The childish and savage taste of men and women for new patterns keeps how many shaking and squinting through kaleidoscopes that they may discover the particular figure which this generation requires today. The manufacturers have learned that this taste is merely whimsical. Of two patterns which differ only by a few threads more or less of a particular color, the one will be sold readily, the other lie on the shelf, though it frequently happens that after the lapse of a season the latter becomes the most fashionable.
Comparatively, tattooing is not the hideous custom which it is called. It is not barbarous merely because the printing is skin-deep and unalterable.
– Walden, and other things. Henry David Thoreau
In other words he considered a tattoo a strong individual statement based on firm conviction, while fashion meant submitting to the wills of others and a sign of a weak identity.
Of course there is fashion in tattoos too, so it is not that simple. And there are fashionable people who don’t care neither for established traditions, nor what others wear, and Thoreau would also have been part of some form of fashion, even if it was traditionally conservative and he thus didn’t consider it as such. It’s all in the why and the how. Both are a social message and/or a message to oneself, so it depends on what the message is and why it is sent. Neither can be neutral and message-free.