Poll: Are visible tattoos ever appropriate for professional women?

Can Professionals Have Visible Tattoos? | CorporetteThe other day we got an e-mail from a reader:

I have a question about tattoos. I’m thinking of getting a new tattoo on my inner ankle, and I’m wondering what you/your readers think about what is appropriate for the office in terms of tattoos. In terms of placement, if I was wearing a skirt and heels the tattoo would be uncovered where I’m thinking of getting it (inside of the ankle, right above the ankle bone that sticks out). But it would be a small (.5 in. x 1 in.), black, abstract design – nothing flashy. And it would be on the inner ankle, so not as obvious. Do you think this is appropriate, or is any tattoo that’s visible at work inappropriate? If small tattoos are appropriate, is there any kind of consensus on when it becomes big enough that it’s inappropriate?

Excellent question.  We’ve often thought about whether tattoos are appropriate for the working woman, and whether our friend who got a huge tattoo on her calf when she turned 18 (seriously, HUGE) has been at all limited in her career options.  For our $.02, it seems to us that a small, tasteful tattoo on your inner ankle is the limit to which a visible tattoo would be appropriate — anything on your hand is certainly out (unless it’s a wedding band tattoo or something like that), as is anything on a part of your leg or arm that would be visible.
Another $.02: those are some beautiful tattoos from the Flickr sewing tattoos group.  Flickr sewing tattoos group,originally uploaded by SwanDiamondRose


  1. I don’t think a small one is inappropriate…but I have a small tattoo on my inner ankle and I hate the way it looks when I’m wearing skirts/suits. Even if other people don’t notice it or don’t mind it, it bugs me to see it on myself.

  2. I don’t think it’s ever appropriate to have a visible tattoo. It’s fine to have a huge one though, as long as it can be completely covered up by clothes. I don’t have a problem with tattoos per se but my general approach to appropriate clothes at the office is a total non-distraction policy. So many of the rules we all know we should follow are really about not distracting the people we’re working with (or for!) so that they think about anything other than the work at hand. Pretty much everything from low-cut tops, too-short skirts, huge flashy jewelry, too much makeup, super high heels – all of these things are really about not drawing the attention away from what you’re supposed to be doing – working. Even a tiny tattoo would draw the eye and potentially invite comment, and even if it’s a positive comment that’s just not appropriate when you’re trying to project an air of total professional competence.

    • I dare anyone to tell me I am not a professional! Seriously. Invoking comments? Who cares? A new hairdo on someone invokes comments in the workplace. Isn’t that distracting as well?

      Wow I am glad I got away from the narrow minded mindset. I run my own business and while I am sure I have had some clients not end up signing with me that’s OK actually. There are 9 out of 10 that will and have signed on with me.

      Their loss is all I have to say oh and PHTTTTTTTTTT who needs them? I love the fact that I can fire clients now lol Is someone being a pain? GONE!

  3. PS – The non-distraction requirement goes for men as well as women, in case anyone thought I was being hard on our sex! I was in a meeting a couple of days ago with a guy who had so much gel in his hair you could smell it across the conference table, and kept fiddling with his huge sparkling Swarovski crystal encrusted cuff links. It was incredibly distracting from the work at hand, and became even more annoying after a couple of hours. Not good.

  4. This topic was recently discussed at blogs.wsj.com/juggle as well. I have a small tattoo on the top of my foot, near my toes. It is a flower and is about 1.5 inches long (horizontal across the foot). You can often see it when I wear a skirt and heels, which is just about everyday. I am an attorney at a big national law firm. Truthfully, nobody ever notices – ever. Nobody is looking at my feet. I love my tattoo and I love that it is a little bit edgey just to have it without having to have my whole calf tattoo’d. There is something to be said about being your own person and being a little bit interesting.
    When people do notice, I really doubt that they are casting doubt on my judgment especially because I am not embarrased about it and it is really very boring as tattoos go.

  5. The conservative dresser in me says, no, never appropriate, but realistically, a small one on the foot or inner ankle does not seem to be hurting the careers of several attorney women I know.

  6. Consider a tattoo that you can keep covered instead. I know many a female attorney who wished she hadn’t gotten her foot/ankle/calf adorned earlier in her career (as you get older, that tiny heart can morph into a dark blob). When it comes time for a promotion, believe me, all kinds of factors are weighed – and a visible tattoo might be the one thing that gives the higher ups pause. You may also wish to consider that just because the firm you’re with now may not have a problem with body art, what happens if you merge with a more conservative firm, or, heaven forbid, find yourself looking for a new job?

    Above, Peg commented, “Truthfully, nobody ever notices – ever.” I assure you, people have noticed – they just haven’t made any comments within earshot.

  7. As with many things, it seems like a situation where you have to weigh the risk that a tattoo will hurt your career – probably pretty small for a tiny tattoo on your foot or ankle, larger for one on, say, your forearm – against your desire not to sublimate your entire personality in service of some perfect, conservatively feminine-professional ideal. The answer is probably different for most women, but I imagine many wouldn’t be happy in a job that was going to judge them too harshly for a half inch daisy on their right ankle anyway.

  8. tattoos are for hookers. not lawyers. don’t get one. then you won’t have to worry about covering it or not.

  9. I think a small visible tattoo is perfectly fine in the workplace. In the past all tattoos were looked at as taboo by higher-ups, etc., but I think it’s becoming way more acceptable now. I have several other hidden tattoos, but I recently got a small tattoo on the inside of my wrist as an ode to my grandmother and I hid it for weeks from my boss, terrified that she would tell me it was completely inappropriate. When she finally saw it she couldn’t believe I’d been able to hide it so easily, and the only way she saw it was when I wasn’t hiding it when we were outside of work. She also told me she didn’t think it was inappropriate at all, and trust me, she’s the first one to tell you your skirt’s too short, you shouldn’t wear open-toed shoes to work, etc. I don’t worry about hiding my tattoo anymore. Besides, when people find out it’s for my grandmother, they pretty much drop it anyway. If you’re not completely in love with getting it in the visible spot you’re talking about, get it somewhere else that may be less visible, but I say do it if you want to do it.

  10. the only reason they might be considered acceptable is all the people who got them when they turned 18 back in the ’80s are now the people in the higher up positions. tattoos have gone way out of style nowadays; so the crowd of tattooed people will have thinned out immensely in another 20 years.

    personally i love how people think getting a tattoo is original.. when anyone and everyone can get one.

  11. If you have to ask whether a tattoo would be appropriate, don’t get a tattoo. If you work at a corporate law firm, please stay away from tattoo parlors. You have bigger problems to face than whether or not to get ink injected under a few layers of skin. Your life is a never-ending series of meaningless squabbles.

  12. I have one on my arm and one on my shoulder (I’m an attorney). Both are covered when I wear a jacket but both are often visible in the office in everyday business casual. It’s never been a problem at any job I’ve held.

    I’d hesitate to get one that can’t be covered up in interviews, court or meetings with potential clients. You don’t want to get dinged because some old fart in a position of power is judgmental toward people with tattoos. If your ankle tattoo would be covered up when wearing a pantsuit, I’d say go for it.

  13. Just writing to say that I voted, & feel as though a tattoo for a working woman is appropriate if it doesn’t show anything offensive — such as nudity, or blood, or whatnot. But then again, I am biased… because I have a tattoo on my inner-wrist, which is a very obvious spot.

    & if, by chance, my tattoo is found inappropriate by my employer, then I wouldn’t want to work there anyway.

    apricot tea.´s last blog post..apricot’s closet: black, white, & mod.

  14. Miguel Sanchez :

    The person who wrote this already has the tattoo – she is just feeling a little insecure about having that little star that proves that she has a lack of judgment and foresight.

  15. it's only ink :

    I’m an attorney, and I have a tattoo on my foot that can be seen if I wear pumps. I can cover it up by wearing boots, tights, or dark stockings. I also wear a small nose stud, and I’ve only taken it out once (in my 4 years of practice). I’ve clerked for a federal judge and worked in BigLaw and for the government.

    I think at some point in your career, you have to try to find a job that fits you, rather than the other way around. If an employer won’t promote me based on my body art, I don’t want to devote the majority of my waking hours to working there anyway.

    That being said, as an attorney, I accept that my job is to best represent my clients, and that can mean taking out my nose ring, covering my tattoo, wearing suits when the need arises. If you’re not able to change your image to reflect your clients’ needs (or to get a client in the first instance), that can present an issue at some point during your career.

  16. There is a reason why tattoos are referred to as “tramp stamps”.

  17. Wow, I am just amazed at the catty and judgmental remarks from some posters. I guess these are the people you have to worry about – someone with their attitude may be in a position of power over you.

    And Bob, I believe “tramp stamps” refer specifically to the a tattoo that a woman gets on her lower back, not all tattoos in general. The “reason” why thet are called that probably has more to do with the fact that it is funny and catchy, and less to do with the fact that it may be an accurate description in probably less than half of people who have a tattoo.

  18. I never realized you had such a prude readership. There’s nothing wrong with good and relatively discrete tattoos. And frankly I’m in favor of anything that causes this silly profession to loosen up and show some personality.

  19. tattoos have not been cool since about 88….don’t get one

  20. Miguel, you are a repressed homosexual.

  21. The amount of repressed homosexuals who comment is remarkable. a small tattoo is fine.

  22. “Only two people care about your tattoo – you and the person who is not going to hire you because of it”

    My firm has 150 lawyers and I hire them. I never hire anyone with visible tattoos and out manual prohibits visible ink or other fashion distractions. Our profession is conservative by nature and we cannot risk an adverse result for a client because someone found a lawyer’s personal style to be objectionable.

    I agree with a posted response above – the person who asked the question already has the tattoo – she just wants assurance. I’ve never heard of any one asking in advance if their promposed tattoo is acceptable, but plenty of people have showed me new ink and asked if it is OK. And no one is going to comment when you show them your cherished, life-long body modification – they just file it away as an example of poor judgment, under career killer.

    Plenty of tats in the secretarial pool, none on the executive floors…

    • robbit, really? You would turn down a Harvard Law Review Attorney with a USCA clerkship because of a small piece of body art? If I were your firm’s client, I would fire you for poor recruiting judgment and find a new law firm. There are plenty of ways men and women attorneys can dress inappropriately besides that. I know of one who is the poster child for why pantyhose were invented when she appears before our state supreme court with her pasty white bare legs exposed.

  23. Just writing to note that I sent in the question and I do not, in fact, already have the tattoo. I appreciate the accusations though :)

    On a more serious note, I really do appreciate all of the comments from people who thought about the issue and put down their honest thoughts – thanks everyone!

  24. Wow. I am SO happy I am not a lawyer now.

  25. “Plenty of tats in the secretarial pool, none on the executive floors…”

    Haha! You’re an idiot! I know many people in executive positions with full sleeves. They just don’t show them at work. Check out inkedinc.com. You’ll see there are many professionals who have beautiful body art and who cover them at work. Wow, it amazes me how ignorant people are.

  26. Ladies who work at local banks seem to have them.

  27. I am covered in tattoos, from just below the neckline to my feet, and I’m a successful professional in the publishing industry. It’s all about how you present yourself and your capacity for creative clothing solutions (since wearing long-sleeve, long-pants combos gets boring quickly). I think the “tramp stamp” remark is cruel, and as others said, frighteningly judgmental. I wonder how many excellent job candidates have been tossed out of the window unfairly because of their surface appearance.

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