OPINION: Tattoos and Employment


Melanie Wang

Many of the adults today grew up 1-2 generations ago. In the 80s, visible tattoos were highly frowned upon. The working industry had to dress appropriately and look professional. Visible tattoos and ordinary clothes resembled working in less professional jobs. Today, tattoos are extremely common in visible places. This has changed society’s viewpoint on tattoos, hair, and, proper work attire. The majority of the working class today are able to have visible tattoos and dress in business casual clothing. 

In the 80s, tattoos were generally perceived to mean that someone worked at a bar, fixed motorcycles, or committed violent crimes. Today, almost one-third of people have at least one visible tattoo. Many adults have unnatural colored hair and dress casually to work. Robert Half’s company, Accountemps, surveyed about 2,800 managers across the US in 2019 and discovered that “more than 90 percent of managers believe workplaces today have become less formal than they were a decade ago”. Although, different types of jobs in the United States make a different viewpoint on tattoos, clothing attire, and hair color, variety is increasingly becoming the norm.

In spite of this, workers who work in customer service in dentist offices, insurance offices, government offices, etc., have had a harder time getting hired with visible tattoos. The managers still require professional attire, such as men in coats and ties, and women wearing stocking and heels. Employees in more professional jobs still refer to their bosses as “sir” and “ma’am”. Today, business managers avoid hiring anyone with the appearance of making other co-workers or customers uncomfortable because they come off as unprofessional. 

However, Professional jobs working for the government have evolved to self express themselves by lowering the dress code restrictions; workers can wear casual dress shirts or dresses rather than a formal suit and tie. About 34% of jobs in the 80s were tolerant of casual attire. Today, according to the Accountemps survey, only 16% of companies require full formal business attire. The dress code is still considered professional, but has just become more business casual. Today, workers are less likely to be fired for getting a visible tattoo after they have already worked there. Getting hired with a tattoo beforehand remains a challenge, though, because a manager’s decision to hire is ultimately subjective. 

However, working in retail requires working with everyday customers such as in a local skate shop, Target, Walmart, Starbucks or grocery stores. Retail managers generally are not strict about dress code, hair, and tattoos. Looking at the Accountemps survey, about 32% more retail workplaces have allowed business casual since 2013. Also 35% of visible tattoos were problematic about a decade ago, but now only 22% of jobs forbid visible tattoos. Retail workers are more focused on being comfortable and bringing their authentic selves to work.  Mike Steinitz, executive director of Accountemps said “Workplace policies today are designed to attract and retain employees, and that often means they’re more relaxed”.