Tattoos at the Office: To Hide or Not to Hide?

People have tattoos. The New York Times has noticed! But a lot of people are still hiding their tattoos, even though they got them and they like them. This is because of the office.

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Guess what? People have tattoos. The New York Times has noticed! And maybe tattoos aren't so very "bad" anymore. Maybe. "Merely by glancing around, it's clear that tattoos are no longer the sole province of gang members, garage mechanics, guys who are admirably confident that they will have the same girlfriend forever and Hollywood outliers like Angelina Jolie and Lena Dunham," writes Joanne Kaufman. There is actual Pew Research to back this up, that not all tattooed persons are outliers or mechanics. Some twenty-three percent of Americans have tattoos; "32 percent of those are aged 30 to 45." Correction, per the Times: "32 percent of people ages 30 to 45 have at least one tattoo." Tattoos, you've probably even seen 'em, maybe on Ryan Gosling's face, maybe on your own. No big deal, right?

Not exactly. According to this piece in the Times, a lot of people are hiding their tattoos, even though they got them and they like them. This is because of the office. In corporate environments, you see, tattoos are still not exactly O.K. all of the time, even if people who work in corporate environments like tattoos. A kind of self-oppression has ensued, with cardigans worn in the hottest of summer days; tights covering tattooed ankles; long-sleeved shirts chosen over tank tops, and so on. These tattooed citizens are forced to hide who they are—or if not forced, exactly, they simply do so because they think they should—and that is causing some problems. "Many with tattoos and with corporate jobs talk about being occasionally uncomfortable because of the covering-up they think it requires ... or the sense of leading a double life," Kaufman explains.

In an increasingly tattooed world, tattoos—and those who choose to get them—are still being judged. "Sixty-one percent of human-resource managers asked last year in an annual survey by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania said a tattoo would hurt a job applicant’s chances, up from 57 percent in 2011," she continues.

The thing about tattoos is, well, employers can kind of do what they want when they see you have them (there's no federal law that "prohibits employers from making a hiring decision because of a tattoo"). And, surely, there are certain places in, say, Brooklyn, or in certain industries, where you're more likely to be hired if you do have a tattoo. A human resources manager told Kaufman that while she didn't like tattoos, they were acceptable in "an open culture" for an artsy or free-spirited type, like a designer. "My boss is very interested in a hipster environment,” she said. Hipster = tattoos, presumably.

But for those with tattoos who are forced to hide that fact, there is a certain conflict of identity at, literally, work. "I feel there's the corporate Robert and the rock ’n’ roll Robert, and they are pretty much compartmentalized," 37-year-old Robert Conlin ("a senior practice manager for a health care system in Chicago whose tattoos cover his chest, mid-forearms and legs") told Kaufman. "I put on a suit and tie to come to work and then I go home and put on the black T-shirt. I think, 'If they only knew what I looked like under all this.'"

Under all that, one would guess, he is naked. But fortunately, in offices, we have to wear clothes. 

Anyway, as Marisa Kakoulas writes at the website Needles and Sins, "The take-away from the NY Times article is that those in conservative offices are more likely to cover up than those in more creative fields. No will will gasp in disbelief at that. What would have meatier is to do some research on the public perception of tattoos, now that so many more people are covered, now there we are inundated with reality shows, now that Kat Von D is a best selling author. And then see how those perceptions affect people's wallets."

For now, what we know is that some people judge tattoos, and others don't, and we all have to work, right? Where we work and what we wear to work and how our employers feel about our tattoos (or if they even know we have them), well, that's probably depends on a multitude of factors. Here, try these NPR tattoos and see how people react.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.