Professional Women and Tattoos: Can Women Lawyers Ever Have Visible Tattoos?

can women lawyers have visible tattoos?

2012 Update: We still stand by this conversation on professional women and tattoos — but you may also want to check out our most recent discussion on tattoo sleeves in the workplace.

Last week we asked you whether a visible tattoo was ever acceptable to women lawyers and other professional women. And wow did you guys respond — roughly 1500 of you weighed in. Although the poll is still open, here are the results thus far on professional women and tattoos:

  • 43% of you said a professional woman could never have a visible tattoo
  • 30% of you said it was fine if it could be covered by clothes or makeup
  • 12% of you said only so long as it wasn’t visible when you shook hands or interviewed
  • 8% said sure, a visible tattoo was fine

The commenting section was where things got ugly — some commenters accused the reader who had e-mailed of already having gotten the tattoo, and just seeking assurance. Some commenters referred to “tramp stamps” (which, we agree with the commenter who noted that that’s only generally referring to a lower back tattoo). The extremely helpful “billybob” opined that tattoos were for hookers, not lawyers.  Quite a few readers noted that tattoos were only in style in the late ’80s.

Others wrote that tattoos could be a distraction, and anything that distracts is a bad thing.  Strategic business communications specialist Gretchen Neels wrote in to note that she knows many a professional woman who regrets having gotten a visible tattoo in her youth, noting that over time “that tiny heart can morph into a dark blob.” Gretchen gave the valuable advice that if you want to get promoted, the tattoo could be seen as a lapse in judgment by people who would otherwise hire or promote you. This was echoed by commenter “robbit,” who wrote that he did not hire people with tattoos, and if people showed him their ink after the fact then he filed it away as “an example of poor judgment, under career killer.”

Our favorite comment was this one:

As with many things, it seems like a situation where you have to weigh the risk that a tattoo will hurt your career . . . 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.”

Another commenter also noted that she herself had a nose ring and a tattoo and it has not thus far hurt her career. She noted that “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.”

Last week, we said that we thought a tiny inner ankle tattoo was the outer limits of what might be acceptable for professional women and tattoos.  We stick by that — our reader could always wear a pantsuit or dark hose to interviews and court appearances.  Ultimately, though, one must find a job that suits your personality — and not change too much to suit your job.  This seems to be one of the biggest struggles for young women in conservative professions — and we’ve yet to find an easy answer.

Currently pictured: Stock photo via Stencil. Original image (2008).

We asked our readers about professional women and tattoos: could a woman lawyer ever have a visible tattoo? Must she always cover it for court, interview, or big meetings, either with tattoo makeup or long sleeves? Readers weighed in -- come check out the poll results.


  1. Great post!

  2. I’m heavily tattooed, and I have a simple rule: tattoos are not business wear.

  3. Fast forward to 2011: At a recent top-management retreat of a major state agency in the Mid-Atlantic, a large proportion of men and women admitted having at least one tattoo. None were visible, however. However, at meetings with the top-flight consulting firm that agency uses, I have seen several visibly tattooed women in partner-track positions. I don’t think anyone cares anymore, as long as the art is not offensive, tasteless or excessive. If you can pull down an undergrad from an Ivy and are willing to work 80 hours a week, I think that’s probably enough to get hired and promoted. But unusual piercings should be taken out for office wear or avoided. I almost never see them, aside from maybe a tiny nose stud. Also forget all the nonsense about wearing pantyhose and only low heels. In our shop, everyone is bare and 4-inch heels are common.

    • I have 3, two of which are not visible and one of which is on the outside of my right ankle. It’s an M-Dot – the brand of Ironman triathlons. I’ve never had anything but positive comments on it. But of course those who don’t comment may well have a negative reaction. Frankly after swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and running 26.2 miles in under 16 hours, I don’t care what anyone thinks. It is my personal symbol of strength and perseverence. So I wear skirt suits to court whenever I like.

  4. It’s just such an old fashioned point of view, having a bit of colour on your skin doesn’t make you any more/less capable of doing a job! I work as a reasaurant manager for a very successful restaurant chain and thankfully they are open minded and don’t judge ones ability by image! I have bright red hair facial piercings in my nose, 2 I’m my lips and a few in my ears (done stretched) I have 1 big tattoo that covers my side so at the moment it’s not visible but I will soon be getting a full sleeve…. The more people who put themselves out there in these kind of jobs then the quicker the publics opinion will start to change!

  5. This is a very good post. I am a very successful professional business women and I have a lot of tattoos. (ribs, large shoulder piece, half sleeve, wrist (working on a full sleeve)). My tattoos are very personal and meaningful to me. They are a scrapbook of my life.
    I do cover them up when I see clients until I know them, but not because I am worried about my career or reputation. I simply do not want to offend them or make them feel uncomfortable if they have issues with tattoos. Everybody at my work has seen and knows about my tattoos and I am not embarrassed or worried about showing them. If you feel like you need to hide them, then perhaps getting the tattoos was not a good decision to begin with?? It’s definitely a personal decision that should not be taken lightly. :) To each their own. Just be proud of them if you have them. (and work your ass off at your job to prove that you are a great employee)

  6. I am soooo glad I have my own successful business and don’t have to worry about who thinks what. Sheesh.

  7. I am an entrepreneur in the field of interior design, and while it is an artistic profession, it is also a “snooty” profession. I only have a few tats, but I don’t bother covering them. If someone doesn’t want to work with me due to some very tastefully done body art, they are not the target I am aiming at, and I am happy to filter out the “bad” clients!!

  8. Banks are supposed to be fairly formal environments; in my area women who work at bank counters evidently do not have to cover their tattoos.