Professional dress code and Tattoos
Business Tips by Burleson Consulting
strong interest into "Body Art", the question arises as to how people with
tattoos can advance
within American professional careers. Some corporations maintain a strict
policy against visible tattoos, especially companies that must make a good
impression on the general public.
Tattoos have a
- 1850 - 1900 -
Tattoos used to be the bastion of carnival freak shows, with people flocking
to the circus to see the amazing tattooed Lady.
- 1900 - 1950 -
Tattoos in the early 20th century indicated a Sailor or Marine. In
these cases, they did not have any
except that tattoos were generally indicative of enlisted men. Few Navy
or Marine officers dared to draw on their body.
- 1950 - 1960 - In
the early 1950's, tattoos became popular with the criminal element, mostly
outlaw bikers, social outcasts and the mentally ill. It was during
this time tattoos took on a more
- 1960 - 1990
- This was the age of "prison tats" where having a tattoo indicated to some
people that you were a tough felon.
1990-2008 - Today we see hordes of young people drawing on themselves with free
abandon, (almost 30% of people in the 1980's). These people do not
understand that a tattoo may effectively prohibit them from pursuing some
professional careers, regardless of their other qualifications.
Today, a prejudice still exists
within corporate America about tattoos.
Don't kid yourself about the
importance of hiding or removing tattoos. If you look at middle management
and above in any of the Fortune 50 companies, you will be hard pressed to find any
managers that have visible tattoos.
Corporate Dress Codes
A study by Careerbuilders shows the perils of tattoos for aspiring
professionals, and confirms the conventional wisdom that tattoos are a bad
choice for anyone who hopes to work in a corporate position:
- Over 42 percent of managers said their
opinion of someone would be lowered by that person's visible body art.
- Three out of four respondents believe that visible tattoos are
You don't have to look hard to find hundreds of corporations which have banned
employees with tattoos.
San Bernardino County
California, bars all employees from wearing denim, having visible tattoos, and
any piercing in the nose, lip, or tongue that contains jewelry.
In sum, tattoos
are not well received by corporate America and could hamper your success if you
choose a career in a corporate position.
Hiding tattoos is important in corporate America
Many tattooed people think that they are protected by their First Amendment
rights to freedom of expression. Unfortunately, this is not true in the
Corporations have every right to discriminate against "optional"
appearance-related traits, and many large corporations ban long hair, beards and
Sometimes hiding a tattoo is not enough.
There have been cases where an employee reveals a tattoo at a company gathering
or event like a softball game or a barbeque in view of their manager, who, in turn, finds other reasons to
terminate the employee. If you live in an employment "at will" state,
remember that you can be fired for no reason at all.
First Amendment Freedom of Expression and Tattoo laws
This article titled "Body
art in the workplace" confirms that companies have a constitutional right to
ban employees with tattoos:
Companies can limit employees' personal
expression on the job as long as they do not impinge on their civil
liberties. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC),
employers are allowed to impose dress codes and appearance policies as long
as they do not discriminate or hinder a person's race, color, religion, age,
national origin, or gender.
There is a strong legal basis for discriminating against the tattooed,
especially if the employer fears that having tattooed employees might hurt
their professional image:
In the landmark court case
Stores, Inc. v. CHRO, the Connecticut Supreme Court established the
standard for reviewing dress codes under the Connecticut Fair Employment
In Pik-Wik, an employee complained about a grooming standard that
required men to wear their hair "off the collar and above the ears." The
employee argued that the policy discriminated against him on the basis of
gender because women were not subject to the same standard. The court
rejected the argument concluding that the grooming standard was
non-discriminatory because it did not deny equal employment opportunities on
the basis of an immutable characteristic, e.g., sex, race, national origin,
disability or religion.
case verified that employers can fire employees who have exposed tattoos:
A dress code that required tucked-in shirts and covered tattoos for
Kentucky State Parks employees did not violate the civil rights of three
fired maintenance workers, a federal appeals court ruled.
However, regardless of the legalities and rights of people to look
as they wish, many states have "at will" laws. These statutes allow you to quit
at any time, for any reason, and allows corporations to fire employees at
any time, for any reason, or no reason at all.
Are attitudes towards tattoos changing?
This WSJ article titled "Tattoos
Come Out at the Office", notes that attitudes in corporate America may be
changing to become more tolerant of tattoos in the lower ranks, and the
prejudice towards tattoo owners is also fading, but "discrete" tattoos still
remain the most popular:
"Mr. Hempel, the Inverness lawyer, says he
"doesn't flaunt his tattoos around the office." According to a 2001 survey
on tattoos in the workplace from the Internet site Vault.com, which deals
with work issues, the most popular placements of tattoos are areas that can
be hidden: the backs, arms and legs."
"Non-offensive" tattoos permitted
"I've seen people at all levels with
tattoos and piercings," says spokeswoman Barbara Murphy.
White & Case
New York City
"There are undoubtedly people who have
tattoos (but) it's certainly not conspicuous," says spokesperson Roger
"Non-offensive" tattoos OK to show
"If they're not offensive, I don't see it
as an issue," says spokesman Thomas Williams.
Santa Barbara, Calif.
"The key point in our policy is that the
appearance must be appropriate to the position," says spokes-person
Steven Campanini. "What we do is rely on local hospitals to enforce what
"Non-offensive" tattoos permitted
"It's left up to people to use their own
discretion," said spokeswoman Anne Marie Gattari.
Discrete tattoos permitted
Company literature specifies:
"Non-dangling earrings in the ears only. Any other visible parts of body
may not be adorned with jewelry."
This article it also talks about a senior
executive at Inverness Medical Innovations Inc. who has tattoos and is rather
proud of the fact.
more insights, please see my related notes on
Professional Dress Code,
Professional dress and Tattoos,
Inappropriate corporate sponsorship of charities,
professional golf etiquette
Professional Corporate Tipping tips
I am a college student. My name is Brie Elaine. My life has
been hell; however, with strength and independence i have made it through. I
have read your article regarding tattoos and job opportunities for tattooed
people. I find your assumptions to be pompous, arrogant, and unrealistic. I
am not a criminal, poor nor unintelligent. I am very intelligent, actually.
I was reading at a college level by age 6. Please learn what you are talking
about before you go and make such a spectacle of yourselves. The only
approval you have is more than likely that of old people. The real world is
far more complex than slapping a stereotype on every person you come across.
You are wrong. I am an artist. Ever since i could pick up a pen i have been,
as well as a writer. I am far from the disgusting stereotypes you portray. I
am beautiful, intelligent and intend very much to open my own business. I
would appreciate you to do some serious searching of your soul. Perhaps you
will see the truth of reality. It is not so constricted, but as wide open as
you can take it and make it.
26 October 2012
And our response:
Thank you for the helpful constructive criticism. Best wishes with all
your future projects.
Hello my name is jack, and I run a watch dog
company to check in on people who use general stereo-types to push their moral
majority agendas on the general public. With your very generic article you have
offended a number of my clients, some of which are rather high ranking police
officers in my city.
The officer that directed me to your site
actually has quite a few more tattoos than me. If you would like to have such
narrow minded, completely ignorant, opinions towards people who are different
than yourself maybe you should get on your high horse and head out because we
are going to be the majority soon and you will be fading away like an old
And that's going to feel great because sunburns
are only irritating for a short while, and then they're gone.
12 August 2008
First things first, I found this entire page to be completely stereotypical,
derogatory, and very narrow-minded. The fact that this author keeps repeating
only poor, uneducated criminals have tattoos is wildly false. No one I know with
body art, myself included, have any kind of criminal record. Furthermore, we are
all college graduates (which would definitely prove that we are in fact well
As far as being poor is concerned, what does that have to do with being hired at
any job? It is unfair to discriminate against a potential employee because
he/she does not drive a brand new car, so why should the unfounded association
between tattoos and poverty even be an issue???
Many companies today are being much more accepting towards people that choose to
express themselves through body art/modification. I, personally, work for a fast
growing nano-chemical company. They are very accepting of my lifestyle choice
and do not discriminate against other employees for the same reasons. I think
from now on we will see more of these forward-thinking companies that realize it
is no longer 1945 and the same standards do not apply.
And our response:
I'm sure that you noted from the article title that the audience for this
article is Corporate professionals (managers, executives, VP's, and lawyers). It
only reflects on the status of tattoos in Corporate America, not the general
working population. Also, it's a survey or Corporate policies, not my personal
opinions, as the author. I think you got them confused.
Did you know that over 80% of the American prison population is tattooed, while
only 15% of the general population has tattoo's . . . You may not like it, but
tats are far more popular with prisoners than they are in corporate America.
In my experience in corporate America, I see prejudice against body art getting
police departments are now requiring officers to cover their tattoo's at
Dear Sir or Ma'am,
I "stumbled" across your web site while doing a research
paper on corporate dress codes. Particularly in regards to tattoos in the work
place. I must say that I was repulsed by the stereo types that your web site
publicly claimed for those who have tattoos. I quote. "Its no surprise that
tattoos are more popular among the poor and uneducated." Not only would I be
considered a successful woman, I am also highly educated. This statement is
offensive and I venture to say that the individual who wrote it is the
uneducated one. As you will find a beautiful piece of art, on the body or other
wise, requires an educated artist and a client with a large wallet.
And our response:
Dear Ms. Popham,
Thank you for your glowing praise for our web page.
>> I quote. "It's no surprise that tattoos are more popular among the poor and
Yes, that is absolutely true. Over 90% of convicted felons have tattoos . . .
>> This statement is offensive
Well, perhaps you could start a movement to have tattoos removed from the poor
and ignorant . . . .
was repulsed by the stereo types . . . on the body or other wise
Since you are "highly educated", please be advised that "otherwise"
and "stereotypes" are not two
words . . .
I found your website while doing online research regarding public perceptions of people with tattoos. There were a few points which I agreed with. However, there were so many more points which I felt extremely offended by.
You are correct. There are some prejudices that still exist in corporate America with regard to tattoos. However, this prejudice is receding along with the hairlines of executives retiring to make way for a more innovative and open workforce. The research I have been conducting also led me to a research paper done out of Loyola University in New Orleans (Kahl, 2002). This paper showed that a random selection of people both with and without body modifications had little or no difference of opinion on specific personality characteristics when viewing photographs of individuals with or without various body modifications (including tattoos, body piercings and unnatural hair color). The people with body modifications shown to the participants scored much higher on the personality characteristic of "openness". Openness is believed to be a positive trait, which employers rank highly among individuals they wish to hire. Perhaps you would benefit from a bit of openness.
There were several references to the average tattooed person being poor and uneducated. Your article (if that is what you wish to call it) was riddled with unsupported rhetoric. I can assure you will not be able to find a reliable source to corroborate those
allegations. Within the article, there was also a statistic which claimed, "Over 42 percent of managers said their opinion of someone would be lowered by that person's visible body art." What study was this statistic from? Do you believe you made it more impactful by saying that, "Personally, I think that the actual figure is much higher"? Perhaps you should support your opinions with facts, not with more rhetoric. There were no facts present within your fallacies and misrepresentations toward those whom feel the desire to express themselves through body art.
Lastly, I would like to discuss your, "Good friend, Dan Shaw." You do realize that those whom you surround yourself with speak multitudes about who you are? Your friend Mr. Shaw has shown a huge lack of good judgment with his hours of tattoo work. Then you exploited him by taking a photo of him and posting it on your website. Shame on you! Mr. Shaw doesn't even know what he looks like, and you are using him as a spectacle to make a claim. Now who is the one lacking in judgment? Perhaps you should look in the mirror - at least you are able to do so, unlike Mr. Shaw.
In conclusion, your rhetoric is filled with unsupported stereotypes. You have certainly not convinced me to get my ink removed. Oh, wait! I should be poor and uneducated. I should not be able to construct such complete and supported thoughts or own a computer because of my tattoos... Perhaps I should quit my high-level corporate position so that I can fit your assumption that I am poor, uneducated and ignorant, have bad-taste and have a criminal record. Conversely, I will never fit any of those stereotypes.
And our response:
>> the average tattooed person being poor and uneducated.
Thatís quite true. Among the ranks or corporate executives, for example, less than one-tenth of one percent admit to drawing on themselves.
>> Then you exploited him by taking a photo of him and posting it on your website.
No, Danís saving-up to have those ghastly things removed. Itís expensive.
>> unsupported stereotypes.
Just visit any prison, you can see for yourself . . .
>> I should not be able to construct such complete and supported thoughts or own a computer because of my tattoos...
No, but it does say a lot about your self-esteem and choice of role models.
>> I can fit your assumption that I am poor, uneducated and ignorant, have bad-taste and have a criminal record.
No, you did that, when you chose to align yourself with these groups!
You are the most ignorant person I have ever come across.
How can you saw that a tattooed person is un-educated an has a low income. I
express my self using tattoos. My tattoos show my hard times in life and the
loves in my life. How can you say that because I like to express myself
differently than you that I am any different than you. What makes the was
you express yourself less criminal than me. I am going to sound un-educated
saying thins but it needs to be said.
You are the most ignorant a**hole I have seen on the internet. Keep in
mind all of the people using the internet. I have never wanted to follow up
on an article, but yours burned inside me. I think you are a terrible person
to compare me to a poor, under class criminal. You are a terrible person for
the things you said in that article. You might as well be racist. You say
things about people you don't like because you don't understand them. I
don't know how you could honestly write things like that and think that its
I hope your horse tramples you