Confession time: I have zero tattoos. Zero piercings. And no crazy hair.
I have a low pain tolerance—plus, I don’t think I can pull any of them off.
But lots of postgrads do, and make them look amazing. Doesn’t matter the style: if you can rock a side shave and sleeve tattoo, you have my respect.
But here’s the bad news: badass style doesn’t always fly in the corporate world. People judge those with ink or piercings as untrustworthy, dangerous, impulsive, or irresponsible—so employers would most likely make a poor business decision if they hired you looking that way. So you’re screwed if you already have 10 tattoos and a nose ring, right?
Not so fast. There’s good news too. Under certain conditions, you can keep your badass style—but you might have to make some compromises. With these steps, though, you can reap all the benefits (*cough* higher salary *cough*) of steady employment and still look the way you want when your shift is over.
Keep it clean
We’ve all seen our share of greasy man buns, am I right? Nobody wants to work around that. Unkempt anything—especially your nasty hair—may not bother you, but chances are good that your coworkers (or customers) will shy away. Approachability matters if you want to make friends or connect with clients.
Keep that man bun tight and smooth, your dreadlocks lint-free, and your handlebar mustache trimmed. Keeping yourself neat also shows that you know how to be detail oriented, a bonus soft skill!
Keep it covered
In my former life as a barista, my manager covered the tattoo on her arm with a large bandage every day. Another coworker wore an athletic warm-up sleeve to cover his extensive ink work.
Depending on your look, the method for covering up may get uncomfortable: we’re talking longer sleeves and longer pant legs. But for most people, it can be as simple as slapping on a band-aid, wearing your hair down, or popping on some fancy boots.
Keep it conservative
In many cases, a very tiny tattoo or piercing is acceptable as long as it doesn’t scream LOOK AT MEEEEEE! Case in point for cartilage piercings: instead of a chain earring that connects from there to your earlobe, go for a simple set of studs. Wear longer shirts so nobody sees your belly button piercing every time you lift your arms up. If you dye your hair, keep it a natural color.
Ask about it in the interview
The general rule is that you should play it safe with your wardrobe in an interview, even if the company seems progressive or casual in the way they dress. Try to follow the rules above—as silly as it sounds, it will make you more appealing to your interviewer.
When it comes time for questions, ask for more details about company dress code. Interviews are meant for assessing your fit for the job (and your style is a key component of that), so don’t be afraid to get specific.
Do I have to shave my beard? Is it a huge deal that I have an ankle tattoo? What about my tongue piercing? I see you noticed my side shave—will I need to grow that out for this job?
You get the idea. If you get the worst possible answer, you’ll have to decide how much you want to change to get the job.
Your complaint: employers are crushing my individuality, man.
Yeah, there are a lot of unwritten rules when it comes to workplace style—and yeah, they seem a little unnecessary when we both know you’re a hard worker and a nice person, and something as trivial as a tattoo shouldn’t alter that.
But here’s the reality check: when you work for an organization, individuality gets kicked off the priority list because your style represents an entire company now. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to become a corporate drone. The essential parts of you—your personality, your skills—should still shine bright. Still, you need to control the physical traces of your unique identity if your employer wants to make a good impression (and a good profit) among customers.
And another thing: if you feel that strongly about the freedom to display your tattoos, piercings, or crazy hair at work, you might be limiting yourself to industries and professions that allow them. Depending on the jobs you want, you might be settling for lower pay or fewer benefits in exchange for stylistic freedom. But, if you’ll work better that way, go for the job that makes you happy.
If you’re even considering a new tattoo, piercing, or hairstyle, evaluate ahead of time how it might change hiring managers’ perceptions of you—and whether you’d ever want to work businesses that restrict them.