstwhile reliance on tropes that perpetuated harmful stereotypes typecast characters with tramp stamps as those who walked on the wild side. The industry’s grown up now, and so have its viewers — who see these characters as savvy, seriously cool people that wholly embraced their badassery.


Fashion, like history, has a cyclical nature. What was once out is often cool again, and the tramp stamp appears to be no exception.


Tramp stamp


Tramp stamp

This time, though, the revival is being led by a new generation, with a fresh perspective and a cultural context far removed from its original incarnation. Nigerian Gen Z (a generation known for rewriting narratives and challenging the status quo) women are reclaiming the tramp stamp and imbuing it with new meaning.


Tramp stamp

The resurgence can be attributed partly to the broader return of Y2K fashion trends like the low-rise jeans and crop tops. This cyclical nature of fashion means certain trends are rediscovered by new generations who weren’t around for the first go-around. But the tramp stamp’s return in Nigeria is about more than just nostalgia.



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Ehi, a 24-year-old trade finance analyst based in Lagos has a vibrantly colored butterfly tattooed on her lower back. “It’s just something I find cool,” she explains. “But most importantly, it’s proof of my self-ownership. Before I got it, I was worried about how people would perceive me because I work in the corporate world, but that spurred me even more. I own my body and I can do whatever I want with it.” The reinvention of the tramp stamp can be viewed as part of a larger trend of tattoos regaining mainstream acceptance.


Historically, tattoos carried negative connotations, associated with deviance and criminality. However, societal attitudes have become more open and individualistic. This shift in perception has created a more fertile ground for the tramp stamp’s return. Ehi’s story specifically exemplifies a key aspect of this trend — the ways body art/modification can play into identity and wellness for a lot of young Nigerian women. Since a lot of Nigerian women grow up in heavily patriarchal, sexist, religious settings that demonize forms of body art/modification like piercings, tattoos, women are less likely to do what they want with their own bodies and the women who eventually do are regarded as pariahs.


For others, the tramp stamp is a way to make a personal statement. Oyinda, a 23-year-old culture journalist, has a Bible verse tattooed on her lower back. “People find it ridiculous and super ironic that I have a tramp stamp that’s a verse from the book of Philippians and I understand them,” she says. “The placement is kind of like a secret message to the world, but mostly to myself.” 


The return of the tramp stamp also intersects with conversations around body positivity and reclaiming the female gaze. Unlike the stereotypical image of the tramp stamp as a male fantasy, Nigerian Gen Z women are getting these tattoos for themselves. The location, once seen as overtly sexual, is now being viewed as a part of the body to be celebrated. For instance, Motty got a tramp stamp because she wanted to celebrate a part of her body she had been told was ugly for most of her life.


Tramp stamp

The sexualization of the lower back tattoo remains a concern. Though many Nigerian Gen Z women see this as a societal issue that can quickly and easily become a personal one, they make conscious effort to not care too much. “
Honestly, as women in this world, in Nigeria, we’re constantly sexualised. No matter what you do, you’re a slut,” says Ama, an interior designer. “So why not have fun at it? If I want a tattoo that some might find provocative, that’s my choice because regardless, I’m always one catcall away from being labeled a slut.”


Whether the tramp stamp enjoys long-term popularity in Nigeria remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: the butterfly has landed, and it’s anything but ordinary this time around.

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