Tattoo Sleeves in the Workplace

If you have tattoo sleeves, must you wear a blazer everywhere at work?  Reader A asks a great question for everyone who had a wilder youth:  what to do about tattoo sleeves in the workplace, particularly in a conservative office? How can you cover tattoos in general for work or interviews?

As I’m now a law student, I’m worried about how to dress in order to hide my tattoos, which go from both shoulders down to right above my elbows; they’re dark enough to be seen through most lighter button-downs. Not that it matters, but they’re all very tasteful– I went to art school in my wild undergrad days. Now, though, I’m wondering whether I’ll be forever banned from wearing any sheer blouse or sleeveless shirt. Am I destined to wear collared shirts for the next thirty years of work? Any advice would be appreciated immensely.

We haven’t talked about professional women and tattoos for years, so let’s revisit the subject. I will say at the outset that I think tattoo sleeves are in a very different category than the tiny tattoo somewhere noticeable (wrist, ankle) or the bigger tattoo somewhere generally hidden (lower back, shoulder blade).  As someone with tattoo sleeves (or half-sleeves) (tattoo ballet sleeves?), you should not only know your office, but I think should also know a) yourself, b) your boss, and c) your business relationships.  Here’s what I mean:

In a conservative office with conservative clients, I’m sorry, but yes, your tattoos are likely something you’re going to hide, at least most of the time.  I would always hide them for interviews and first meetings, and honestly, for the first ten meetings.  Once you get to know someone (the boss, the assistant, the client, the opponent, whomever) you can show more personality, which can, in some circumstances, include showing your tats.  (You say they’re all “very tasteful,” so I’m assuming there’s nothing unsuitable for the office with your tattoos, such as nudity, foul language, etc.) In some jobs — where literally any day could be the first day you meet a new big client — this will effectively mean you have to cover your arms most of the time.  On the plus side, a blazer looks professional with so many outfits and will effectively hide your tattoos, so you should be fine; in many ways, your tattoos will be easier to hide than the small wrist or ankle tattoos that some women get.

That said, are you really the type of person who wants to work in a conservative office?  At least in my experience, the “I have tattoos from my shoulders to my elbows” person is far different from the “I got a butterfly on my ankle on Spring Break” person — it takes commitment (and I’m guessing a fair amount of pain) to get that much ink, and probably was not the result of one night of drinking —  but it also means that you probably dance to the beat of your own drummer and may have less respect for conventions and authority.  I’m going to guess that even if the work of a conservative office appealed to you (e.g., a big firm that has a great art law or entertainment law division), the atmosphere of the office would grate on your nerves after a year or two.

So I think your approach to jobs should be thus:  If you’re going for a conservative job, consent to covering your arms for most of the time, ideally with a blazer.  Especially with a large law firm, this can be a great first step because of the connections you make, the experience you get, and the doors that are open to you afterwards (to say nothing of the salary) — so covering your arms shouldn’t be that big of a tradeoff, at least for a little while.  When seeking a less conservative job, though, I would advise covering your arms for the interview — and then seriously gage the interviewer and office to see how good of a fit you, your tattoos, and your personality may be for the office.  If it’s really important to you, ask about personal expression, the dress code, what kind of client interactions, and more — because the fit of the office is going to be key to a happy work environment for you.

Readers, what are your thoughts on tattoos in the workplace?  Do you think some tattoos put people in a different category than others?  Has anyone had experience with tattoo removal on a large scale, or covering tattoos on a regular basis for work?

(Current image: Deposit Photos / sumners. Originally pictured (2012): Shading, originally uploaded to Flickr by liquidnight.) 

A reader gearing up for law firm interviews wrote in, wondering about tattoo sleeves in the workplace: could she ever take her jacket off? We discussed tattoos, covering them, and how to find the best office culture for you.


  1. momentsofabsurdity :

    Yes, I think if you do work some place conservative you will need to dress to hide your tattoos (and I say this as someone who has a tattoo, albeit in a more easily coverable spot). My upper arm is rarely visible in professional situations anyway though – and there are no tattoos on it. Offices are cold, in my experience, and I don’t see too many people going sleeveles. In general, anything where the bulk of your upper arms/shoulders is showing isn’t all that formal.

    I would imagine you could never wear anything that showed your tattoos to court, and honestly, most places where you will be doing business as an attorney (which from this blog I gather to be a step up in formality). That being said, even in my casual office (serious – dark jeans and a 3/4 sleeve length green knit shirt on today, for me) I’d dress to cover my sleeves, at least until I knew the office better. We are not at all conservative, but I agree with Kat – sleeves are on a different level than the occasional small single tattoo on the forearm or calf. People would be surprised if someone showed up in a t-shirt here (tees are very common) with full or half sleeves.

    I would invest in some nice 3/4 and full sleeve cardigans and blazers.

    • I’m an attorney in Seattle and I have half sleeves on both arms. I own about 15 cardigans. My office is pretty casual, as is Seattle, but I do not ever show my tattoos at work. A few partners, who I am comfortable with, have seen my tattoos as social events outside of the office. Right or wrong people will judge you. Quite simply, law offices are not the place for this type of personal expression. It’s similar to wearing a t-shirt with a political or otherwise controversial text. Besides, for me, I would never want to discuss my tattoos with most of the people I work with. It’s very similar to keeping your professional and personal lives separate.

    • I completely agree with the author and completely disagree with AM above. I’m an attorney, I have a full sleeve of traditional-style tattoos, and I’ve worked at a premier, highly respected law firm for many years. You just have to know your bosses and your audience. I started my sleeve in law school and told myself that if a law firm wouldn’t hire me because of my tattoos then I either wasn’t a very good lawyer, and/or the law firm didn’t have people I wanted to work for/with. I was right :) I wear long sleeves (suit jacket, sweater, etc.) to court because it’s a formal environment and it’s more respectful, and I also cover them when I first meet a client until I find out how conservative they are. Other than that, I don’t cover my tattoos at the office or at networking events at all, and my bosses love my tattoos because they make me memorable and unique among the sea of suits that comprise the legal world. Overall, I think they’re an asset to my legal career!

      • I agree with Danielle and AM. For I too work in a law firm. I have been there for a while, but I hide my tattoos on my left arm which is almost a sleeve. They are very tasteful. But since I do sometimes see clients, I would use the a very light sweater to cover them and then after I see the client I would take it off at my desk. Even in the warmest of weather, I try not to make them to visible for others to see. Also I dress very professional everyday.

        Most of the people at the office know that I have tattoos and do most of the people I work with. When and if I ever have to go to another corporate office setting , I will be sure to dress professionally that way they will not know I have tattoos.

  2. I am in the process of having a tattoo removed from the back of my neck (I don’t wear my hair up at work so as to hide it). It is the most painful experience – a million times more painful than getting the tattoo. It feels like someone is pouring bacon grease on my skin over and over again in the same spot. It’s expensive and painful and takes forever.

    I want to smack my 19-year-old self for doing this to me.

    • I have a small tattoo on my ankle, of a butterfly. I got it when I was 18 (I’m 31 now.) It’s pretty small but it’s very colorful and thus, does show under hose and some tights. I was a teacher for several years and covered it with a bandaid for the first couple of years I taught. Unfortunately, the bandaid often attracted more attention than the tattoo itself (people asking me if I’d hurt myself.) Eventually I’d gained enough “seniority” to stop covering it up. Now, I’m about to start as a summer associate at a large firm and I’m wondering if there are better tattoo covering options out there and if anyone has any suggestions? Removal isn’t financially viable for me right now, and I’m not sure if I really do want it removed.

      • I’ve noticed that two women at my firm have small ankle tattoos that they do not cover up, and it seems to be fine. As a summer associate I’d probably cover it up (maybe try tattoo-covering make up instead of a bandaid?) but I don’t think anyone would be horrified if they saw it. Also, my summer associateship included a swimming activity, so some people with normally-hidden tattoos had to show them and no one seemed to mind.

        • I dread our offsites because of that (and the thought of showing my insecurities in a swimsuit)

      • Lawyer in Theory :

        I’m having my tattoos removed , like Amber. For interviewing, I covered mine up by putting on Kat Von D tattoo concealer, drying it off with Tarte fixing powder, and then putting on nude hose. It took 1/2 hr. every day but it really does the job.

        W/r/t those that responded to my question about pink in the office, I read that in some guide to dressing for an office for women. clearly, the advice no longer applies, I bought my pink shirt, and am happy :)

      • TurtleWexler :

        Moleskin might be more subtle than a band-aid, as it sits completely flat against your skin and you can cut it to just the shape you need. You can get it in the foot care section of any pharmacy, alongside the Dr Scholl’s inserts and such. The only thing is, I’ve never seen it in colors other than the general tan band-aid-ish color, so if that doesn’t work with your skin tone, it might not be an option.

        • HalfnHalf :

          @TurtleWexler – Love the name! The Westing Game was one of my favorite books as a kid.

      • Moleskin will be less likely to show under pantyhose than a bandaid. But frankly, no one at your law firm is really going to care about a small ankle tattoo. Wear pants for the first couple days so you can avoid becoming “the SA with the ankle tattoo” if you’re concerned.

        • Thanks-that’s a good plan. I definitely don’t want to become known as “that girl” but hopefully it won’t be an issue after some time has passed. I’m on team pantyhose so hopefully that, plus some of the tattoo concealer suggested above, will do the trick.

        • How many summer associates are there? If there are several, being “that girl” is NOT a bad thing if your work is good. Use identifying marks to your advantage – it sets you apart from other people and the attorneys will remember you uniquely instead of “the one who did a good job on that motion, can’t remember who it was.”

      • Visible tattoos are against my DC firm’s dress code, so I would be on the safe side and just cover it all summer. I can’t imagine that having someone see the tattoo is ever going to be helpful and is significantly more likely to be harmful.

        • Could not agree more with “Anon” – tattooed arms are NOT for a law office, much less court or client meetings.
          As for the smaller ” innocent ” variety , moleskin should be helpful. Or even Clinique skin toned coverup and then matte face powder to hold it – but that could wear off during a long day at the office. Like the Dermablend suggestion. Better safe than sorry.

      • I have a large tattoo on the top of my foot and during my summers I covered it with Dermablend. It’s pretty amazing stuff – with hose on you couldn’t tell at all. If you do plan on going that route, I’d suggest you go to a department store (I got mine at Macy’s) and try it out to figure out which tone looks best on your skin. Also, be prepared for it to get on anything you wear or touch. I pretty much had to throw out my hose after one wear and scrub before bed so it didn’t get on my sheets. Now that I have a real job, I’m over doing all that work just to cover up a tattoo, but it was effective at the time.

      • There is an airbrush makeup kit called Dinair, which is around $200 I think but worth it to me to own! There is a medical type makeup that lasts for around 18 hours and completely covers the tattoos. I use it at work and even used it to cover up my sleeve for my wedding (I just wanted to be a princess!) I think it is great and does not wash off very easily!

    • I have one tattoo I don’t really like, and I’ve been considering getting it covered with another tattoo. (I’ve been considering this for, like, 8 years now, so I doubt I’ll ever do it. I can’t decide what else I might want a tattoo of, and I’ve had this tattoo for so long that I notice it about as often as I notice my freckles.) But for those of you considering removal, covering is a less-painful option if you just don’t want that particular tattoo as opposed to not wanting a tattoo at all.

    • When I was 19, I did the same thing. My boyfriend was getting one, so I got one with his name on my left bum. Now I am not even seeing him any more but still have his name. It was dificult to explain to my new boyfriend, but he is now over it.

      • Going forward, if anyone wants to help out with my little project, it helps to call ’em like you see ’em. E.g. “I think this is Ellen,” or “Hi Ellen.”

        I have a tab called “Alternate Names” for such instances.

        Pardon the interjection! As you were, ladies!

    • There is a foundation makeup sold at department stores that is used on the body called dermablend. It is used to cover scars, beauty marks,and tattoos. Often used to cover tattoos on the sets of movies and tv shows.

  3. K in... Transition :

    Loving this conversation already, though it’s just begun. Considering the stats, I think we’ll see a shift in the hiding of ink in the next 20 years as the GenX and GenY folks become the head honchos, but this transition time means many big scary important people still think tattoos are just for sailors or hussies. Heck, I’d rather see something huge and awesomely well done in my work place than something small and poorly done, but then, I’ve only been the superior for folks older than me, which means I haven’t had the opportunity yet to interview/consider hiring folks with visible ink. But that lends the question too… if you are in charge/contributing to hiring, would YOU hire someone with major ink?

    • momentsofabsurdity :

      Wouldn’t bother me personally unless they were in a client facing position – and then, only because you don’t always get to choose your clients and unless we had business coming out of our ears, I wouldn’t want to unconsciously turn away someone’s money because they were uncomfortable with my staff.

      • This argument always bothers me. Some clients are uncomfortable working with Jews, or with women, or with GLBT people, or with fat people. I’m not sure why tattoos are that different.

        • Because tattoos are a mutable characteristic (unlike race, gender, ethnicity). And to some, getting a tattoo is synonymous with demonstrating poor judgment.

          • Gay people could stay in the closet, fat people could diet, and Jewish people could change our last names. That way all the clients will be happy, right?

          • Some heavily tattooed people are worth hiring, and some are not, just like anybody else.

            …and some clients are worth firing.

            Yes, some clients will be judgy and discriminate based on something that’s surface, and not substance, but I’d hate to affirm their worldview. I’d feel like I was implicitly being a collaborator in the discrimination.

          • Exactly. Success in many jobs can depend on factors other than intellect and work ethic and there’s usually a lot of competition. Having a sleeve of tattoos can suggest suggest immaturity and poor judgment; not covering it shows an unwillingness to present a serious image.

            Like it or not, fitting in matters at most law firms.

            Frankly, I’ve been wondering when the other shoe was going to drop and I’d start reading “Tattoo Regret” stories.

        • Seattleite :

          Because tattoos are chosen, and most people will draw meaning from them WRT who the wearer is – the same way they do with clothing.

        • You’re not seriously equating a tattoo with race, religion or sexual orientation, are you? I suppose next you’ll say you have a civil right to expose your tattoos in the workplace, lol.

          • I’m saying it’s wrong to discriminate against people based on their appearance.

          • Kontraktor :

            Agreed, Bluejay. Especially if the tattooed person in question is conforming to all other appropriate/normal standards of their office dress code.

            In a way, this reminds me of something like not wearing makeup to work or having frizzy hair that goes untreated or unstyled. A person could easily choose to wear makeup or unfrizz their hair, but countless discussions on this site have concluded that we shouldn’t be so shallow or presumtuous to judge people for choice-based appearance issues like that.

            Apparently it is NOT okay to make a judgement about somebody who doesn’t wear make up or style their hair (even though you could argue that ‘shows’ something ‘negative’ about a person just like a lot of people here are saying that tattoos ‘show’ something negative). But apparently it’s okay to make all kinds of judgements about tattoos?

          • Theoretically maybe we should only judge on personality and work product, but the truth is that we judge based on appearances all the time. To me, a tattoo looks trashy, and I would probably have more sympathy at an interview for someone whose clothing looks frumpy or cheap or ill-fitting, or whose hair doesn’t look the greatest, or whose purse is way unprofessional. That doesn’t mean I would never hire someone with a visible tattoo, but it does mean that I’m going to deduct a few points at the outset, partly because I think it looks bad superficially, and partly because in my mind, I don’t associate tattoos with professionalism. Yes I am prejudiced, but then isn’t everyone prejudiced against certain things, and wouldn’t it be prudent for a summer or junior to know “her” weaknesses? (“Her” because you can argue they are “my” weaknesses, and fine, but I am in a position of power and not likely to change my views.) This is neither here nor there, but I am more likely to look kindly on someone with a sleeve than a little cutesy thing on a wrist, ankle, etc.; to me, sleeve means artsy and is somehow more expressive than a discrete image.

          • No WAY are people on this blog saying not to discriminate on the basis of appearance. That’s what people here do everyday, in every fashion discussion. A tattoo is different from cutoff shorts in that you can’t take it off, but it is not a trait one is born with; it’s a choice you make, just like you choose to get your ears (or something else) pierced or to wear hooker heels. Figure out what’s appropriate for work and deal with it. If you want to flaunt it, know that it’s the same as if you were flaunting guidelines for fake nails or eyelashes.

            Theoretically, I don’t have anything against tattoos, and I had a very good student with full sleeves a couple years ago, but I’ve known a few wing nuts who don’t just show off their tats at kiddy gatherings but who continue to make questionable choices. My kid’s yoga teacher has several unusual tattoos and piercings in unusual places. She is a wonderful person, and fantastic with him. I was surprised the first time I met her, but not uncomfortable. I don’t know if everyone would be that open-minded.

            But I don’t think I agree on the advice about what kind of law this person ought to go into. I remember wearing a Swiss farmer’s shirt, peg leg jeans, and lots of tiny braids that looked like dreads when I was an undergrad. I don’t think that says much about who I am now.

          • Bluejay – the difference is that we are talking about employment here. It is not unlawful for an ER to discriminate against a candidate who is tattooed. However, it IS unlawful for an ER to discriminate against someone based on that individual’s race, religion, sex, gender, and in some states – size.

            Whether discriminating against someone because of their tattoo is not nice or morally wrong is a different conversation from one about race, gender, etc., because we, as a society, have not agreed to protect a person’s right to have a tattoo and dress however they want at work.

            The reality is that we can and freely do judge people based on their appearances, and most specifically, aspects of their appearance that they can control. Honestly, I don’t think there is really anything wrong with this. If you do, then stop to consider why you wouldn’t show up to a job interview in pajamas.

          • Kontraktor :

            To those who don’t quite understand the distinction between dress and other appearance-based issues. I think I might be able to offer some thoughts.

            I think it’s one thing to mandate dress code or dress standards, because these are standards that can pretty easily be equally applied to everybody. Saying “all employees must wear a suit” or “no jeans allowed” is objectively enforceable and easy to equally apply. So, it is clear and makes sense when somebody doesn’t follow a policy like that (like they show up to a meeting in PJs or they show up in pants made out of jean fabric).

            I think other appearance-based issues are completely not objective and very hard to enforce, and thus exist in a realm where we have to be careful about judging. Is that person’s hair frizzy because they are lazy about their appearance, or because they are of a particular ethnic background that makes their hair hard or impossible to wear in a certain way? Is that person not wearing makeup because they are schlummy, or because they have a medical allergy or condition that prevents them from wearing makeup? If those types of people can get exceptions for that sort of behavior, why can’t everybody? How do you enforce those standards? What if I unfrizzed my hair in the morning but it got rained on and was frizzy at work? Do you come by women’s desks wearing a white glove and swipe your finger across their face to see if they are wearing an acceptabe amount of makeup? Maybe my tattoo peeking out from under my sleeve is offensive to you, but what if bubblegum pink lipstick, bright nail polish, or any other thing is offensive to me? Why is red lipstick any more inherently offensive than a peeking-out tattoo? Where and how is that codified? Why is any one of these types of more subjective appearance issues any more offensive than anything else? It’s easy to say “you are not wearing a suit” because objectively you are wearing PJs, and PJs do not classify as a suit. But it is almost impossible to say “your lipstick is inappropriate” because what lipstick is objectively appropriate or not? What is the RGB color code for good vs. bad lipstick and how do you test if I am wearing that acceptable RGB color of rose vs. that one shade off where the green is set to 147 instead of 146? This unfortunately is the realm of “I know something inappropriate when I see it,” and we all know how tenuous and personal that standard of logic is.

            Appearance issues like hair, makeup, jewelry, and even tattoos are hard to code objective standards on because those standards are impossible to enforce and will almost always have exceptions. I think judging somebody *just because* they have tattoos *when everything else about them conforms to acceptable standards* doesn’t make sense, is rude, and is just as bad as judging somebody *just because* they don’t do whatever other subjective appearance thing you do.

            Now of course we all laugh/gossip/whatever secretly to ourselves when a person commits subjective appearance error ABC, but whatever error that is, what does it say about us as people if we *completely neglect* everything else about that person and get so hung up on one subjective choice that we judge them that bad and hate them that much? The single-finger blue nail polish story is legendary here because so many of us were stunned that somebody could focus so harshly on such a silly matter of appearance issue. Why is forming a harsh opinion of somebody because of one finger of blue nail polish silly, but a peeking-out tattoo makes it okay to put all kinds of judgements and assumptions on somebody? This is my point- that’s subjective and thus different than saying, this person didn’t a wear a suit (because if they did, well they did, and if they didn’t, they didn’t).

          • Kontraktor: The debate about curly/frizzy/kinky hair, especially “natural” styles for African Americans, is different. In that situation, women feel required to apply noxious, even toxic chemicals to their hair to conform to a Caucasian standard of beauty.

            If someone wears her hair naturally, no one is saying that it doesn’t have to be styled and look professional. As these styles are still relatively new, they are evolving.

        • momentsofabsurdity :

          You’re right that a potential client could judge you for a myriad of reasons, including race, religion, gender, etc. A potential client could judge me because I have a big nose, or because my hair is flyaway, or they didn’t like my purple teeshirt. You can even be judged for being “too” perfect, ie, “She has it too together, I don’t trust her.”

          However, society has decided that there acceptable reasons to judge someone and unacceptable ones. Typically, unacceptable ones relate to things that are core parts of our identity that we cannot change. Acceptable ones tend to (but not always) refer to our choices. Like it or not, a tattoo that someone willingly puts onto their body is a a choice of self expression (and like I said above, I have a tattoo), and it’s done knowing that it’s a characteristic that is socially acceptable to judge.

          In other words, I don’t make the rules, I just play by them.

          • I am doomed:
            Frizzy hair
            Has a tattoo
            Doesn’t wear make up 2 days out of 3

            Can it get any worse?

    • If the person interacted with clients, I would make it clear that they would be expected to cover up, but I wouldn’t assume bad things about the person’s character, work ethic, or respect for authority just based on tattoos. (Unless it’s a face/neck tattoo. )

    • “if you are in charge/contributing to hiring, would YOU hire someone with major ink?”

      The tattoos themselves would be fine. However, if the person is wearing anything other than a suit to the interview, they’d be dinged immediately, so unless the tattoo was somewhere that isn’t covered by a suit it’s unlikely I’d even know about it before they were hired.

      • I genuinely don’t understand this argument at all. You are saying that you would ding someone for not wearing a suit but above, you suggest that its wrong to judge if people have tattoos. If a person can be forced to conform to some determined and arbitrary idea (suit looks nice for interview/work-place) and if they don’t conform, then dinged, then why can’t people be forced to conform to the determined and artibraty idea that non-tattoed skin looks nicer in a professional setting?

        • Hey, I’ll judge you for both– because I would be judging you for lack of common sense. If you don’t wear a suit to an interview, (assuming we are speaking of a law firm/ most professional environments) you have demonstrated a lack of knowledge about expectations and appropriate behavior for the position for which you have applied. Same goes for a visible tattoo. An interview is not the time to try to change the culture of the company. You know they are conservative, be conservative. You can “let you hair down” once you have the job and have established your capabilities.

          But I will still be there, judging your fashion sense….

          • Yes, common sense and pragmatism have to play a role. For example, if you have biggish curly, kinky hair (and I’m assuming it’s lovely and professionally styled), you probably should tone down the rest of your presentation, i.e., nicely fitting, but somewhat conservative suits, because in a conservative office you are already pushing the limits. with your hair

            If you get to a position where you are making policy, you may be able to influence attitudes then. If you don’t acknowledge now that there are rules you’ll never get there.

    • I think the acceptance of tattoos will only change to a certain extent. Tattoos on the face will always say to me “I will never be a productive member of society.”

      • Oh yes.

        Also, for Bluejay and Kontraktor, I’m completely not judging and I don’t think anyone else here is either. We have been asked for our thoughts and how this type of tattoo would play in our respective offices. I don’t care if you want to get your entire body tattooed…but you would not be hire-able in 99.9% of all firms if so.

        In this case with just 1/2 sleeves…I still think it would be a problem in many many offices. There is one firm I know (through friends’ experience) that once they find out about your tattoos that may be covered up by your suit in interviews but are seen on a more regular basis…you will be looking for a job. At my old firm, it probably would not be a problem. However, I always found it amusing how many of my former client base judged people with tattoos, never sparing a thought to the fact that the person next to them had his entire back done. In other words, they didn’t judge the tattoos they knew, just the tattoos they didn’t know.

        • Kontraktor :

          I just think it’s a bit strange that it’s not okay to judge (or fire) somebody for having terrible hair, makeup, or clothes, or anything else appearance based that could be changed with the choice to, but it is okay to treat tattoos as such. I am not talking about tattoos with profanity or things like that- but rather, judging tattoos so harshly simply because they are tattoos. To me, if it’s okay to have such feelings about tattoos, it should be okay to have the same feelings about anything else we can control over our appearances. Why should somebody be offended over my choice to have a tattoo in my otherwise acceptable appearance any more than they should be offended over my choice to not wear makeup/unfrizz my hair/whatever?

          If a firm can fire me over a visible tattoo, why can’t they fire me over my lack of wearing lipstick? It just seems hypocritical to me.

          • Well, in my state they CAN fire someone for having terrible hair, makeup, or clothes. Anyone can be fired at any time for any (non-discriminatory) reason! And quite honestly, as an employment lawyer, I would say that people DO get fired for that (always couched as “not fitting into the office culture”) although it is hard to know what percentage of “not fitting in” is due to hair/makeup/clothes v. discriminatory conduct that the discriminator is simply smart enough to keep under wraps.

            As I said somewhere on this thread. I actually know of one person who, once she got comfortable and familiar with her office, began to allow her tats and piercings to show…and a week later she was fired. Coincidence? I doubt it. Provably tied to her body mods? Nope.

          • Kontraktor, if anything, I’d say wearing lipstick, not not wearing it, is parallel to having tats.

          • I was going to say the same as CA attorney. In my state, they can fire someone for not wearing makeup if the employee manual says they have to. It actually happened to a co worker years ago. She tried to argue gender discrimination, but because there were also rules for the men (hair had to be cut short above the collar and ears, no unnatural hair colors, no visible jewelry, etc) it was fine. And yes, she was literally fired for this exact reason. She wore her hair natural, which was wavy and somewhat frizzed, and she didn’t believe in wearing makeup at all. They fired her for it.

          • Kontraktor :

            CAA and Sadie, I am truly shocked, especially at your former co-worker’s story, Sadie. I am surprised that’s even legal to write make-up wearing into an office dress code. How is that even enforced?

            I guess I find this shocking because often, appearance-based ‘issues’ may be tied to protected statuses/behaviors. For example, what if an appearance-based issue was related to ethnicity (like textured hair) or religion (like a Menonite or Orthodox Jewish person not wearing makeup or the nose piercing that many Indian women wear) or medical condition (like somebody with a skin condition not wearing makeup)? How can companies get away with even touching issues like that with a 10-foot pole? I mean, if a company says it’s okay to have frizzy hair if you are X race, why then is it not okay for somebody of Y race to have frizzy hair?

            It just seems like a completely slippery (and illegal) slope, but of course I am not in the industry so I don’t know!

          • Kontraktor, you’ve actually just put your finger on a VERY contentious point of law. I used to work for law enforcement, and in law enforcement, many branches are required to wear riot gear on an infrequent basis (at least, infrequent usually, depending on where you live!) but on a frequent basis for training. Other branches are required to be able to wear a specific kind of oxygen mask. Some African-American men cannot shave their beards because they get skin rashes, ingrown hairs, etc…(there’s an actual name for the syndrome, I just can’t remember). Some AA men have been fired for being unable to wear these masks. This used to be normal. This is somewhat changing now, and I’m not sure terminating someone for being unable to meet this job requirement would hold up anymore, it’s going to depend heavily on the policies of that Department.

            For instance, I once read a case study on a woman who was being baptized Sikh. She argued that she was required to wear a specific, complicated, wrap-style turban at all times. She would not be able to wear the riot gear helmet or any other head covering. The Department policies banned ANY kind of religious signifier. I.e. if you’re Catholic you cannot wear a cross, if you’re Jewish you cannot wear a kippa, if you’re Wiccan you cannot wear a pentagram (If you’re Catholic you still cannot wear a kippa, I’m just using symbols specific to these religions.)

            The Department was legally able to terminate this officer based on her wearing a religious object. IF the Department had not had such a strict requirement, they may not have been able to terminate her because the requirements would have been unduly prejudicial to her specific religion. My understanding is that some Departments have managed to relax their requirements and there may be a handful of Sikh officers throughout the US now.

            ********Disclaimer, I ONLY practice in California and this information may be old/outdated/case specific. DO NOT rely on this information for any legal purpose! (Sorry, paranoia!)********

          • Kontraktor :

            CA Atty, thanks for the great anecdotes. Very clarifying. I am not surprised things like this exist because these appearance issues may physically impede people from doing their jobs. My husband is in the military and they have similar restrictions- they are required to be able to wear gas masks, can’t wear jewelry at certain times for safety reasons, etc. Perhaps a similar type of thing would be when a physical impediment prevents a person from doing a job (such as a parapelegic probably would not be able to be a bicycle messenger).

            These sorts of issues though still seem different to me than being able to mandate that somebody wears makeup (or similar). Whether or not I wear makeup, do my hair a certain way, or whatever has nothing to do with me being able to do my job. For example, I could see why a police department could win a case against a person with long hair for religious reasons because it physically impeded on the ability to do their job and put on riot gear/caused safety issues. I am not sure I could see a law firm winning a case against a long-haired-for-religious-reasons person because their office policy said men had to have hair above the collar.

            Obviously I am *not* asking you to advise, simply stating thoughts/un-informed steam of conciousness out loud in an area I don’t know much about!

          • Kontraktor – the difference is that ERs CAN discriminate against an EE for any reason, provided it is not unlawful. It’s unlawful if it is because of someone’s race, religion, sex, gender, disability, age, and in CA – size. Employers control the domain of their business. That means, they can require people to dress a certain way, and they don’t really need a reason for the requirement that makes sense to anyone. If someone dresses a certain way because of their religion, then that employee needs to ask for an accommodation. If the ER can reasonably accommodate it, then the employer is obligated to provide it. Look, life is not a free for all. You don’t just get to be how you want and expect people will want to employ you. You are not entitled to employment. No employer is obligated to give you a job just because you might be good at it. It doesn’t matter if things seem hypocritical – maybe they are. But, I’d ask why do they need to be consistent? And again, I’m only talking about non-protected categories, here (that is, permitting inconsistency outside of immutable characteristics like race, religion, etc). The employer can choose to fire you for a tattoo and not for the lipstick because that is the employer’s prerogative. It gets to choose because it’s the boss. You always have the option of starting your own business and setting your own rules. :) But a business owner is not obligated to employ you and see your tattoos all day if it doesn’t want to.

    • We recently interviewed someone for the receptionist position at our firm who had visible tattoos (neck and arms). The ones on her arms could have been covered up with sleeves (but she wore a sleeveless top for the interview), but not the one on her neck. We did not consider her for the position. As far as an attorney or paralegal, I would expect them to cover any tattoos for an interview, and if they did not, I’d have to question their judgment. If they had a tattoo on their neck or some other place that couldn’t be covered, I doubt that we would consider them, but we are a conservative firm, with conservative clients. I’m not saying we would not hire someone with a tattoo, just would expect them to keep any tattoos covered at the office. I’m sure other offices may be different.

      • Kontraktor :

        I feel I would probably argue a sleeveless top with nothing else is not the best interview choice period, regardless of a person having tattoos or not.

    • I wouldn’t automatically disqualify them for a tattoo. But if they had a tattoo that was visible during an interview I would classify that in the same “questionable judgment” category as a visible bra strap. Not a disqualifier, but definitely a question mark of “what were they thinking.”

    • Anonymous for This :

      No, I find tattoos sketchy and can hire plenty of wonderful people,that don’t have them. Tattoos give me the creeps.

      • Oil in Houston :

        sorry if I’m not popular, but I wouldn’t like to see tattoos on someone with responsibility… I work in a reasonably casual office, and even then I wouldn’t expect people to show tattos.
        cover it up would be my advice!

    • In Banking... :

      Visible tatoos are prohibited in my bank, a $15B+ West-coast regional bank. They must be covered during the workday. So are piercings on men and on anywhere but the earlobe for women (well, you can have the piercing you just can’t wear anything in the hole). Similarly, sleeveless shirts for women and capri pants are banned.

  4. :

    Early TJ:

    I will be graduating law school in May (yay!) and taking the bar exam in July (boo!) and starting work in October (some combination of yay/boo). My husband and I want to take a trip to celebrate after the bar exam. We were looking at Istanbul and/or Greece for 7-9 days and it seems like it will come out to $5k. This sounds like a TON of money to me to spend on a post-lawschool trip. I guess what I’m wondering is, am I crazy to not want to spend this kind of money for a week-long vacation?? Does this sound reasonable, too high or too low? Not sure if I’m still in “poor student” mode but it just seems like a heck of a lot of money.

    • momentsofabsurdity :

      For two of you? Sounds about right. However, there are some great deals on Travel Zoo and if you keep watching, you may be able to score one. I’m currently holding myself back from buying this one:

    • This sounds like about the right price for a trip like this. Can you afford it? If you can pay for it without using credit, and you’re not going to need that money later on (i.e. you have a job waiting for you when you return), you should go for it. It’ll be awesome.

    • If you can afford it without going into huge amounts of debt, go! As a grown up, I have been sad about how much of life is a time/money trade off. Once you start working, you will have more money, but it will be incredibly hard to take of more than a week. That is not really enough time to get to more far flung places like Turkey.

      As an aside, I went to Turkey a few years ago and it was amazing. Istanbul is such a wonderful historic city, and I’d highly recommend a few days in Cappodocia in central Turkey.

      The question is whether you can afford it. 5k sounds like a reasonable price for a trip like this, but personally I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting it on my credit card.

      • we went to panama for 10 days on $500 total after the bar (was all we had left) and had a blast… there are cheaper places

      • Also Anon :

        We spent $2000 on a 3 weeks camping around the west coast (including some treats, like a couple of nice hotels). Once we subtracted the cost of subletting our NYC place + what we would have spent on food, etc here, we wound literally up saving money.

    • You’ve earned the vacation! Early congrats. Try Travelzoo,,…also Costco (if it’s in your area) has some great vacation deals as well. $5k sounds about right although you could find something less I believe.

    • I went to Turkey for 3 weeks a few years ago (by myself) and I spent less than that, but I went in October (end of peak travel season) and stayed in youth hostels & pensions. It sounds like you’re going in peak travel season, so this doesn’t sound outrageous. I would recommend looking at Lufthansa’s “We Fly Home” site (Google it — back then, it was a separate site from their main page) for good rates on airfare.

      • That’s a good deal. I took a similar 9-day bar trip to Greece a few years ago and spent more than that just on myself. This is your one good uninterrupted chance to take a wonderful trip. You have earned it after all of your hard work. If you can afford it, go and don’t think another second about it.

    • AnonInfinity :

      DO IT! My husband and I spent more than that on my post-bar trip and enjoyed every freaking second of it. It is 100% worth it. This may be controversial, but we even put it on the credit card and paid it off over a few months (took us about 3 months to pay it off completely), and I still think it was worth it, even with the interest. No doubt. Do it.

      • Go! and for a recommendation, some friends and I went on a greek islands cruise through GAP (now G adventures). It actually ended up being pretty reasonable cost-wise because we got to sleep on the boat but still see lots of islands, and eat a couple of meals a day on the boat.

    • It’s not a lot of money when you consider that you probably won’t go on a vacation for the first two years of practice. And if you do, yes, all the partners will think less of you for it. Just the way it is.

  5. I think I’m just going to be the first to say this . . . the tone of this post disappointed me. Especially in light of all the supportive comments the last couple of days encouraging fellow readers to be their best selves in the workplace environment. “That said, are you really the type of person who wants to work in a conservative office? . . . it also means that you probably dance to the beat of your own drummer and may have less respect for conventions and authority.” Really? This is judging the original questioner right off the bat, when she’s written in to get advice on how to avoid negative judgment. She has an art degree and will soon have a law degree – we must presume that the law interests her, and if anything help her figure out the best way to present herself in that profession, not sideline her immediately.

    • PharmaGirl :

      I completely agree. The statement about a lack of respect for authority really threw me.

      Otherwise, I actually agree with the advice that tattoos should be covered for all interviews in the corporate environment and Reader A should continue to cover until she knows her co-workers and manager. I know a (former) lawyer whose back is completely covered and his arms are sleeved to the elbows. None of his former co-workers knew about that part of his life.

      Do law students cover tattoos as well? I was under the impression that some law schools keep a business dress code, which I assumed to mean tattoos were covered and facial piercings were removed.

      • I actually don’t think that’s bad since “authority” (defined however you want, such as “the man” or just “higher ups”) would generally think that tattoos are not appropriate, and she didn’t care about that enough to let her stop it. On the other hand, it sounds like she may have changed since then, so that may no longer be true, but I tend to think that someone who got tattoo sleeves cared less about conventions and what other people thought.

      • Anon, J.D. :

        Law schools with a business dress code? Maybe in 1970. But if they exist, I’d love to know which ones they are…

        • PharmaGirl :

          I’m not a lawyer so law school isn’t something I know much about. The bit about dress codes was something I read on the internets, therefore, totally factual!

          • law students dress like college students! nike shorts, yoga pants, and flip flops are all fair game.

          • My law school certainly didn’t have a dress code of any kind. While I always tried to look presentable, we had one guy who regularly come to class in his PJs all three years.

            We did, however, have some classes that required professional dress. Usually those were classes where a moot court was held, or where you were doing a practicum and therefore actually interacting with clients/judges/courts.

    • As someone who got her 1st ankle tattoo after EIGHT years of thinking, sober and not on spring break, I completely agree. I know several people who have large tattoos and serious, conservative careers. I don’t think Kat wa intentionally trying to judge though.

      To the OP, I would say you will probably have to cover them up for awhile, possibly every day in an ultra conservative environment and definitely in court!

    • I have tattoos, and was not the last bit offended by Kat’s post. On the contrary, I think she raises some important points. I’d love to hear from the OP on this one.

    • Really? I took it exactly the opposite way. Instead of saying “all women lawyers must be the same” she’s saying there’s room for lots of different personalities and work environments within our profession.

      • I’m with Bluejay. I actually thought Kat’s tone was filled with a lot of kindness and frank openness (is there a word for that?). Office culture is really important, as we all can see from the miserable and the happy women that post and read here.

        Also, I wear mehndi/henna to work. On my nails. And it’s so okay. It took me years to “build up the courage” or earn the seniority/gravitas/whatever and I’m happy. And I’m not embarrassed or unsure of myself if I get intricate hand/arm designs as well. Well, I do have to fend off the assumption that I’m getting married (true story) but yeah, I liked Kat’s post.

        • Tired Squared :

          Ru, I had NO idea that you could use mehndi on your nails! I’ve done it on my hands for weddings, and I use it in my hair, but nails … how does that work?

          • Apply mehndi on your nails. Dry for hours (I recommend watching two movies back to back on your couch in pj’s, be careful with the snuggie). Remove and glory in the orange of your nails. However, mehndi dyes your nails. It can fade a bit but to be completely rid of it, it has to grow out. Depending on your attention span and nail polish habits, that be really annoying but I usually reapply every 3 weeks or so. And if you’re frequenting desi grocers, ask if they have “nail mehndi”. It’s a smaller tube specially formulated for nails. But powder mixes are just as good.

    • Happy Anon :

      I agree – this rubbed me the wrong way – and I’m someone with multiple tattoos that remain hidden naturally due to clothing, but am perfectly proud of. People are often shocked to see my tattoos for the first time, because I have a rather preppy, pearl wearing exterior. Bugs me that people are so quick to categorize. Why does tattoo = unconventional and anti-authority? Why does blonde hair, pearls and a polo shirt = no way you’d ever be cool enough to have a tattoo? So much judging. I often get the “don’t you regret that?!” question when someone sees my largest tattoo – which is a word that is very meaningful to me – and I hate that. People have experiences and pasts and layers – OP has an art school background and has had a whole life before become a summer associate. In my opinion and experience, she’ll be a much better summer associate and much more valuable asset to her firm because of it, and I’m sure they’ll figure that out quickly. Embrace your full, rich, layered self OP!

      • My very conservative, southern belle former coworker had an awesome tattoo… on her rear end. We got drunk once and she showed it to me. No one would ever have imagined, and she thought it was a great and subversive little secret.

      • Kontraktor :

        I have 10 piercings and a similarly conservative exterior. People are often shocked when I tell them that I in fact have 8 more piercings than just my 2 earlobes. Most people don’t even notice the 4 to 6 visible piercings I wear every day. I only had one person in all my years of work experience make a negative comment to me about them, and she was a sort of a bad mom-jeans type wearing one of those raised/snowman applique/ holiday sweatshirts to work.

        Two of my visible/somewhat non-traditional piercings I can’t take out, so I have worn them to meetings, interviwes, whatever, and I’ve gotten plenty of jobs, am fully employed now, and have been offered at firms/places even more conservative than where I am at now. I even have short hair now so they can’t be covered. They are on full display for the world to see. I think so long as you ‘make up’ for these sorts of things in your demeanor, overall aesthetic/dress, and unbeatable work ethic, many people will not care (and plenty may not even notice).

        Even for larger body modifications- so long as you maybe go a little more cautiously at first (although I find about 90% of my work outfits cover most of my arms anyway, and I like to be more covered up just for my own modesty’s sake), don’t play into stereotypes, dress otherwise completely normally with the culture of your office, and have a 100% dedication to your work like you should anyway, I don’t think having the tattoos means anything and is a detriment to long term success or career building.

        • Anonymous :

          Where are the non traditional piercings? I know a while ago we had a debate on conch and tragus ear piercings being totally inappropriate but I think as long as the jewlery is tasteful it’s fine.

          • Kontraktor :

            HAHA! Those are basically exactly what I have. I’ve got my tragus pierced in one ear and some forward helix piercings in the other ear. Hilarious.

            I think it’s even more hilarious that I am sure the types of people to say these things are inappropriate would probably never even notice mine. I’m not kidding when I say I have gotten only 1 comment in 7+ years of having them. I honestly think because I dress in a manner otherwise so conservative (heck, even a bit ‘old’ sometimes for my age), people aren’t even thinking to look for piercings (granted, my jewelry is super small gauge but still).

            However, I think the crux of the point here is that I don’t dress conservatively *because of* my piercings- I dress conservatively because that’s a huge part of my personality, in addition to liking piercings. I love super prim Brooks Brothers clothing AND piercings at the same time. I know that seems impossible to some (because all pierced/tattoos people defy authority/set things on fire/whatever), but it’s possible to balance a conservative personality with the little random more ‘out there’ thing too.

          • This isn’t towards just you kontraktor, but lately a lot on this site people having been saying “I do XYZ, and no one has ever said anything” and I just think that’s a weird defense when we are talking about subtle feelings like judging someone. Yesterday i think it was about the pale legs and someone said no one has ever said anything about my pale legs, and I just thought well of course they wouldn’t that would be rude, it doesn’t mean they dont think they are ugly. (And I thought it because I have super pale legs that I worry are ugly not because I do judge pale legs)

          • I also find this discussion hilarious. In addition to my conch ear piercing, which no one EVER notices, I also have a tattoo that covers most of my right foot and shows if I wear a skirt with anything but black opaque tights. When I was clerking, I had a (very small) nose piercing as well. No one has ever made a comment about any of my body art. I have worked at a white shoe law firm and am now in-house at an investment bank. It has never been an issue. That said, I took out the nose piercing before my first “real” job and cover my tattoo for interviews.

            I think the best advice is to stay covered up until you know your office. A visible tattoo–of any kind, even a butterfly on your ankle– in an interview would make me question your judgment/professionalism. It is completely ok to be tatt’ed up, but know your audience. Now that I am established in my job, I don’t think twice about showing my tattoo or piercing at the office; however, I do also wear suits/ conservative business casual and cover my tattoo for client meetings. To me it isn’t so much a matter of self-expression as it is common sense.

          • Kontraktor :

            cfm, I think the point is more that if XYZ behavior was really so terrible or bad, that somebody would have said something at some point. Bosses, mentors, and even peers tend to be decent at offering feedback when something isn’t right. Sure, not all work places are really open, feedback-driven environments, but generally if an employee does something egregiously and terribly wrong, somebody somewhere says something about it. If I write a memo incorrectly or brief a presentation so badly to the point where my action is truly offensive, bad, and off putting, my supervisor tells me that. That sort of terrible, terrible behavior just doesn’t get brushed under the rug.

            Similarly, I think the point holds that if an appearance-based issue (be it tattoos, piercings, no stockings, whatever) is truly so horrible that it is offending most people and prohibiting you or others from getting your job done, somebody at some point will say something about it. In my case, I personally just find it hard to believe that if my piercings/insert appearance-based behaviors were so offensive to people that they wouldn’t have said something about it all by now (and I have worked in many, many different types of places with many different types of peers, managers, and the like).

            Finally, I really do think a lot of people just tend not to notice. So many people I know are shocked to realize I have said piercings even though I work with them daily for months on end. Similar with the pasty legs- truly I don’t really look at my colleagues’ legs that much. And even if I do, and even if I judge their ugly legs for a whole 5 seconds, I have a laugh to myself, build myself a bridge, get over it, and continue working with them as normal, especially if they are a perfectly capable colleague.

            We are forced to work with people all the time who may not conform 100% to our standards of [fill in the blank], and to some extent, it really is on us to get over those things and work with people despite our own preferences, especially if our colleagues do otherwise completely normal, acceptable, and even good work.

          • I am one of the posters from the previous debate that has a tragus piercing. I took Kontraktor’s comment regarding a lack of response to her piercings to mean that no one has noticed them during all this time. I do think that is something worth noting. I work in an office, and a part of the country, where some people would most definitely make mention of my piercing if they noticed it. Either it isn’t noticeable or it’s so benign that it doesn’t invite even a polite question about it. I have had friends with whom I interact on a regular basis say, “When did you get your ear pierced?” They are quite surprised when I tell them it was ten years ago. (Like Kontraktor, my jewelry is very small gauge as well, though.)

        • Dream piercing: the Monroe. A teensy little diamond stud to approximate a mole. I wish I wanted a nose piercing, it would fit in with my cultural attire but dream piercings don’t work that way.

        • I think a law office is particularly sensitive to body modifications. Attorneys represent their clients, not themselves. We have to keep a fine balance of being generic enough to represent all our varying clients but magnetic enough to win over a judge or jury. My clients range from truck drivers to Fortune 500 companies. I dress neutrally and distinguish myself with my personality and work ethic. I’m not practicing law to express myself. If that was the case, I’d quick this job and become an artist.

    • Anonymous :

      Hmm, still trying to gauge

      • Anonymous :

        Oops, that was supposed to read: still trying to gauge my thoughts on this post. I am a lawyer (10 years out), with an art school degree and large, somewhat difficult to hide tattoos. Not so sure about the anti-authority assumptions that tattoos themselves seem to elicit, but definitely, an art degree will teach you to look at things from very different perspectives. This ability can be very beneficial in legal practice, but can also make life hell if you’re trying to fit yourself into a very conservative firm or corporate environment. Re dressing and the tattoo sleeves: dark shirts will be your friend, as will the 3/4 length sleeves that a reader above suggested. How much you expose will really depend on where you end up working, but my advice is that in the beginning you do not want the tattoos to talk for you.

    • There’s always this division on this board about what is your right and what is the best professional course to take. It is your RIGHT to wear a blouse cut to your navel. I think we can all agree, this is not the best way to be perceived as a professional.

      I feel the same way about significant tattoos.

      Just as you would save the plunging necklines for your club-hopping personal life, you would be best off covering your tattoos at work and baring them on your personal time. It may be legal or your right to show them off at work, but it’s not the best strategy for getting your good work noticed in a corporate environment.

    • Totally Anon for this one :

      I bristled at that statement too because the implication is that tattoos are somehow disrespectful.

  6. TJ — I am invited to a wedding with the dress code “rustic elegant” on a campground. Other events for the wedding weekend are “smart casual,” so it seems that “rustic elegant” must mean something else — any ideas???


    • Gooseberry :

      What about a really pretty maxi, casual hair, and pretty (but still casual) sandals?

    • No heels? Or at least shoes suitable for walking comfortably around a campground?

    • I would wear country club casual-type clothes for the “smart casual” events, and something less preppy (and maybe more whimsical/Anthropolgie-like) for the “rustic elegant” part. I agree with Gooseberry and Laura that you should choose campground-friendly shoes for the wedding itself.

    • Ugh. Could they have picked something that gave you any less guidance on dressing? Sympathies.

      • Maybe they have an elaborate FAQ section on their wedding website with details and examples :)

    • Seattleite :

      C*cktail dress. Made of flannel.

      Seriously, the way people make up dress categories makes me stabby. As does the idea that one’s guests are so uncouth that they must be instructed how to clothe themselves.

      • hahahaha!

      • Add a piece of rope for belt and you’re good to go!

      • anonforthis :

        I actually appreciate when people give a dress code. Sometimes it’s hard to tell how fancy a wedding will be just based on location.

        I am also putting a dress code on my website because my fiance and I come from VERY different backgrounds and there is a good chance of half our family/friends wearing jeans while the other half dons cocktail attire unless told otherwise. It’s just what each side is used to for weddings.

        That said, I am one of those annoying people who is trying to make up a dress code category. I just don’t know how to express that I’d like everyone to look nice but they don’t necessarily need to rise to the level of cocktail attire. What is the correct dress code for “nice dress with fancy flip flops”???

        • YMMV, but maybe “Easter Church clothes”?

          • I told an iffy-looking witness to show up for trial dressed “like you’re going to church”. He showed up wearing a brand new black t-shirt with a giant skull outlined in crystals on it.

          • LOL!
            +100 LL points!

        • I agree. As someone who works with events and attends a number of them, it is so much more helpful if it is explicit. (Also, not for weddings, but for events, I HAVE to pick a dress code for all the attendees to see. If you don’t put it, I usually do and say business. It’s unfortunate if it is otherwise. /tangent)

          I’m always curious why people don’t list it.

          That said, I would put something along the lines of “smart casual: nice dress with sandals are appropriate” but fitted appropriately into the invitation. I hope someone else can word that better – I have an awful headache right now and just can’t.

        • Dressy casual? Smart casual? Semi-formal? I have no idea, but I’m trying to come up with a similar dress code for my W and have seen those suggested elsewhere. No idea what phrasing I’ll end up going with.

        • Anonymous :

          For my wedding I said the dress code was fancy casual. It worked perfectly!

      • anonforthis :

        Whoops, forgot to change spelling for moderation…

        I actually appreciate when people give a dress code. Sometimes it’s hard to tell how fancy a wedding will be just based on location.

        I am also putting a dress code on my website because my fiance and I come from VERY different backgrounds and there is a good chance of half our family/friends will show up wearing jeans while the other half dons c*cktail attire unless told otherwise. It’s just what each side is used to for weddings.

        That said, I am one of those annoying people who is trying to make up a dress code category. I just don’t know how to express that I’d like everyone to look nice but they don’t necessarily need to rise to the level of c*cktail attire. What is the correct dress code for “nice dress with fancy flip flops”???

        • I think of what you are describing as “Dressy casual.” That means a jacket but no tie for the guys, no jeans, and a dress (not c-tail) for ladies. I think of “dressy” as a step above that (guys wear a tie) and maybe dresses a little nicer, but still not c-tail.

    • I think I’d go for dressy casual – Anthroplogie’s dress section seems like a great place to start.

      • Also, the kind of couple that wants to get married on a campground probably is the kind that consider “smart casual” to be nice jeans with a t-shirt that doesn’t have graphics on it, not what law firm people would consider smart casual. This sort of misunderstanding is why I consistently find myself overdressed when I spend time with my mom’s family. So your “rustic elegant” dress is probably what you’d normally consider a nice day dress, if you’re anything like me.

    • Merabella :

      Rustic Elegant to me = Ralph Lauren maxi skirt w/ cowboy boots look.

      Think “I rushed to this wedding quickly after feeding the chickens/taking a ride on my horse/tractor – don’t I look great?”

      • Thanks for all the suggestions! I don’t really do maxi dresses or skirts because I am super short, but this gives me some ideas for sure…. although I just checked, and it is only going to be around 50 degrees! Definitely not going to be easy.

    • I would assume the “rustic” means wear shoes that can get manure on them. The elegant means they expect a dress, but not long enough to hang into the manure. So I’d go for a cocktail-length dress, with boots with no or low heel. But then, one of my friends got married on a lake sore that was muddier than you would believe.

    • Sundance website might fit the bill. (I love their stuff.)


        I haven’t been there in a while. Don’t love it like I remembered, but still think it would work for that wedding. Notice the footwear too.

      • One of my charming colleagues called the Sundance catalog “faded jewelry for faded women.”

        When I overheard that remark, I was very much in the “must……restrain…..fists….of…..death….” mode. Ultimately, I didn’t say anything because I was eavesdropping and not part of the actual conversation. *sigh*

    • “Rustic Elegant”? WTH? In Texas that would mean a dress and cowboy boots, which I find totally adorable. Honestly, if they come up with a whole new category of dress code, they should expect to get guests who run the gamut.

      I’d wear boots and a cute dress (short or maxi). I’d definitely wear shoes that cover your feet, you don’t want to step on pinecones or something.

      • Kelly in Chicago :

        If it were me, I’d simply ask the bride (or groom if that’s who you know) for some guidance! You don’t want to be from the side that is vastly under-dressed just because the invitation dress code was confusing. We’re a bunch of smart, fashionable women on here and none of us have come up with a consensus here, either. I’d bet you’re not the only confused guest.

  7. My tattoos are easily hidden because I don’t have the money saved up for a larger piece right now, but I totally understand your concern! At first, yes, you should hide them–it’s better to be known as the kick @ss new attorney than the new girl with the tattoos, because first impressions really stick with people. This isn’t so much a case of having to repress your true personality as it is making sure people remember how great your work is, not a tattoo they might find distracting.

    • I agree with you 100%.

    • SF Bay Associate :

      I heard an interview with Rachel Maddow on Fresh Air recently, and she said the same thing. I thought it was really interesting how honest and direct she was in answering Terri Gross’s question on the subject. Rachel said she wears a makeup and contacts, styles her hair in a “softer” shape, and wears more feminine clothing during her broadcasts because her priority is to deliver the news and share opinions, and she doesn’t want her appearance to distract or detract from that. In her off-time, she looks the way she wants to, no makeup, glasses, androgynous clothing and hair, but when she’s on air, it’s business professional all the way.

      • I heard her say a similar thing to Jian Gomechi on Q on CBC radio. I think she’s got it exactly right!

  8. sweetknee :

    Good afternoon ladies. I have a threadjack here.

    I am planning a long weekend in New York with Mr. Sweetknee before taking a deposition on a Monday. I have never been to New York ( I know, I know, but it has just never come up !). I already have hotel and airline reservations, and got tickets for a Sunday matinee showing of Wicked. Question: what to wear to the theater for a Sunday matinee ?

    Don’t plan on doing too many “touristy” things in the City, since we only have 2.5 days, but if there are any really cool off the beaten pathy type things to do, please let me know. Had planned on a museum or two, the show, and some general walking around/shopping .

    Thanks in advance.

    • I’ll be in NYC this weekend too. We have tickets to see Death of a Salesman and a Yankee game. Other than that we are going to check out the Cindy Sherman show at MOMA and the Highline park.

      Have a great time!

    • Honestly, a weekend matinee of Wicked will have people dressed in all sorts of (much too) casual attire, but you can basically wear anything. That said, I don’t think it’s ever wise to aim for the lowest common denominator. I’d wear a fun daytime dress or a cute top with skirt/pants. You can probably wear jeans, too, but I just generally don’t. If you do, dark and on the nicer side works best.

      If you go to the Met, make sure to go to the rooftop. There’s a bar up there, but it’s also just a gorgeous view. Drink not necessary. If you don’t have a lot of time, and would prefer not to be overwhelmed by the Met, I’d go to the Frick. Free on Sunday mornings, too.

      Get really great brunch somewhere. There are lots of options. If you post in what area you’re staying, I’m sure you’d get many recommendations.

      • Gail the Goldfish :

        The rooftop isn’t open yet at the Met:-( Sometime in May, they said when I was there last weekend.

    • Think of it this way: A matinee on Broadway is fancier than the going to the movies, but it isn’t opening night at the opera house. Dark jeans, ballet flats, and a nice top with jewelry would be fine. Or a casual dress and sweater.

      As far as off the beaten path things to do, there are endless options, but it all depends on your interests. Unusual food? Art? Music? History?

      If you can, try to do at least a few touristy things. If you’re an ancient history fan, the Greek and Roman wing at the Metropolitan is amazing, as is the Egyptian collection. I’ve heard good things about the redesigned American wing, but haven’t seen it for myself yet. If you like science and nature, the Natural History Museum is great, and the animal mosaics in the subway stop next to it make that station one of my favorites.

      Also: Wicked is a great choice!

    • AnotherLadyLawyer :

      Most Broadway patrons have sadly given up on dressing for a show, so you’ll be as fine in jeans as you would in a cute dress. If you’ve got other Sunday plans, I’d suggest dressing for those. If you want a great restaurant near Wicked – Toloache (just down the block) has delicious, delicious Mexican and my favorite Watermelon margarita in the world.

      Good luck and have fun with the depo – if you’re heading across town to get there, make sure to leave a bit more time for your commute.

    • Just got back from NYC and had a fabulous time! I’m sure you will hear a million places to go by people who are more informed than I am, but if you go to The Met, you must (MUST!) get a pretzel from the pretzel stand there. Best pretzel ever. I had the feta/kalamata olive one, but the cheddar/truffle one looked mighty tasty too. I enjoyed the Highline Park, but I thought of it as a really cool way to walk the MeatPacking District if you are in the area rather than a place you take a trip to see.

    • You can really wear whatever you want to the theater. Sometimes people (usually older) get dressed up but I have always worn jeans regardless of whether it is an evening or matinee show. Be comfortable – the seats in the theaters are small and cramped and there is not a lot of leg room so it is more important to be comfortable so you can enjoy the show.

    • Do The Met and wander around Central Park. The Met is pay-what-you-can. It’s right on the park.

  9. DC Kolchitongi :

    My brother is heavily tatted. He’s a hardworking, upstanding citizen who loves his job (first responder), loves his family, rescues baby animals in his spare time, etc …he’s also fundamentally, thoroughly unsuitable to do any kind of desk work. I don’t think he has ever even tried one — he hates the idea so much. OP, have you ever had a desk job? Did you like it?

    • As someone who grew up in NoVA, is about to move back and is dating a first responder, kudos to your brother!! He sounds like a great guy. My SO would never ever be able to work a desk job either :-)

  10. DC Kolchitongi :

    Posting again because I have a totally unrelated TJ. Question for those of you who are experienced people-managers: What are some areas of feedback that you like to hear about (or wish you heard about) from your underlings?

    At the conclusion of a project last week one of my managers, who was promoted into a managing role fairly recently, asked me to think of some ways that he could do a better job on projects in the future. Our normal evaluation process doesn’t include feedback from direct reports to managers, so he’s doing this of his own volition. I honestly really like working for him and am having a hard time thinking of things he could change. (I mean, if you’re already the type of manager who takes it upon yourself to ask your underlings for negative feedback, then they probably don’t have much.) But I’m sure this is partly because we mesh well on a personal level and our work styles match. I’m trying to think of things I might find sub-optimal if I were in someone else’s shoes. If you were my manager, what type of feedback would you find valuable?

    • Do you understand this person’s directions? Does he communicate with his team too much/not enough? Does he assume people on the team have information that they do not have? Is he sensitive to interpersonal issues? (It sounds like he is!) Does you team have what they need to complete the project (i.e., equipment, time, etc.)?

      I wouldn’t spend a lot of time thinking of negative things if there aren’t any that spring to mind. You could instead offer some comments on things that you liked about working with him so that he’ll know to keep doing them.

    • Is he a good advocate of your interests? Does he fight to get training or raises approved for staff? How good is he at team-building, at handling diverse personalities?
      Also, how he manages customer relations, project scope and budget? Is he organized? Do you or the clients usually remind him of deadlines, issues or requests or he keeps track of them himself?

    • It may also be useful to try to get a handle on why he is asking. It could be because he just genuinely wants feedback or maybe he is looking to get promoted. If you have a feeling its the latter, then what areas of his work do you think he should improve before he gets a promotion?

      • And I just re-read your question and realize I answered it as if you two had opposite roles. My bad.

    • hellskitchen :

      For managers, communication and delegation are the two biggest areas of feedback. Does he give you appropriate level of context for different projects? Does he adjust how much info he wants back from based on the project priority? (e.g. just high level updates for lower priority or more detail for higher priority, instead of asking for the same amount of updates/info for all projects). Does he talk to you regularly about your own professional development? What support would you want from him on that?

    • We recently did a review for my manager that was broken down into three buckets: things we wanted him to start doing, things we wanted him to stop doing, and things we wanted him to continue doing. I thought it was a helpful framework for providing feedback and although it isn’t about a specific area, it could be a good starting point.

  11. southanon :

    If you choose to work in a conservative office with conservative clients, yes, you will always have to keep them covered. And because you are a law student, you also need to think about the multitude of summer associate issues that might arise depending on where you work. When I was a summer at a large conservative law firm, we were advised as a group that any tattoos should be covered, and this included on our spouses as well.
    Although the recruiting free-for-alls of the early 2000s are mostly gone, consider what you would do if your firm had a beach retreat, outdoor dinners, or any other kind of event with or without clients where you would want to wear short sleeves or something sleeveless. Although other commenters have taken issue with Kat raising the personality issue and whether you want to work in a conservative office, right or wrong, the fact of the matter is that in some offices you are not going to be able to avoid negative judgment.

    • Anne Shirley :

      On a practical note, breezy bracelet sleeved tunics would be perfect for these casual out-doorsy events. Due to my extreme fairness, I often cover up more than most.

  12. I know someone from law school with 2 full sleeve tats who does roller derby and has had the most conservative career path imaginable – multiple prestigious clerkships and a biglaw job. My understanding is that the people she works with know she has the tats and does derby, but she covers up at work. It’s not a matter of hiding herself (or her tats) but of showing respect for her clients and employer.

  13. tattoos look trashy to me. logically i want to respect them and not make a judgment, but they just look either trashy or accidental spring-break like to me for visceral reasons. just sharing perspective as i suspect i’m not the only one and how it can influence job stuff.

    • I feel the same way. And plenty of others do as well, so you’re best off covering them up.

    • Yes, they do to me as well. They also cause me to call into question the person’s judgment (whether that is fair or not).

    • anonaswell :

      Agreed.Will admit to being just the other side of 50 so I know my demographic generally doesn’t agree with body art. I’ve always been amused when people with tats complain about people looking at them funny or judging them for their “art.” It’s a modification to your body that most people don’t have – why shouldn’t people be curious and look? Not everyone has the same appreciation for “art.” Why shouldn’t they be allowed to dislike your taste?

      I realize that more and more people will have tats and that they will be in the workplace – saw something the other day that something like 38% of people under 35 have at least one. But that’s still the minority of the population. And I’d venture the vast majority of those with tattoos do not have sleeves. So that puts the OP in a pretty small group. And as you’re just starting out in your career, I’d be very careful for sticking out in any obvious way beyond delivering a stellar work product.

    • Trust me when I tell you that full-sleeve tats are definitely not accidental spring break decisions! Those things take forethought. :-P

      I don’t love tattoos either, but we’re not talking about a butterfly tattoo on the lower back here.

    • I don’t mind a small tattoo in a place that can be covered so that colleagues would never know you even had a tattoo. Something like a sleeve doesn’t necessarily seem trashy to me, just that someone doesn’t think enough about the future and the effects of their decisions. That would raise a flag to me about other decisions they make.

    • For GenY and later folks, about 50% have tattoos or piercings. The future is body-modified.

      • Anon for this :

        Maybe that’s what bugs me about the tattoos/unusual piercings – I am sure some people are doing it for artistic expression reasons, but it seems that others do it because they want to seem alternative and [email protected]@ss, and really, how alternative and [email protected]@ss are tattoos anymore when everyone has one?

        I think face tattoos exhibit hugely poor judgement and I hate the front-of-the-neck ones, those totally creep me out.

      • Love!

        • Anonymous :

          No one has ever come back from spring break with a full sleeve. Use some common sense here people.

          I think modern art is “art” in quotation marks, but try telling that to MOMA.

          I’m judgmental about the people in my office with bags under their eyes or the ones who weigh 300 lbs., in the sense that I wonder why the heck they don’t do something about it. Doesn’t mean I think they are any less competent at their jobs though.

          – Someone with zero tattoos

  14. Legally Brunette :

    I met a lawyer with full tattoo sleeves. I met him at a baseball game, so he was wearing a short sleeve shirt and I immediately noticed them and asked him about it. He said that when he was initially out of law school he was very, very careful to cover them up all the time (and with guys it’s pretty easy to do, since they usually wear long sleeve button down shirts anyways). As he built his reputation, he said that he stopped caring and started showing them. He now works inhouse and says that he shows them all the time and people have gotten used to it. So maybe in the beginning, err on covering them up and then see what happens down the road?

    • Former MidLevel :

      I think this is right, but I don’t think it’s a tattoo-specific issue. We’ve had tons of discussions about what to do when your personal taste differs from any conservative norm. I personally tend to err on the conservative side when starting any new job and get the lay of the land first.

    • …did you meet my brother (high-level in-house at a Fortune 500 company, half-sleeves, forearm tattoos, chest piece and back piece)?

  15. Threadjack: I am looking for a new clutch. I would like something under $100 with with enough room for chapstick, cell phone, and a pen. I would also like some type of small strap to wrap around my wrist. I transfer it between my purse and work bag or sometimes just carry it by itself. I love the style I currently have, but it is worn-out after only a year. Does anyone have any recommendations? Thanks!

    • I have one that I use ALL the time. I got it as a gift, but I got one for someone else, so I know that it cost around 10-20 bucks. It’s nice (I get compliments on it), durable, and takes a lot of abuse (I shove way too much in there constantly). I think it came from Sears or JCPenney. Honestly, I’d check those two out, even though you were looking up to $100.

    • Check Target. They are my go-to for cheap bags. (Or Payless. Sometimes they have cute ones too.)

    • I like this one and it is in your budget with the sale:

  16. I have tattoos, including one on my arm, although they’re not nearly as extensive as what the questioner describes. Ultimately, whether or not it’s ok to show extensive tattooing depends on your office. Of course, if her office is business formal attire, she should be wearing a jacket anyway and the issue is moot. But if the office is business casual, I definitely think she should wear long sleeves that conceal the tattoos for the first few weeks of work. But if her office has a laid-back vibe, like mine does, there’s no reason why she couldn’t wear clothing that reveals her tattoos so long as the clothing is office-appropriate. I would advise her not to show the tattoo in meetings where she’ll be meeting someone for the first time or where there are outside attendees she doesn’t know well. And even if her office is more formal, I think it’s fine to take off her jacket when she’s in her own office and if someone walks in and sees her tattoos, it’s no big deal.

    • By the way, I’m a lawyer, and my office is business casual but leaning more formal (you’re far more likely to see someone in a suit than someone in khakis). But the overall atmosphere is laid back and friendly; people don’t behave in a formal manner. So, Reader A, are definitely lawyer jobs where you can be a bit eccentric and have your half-sleeves, and still be considered professional.

  17. If you have a small tattoo that is hard to cover up with clothing all the time, like the shamrock on my ankle, fret not! You can get tattoo concealer at most tattoo shops. I have tried several, and Kat von D’s tattoo concealer is the best coverage. I cover my tat with it, set it with some face powder, and it disappears under sheer hosery, which you ALWAYS wear in court with a skirt no matter what. right? RIGHT? ;)

  18. Chiming in to say that, for smaller tattoos, Kat von D’s tattoo concealer works very well, and it comes in a decent range of colors. I am an NC45, though my inner wrist is much lighter, and one of the colors matches my wrist perfectly when I need to hide my tattoo (which has never happened, now that I think about it).

  19. Eager beaver :

    Yesterday we had a question about someone who wanted to be engaged. Mine is on a similar vein. I want to marry my SO. We’ve discussed (a lot) what marriage means to us and we’re on the same page – but he wants to formally propose. This is driving me crazy. I know a ring has been purchased, I know he has a plan and a place and all sorts picked out but I’m not interested in the proposal, or engagement, or even the wedding. I love him, I want us to be married – and being me, I want to sort it out now, but can’t because he wants a traditional moment i don’t want to deny him.

    Any thoughts on how to contain myself so I don’t spoil this for us both?

    • Kontraktor :

      Getting married is preumably a once in a lifetime experience (or at worst a very few times experience). Just enjoy things for what they are, as you will not get back these times again. You will only get proposed to once, only be engaged once, and only get married and have a wedding once. This doesn’t mean things need to be over the top or absurd, but it does mean you should savor the moments because you won’t get them again.

      We had a simple and inexpensive wedding (with about 40 people), but I truly miss the excitement of that ‘freshly proposed to feeling’ and the fun of looking for interesting things for our wedding and planning everything together. Our wedding day was one of the happiest of my life (it was so perfect), and sometimes I am sad because I wonder if I could ever be that happy again! It wasn’t because things were expensive or over the top- it was just because being engaged and getting married and having a wedding caused a huge amount of happiness, especially since it was all a chance to be public about how happy I was and how much I was glad to be marrying my husband.

      If you truly truly in your heart of hearts care nothing for these things for their own sake, then it’s probably best if you discuss eloping/a courthouse ceremony with your FH (because the planning of an engagement/wedding will make you miserable and take away from the happy time this all should be). But, I really believe that this isn’t the best road for most people because savoring these life events and processes for what they are can be a great thing, mostly because we only get to do this stuff and have these feelings once. We get to be married for a long time.

    • Once he proposes, you’ll probably get to take the reins on planning the wedding. So unfortunately I think you have to just relax and wait for the proposal, but once it happens, you can totally have a short engagement and low-key ceremony.

    • Remember that compromise is key. I didn’t really see the big deal about a proposal–I figured we’d just pick a date and get married–but my now-husband totally surprised me. It turned out not to be just about the traditional moment (and ours wasn’t all that traditional, now that I think about it), but the whole thing was incredibly sweet and thoughtful, and I was totally not expecting it.

    • SF Bay Associate :

      It sounds like HE is interested in the proposal. My now-husband really wanted to make it special because he wanted everyone to know how much he cared about me by how much thought he put into the proposal. Every time I told the story of how he proposed, he looked so, so proud of himself. The kudos he got came from all directions. Don’t take this special moment away from him by repeatedly asking him to propose in the way the low-key, immediate way that you want. Consider his feelings too. This isn’t just about you, even though you’re the only one who will be wearing an engagement ring (at least, traditionally speaking).

      Also, who says you have to be engaged before you start planning your wedding? I wasn’t. I knew it was coming (we had talked about it a lot), and we knew we were going to have a short engagement, so as long as you don’t go into a pinterest-fueled insanity, you can start to “sort it out now” without the ring.

    • Aren’t you so excited!?! You want to marry him, he wants to marry you! How great is that! Be confident in that and in the fact that he wants this to be special for you. Be excited that very soon he will propose to you, and you will say yes! Isn’t that wonderful?!

  20. I have a small tattoo on my wrist, but it’s easily covered since I wear a watch every day. I was not a teenager when I got it, and I resent some of the implications expressed here. As far as sleeves go, I can’t comment personally, but I don’t think it would be too difficult to cover in an office (especially half sleeves). As has been mentioned, I think blazers and cardigans should cover sufficiently. Good luck!

  21. Artsy Lawyer :

    To the original questioner – there is nothing wrong with having an art-school past. I think the profession needs more of us. ;)

  22. punk rock tax lawyer :

    I’m in the same tattoo boat as the OP — half sleeves on both arms. I keep mine covered pretty much all the time when I’m at work. I’m not a big fan of collared shirts so it’s long and three-quarter sleeve dresses and tops and lots of cardigans and blazers.

    That said, I keep my tattoos covered for the sake of clients and professionals outside my firm, not because of anyone I work with. I never know when I might have a meeting with a client or random networking event or whatever else, so it’s just easier. I work in a conservative practice area (tax) in a conservative state (Texas), but I work for fairly laid-back boutique firm in the weirdest city in my great state and have worked at the same firm for a little while now (5 years). At this point everyone at the firm knows about my tattoos and no one cares, so if I decide to take off my jacket and walk around the office in short sleeves in July, it’s no biggie if there are no clients around. That said, I didn’t show up on day one in a sleeveless top. I got to know everyone, and they got to know me and my work. Eventually, it became clear to me that it wouldn’t change anyone’s perception of me for the negative if they knew I had tattoos. Now, I’m fortunate that I work with in a laid back city with pretty laid back people. In a lot of firms, you aren’t going to be able to ever show your tattoos, and I certainly wouldn’t show them to clients unless you knew the client VERY well or the client was tattooed, too.

    Also, a little quibble. My tattoos aren’t the product of a “wild youth.” I got the lion’s share of my tattoos after I started practicing law, because I could finally afford the quality work I’d always dreamed of having. I spent years considering and planning them. Not all tattoos are the product of wildness, impulsive behavior, or immaturity. Some are quite the opposite.

    • Happy Anon :

      Thank you! I agree, and appreciate your last paragraph especially. I have one meaningful tattoo over my lung, where I had a massive surgery to donate a lower lobe of my lung to my sibling who later died. Wild? Immature? Thanks judgers.

    • punk rock tax lawyer :

      Also, one thing to add. If there are some casual but work-related activities you want to do, those raglan baseball shirts are the best. I wear them when I’m doing casual charity stuff with the local bar.

      • personally don’t care if people have them, just a taste thing for me: i think they look ugly, like tie-died t shirts or something. artistic preference. just like i’m sure some people wouldn’t like the art on my walls at home. point is, not assuming you did it while young or whatever, just personally don’t like looking at them. even really nice ones by tattoo standards.

    • Anon for this # 348573 :

      Thank you for all of this. I’m 27, a lawyer, and finally in the process of getting my tattoos now that I’ve saved up for them.

  23. No advice but this book seems like it might be relevant and interesting:

  24. Very, very anon :

    Ink-related threadjack. I’m in the process of getting a fairly large but very coverable one (starts on my shoulder and ends about mid-thigh), and posted on FB over the weekend that I was having work done. No photos, no real details, just that I was getting some ink. Only a few of my coworkers are FB friends, and I am generally really careful about what I post anyway (and rabid about the privacy settings)…but apparently yesterday someone who’d seen my posts brought it up at lunch with several of my colleagues. Ordinarily I wouldn’t care — I’ve spent about 15 years planning this tattoo and I think it’s going to be beautiful, and I’m certainly not ashamed of it — BUT I work in a fairly conservative office, I’m the only woman in my department, and I’ve seen too many issues of Inked Girls to pretend that there aren’t men out there who sexualize tattooed women. And we have some extremely sexist managers here that could make this a problem for me.

    I’ve done the damage control that I could — pointed out to the colleagues why I’m not really comfortable discussing it (they were actually cool about it), requested that it not be a topic, etc., but I’m at a loss for other courses of action. The friend who raised it was mortified and apologetic, and I don’t want to “defriend” her or do anything else that will cause drama, but I’m kicking myself for posting anything at all. Any advice, other than what I’ve already done?

    • Very, very anon :

      Oh, and should have mentioned — all of the colleagues at this lunch were guys, some at my level and some above me.

      • Honestly, I’d let it go and wouldn’t mention it again. I also would not post things like this on FB if I wasn’t comfortable with it being in the open. No matter how rabbid you are with your privacy settings, that information is not necessarily private.

    • Kontraktor :

      Honestly I don’t think you should do anything. Ultimately people probably don’t care, and the more you do to draw attention to this ‘mistake’ and make a big deal of it, the more people will probably make of it.

      If you are really worried, don’t include work people on FB updates. If people at work somehow continue to ask about it over time, just offer simple, watered down, meaningless responses like, “It’s going!” or “Thanks for asking, it’s on hold for now though,” or “It’s alright, thanks!” and don’t offer details. I feel like most people will get the message then you don’t want to talk about it. If they press you or start being suggestive, then it has nothing to do with the tattoo per se and everything to do with them being inappropriate, in which case they should be handled in a manner equal to the severity of the offense of their comment, just as they would be if they were commenting on your weight/appearance/anything else out of line.

    • Very, very anon :

      Grr! I’ve tried three times now to post and thank you both for your advice! It’s good to know that it doesn’t come across as a big a deal as I felt like it was — I think I was just really taken aback to have it discussed at work so quickly, since I’ve spent months planning clothing to make sure it didn’t become an issue. I appreciate the feedback, and will just let it lie.

    • I agree about just dismissing the issue and just minding who you share your Facebook posts with. Honestly, I work in an industry primarily dominated by males (and an industry that is still pretty traditional and conservative) and I’m already in a subordinate, support position, so I thought that when I got my tattoo it would be a HUGE deal, but it turns out, most people just think it’s interesting, ask what it means, and have already forgotten about it. I should note that my tattoo is on my neck behind my ear – and even when we had customer meetings and I had offered to cover it with makeup, there was no mention of it.

      Good luck with it!

    • Honestly, you should really give some thought to the facebook thing, especially if you have colleagues there as friends..

  25. trademark/copyright pro bono? :

    Do any of you ladies do trademark/copyright work on a pro bono basis? That’s not my usual practice area but I did a bit of that work during law school and would love to do some on a pro bono basis. Any suggestions on where I should start looking? TIA!

    • Former MidLevel :

      I knew people who did that kind of work for Lawyers for the Creative Arts in Chicago. There are similar organizations around the country – if there’s one near you, that might be a good place to start.

      • I’ve worked with Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in Boston and have a friend who has worked with Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts in DC. Both great organizations (that need all the volunteers they can get); if you’re not in either metro area, I’m sure there’s a similar organization wherever you are.

    • In DC, there is a similar organization to what Former MidLevel mentions, which represents local artists. Can’t think of the name of it. But seems like a good chance you could find something similar in your city, wherever that is.

    • Happy Anon :

      Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in NYC

  26. I think that you cover up for interviews and initially (as you would anyway for most new jobs)and then figure it out depending on your job/office/day to day schedule. The tricky times will be if you have a work outting or have an office softball league you want to join, etc. For interviews, your arms should be covered by a suit jacket anyway. For when you’re hired, I agree with Kat’s advice – go slow and figure it out.

    I do agree that the tone was a bit judgy (there are better ways to make all those points), but I think inherently this is a judgy subject (as seen from some of the comments). Some people don’t like tattoos and will always judge you, that’s just a fact you have to deal with. But people are judgmental over all sorts of things, so I would not let it deter me from pursuing anything I wanted to do, I would just take the appropriate measures to deal with it. I have a friend who works in a very conservative office and while she has no tattoos anywhere, she does not leave her office without a blazer on. If anything, in our profession, hiding tattoos is easier than in most.

    PS: My own two cents is that well done full sleeve tattoos will get waaaaaay less judgment from me than a cheesy tattoo clearly picked off a wall on spring break. To the extent that it comes up in your career, don’t let anyone’s judgments affect how you feel about yourself, there’s nothing wrong with being an individual; if you act like it’s a terrible sin, though, that’s how people will perceive it.

    • Happy Anon :

      Very well said and good points. I agree that if you start apologizing in advance for your tattoos, or quirks, or whatever, people will assume they are thing that need to be apologized for and will think of them negatively.

  27. I hired a paralegal, only to find out on his first ‘casual Friday’ that he has large tattoos on his right arm, below the elbow. We work in a conservative small litigiation firm. I told him the next Monday “I noticed your tattoos, you’ll have to wear long sleeves.” Done. He is fine with it (I think) and said as much and that “each office is different.”

  28. TJ – can someone offer me advice on networking? Here’s the situation: in my department, there is an area that I really would like to make a lateral move to. Unfortunately, the department is pretty isolated, and I don’t know a soul in the department. Any advice on breaking in? I sent my resume over to one of the managers when they had an opening (the opening is on hold until budget issues get resolved), but I would like to work some networking magic. Unfortunately, I sent my resume over a few months ago and feel as if the opportunity to stop by and say “oh, I sent my resume and wanted to put a face with a name” is long gone. Ideas?

  29. Midwest Lawyer :

    As a corner office lawyer with a (big) voice in hiring, tattos are a non-starter for me. I don’t care if you’re the brightest legal scholar since Learned Hand, if you’re showing ink to me it says “incident of questionable judgment” and I don’t hire you.

  30. Amelia Pond :

    If only the people in my office covered their tattoos. Despite being listed in the dress code as no visable tattoos, several of the clerks have multiple tattoos showing. It has actually hurt one clrek from a promotion that involved more client face time because she has tattoos that can’t/won’t be covered up. But it did prompt a conversation for one of the clerks who has her brother’s name tattooed on her right breast!

  31. I actually just saw a woman walking down the street in downtown Denver who had a tattoo covering most of her right arm. She had on a short-sleeved suit (it’s 85 here today!), but her outfit was very chic and professional and so I didn’t really think twice about the tattoo except because I just read this post! But I agree with everyone that I would cover it up for interviews/first meetings so that doesn’t become your “thing” and people get to know your work first.

  32. Is this a “know your part of the country” issue? (Similar to “know your office”?) I’m in San Francisco & wouldn’t bat an eyelash at a full sleeve (or tattoo in general). I’m also not under 35. Personally, I like seeing a variety of people at work — creative, not all cookie cutter in pearls all the time.

    • That’s a very good point. I’m north of the golden gate and wouldn’t bat an eye (in that I wouldn’t judge their work performance, I still somewhat cringe because I just don’t think it’s professional!) at my coworkers coming to work in Birkenstocks for the obvious reason (also, my boss does occasionally too, but she’s awesome and the top of the heap so she can do anything!)

    • DC Lawyer :

      I think Emma makes an important point. Some towns are far more conservative. Today’s thread made me reflect that I never see anyone, male or female, in the DC lawfirm/government affairs/corporate office environment with a visible tatoo. Given recent trends, that may change for new lawyers, but I suspect it will take quite awhile before the tatoos seem consistent with the traditional lawyer’s appearance in this town.

    • California Love :


      If there’s anything that I’ve learned from this blog, it is that I could never work on the East Coast. I’m far to casual.

      • California Love :


      • Kontraktor :

        Funny story. Despite my visible piercings (and lipstick), I have been told by people in my new CA work area that I drip “East Coast” and that I need to loosen up. But I guess if I pointed out my piercings as evidence of my simultaneous loosened up nature, I’d suddenly cease to be the same person I was 2 seconds ago and turn into an untrustworthy vagrant with bad judgement. Who was wearing Brooks Brothers slacks, a long sleeve blouse, and pearls.

      • momentsofabsurdity :

        I grew up in California and moved out East for college/career. People in my East Coast city tell me I’m crazy liberal and super casual (I only own one suit. If I had a job where I had to wear a suit every day, I would cry). My friends back home in California think I’m so conservative and buttoned up now.

      • Left coaster :


    • Huh, I’m sitting in a corporate office right this very minute in SF, and while I’m sure plenty of my coworkers have tattoos, I can’t remember the last time I saw one at the office. (Not to mention a full sleeve of tattoos on display at something like the staff meeting.) Maybe it’s my industry – finance, not google or facebook – but it’s really, really not done here.

      • Ditto. in my experience working in finance in nyc, the firms are *extremely* conservative. Tattoos are a no go, along with many of the other fashion / apperance choices debated here.

  33. I judge people who have tattoos. and I’m only 26. I don’t know why, I try not to, but I do. And I’m fairly non-judgmental about others’ life decisions in many respects. If anyone has any insight into why I, along with many otherwise progressive people, react so negatively to tattoos, please enlighten me. I just can’t put a finger on it.

    • Well, lots of them are terribly done. There’s actually quite a bit of art direction that should go into a tattoo – the composition itself, the thickness and placement of the black lines, the coloring (if any), and the size and placement of the tattoo as a whole all contribute to the overall effect. A poor tattoo artist won’t do as good as a job with all of these factors. And someone who picks a badly drawn, mis-translated piece of kanji of a tattoo shop wall and gets it on their arm probably *was* showing poor judgment.

      nb: I have three tattoos of, honestly, average quality. No flash, though.

    • I’m also 26. I don’t judge everyone who has a tattoo, but I do judge people who get them and then complain about the consequences when they were easily foreseeable. My tradesperson mates who can reasonably assume they will never be limited by their tattoos? Fine. 20 year old hipster students who get full sleeves or leg tattoos and five years later realise that it’s limiting their career potential? Well, maybe you should have thought about the fact that it’s a lifelong thing and your life never really turns out the way you think it will when you’re 20.

  34. I am related to someone who worked admin for a conservative consulting firm who had love and hate tattooed on his knuckles, I kid you not. He is not a young guy (retired now, actually) and has told me he never had a problem. I also know a guy who had those ear disc things (plugs? no idea what they’re called) + tattoos and worked as a paralegal. Maybe things are different for professionals v admins, or maybe it’s regional (I’m in the west), but tattoos are fine for most people, I think. That said, if they were easily covered I’d do that for interviews and such.

  35. Come to think of it, I judge all people who dress in such a way as to communicate to others, “I’m unconvential.” (Goths, etc.). I acknowledge that for some people, getting a tattoo is not an attempt to buck convention (see poster with lung tattoo).

  36. I am heavily tattooed. My whole chest and quarter sleeves on both arms. I also have a cherry blossom on the back of my neck and a symbol on one of my legs. For the first six months at my current job, no one knew that I had any tattoos. I kept them all covered all the time. After that I let them peak out a little bit and started wearing skirts but I would absolutely never ever go sleeveless at the office. A few of my coworkers know how much ink I have but not all of them and certainly not the higher ups. I am moving to a new position and will have to start hiding them all again. I don’t want people to judge me because of my tattoos and unfortunately, as a lawyer, you will be judged.

  37. henna tattoos :

    Wow, people are pretty darn judgy around here. I don’t have any tattoos, and I don’t have an issue with them, but I do think they best be covered up in a professional environment — for your own sake. You never know who is judging you or subconsciously holding it against you.

    I’ve worn henna tatoos to work after a friend’s wedding but I limited it to my palm. I don’t think my job is worth giving up all of the beauty and enjoyment that life has to offer and I enjoyed my henna tattoos. I limited them to my palms and only people standing very close to me ever saw them. People were curious and wondered when they would wash off, but no one even the head of my BigLaw department, seemed to hold it against me. Discuss.

    • Yeah, I think it’s kind of disrespectful to compare henna tattoos to real tattoos. Firstly, just because a henna tattoo was an exciting “cultural” vacation for you doesn’t diminish its importance and normalcy as a cultural (and sometimes religious) phenomenon to millions of people across the world. I mean, it’s like comparing Native American tattoos to Spring Break tattoos.

      The people in your office didn’t judge because they aren’t small minded backwards hick xenophobes.

      • Kontraktor :

        The problem with this argument though is that one person’s “cultural standard” is another person’s “offense.” If mehndi is okay, is an ink tattoo design that looks like mehndi okay? Some Indian women wear nose piercings because it signifies marriage in their particular cultural/religious group, but other Indian women wear it in a more “just because” sense. Is one okay and one not? If an Indian woman can wear a nose piercing to work “just because” (ie, because she so happens to like it and it doesn’t signify marriage or religious ritual for her), why can’t anybody else? If you say that body jewelry is inappropriate, why would the Indian woman with the nose piercing be poentially acceptable, but my extra ear piercing might not be? Either way, they are simply both instances of wearing body jewelry, and it’s really difficult to say the instances when this sort of thing is okay and when it is not.

        Cultural significance or not, a piercing is a piercing and body art markings are body art markings. What does anybody do in any instance if a firm says “no body jewelry” or “no body art markings”? This is why it’s hard to write objective standards about this sort of thing. Plus, once you start making exceptions for certain conditions, it’s harder to justify excluding other conditions. I wrote a longer comment about this on the previous page, but I think issues like this are completely at the heart of the point I was trying to make and make it difficult to have 100% clear and fair standards on what should be/is acceptable.

    • anon... again :

      in fact here’s a better example. I have a complicated ethnic name made up of words in a foreign language. It’s hard to pronounce. It stands out. However, if you choose to change your name to Xenu the Flower Princess, you don’t immediately get to complain that you are judged more that I am. Just because our names would both stand out doesn’t mean it’s the same.

  38. Anonymous :

    Networking question, particularly for any of you DC ladies. During my second year of law school, I externed at my government dream job and had a great supervisor who said she’d be happy to be a reference, etc. I’ve kept in minimal contact with the externship supervisor – mostly using her as a reference for clerkships and bar apps. During my third year of law school, I took a 12 person class with an adjunct professor who is a supervisor in the same division/agency. I haven’t been in touch with him since. I graduated last year and I’m clerking this year in another state. Due to a hiring freeze, working at this agency after my clerkship wasn’t an option, so I am going to BigLaw in the same field – just on the other side.

    Given that my professor and supervisor currently have my long-term dream jobs, I would really like to cultivate them as mentors and contacts. But I feel like given the fact that I externed and took their class 1-2 years ago, it’s a little awkward to just email them out of the blue. I know they are both also really busy, so I am unsure if asking if they have time for coffee or a chat some time is going to be a huge imposition. They are both in fairly senior roles. Do any of you have suggestions on how to connect with them?

    I will have some time in DC post-clerkship and pre-job, so I was thinking of sending either (both?) of them an email then updating them on what I’m doing and asking if they’d be willing to meet sometime for a kind of informational interview/catch up. Is there a better/less awkward way to connect again?

  39. A very good friend of mine has two full sleeves, tattoos up and down one leg, on both feet, and is slowly working on the other leg. He is also a lawyer at a prominent ip firm that does mostly transactional work and the occasional bit of litigation that pops up for important clients. His bosses don’t care, his clients don’t care, he never goes to court, so there’s no big stress to go out of his way to cover his tats up; it’s really no big deal. I think, ultimately, it comes down to the particular office and what sort of law you practice. Obviously, if you’re a busy bee litigator, you’re going to have to cover them up every day, which may be a hassle, especially in the summer. It seems that the stigma is against large tattoos, as opposed to tattoos in general (why people will overlook the occasional butterfly here or shamrock there but scoff at a real piece of art on someone is beyond me), so as yours seem to be particularly large, I would definitely cover them up for the interview and at your job place until you get a good read on your environment.

  40. If you go to court, particularly if you appear in front of juries, tattoos are problematic. You don’t want the judge or jury thinking about your appearance…you want them focused on your case. Your job is not to express yourself but to make sure your client is in the best possible position. Obviously there is some room for creativity but I think tattoos are seen as negative by a big enough portion of society that you would be doing your client a disservice to have visible tattoos during a jury trial.

  41. If I see them at work, I will judge. What I don’t see at work, I won’t judge . At my law school formal I saw all manner of hideous tattoos on girls on places that they covered for class… It was a nonissue. Im sure they cover their japanese words and anklet ink at work. When you start working ask your mentor at your firm if you have one or ask hr or just look around and do as people do.

  42. Amelia Adams :

    I have been practicing law for over 35 years. I am a sole practitioner in a loose association of lawyers, all of whom are also sole practitioners. I have worked as a prosecutor and public defender. My husband spent his practice with large, rather stuffy lawfirms. I can assure you that in our rather provincial city-Louisville, KY-someone with “sleeve” tattoos would not only be required to cover them in Court, but in a large lawfirm, should you she be hired, her arms would not be uncovered without consequences. Our loose association of very liberal, ACLU-type lawyers has not permitted large, visible tattoos to be displayed with our support staff, and those of my associates who do have tats, they take great pains to cover them in the office when clients may be around. I seriously doubt that any “sleeve” tattoo can be classified as “tasteful.” That is oxymoronic, kind of like “jumbo shrimp.” No, large tattoos are not appropriate in any office. It is a deal-braker in our office and the large offices with whom I have had dealings.

    • Tattoo > Misspelling :

      also a “deal-braker” – not proofreading your work. i’d much prefer tattoos to someone who can’t spell check.

  43. I know this was started yesterday, but I simply had to voice my opinion.
    I work in a very creative, free spirited field. I have a pink streak in my hair, multiple piercings in one ear, and wear black nail polish to the office regularly. My VP has gauged ears, 3/4 sleeve tattoos on both arms, and wears a Bob Marley tshirt on casual Fridays. One of the newer entry level associates we just hired has full sleeve tattoos and tattooed knuckles, and WE were hesitant to hire her, wondering if it was just too much. If we had to think about it, it just won’t fly in a conservative office.

  44. Lissa Davis :

    I was 50 when, in a state of severe clinical depression, I got a tattoo on my right forearm. Needless to say it has been nothing but trouble. I have resigned myself to long sleeves at work, even in summer. I suggest thinking long and hard before getting one, we women have a tough enough time as it is.

  45. There is an amazing product that is sold at Walgreens. It is a spray on foundation, and it would be a great quick fix, especially for tattoos in those places that clothing simply doesn’t hide. It is sold in spray cans (leg makeup), and they keep it by the pantyhose, because it is primarily intended to cover up scars, veins, etc on legs. It is completely opaque in its coverage, and costs $10 per can. ***Walgreens own brand is much more effective that the named brand that is sold in the same area!

  46. Just some comments: I’m 24, live in San Antonio, TX and until I switched laterally was a Manager-in-Charge at a large Grocery chain. At first I wore long sleeve collered shirts to cover up since I have the entire inside of my left arm tattooed. I would only roll up my sleeves when I was with trusted employees until I realized that this wasn’t an issue in the least for this company. I know where a polo where you can plainly see my arm tattoos (nothing profane at all) as well as another on my upper right bicep. Was a conversation starter a lot or a great way to redirect a conversation when a customer has a complaint or is upset. I haven’t gotten a single complaint. Then again this is a retail industry and I am extraordinarily nice.

  47. Bobby O'Shea :

    This guy’s a right wing ASSHOLE!!!

  48. Personally, I think you are screwed. We recently had someone fired (yes, fired) because of a sleeve tattoo on just one arm. There is a company policy against it – even if it just is noticeable for an instant. Because of your career path, I would strongly encourage you to have your tattoos removed. I did just that but my tattoo was on my hand. It hurt like hell to put it one and worse to take it off. It is almost normal looking but I am so sorry I ever had it done in the first place. Good luck.


  49. Question – I am a third year law student, about to graduate and have been seriously considering a tattoo for years. I planned on doing it after passing the bar and most definitely will have it somewhere that is generally hidden (I’m South Asian, and I intend to keep it hidden even in a sari blouse).

    My question is — many of my full-sleeved work shirts can be somewhat sheer in the right light (due to my dark skin). What about tattoos that are hidden but may be vaaaguely discernable through a long-sleeved shirt in certain light? Is this still considered unprofessional?

  50. I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you design
    this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you?
    Plz respond as I’m looking to construct my own blog and would like to know where u got this from. appreciate it

  51. Tattoo Lady :

    I love tattoos, but my work doesn’t like them. Jessa Sleeves covers the shoulders and arms.
    This turned out to be a very entertaining blog!!
    Thanks to all!

  52. Happily tattooed Accountant :

    I am delighted to see so many tattooed professionals on one site. I am the financial accountant for the South African subsidiary of a multinational company. It is the typical stereotypical organization; men do the technical work and women the office work. We have had our American counterparts travel to South Africa and freely display their tattoos. I have a ¾ sleeve on my left arm and in the process of completing the matching sleeve on my right. We are a whole of 4 people in this office and it is dismaying to see the chauvinism here. The men that I work with are all old Afrikaners, who believe that women should be seen, not heard and definitely not sporting tattoos, regardless of size. I enjoy my job, I enjoy my pay, but I wish that they would be more open minded. I know that I am currently the most tattooed women that I know, and with that am aware of the negative stigma attached to it, both socially and professionally. I got my first tattoo at 28, after I had my child. I had always wanted to but worried about how people would react. After having my daughter I realized that ‘the lion does not lose sleep over the opinions of sheep’, and it’s kind of stuck. Fortunately I have the support of a wonderful husband, but can’t say that having these tattoos has not impacted negatively. Would I do it differently if given the chance? No. this is who I am , If I offend you by being a bit more colorful, wear sunglasses….

  53. It’s all about how you carry yourself.

    If you are able to be professional and approachable in whatever you wear then fine no problem let them show. Just have a blazer, etc.. on hand for meetings and clients.

    However, if you are rebellious, crude or just too casual in some attire, then stick with the conservative dress.

work fashion blog press mentions