This post was last updated in January 2023.
We haven’t talked about tattoos in the workplace in farrrrrr too long on this site, and I keep seeing statistics about how nearly half of Millenials have at least one tattoo (and over a third of Gen Xers!).
When I was in Austin, TX, less than a year ago, it seemed like the entire population was covered in tattoos, and the LA friends I was with said it’s even more common out there. Closer to home, my husband just treated himself to a really nice tattoo for his 40th birthday to cover one he regretted getting as a teenager.
So here are the questions: Do you have tattoos? Are you considering getting any in the future? Have you ever regretted a tattoo? (For reasons beyond “I was drunk while I got it” or “I got divorced and don’t want my ex-husband’s name” or things like that — for example, because the design looked different because you gained/lost weight?)
For those of you who have a visible tattoo, where is it, and do you feel like there have been any career ramifications of your tattoo? How have you handled your tattoo in the workplace?
For my $.02: I am not inked. At a dinner party I had a few years ago, three of the six people at the table had tattoos, and three did not — but all of us who had not gotten inked knew exactly what we would get.
(I considered it anew a few years ago when a good friend had her sons’ initials tattooed on her wrist.) In 2020 it’s hard to imagine tattoos having too many consequences for your career as long as they’re not, you know, on your face — but I’m curious to hear what people’s responses are.
Years ago, we answered a question from a reader with half sleeves (tattoos covering half of her arms) who had been pondering whether she had to hide her tattoos for BigLaw. At the time, we advised her to plan on covering her arms most of the time in a conservative office and, in a more relaxed office, to do so at least for the interview — and I think I’d still agree with that. (What are your thoughts, readers?)
So, do tell! Do you have tattoos, or are you considering future tattoos? Have you ever regretted a tattoo? And do you feel like there have been any career ramifications related to your tattoo?
Stock photo via Unsplash / Med Badr Chemmaoui.
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I’m 29 and a biglaw associate and I have several tattoos, but none of them are visible when in a blazer (I have some on my wrists but they are low enough that they are still covered by blazer sleeves). I have some on my inner ankles that peek out of my shoes, but you’d really have to be looking for them. Following this topic with interest because I really want to get a small tattoo on my hand, but haven’t done it yet because I’m not sure if it would be ‘thing’ in court/when looking for a new job.
Hand tattoos can be tricky – some artists won’t do hands/necks/faces unless the client already has lots of prominent tattoos. That said, a small symbol on a finger is different from love/hate knuckles or something that covers your entire hand. Personally I think they can look really cool, but I’m not a lawyer and can’t speak to how they read in firms/court.
I also want a small finger tattoo in BigLaw (think inner ring finger) but my husband is the one really cautioning me against it
I have no tattoos. I am in healthcare and moved from the Southeast to Seattle for training. There is a HUGE regional difference in what is considered acceptable in healthcare (from docs through MAs). In the southeast, no one had visible tattoos and it was often an item in the dress code. In Seattle, folks are rocking finger tattoos and variety hair color at all levels of seniority.
I have a small sun on the inside of my wrist. I love it, although now that I am more in the know I sort of wish I had known how to evaluate an artist on their delicate line work (it’s a blocky sun, which is exactly what I wanted, but the lines are a smidge thicker than I originally imagined.)
My tattoo hasn’t had any effect on my career – a chunky watch band covers it almost completely, and several of my coworkers didn’t even notice it until I brought it up. I want another on my ribs and maybe my hip, and I’ve been considering a nose ring!
Re the nose ring: dooooo it! I have a tiny silver stud and it’s the easiest piercing I’ve ever had. I got it in my 30s, which makes me feel a bit like a tryhard, but I’d been pondering it for years, so it wasn’t a whim. Now I’m 42 and most people I see frequently have always known me with it. So far it hasn’t been an issue at work, but I work in a pretty casual industry so YMMV.
I will say, sometimes I wonder about cultural appropriation (especially because I started wanting one after seeing South Asian classmates with them in college). My liberal guilt may force me to take it out eventually, but I’m loving it for now.
As an Indian woman, I say rock on with your nose ring! I think they are so beautiful, and it makes me happy to see so many non-South Asians wearing one, including in the professional environment. They remind me of my own dear grandmother, who had two (one on each side of her nose!).
Get the nose ring; life is short! I wanted my nipples pierced since I was about 20. I finally did it when I was 39. 39! Now that I’m almost 44, I’m still mad I waited so long. I am careful at work to always have a lined bra on so that they are not noticeable.
I also I have 2 tattoos. A large one on my shoulder and a smaller one on my chest. I have worked in Corporate America for my whole career and they have never been an issue. I do keep them covered 100% of the time though. The shoulder tattoo would show if I wore a tank style dress. So I always have a cardigan or blazer on.
I have a giant rib piece which I LOVE but is not generally visible at work. I wore a sleeveless top to a work holiday party one year and one of my drunk, male coworkers asked about it and it was a bit awkward. I also have multiple ear piercings (4 in one ear and 3 in another) and am planning to get a tattoo on my inner wrist.
Many people at my government office (mostly attorneys) have visible tattoos (mostly arms and legs) and it’s no big deal at all. A judge I appear in front of regularly has a wrist tattoo.
I’m really happy that the norms about this have changed so much!
I have two on my back, so not visible at work and therefore hasn’t been an issue. My client population wouldn’t care, but some of our judges might. For that reason, I have not gotten any visible ones. I also don’t know if I even want anymore tattoos. I don’t regret the ones I have at all, just not sure I want to put myself through that again haha. I got my first at 18 and my second at 22 or 23. I’m 37 now and a criminal defense lawyer.
I have two small tattoos on my upper back, just below my neck. They’re visible sometimes depending on my top. They have 0 impact on my career. I don’t regret them, most of the time I forget they’re there, but I don’t plan on getting any more. I got them almost 15 years ago in my youth!
I have two tattoos, one on my inner bicep and another–a United States Code citation–on the top of my ribs just under my arm. Both are potentially visible if I am wearing something sleeveless.
Everyone in my firm knows about my tattoos, both of which I’ve acquired since I joined the firm. To the best of my knowledge, no one cares. If I am wearing something sleeveless, I always have a jacket or cardigan to wear on top, but that was true even before I was tattooed would be true even if I weren’t now.
Several of the judges on the appellate court where I clerked and before whom I practice known about my statutory tattoo, which is a little strange, but all of them I’ve spoken to about it love it. This, to me, is further confirmation that the norms around tattoos have changed a great deal in the last decade or so, even in the Southeast. Even my priest has a forearm tattoo that’s visible in vestments.
I have to know – which citation?
42 U.S.C. § 1983
So that all of us non-lawyers don’t have to google individually, can you just tell us what it is?
For anyone else reading late, it’s the Civil Rights Act.
Just to offer a variety of opinions: I don’t have any tattoos and I don’t like them on others. This primarily comes up in the dating context, because it’s the only place my view of someone else’s body is relevant. In terms of hiring/office display, even as a person who doesn’t like them, I wouldn’t really think one way or another with the exception of a neck or face tattoo.
I agree with you. I don’t have any myself and don’t find them attractive at all on others, although I can tell that some artists are better! As Anon said, though, not relevant how I deal with them professionally. There actually aren’t many visible tattoos in my workplace now that I think about it. A colleague just got an ankle tattoo removed — it was something she’d gotten as a teen and now finds embarrassing.
I agree – don’t have any, don’t find any of them attractive on anyone else, but what other people do to adorn themselves really isn’t my concern, unless something really egregious like a swastika tattoo. That said, if someone asked me what I thought of their cute little wrist / ankle / whatever tattoo, I’d say how cute it was and I’d lie like a rug. So I kind of secretly question the “everyone I asked loved it!” response. I just think that’s a social norm, just like I’m not going to tell you I don’t like your haircut or shoes. (Because you may not like my haircut or shoes either, and now what.)
Corporate lawyer in private practice with four tattoos (three small and one very large watercolor back piece that I love love love). No one can see them in my work clothes, but I do occasionally get asked about them at the office gym or if people see me on weekends in some of my summer dresses. I’d love a wrist tattoo (maybe after I make partner), but for now I love my pieces, and no one seems to care who knows I have them. I got mine over a spread of years from 18 to 27, and have no regrets about any of them.
I don’t have any tatoos, I am not interested and only notice them on other people if they are extraordinarily large, or on their face. However, the office environments in my company are very conservative, and I have seen zero tatoos on anyone. I’m sure that people have tatoos under their clothes, I’d keep in mind that visible tatoos still aren’t acceptable in every environment.
I have six tattoos with plans for more. At OldJob I was supposed to keep them covered, current job doesn’t care. They’re visible in short sleeves. The newest one – my in-progress back piece – peeks out of the back of some shirts.
My tattoos haven’t affected my career at all, but I’m not a lawyer (currently in higher-ed admin).
… seven. I have seven tattoos. Forgot one.
I have 4 tattoos total – 1 on each shoulderblade (so hidden at work) and 1 on each wrist (visible at work). It’s been a non-issue at work. I interviewed and changed companies with 1 visible wrist tattoo, and I’ve since interviewed internally with both visible wrist tattoos.
My husband and I both have full sleeves. We both have high status public service jobs. I wear blazers to important meetings so no one sees my tattoos unless it’s a Friday and I’m wearing a t shirt.
I currently have no tattoos. I may (at some point in the future) get one. I have a forget-me-not design in mind for my inner wrist.
One thing I’ve always wondered about people with back tattoos (or ones on the butt or back of the bicep or calf): why do they choose a position for the tattoo where they can’t readily see and enjoy it?
They look good in pictures and in the mirror! That’s how I enjoy the ones I have on the back of my calf and shoulder blade. Also just knowing they are there is a source of joy without needing to always see them.
Agree with anon at 3:16 – my back piece symbolizes strength and a shield. It’s a beautiful piece of artwork/armor that I get to carry with me everywhere.
And yeah, it looks cool as hell in pictures :)
My husband has a gajillion tattoos, but won’t get any where he can’t see them. I only have a few, but one big one where I can only see it in the mirror. But it’s right between my shoulder blades and it looks so pretty with strappy summer dresses!
anon for this
I seriously considered getting one to cover a scar from sexual assault on my back (it was a deep abrasion on my spine that scarred as dark skin and I’m very pale). I couldn’t see it normally but seeing the scar in the mirror reminded me of the assault, and I didn’t want people asking me about it. It also would have been a symbol of my personal agency and strength. However, the scar ended up fading so that others can’t really see it now, and I’ve reconsidered. I think there are many reasons for tattoos you can’t normally see.
Have no visible tattoos, but I am on the (partner) hiring committee in my conservative DC law firm. Visible tattoos affects your hireability here, but more implicitly than explicitly. It’s hard to explain, but it does.
And, we have an associate who has half sleeve tattoos. About 18 months after she started working here, she began letting them show. It was not received well. We actually have a policy for staff that prohibits visible tattoos. The policy does not apply to attorneys, but several staff complained about the “exception” for her. Instead of just removing the ridiculous policy, someone spoke to her to cover them at work. Also, I truly believe some of the older attorneys began treating her differently after they learned of her tattoos.
I am just chiming is to say that this is so incredibly industry/location specific that it is hard to generalize. I currently live in a West Coast city and the attitude toward tattoos is very different than the mid-sized Southern city I grew up in. And even here (litigation) only staff have large visible tattoos although some of the younger attorneys have small pieces visible (and of course I neither know nor care what they have under their clothes). And even here, large, visible tattoos would definitely be an unspoken “no” during the interview process.
I have two – hip and ribs – neither are visible in the regular work environment. My rib one peeks out above my sports bra/tank top at the work gym, but the only person who has ever commented on it is a friend who I spend time with outside of work who knew I had gotten it and wanted to see the full image.
Since they are not visible, no impact on my career.
I want more, but I am very picky about where they go and haven’t figured out a good spot for another that sits well wtih me. I might to inner forearm because I am almost always in long-sleeves at work because it’s so cold in here!
My coworker is actually conducting a national study about tattoos among library personnel. She’s hoping to see how tattoos affect perceived professionalism. I’m super excited to see her results.
If anyone would like to take the survey, here’s the link. https://kennesaw.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_54ngjHRrZxrGKtn?fbclid=IwAR0zroGxrJS63BSCQc84a8nnCIbSsB8M-HuXeUhScsqlPwGI6zlAO-Sr5-E
Love this thread! I’m in law/government. I have 6, but two can be visible. One on my foot which almost completely shows if I’m in heels and flats, and one on my back that goes relatively far up into the territory of upper shoulder/nape of neck (if that makes sense?) If I’m wearing a shell with no blazer, you can definitely see her hair and top of her head and hand, and sometimes on more casual days or hot days in the summer, tops would show more. I often wear my hair up as well. I don’t mind it showing in this sense, but what I didn’t necessarily think about was, with certain fabrics, you can see the whole thing. Even with certain tank tops underneath, she’s still visible. For context, she’s a fairly large mermaid on my shoulder blade-ish area going up. So, I don’t mind her peaking out or it being clear I have SOMETHING, but I’m limited to what I wear so she doesn’t completely show, albeit faintly. I do plan on getting more!
I’m a lawyer and have two large tattoos, one on my back and one on my thigh. The edges of both of them peek out occasionally at work (if my blouse has one of those keyhole closures that are so popular at Loft, etc. or if I’m wearing my shorter work skirts) so most my coworkers know they’re there, which hasn’t been an issue. You can’t see them at all if I’m in a suit, even a skirt suit. I’m planning to get a few more, similarly hidden. If I were ever to become a judge or something (judges in my state are appointed, basically for life, rather than elected) I’d probably get full sleeves and a sternum piece, but I live in a conservative enough area that, unless norms significantly shift, I’m not likely to do it as long as I have to worry about being employable. I’m gay and love the symbolism of tattoos on women as a rejection of the male gaze and conservative social norms.
I’m a VP, and I have a tattoo covering my c-section scar. The scar wasn’t done well, so getting tired of looking at it I decided to cover it with nice flowers.
I would go for another tattoo, if it wasn’t so damn painful.
What a beautiful idea
I think the tough thing is that the person with the tattoo is the least likely to know if there have been career ramifications. Almost no one is going to say that they don’t want you being the face of the company in a situation. They’re just going to choose someone else. And I think a lot of stereotypes are also subconscious (barring something more outside the norm like a face tattoo). They may just think that so and so seems more professional than the other person but not put a finger on why.
Yes. This is an excellent point.
Yes. Honestly, my (fleeting) thought when I see a large-scale tattoo, such as sleeves, is that the person didn’t exercise good judgment for getting something so permanent over such a large area. Now, if that person is good at what they do, do I really care? Not terribly – they can decorate their bodies how they like and they are under no obligation to take my aesthetic preferences into account – but I do make a distinction between “little flower on wrist or ankle” or “tattoo in location where no one is going to see it” versus “full sleeves.” I want to be clear though – I’m not making a moral judgment, I’m making an aesthetic judgment. The same way, for example, we all might make an aesthetic judgment if I posted a picture of Peg Bundy in painted-on pants and spike heels and said that I intended to go to court in that outfit.
Lawyer who teaches paralegal program and runs a firm – honestly I don’t really know which of my staff or students have tats or nose piercings. I don’t notice. It doesn’t matter. The nose piercings are the ones people get most upset about in terms of my paralegals but in general terms – again they don’t notice who has them they just are annoyed on principle. I do recommend that if possible they switch the nose piercings for subtle studs for interviews. That’s about it.
Good help is hard to find and basically anyone who cares about these things will eventually have to choose between a good candidate and one with a nose hoop.
I’m an in-house lawyer and have two rib tattoos which I got at ages 31 and 33. I plan to get more but they will all be on my ribs or possibly over my back. They are not visible at work and I don’t think anyone at work knows I have them. I don’t think anyone would particularly care as long as they weren’t like face or neck tattoos. My immediate boss (also a lawyer) has a huge tattoo on her back, which I know because she once wore a shirt with a cut-out on the back.
I have several large tattoos on my upper arms/one goes onto my shoulder. In my current work environment, no one cares. I’m moving to a workplace where I’ll sometimes need to be more conservative, but a blazer solves that on all fronts.
I have four tattoos, all pretty big. One on my right shoulder, covered by longer-short-sleeves but not the-shortest-of-short-sleeves, one on my back covered by regular shirt necks, and one on each thigh, covered by most skirts/dresses. I want 100 more.
My work ‘audience’ is in two distinct camps, colleagues and the community we serve (call ’em clients, I guess, though that’s not what we call them). The CEO has seen them and I suspect he was like “huh!?” and that was it. Other colleagues with whom I’m friendly enough to hang out outside of work have seen them, and do not care at all (or have nice things to say and/or have their own/their spouses have tattoos). Then our client base… it’s a population that thinks that someone in my role (and of my gender) shouldn’t have tattoos. But that opinion is hypocritical and anyway, they’re wrong, but they don’t get to see my tattoos because they don’t need another reason to discount me.
I have a large rib/hip piece–a cover for a tattoo I got very young. No career impact. I think most people I work with would be surprised to know I have ink, let alone how much!
I’m certainly not ashamed of my tattoo, but I don’t want to talk about it with colleagues and have my body become a focus. Others’ mileage may vary, but that’s how I feel about it–probably the intimate location is the main reason.
The tattoo shows in some formal gowns and swimsuits. I suppose if I had a formal work event, I may choose a dress carefully–or maybe I would just let my freak flag fly. I am senior and well-respected in my industry. It would probably be fun at this point in my career.
Anon Probate Lawyer
I have a reverse discrimination thing with people with nose piercings. I’ve noticed that almost all the people I’ve met with nose piercings are really cool, down-to-earth, and fun. I’d love to hire a paralegal or assistant with a nose piercing- although I’m not sure about an associate with one, as many judges can be….stodgy.
I have two – one on my inner left forearm (about 3″x3″), and a half sleeve on my right arm of irises and poppies. Chose both locations for the ability to cover them up if needed with long sleeves. I don’t feel like any of my superiors care (I am a director at a biotech, so these are c-suite folks) but I probably would not consider getting a tattoo any place difficult to cover.
C-suite in a biotech here, and am thinking of getting a small tattoo. Hearing about yours somehow gives me courage!
I was an Army officer before becoming a corporate type. Many, many people, including officers, have tattoos in the military, although they are to a degree discouraged and certain types of tattoos are banned by regulations that vary from service to service. However, I am very glad that I do not have a tattoo because I perceive that people at my current job and in my current social circles would judge me based on it.
Bottom line: Tattoos are associated with lower middle class culture. Sure there are some wealthier, college-educated, artsy women who have tattoos and those tattoos assist in communicating “my parents are rich; I grew-up playing tennis.” However, for me, I think having a tattoo would be a negative. People would assume that I am less sophisticated and worldly and more closed-minded and provincial than I am if I had a tattoo. If you have a tattoo and think people aren’t judging you for it (either a positive or negative connotation) you are wrong. People judge everything about your appearance. Isn’t that why we all read this blog?
According to some online sources, they say that women are discriminated if they have tattoos on their bodies more than men. Which is disheartening to see for me. Employers who circumvent people from employment on the grounds of tattoos are essentially discriminating against people’s personal lifestyles that aren’t killing or physically harming them against their will. Religious affiliations, sexual orientations, gender identifications, and tattoos are all people’s personal businesses. Discriminating against individuals’ personal lifestyles that don’t murder or physically harm them unwillingly as an employer means the employer’s echo chamber is being implemented in their business.
I manage the engineering group at a small manufacturing company. Most of our work is for bigger manufacturers: defense contractors, oil and gas, etc. I had a lot of tattoos, including a large piece on my forearm. It’s never been a problem with the company; I made manager of the technical group by 30. I do wear long sleeves when meeting customers the first time so they don’t judge too fast; after that it’s not a problem and sometimes they find a fun surprise. I think cause I’m pretty clean cut otherwise.