going on vacation with my company execs when I’m covered in tattoos

A reader writes:

Recently, I won a company-wide award that comes with a paid vacation to an exotic location along with all the other employees who won and most of our executives. The goal is to provide an opportunity for high performers to mingle with the executives and a week of all expense paid gifts, meals, etc. as a reward for a year of hard work. (This is standard in my industry, although I think it’s sort of crazy.)

My company requires business casual clothes in the office and there is even a suggested dress code for most of the events during the trip. Importantly, my company has a general dress code stating that tattoos shouldn’t be visible during client facing meetings and is otherwise non-specific. There are a few women in my office who occasionally show a small tattoo on their ankle, but I have never seen anyone here sporting something larger than an inch or two. I’ve also heard fairly negative views expressed by coworkers when the topic of tattoos has come up in conversation.

I’m a fairly private person, I’m in a role most would consider “nerdy rule follower,” and I dress fairly conservatively. Therefore, no one I work with knows (or would have reason to suspect) that I have tattoos basically everywhere that my clothes cover. I have talked to people who have gone on this trip before, and it doesn’t sound like I’ll get there and find out everyone is tatted up under their business clothes, so it’s likely I’m alone in this and I’m concerned there’s going to be a negative reception. It’s not that I envision showing one bit of a shoulder tattoo and everybody losing their minds, but I also don’t imagine it sliding by with no comment from anyone. I don’t particularly like attention, nor do I really like fielding questions about my tattoos, but I also want to be able to enjoy the trip and not be self-conscious the whole time.

So, two questions: How should I handle my attire? I think the likelihood of me avoiding wearing a bathing suit, shorts, or a tank top for seven days at a resort is basically zero, but the idea of wearing a bathing suit around my coworkers is not super appealing, independent of my particular situation. (I can’t be alone in this right?) If I do end up revealing some of the tattoos, how do I handle the potential questions and comments (or worse, stares and awkward behavior) in a graceful way that says “I don’t want to talk about this more, please don’t make a big deal out of it” but also “continue to respect me”?

Personally, I think you should wear what you want and let come what may.

This is a trip for high performers! Your colleagues will have to get their minds around the fact that high performers can have tattoos, and it’s okay to let them work through that on their own time.

If people say anything to you, you can look mildly weirded out or amused and say, “Yep, it’s 2019, people have tattoos.”

The more you radiate a slightly amused “this is not a thing and it’s weird that you think it’s a thing,” the more likely other people will eventually be cool. Especially if you can also find a way to radiate “I do excellent work so get over it.”

Other comments along those lines:
* “I’m probably not the only one!”
* “Yep, lots of people have them now.”
* “Something like a third of Americans have tattoos now.”
* “OMG! How did those get there?”

At the same time, though, ultimately this is about you being comfortable. If you decide you’d be more comfortable without people staring and thinking Thoughts and/or questioning you, there’s no shame in deciding to go for more coverage rather than less. Just do it for your own comfort rather than anyone else’s.

(But no, you’re definitely not alone in not wanting to wear a bathing suit around coworkers.)

Updated to add: Since this came up in the comments, I want to clarify that the advice above is for anyone who gives you a negative reception. If someone just says “Wow, a lot of tattoos!” or so forth, you’re better off just cheerfully saying “Yes!” or (as a commenter suggested) “Yes, I love them!” The advice above is for people who are being judgmental.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 265 comments… read them below }

  1. Tierrainney*

    for swimming could you get a “rash guard” type? due to skin cancer risks, more people are wearing this style.

      1. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

        Got one off Amazon for my winter Florida vacation for less than $15. It worked perfectly. Cooler than bare skin out in the hot sun, no burns on covered skin. I wore it constantly. Only regret is that I did not get SPF leggings to go with it. My poor knees :(

        If you are going to be out in the sun a lot, I highly recommend them. Even if you didn’t have tattoos.

    1. Not Me*

      I was going to suggest the same thing. I have more than a few rash guards, swim shirts, and swim tights that I wear to avoid sun exposure while in the water. I think sporting an entire outfit would be odd for hanging out by the pool, the tights are a little much for lounging. But a swim shirt or rash guard would at least cover your entire top easily, arms included, and a lot of them are really cute.

      Swim Outlet online is a good option for inexpensive but quality options.

      1. Not Me*

        I should’ve added: Swim shirts are a little loser than rash guards, so they’re a little more modest. Rash guards are designed to be snug like a swimsuit. I personally think they are incredibly comfortable, far more than any swimsuit I’ve ever worn, but if modesty is important a swim shirt might be a better option.

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          Swim shirts vs. rashguards: I had to wear them while teaching swim lessons. If you are female, something with loose fabric (like a swimshirt) will cling to you like a wet-tshirt contest entry when you get out of the pool, while something with snug fabric (like a rashguard) will fit like sport spandex when wet.

          Wearing a swimsuit that’s a shelf bra, so you have chest support straight across, instead of a bra-style swimsuit with a flat center band, will also help prevent the swim shirt from clinging to the space between your boobs and over-accentuating your cleavage.

    2. Marika*

      Honestly, this is also the swim suit issue solution. When my husband’s team does beach/pool events (they’re ‘family gathering’ type events and we live in a warm place), I grab a rash guard shirt – I’m NOT really interested in discussing my scars and marks with his admittedly wonderful co-workers (most of whom are 15 years younger than I am and look it ;p).

      Yeah, the big scar on my arm shows when I wear a short sleeve one (I had an awesome surgeon, but fixing the bone was more important than the skin), but the shirt makes it clear I don’t want to talk about it (and covers the mom bod bits too).

    3. CatCat*

      Yeah, seconding the rash guard. I got a really fun patterned one through Lands End.

      Also, I learned this summer that swim leggings are a thing, also made of material that protects from sun exposure.

      Not saying you have to cover up, OP, but if you would feel more comfortable doing so, there are options on that front!

      1. Michaela T*

        I have both a short-sleeved swim top and long swim leggings and I wear the leggings more! I haven’t worn the whole outfit together (too hot this summer) but I’m worse about applying sunblock on my legs than I am my arms so the leggings save me from myself.

        1. Quill*

          I wanna know if there are bike short length swim leggings because I am over trying to find two piece suit bottoms. Tops are fine if they’re secure, but no matter what, a two piece either doesn’t cover your whole butt or sits in a weird spot.

          1. OP*

            Yes, this is also a huge issue. I’ve got them on my legs where even a bathing suit skirt doesn’t cover.

            1. EH*

              Coolibar has swim tights and pants – their stuff is a bit pricey but is SPF 50 and lasts incredibly well.

              1. Kitryan*

                I have leggings from there that cover my thighs and I’m very happy with them for coverage/swimability/comfort. I wear mine because I don’t feel personally comfortable showing that much leg skin but don’t want full leggings or any extra skirt fabric.

              2. Christina*

                Yes was coming to suggest Coolibar! Last summer I discovered their bike short style and loved wearing them for stand up paddle boarding. Now I want the capris for kayaking so my knees don’t burn!

                I also have a swim shirt from them with a zip collar. Looks like sport wear but isn’t too clingy when wet.

                I especially love that I just look like I’m in sports wear when walking around.

              3. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

                Another vote for Coolibar!

                I really hate wearing sunscreen (somehow, it always gets in my eyes) and generally wear UV-blocking clothes instead, so when I bought a house with a pool my mom bought me a long-sleeved swim tunic, ankle-length swim leggings, and water-friendly hat from them so I could minimize my sunscreen use. They’ve held up really well, and I like them if I’m going to be poolside watching kids swim as well, since I can quickly jump in the water as-is if I need to but it’s basically a tunic and leggings look otherwise (so it’s less weird to be wearing a swimsuit around non-swimming company). My swim outfit probably covers up as much as a business casual office outfit would.

            2. Ella*

              I pretty frequently just wear bike shorts + a rashguard top to swim in, and it functions quite well for me. Just lean towards lycra or similar rather than cotton and they’ll feel pretty indistinguishable from a swimsuit.

            3. Seespotbitejane*

              Check out TomBoyX! I bought a black pair of exactly that, bike short swim leggings. They are great! I got them to wear at the beach or the river, places where I’d want more coverage but I’ve ended up wearing them all the time for lots of stuff because they aren’t obviously swim-y and can be used like regular athletic shorts. Plus they have other colors and patterns.

          2. barbatsea*

            For bike short swim bottoms check out swimsuitsforall. They also have longer tankini tops. I’m a fan.

            1. TJ*

              I have swim shorts that are basically bike shorts from Tomboyx that are great! They fit really well and don’t ride up (I’ve had an issue with their regular boxer shorts riding up- not these!). I just don’t like wearing regular swim bottoms because it involves a lot of grooming “down there”. I would like to get a rash guard top too- that way I’d have an actual sporty “look” rather than my hodgepodge of pieces.

              1. Quill*

                I discovered that I’d honestly just rather not wear swimsuit bottoms that are more or less panties, and deal with the fact that as far as my thighs are concerned, I’m a werewolf, after I discovered that, unfortunately, my butt does not make finding men’s shorts doable. (High hipbones for the loose…)

                I’ve gotta go shopping!

          3. All out of bubblegum*

            Board shorts, swim skirts, bike short style swim bottoms. Land’s End has a whole bunch of these.

          4. WMM*

            Yes! This summer, I went all out- I use a tenth of the sunscreen I used to need =) I got two swimsuits, one from Prana, one from UVSkinz, and they are both long sleeve tops (matching bikini top to wear like a bra underneath), and for the bottoms, one is knee length, the other is capri length. I’m sure I look absurd to most other pool goers, but I burn so easily, and my skin is too sensitive to use most sunscreens. The key is I am comfortable!

          5. Eukomos*

            They definitely exist, one of my friends has one. I’m considering getting one, frankly, one of the spots I tend to get sunburned is around the leg holes of my swimsuit and that would totally fix it.

          6. MommiMD*

            Yep. I’m slim but don’t want everything hanging out. I wear swim shorts just above the knees I got online and a bikini top.

          7. JSPA*

            Chafe guards fit like unpadded bike shorts. Buy snug for wet use.

            Many rashguards that are sold as sun protecting are white (cooler) and there may be a hint of the tats showing through when wet. Get several, test wet in bright sun ahead of time.

            Skinsuits also exist. Not great for on/off (toilet), assuming female. Male styles might be better in this ( but leave less to the imagination in other ways)

            They may all be hotter when desired when dry; unpleasant to pull off and on again when wet; and there’s a non-zero chance of a UTI or yeast infection if you’re in a damp one much of the day. (Again presuming female on that last issue).

      2. hermit crab*

        Swimsuit leggings are THE BEST. So comfortable, good sun coverage, no sand-in-your-underwear feeling, less need for a separate cover-up, etc. I love mine so much I wear them on land sometimes. Anyway, if you’d feel comfortable wearing sports leggings around coworkers outside the office (say, if you were all participating in a charity walk) this could be a good solution for both the tattoo thing and the bathing suit thing. Just don’t get so excited about them that you forget to put sunblock on your ankles/feet, or you could end up with an uncomfortable burn and a weird reverse tan line that people are still asking you about months later…

      3. Mama Bear*

        Love Lands’ End. I have several suits from there that are both reasonably modest and comfortable without being ugly, and the OP can mix and match. Their swim shorts with the built in briefs are my favorites.

    4. Daffy Duck*

      I really like this. I can’t tell from the letter if male or female, but a rash guard swimsuit top works for either. If you have tatts to the ankle scrub pants are pretty lightweight and work for anyone. I think women have a bit of an easier time here as maxi dresses and lightweight long-sleeved tops are in fashion.

    5. Venus*

      I do not do well in sunlight, so admit that a week’s vacation in a very sunny location would be a positive but I would not be outdoors near water between 10am and maybe 3pm (assuming sunset was near 7pm). If there was mandatory outdoor fun during those times then I would be well covered up, and my skin tone would leave no doubt as to the reason!

      1. Anax*

        Same boat here – “warm and sunny” would be hard enough on my body that I’d probably skip the vacation completely, and what a bummer.

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Honestly, this a good choice because you don’t want your tattoos to fade out. But also yesssss, just say it’s to avoid the cancer!

    7. Joielle*

      Plus, they’re practical for protecting the tattoos themselves! I’m always careful to sunscreen mine but honestly, it’s easier to just toss on a rash guard top with UV protection. That way it’s not “OP is trying to hide their tattoos” as if they’re something shameful, but more “OP is trying to protect their tattoos.”

      1. JSPA*

        Right! so if OP does finally disclose, or someone gets a glance, there’s no weirdness. It’s proper tat care.

    8. OP*

      This was one of my thoughts about how to handle snorkeling adventures, etc! I was thinking they wouldn’t be appropriate, but since so many people here are suggesting it, maybe they’re more comment than I thought.

      1. Una*

        It’s *really* easy to get sunburned badly snorkeling, even wearing copious amounts of sunscreen (ask me how I know). I would absolutely want to do rash guard and swim leggings (or at least something that covers the backs of the thighs – OUCH) if I had the chance to do it again, just for the sunburn issues alone.

        1. Tempestuous Teapot*

          I’m a very big fan of full body thin wets for snorkeling. Keeps anything from creeping in. Hello cuttlefish… o__0

      2. Eukomos*

        I went on vacation with my friends this summer and everyone had suits that covered up a lot like this. That’s somewhat an artefact of my personal friend group, but we fit in pretty well at the hotel pool. I’m considering some swim shorts and/or a rash guard myself next summer, it would be nice not to have to worry about burning. If you go full-on leggings and a rash guard it might look a little much, but one of my friends had long sleeves and knee-length shorts on her suit and looked pretty normal. Even if you end up showing some of the tattoos, controlling the amount you display like that might reduce the amount of comments you get just because there’ll be less visual impact?

        Maybe get a rash guard with an interesting design on the front to give people something else to make conversation with you about, too. Half the time when people are obnoxiously commenting on some aspect of your body it’s a misguided attempt to chat, in my experience. Give them something else to fix on and they’ll talk about that instead.

        1. JSPA*

          My personal prefs, in order, while in the water: naked, full skinsuit, shortie wetsuit, sensible one-piece with or without button-down travelshirt, sensible one piece with rashguard, bottoms only, sensible two-piece, less functional one piece, frilly bikini. But even a frilly bikini is far better than not getting in the water.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        I snorkeled in the equivalent of a swim shirt and pants, improvised from hiking gear, and no one batted an eye. People will assume you are avoiding the sun.

      4. BlueWolf*

        Yeah, I wear a long sleeve rash guard (just make sure it says it has UV protection) and I love it because it means less applying and reapplying of sunscreen. They don’t get too hot either, especially if you’re in the water.

      5. Not Me*

        I wear them for sun protection when I go snorkeling. They are definitely appropriate, I see others wearing them too all the time.

      6. CupcakeCounter*

        Rash guard’s are PERFECT for snorkeling since you aren’t allowed to wear sunscreen on many reefs. A rash guard & board shorts are a great combo for that particular activity.

        1. JSPA*

          So many sorts of sunscreen are like kryptonite for coral: lethal, and in a non- dose – dependent way (i.e. even traces cause them to become super sensitive to lethal infections or damage, like the sunscreen acts as a catalyst). Covering up makes you a person who cares about that, which is obv a good look.

      7. MCMonkeyBean*

        It might look a *little* unusual just chilling by the pool but for a snorkeling outing I think it really would not stand out at all.

      8. Cats on a Bench*

        I also came here to mention wearing sun protective clothing if you want to go the way of covering up. Coolibar is a great resource for this. I have a few of their long sleeved swim tops and full length tights and love them! Only things I have to put sunscreen on are my face, neck, hands and feet. I’ve been swimming and snorkeling all over the world in them and they are very comfortable. The added bonus they have is that when you get out of the water and you’re back in the sun, they are wet so you’re wearing air conditioning (until they dry) while everyone else is just hot. There are lots of other lightweight sun protective clothing that will cover arms and legs, just start googling and find what appeals to you. I have some shirts from Field and Stream that I also love. They saved me from the sun while in the Galapagos, but I was never too hot from having the long sleeves. I did however, wear them unbuttoned with a tank top underneath which gave me some air movement. You’ll have to decide how much you want to cover up.

        1. AMPG*

          I got THE WORST sunburn in the Galapagos – I wish I had thought about suits like this at the time (of course, this was 15 years ago and they were less widely available, but I’m sure I could have found them).

      9. Chickena*

        I think UV protective rash guards / swim leggings have significantly increased in popularity over the past few years. I don’t think I had heard of them a few years ago – now I see them all the time (and wear them myself too). It’s so nice not to need to apply / reapply sunscreen over giant parts of your body, esp parts that are hard to reach like your back, and not worry about the sunscreen rubbing off.

        I don’t think you should feel obligated to cover your tattoos, but if you’re more comfortable with keeping them covered, UV protective swimwear is a great way to do it.

      10. ArtsNerd*

        I’d be tempted to explain them as “I have to protect my tattoos from the sun” and then it makes it less of a shock when you do want to wear short sleeves. But that assumes a specific order of events.

      11. Jane*

        I recently bought one of these specifically for snorkeling! I chose the kind that was basically a long sleeved bathing suit so that the shirt wouldn’t ride up. I loved it!

      12. WS*

        I’m very pale in a sunny climate and there’s skin cancer in my family, so I’ve covered up for years. I’ve noticed it’s become more and more common over that time for adults to wear at least a rash vest and long shorts to the point that nobody ever asks me about mine anymore!

    9. pleaset*

      “Personally, I think you should wear what you want and let come what may.

      This is a trip for high performers! ”

      Yup! Rock it.

      1. pleaset*

        But also, don’t show skin in general if you’re not comfortable doing that. But don’t hide just because of body decoration.

  2. WonderMint*

    I absolutely love saying “OMG! How did those get there?” and then changing the subject.

    1. Lena Clare*

      This would be my preferred response, but you must do what feels most natural in the circumstances, OP, and congrats on the award!

      1. That One Person*

        I love this response a lot, and primarily because when I was younger apparently I just accepted all of mum’s tattoos as a part of her. When someone mentioned she had them apparently I was shocked and exclaimed, “You have tattoos?!” and the fact that all those pictures on her were tattoos blew my mind at the time.

  3. Jennifer*

    I wouldn’t wear a bathing suit if I didn’t feel comfortable. That might resolve the issue before it comes up.

    1. AnnaBananna*

      Yep, same for me. I’m thin and only have a couple of tattoos, but it’s more about the intimacy of seeing me mostly bare. I really don’t want to see my coworkers that way either. So if I were going to this ‘vacation’ (which is really just a warm weathered work retreat), I would probably do activities over sunbathing. Like ziplining or taking in historical sites, etc.

      1. Buttons*

        Same! I cannot imagine wearing a swimsuit in front of coworkers. I think I would stick to sundresses and lounge by the pool.

        1. Salamander*

          Me, too. If anyone asks, OP can just say that they’re are sensitive to sun (and tattoos frequently are), and it should be no big deal.

    2. Llama Face!*

      “I wouldn’t wear a bathing suit if I didn’t feel comfortable.”
      Haha, Jennifer, I read that in the exact opposite of how you meant it and my brain was like, “Well, yeah, showing up at the beach sans clothing might distract from the tattoos but probably not in the best way…”.

  4. nnn*

    I agree that you shouldn’t have to hide your tattoos.

    However, if, for whatever reason, you want to cover up more of your body and you wear feminine clothing (I can’t tell from the letter), a long, flowy sundress with a long, flowy long-sleeved shirt over top (the kind that is open in front) would not look out of place. The sundress fits in with the environment perfectly, and the shirt over top would simply look like sun protection. (Especially if you also wear a sunhat and sunglasses.)

    1. Nancie*

      You can also get long, flow-y casual pants. You can google “gauze pants” to see what I mean.

      1. Kelly AF*

        Linen pants in light colors are also great. And you can probably find flow-y kimonos that are lightweight.

        1. Alexander Graham Yell*

          I found some cheap palazzo pants (I think that’s what they’re called) on Asos and wore them in Jordan in the summer and was super comfortable – I can’t recommend them enough!

    2. DataGirl*

      I have lots of tattoos and work in a conservative environment, so if it’s hot a maxi-length sundress is my go-to. Eshakti is a great place to buy dresses where you can adjust the design to lengthen skirts, sleeves etc if you like.

  5. CBH*

    How casual is your office? Can you pull a more senior person aside and explain the situation? I almost feel like you should not have to do this but I also think give the more conservative appearance you have at work it might be a little heads up. Overall though you earned this trip and of course with it being more casual than an office people are going to find out new things about one another.

    1. OP*

      I was actually thinking this might be a good way to seed the idea with a higher up and gauge their reaction. Definitely might test it out with my boss who I’m fairly close to and I think would keep it confidential if I asked.

  6. Not Susan*

    Athletica has a great long sleeve rash guard. You could wear that with a maxi skirt on the beach if you want to be modest.

      1. Captain Raymond Holt*

        Their swimwear is great and I love their rashguards/swim shirts. One of their styles folds into its own pocket which is awesome!

  7. Orange You Glad*

    Are you concerned that after the trip having these tattoos will impact how you are perceived at the office?

    This would worry me more than answering questions about them in the moment. Like what happens if because I go on this trip with my tattoos showing and then am treated differently?

    Sorry you’re dealing with this OP!

      1. AnnaBananna*

        Totally. It doesn’t matter that you spent the last year as a high performer, suddenly they see you as a drug dealer/baby killer/whatever. I will be so glad when *our* attitude about body art is as widespread as…well, rather like nail polish or something similar, as it should be.

        1. pcake*

          That was pretty much my concern.

          To be honest, I’d probably tell them I have a medical or family issue – and be ready to talk about what that is – and opt out of the trip.

      2. Tinuviel*

        As someone who’s not a big fan of tattoos and would be surprised if a “nerdy rule follower” type coworker suddenly turned out to have tons of tattoos, I would think, “Oh, I guess I didn’t know them that well.”
        Some less charitable people might think, “Oh, I didn’t know they were one of those people.”
        But basically it’s the same jarring feeling of “I have categorized OP wrong.”

        Hopefully people will realize that their categories need realigning (or to dump them altogether) , but I think the best thing you can do is to be yourself and be cool about it, as Alison says. It helps hammer home the point that yes, we only see part of our colleagues’ whole selves at work, and no, that part doesn’t contradict the other parts–you’re still the same high performer they knew before they saw the tattoos and not suddenly a hooligan, but also they don’t know you personally/privately and there’s a depth there they haven’t been invited to yet (everyone has it, just you have a visible reminder).

        So I think seeing you continue to be your cool, talented self will actually help change hearts and minds if you’re willing to be brave and patient, and I hope no one gives you grief for it.

        1. JSPA*

          There are probably still a subset of people who will use it as a reason to hit on OP, because a person with tattoos clearly is interested in whatever they are offering. Shutting that down in a work situation is a little different from shutting it down from a stranger You have to be extremely firm and clear, but at the same time (unless they’re being disgustingly inappropriate to the point where they should and will be fired) you will be working with that person for the foreseeable future. Alternative is to have an (ideally true or semi true) tattoo story that’s a downer, and that you don’t mind sharing. Commemorates your seafaring grandpa’s long struggle with cancer… that sort of thing.

        2. CoffeeLover*

          I think you make a really interesting point. Maybe there’s an element of… not exactly “feeling lied to” but something like that. People thought they knew you and then bam they find out about this “big” thing you kept from them. They then realize they don’t really know the “real” you, but only the “work” you. Which of course is the reality for basically everyone who has normal boundaries with their coworkers, but I guess it could be jarring to face it so blatantly? Maybe it’s worth bringing up that you have tattoos casually in conversation in some way? I don’t know… people can be weird.

          1. OP*

            This thread is touching on one of my main concerns, particularly since I’m someone who is more private at work. I don’t want people to feel like they don’t know me – they do know me. Just not all of me. Which, as you say, is fairly common at work, but to be hit in the face so abruptly with it I think could be shocking for some people. Maybe only for a small subset, but clearly since I’m anxious about it I’m exploring all the deep pathways I can possibly think about things going wrong.

            Luckily, my significant other will be with me on the trip, so I’m a little less worried about being aggressively hit on. And I do have a “grandpa’s long struggle with cancer” tattoo, oddly enough, although it isn’t somewhere someone would see even in a one piece bathing suit.

  8. IWishIHadAFancyUserName*

    People are always going to have Opinions — about your hair, your clothes, your weight, your jewelry, your shoes, your political views, your faith, your gender identity, your health, etc. They’re more likely to voice them out loud when they’re surprised by something that doesn’t fit in their mental classification box for how they see you. The more you just “do you”, the more likely they are to simply add the new information to the classification. If you act uncomfortable about your tats — or any other aspect of your personal make up — well, they’ll add that to the classification too.

    I’d expect some questions, but you can brush them off as oh, so trivial, as Alison suggested.

    1. Zil*

      + 1

      I have a lot of tattoos (and also self-harm scars) and I get where the LW is coming from in being apprehensive about the reaction of her coworkers. The thing is, there are some situations where it’s weirder to be obviously trying to cover these things or work around them than to just let yourself be who you are, and this is one such situation. So LW, I think you should plan to dress comfortably for the weather and activities and make peace with the fact that your coworkers will see your tattoos, they will comment on them, and you will be okay!

      I recommend just responding in a blandly positive way. “Wow! You have a lot of tattoos!” “Yeah, I guess I do.” “Did those hurt?” “Not too bad.” “How much did those cost?” “Oh, well, I’m not sure.” “What does it mean?” “Oh, it reminds me of some good times.” Just short, vague but cheerful answers so that the conversation is boring for them but you also come off unbothered.

      1. Joielle*

        I totally agree. You won’t be able to cover them entirely without raising even more questions, so you have to embrace it. Practice responses in the mirror if you think that would help you get the tone right. “Yeah, people are always surprised! I guess you never see them in my work clothes.” “Oh, I just think they’re pretty.”

        Maybe if one has a slightly interesting story you’d be comfortable sharing, you could share that (like, you got it on vacation with your mom, or to remember a childhood pet). Of course, no need to talk about anything complicated or traumatic, but I think people react better to unusual things if you can be a bit warm and un-self-conscious about it.

      2. Ashley*

        I also feel like higher ups can often care a lot less about things that bug middle managers and colleagues. Our dress code was created by a middle manager as a way of exerting their control. My boss didn’t even know we had one until I told him. Unless you are in a really conservative space I think it might not be as bad, but anytime I interact with work people in a more casual setting on work trips still causes me some anxiety so I understand and hope you are able to enjoy the job perk.

    2. Roy G. Biv*

      My go-to reply for the unsolicited “You should wear your hair thus/get contacts/don’t you ever wear fill-in-the-blank” is a slightly demented, “Neat!” And then I go right back to whatever topic I had in mind, that was not about my appearance.

    3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      This is true. For people who know you more than just in passing, their reaction is probably going to be coming from surprise rather than judgment. They probably thought they knew “basics” about you and this new information now has to be added to their mental database. I had a coworker similar to you — she struck me as conservative/traditional in both her personality and appearance, and then I had lunch with her outside of work one day and it turns out she has several quite large tattoos across her back and shoulders. I have no problem with tats and I know many people have them, I was still surprised to see them ON HER. It just got filed into my mental database the same as if I’d found out she plays the banjo or speaks Dutch or sings opera.

  9. Susana*

    LW, this is supposed to be a reward to YOU for your hard work! Why should you have to cover up your tattoos? And look – I’m actually a person who doesn’t really like tattoos. And even *I* think it’s awful that you think you have to cover them at a resort. Unless it’s something objectively offensive or racist, why should anyone have to cover up tattoos?

    1. Clever Name*

      This is where I’m falling on this topic too. But maybe do what makes you most comfortable. If covering your tattoos makes you most comfortable, do that. There’s plenty of “resort style” clothing for both men and women that covers the arms and legs. Long pants or skirts/dresses paired with a light flowy cardigan or with a button-down shirt in linen or other light woven fabrics. And honestly, if I had a coworker who gave the nerdy rule follower vibe who I later found out were covered in tattoos I would conclude that they are a badass. Unless your tattoos are gang-related or depict violence or sexual images, I wouldn’t be worried about coworkers seeing them at all.

    2. OP*

      Thanks, that’s really helpful feedback. I may be underestimating how different the situation will be once we’re out of the office.

      1. Oh So Anon*

        As someone who works in a nerdy rule follower field and has a number of colleagues who are tatted-up under their Ann Taylor and Brooks Brothers, something to consider is that a lot of the folks who are found out to be nerds-by-day/something-else-by-night get extra respect for being expert code-switchers and handling “political acuity”.

      2. pcake*

        But you may be correct about perceptions about you changing, too. There are companies where having lots of tats would cause people to see you as sketchy or unprofessional. I’ve seen it happen.

  10. Atlantian*

    Not to completely derail these comments, but, any ideas what jobs could be described as “nerdy rule follower” and how to land one? Because, that is me to a “T” and I could use a change.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        As a compliance professional….yes, yes this. I have been described exactly as that nerdy rule follower (in a mostly loving way, usually).

        I really enjoy it. I have to know a lot of things about a lot of things, and there’s a lot of looking things up and figuring things out, so it’s never boring.

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            I started with a BA in biology & environmental science, with a focus in policy & regulation. I did get an MS that is relatively useless but entertains people (pro-environmental behavior).

            I began by working for the state natural resources agency in research, then moved into permitting & enforcement. Because I’ve worked for 2 states (and also a county), I did feel I had an edge on other environmental professionals applying for the private sector position I have now – I *was* state, I knew how the process worked and was already very familiar with what’s okay vs not okay in our federal permits.

            I was lucky in that the states I worked for had a pretty solid training program, so even if I didn’t necessarily know the industry, I had been exposed to similar permits often enough that it was easy to figure out. It’s very, very common in my state (IN) to start at the state agencies and then after a couple years get into private sector.

            Caveat – I am only the E of EHS, I do no OSHA things.

            1. littlelizard*

              Thanks for answering! I have an environmental bachelor’s as well, and work in the field has been really confusing to come by (which is why I’m on this site in the first place). Getting to see what others’ environmental career paths look like is interesting and helpful.

              1. CheeryO*

                Definitely look into your state civil service process! I’m an environmental engineer, but many of my coworkers (state environmental regulatory agency) have environmental science or environmental studies degrees. Getting over the hurdle of “how the hell do I even apply” was the #1 hardest part of getting a job here, but the information should be out there if you do digging.

                1. littlelizard*

                  Government applications are definitely daunting! I went to my college department’s session on how to do them at some point, and it was a little overwhelming how many components were involved. I’ll look into it! Finally annoyed enough with my job search to look past the daunting-ness…

                2. Environmental Compliance*

                  The application process is definitely a PITA. Much easier when you’ve managed to get into the system though, at least IME.

              2. marrbl*

                As someone with an environmental science post-grad degree, I can co-sign that getting into regulatory compliance is great. Something I haven’t seen anyone mention yet though, is that you have to be comfortable (or be willing to become comfortable) with telling people what they can/can’t do and (depending on your job) enforcing consequences for non-compliance. I love it though.

                1. Environmental Compliance*

                  Yes!! You definitely need to be able to stand your ground and be able to be both polite & firm. It takes a little getting used to! I started out in a very low-risk position which definitely helped me get used to it. Highly recommend starting in something more like permitting rather than enforcement in that case.

              3. Environmental Compliance*

                No problem!! Environmental is such a broad, broad field that it can be really daunting to figure out what exactly you want to do within it. I changed my mind at least 5 times.

    1. Venus*

      Finance? I’m not a finance person myself, but the folks at my workplace are nerdy and very clear about the rules. Anyone health-and-safety might also be described the same, although they don’t seem as nerdy.

        1. Spreadsheets and Books*

          Same. I work in a back office finance field that’s a little more relaxed and casual than straight accounting, but the nerdy rule follower reputation holds.

    2. Clever Name*

      Anything dealing with regulations. Compliance (environmental, health, safety, financial oversight, etc.). Quality Assurance/Quality Control is another great field for those who are nerdy rule followers who also love details. ASQ.org is a great place to learn about quality and I think they have a job board.

      1. Cube Ninja*

        Bonus: Good compliance people are not easy to find. It’s not -quite- a niche field, but there’s enough demand for high performers that you can sometimes get away with a bit. My wife, for example, went from rainbow to bright pastel to several other fun hair colors for two years after her company changed their dress code to forbid exactly that. Everyone in her management chain loved it and her direct boss called it “employee retention”. :)

        1. Environmental Compliance*


          Compliance can scare a lot of people who aren’t familiar with it, so someone good in the position that you can rely on is worth their weight in gold.

          I don’t try to get away with things in a bad way, but I do feel that people are generally more tolerant of my shenanigans (i.e.: the number of plants I have propagated and filled the main lobby area with much to my boss’s entertainment, my push towards putting in more eco-friendly & human health friendly water dispensing stations – for refilling bottles! – rather than the crap jugs we had before, and me sending out occasional emails for Whatever Environmental Holiday, like Earth Day or Endangered Species Day, etc).

    3. Pink Glitter*

      Credentialing (I do medical, but I’m sure there are other industries that require it)

      1. Atlantian*

        I actually used to do this, but in order to advance more I needed to get my Master’s and I don’t have the time or money, unfortunately. I LOVED IT! I only left because they wanted me to go back in the field full time and I already had a chronic injury, from field work, that prevented doing it for more than a day or two a month.

        1. OrigCassandra*

          I am not at all disputing your assessment of your situation when I suggest this: a lot of master’s programs (including online programs) in information are absolutely fine with people taking one or two courses per term. Source: I teach and advise in one such. Easily a quarter to a third of my advisees are “on the installment plan,” as we usually put it.

          If you want the master’s, I want you to get it! If you knew this already and still know you can’t find the time, I understand and I’m sorry.

          1. Atlantian*

            Yeah, unfortunately it’s a combination of kids and a crappy rural internet situation that make it impossible to do anything online, I would have to go to a face-to-face program, while also working full time at a job that doesn’t do flexible scheduling.

    4. LLG612*

      Yup, compliance! It’s my partner to a T as well and he is a cyber security engineer in government compliance. He loves the work.

    5. Former Help Desk Peon*

      QA Software testing could also meet that definition. Does it work as specified? Yes/no.

      I got the job by being the person who would come to the programmers with “it breaks in this way, and if you do these 3 things in this order it will always break”.

      1. Dancing Otter*

        Oh, yes! Software testing! I’ve worked both sides of user acceptance testing.

        I loved trying to break other programmers’ software. *Especially* for mission-critical or system-of-record implementations. It’s FUN trying to think of every mistake a user could possibly make, intentionally or otherwise.

        From the designer/implementer side, it makes me sad how many companies insist on combining software training and testing. You just know some user is going to do something that isn’t in the instructions sooner or later, and why, oh why, don’t they want to find out what happens BEFORE they sign off on the implementation?!

    6. NW Mossy*

      Financial services, especially the operational side. My teams are stacked high with exactly this type, because I need people who are comfortable with a low-glamour, high-precision environment.

    7. bdg*

      nuclear! so many rules to follow, all of them complicated. for the most rules, look at compliance licensing or regulatory affairs. for non-engineery folks, look for corrective action program, procedures, or document services. rules on rules on rules.

    8. Taffeta Darling*

      Records management! I applied to my current job with a couple of tattoos, pink hair, and a couple facial piercings and I’m still seen as the nerdy, rule-following, slightly quirky type because I dress rather conservatively to balance out the other aspects of my appearance. Plus, a lot of government agencies are realizing that records management needs to be a priority so there seems to be an increase in jobs.

    9. DataQueen*

      I’d recommend development (fundraising) operations! I oversee that department and they are all IRS-regulation-quoting, lawyer-consulting, donor-intent-upholding, privacy-policy-writing, PCI-compliance-upholding, very smart people. They lovingly refer to themselves as Dream-Crushers. But it keeps my crazy ideas in line!

  11. TattedProfessional*

    Rock those tattoos, you earned it! At the end of the day do what makes you the most comfortable. But I think you should own it. :)
    -a person with a tattoo

      1. ArtsNerd*

        A friend of mine (senior level in a stuffy field) still had a bit of her “I went to a concert last night” stamp on her hand at work once and an employee said, out of shock: “I didn’t know you were cool!

        I wasn’t there to witness this but her withering glare must have been a sight to see. She was deeply offended that anyone would consider her anything but.

  12. SometimesALurker*

    This is one of those rare times when I disagree with Alison — or rather, I think she’s giving general advice that is actually highly context-specific. In about half of jobs I’ve had, deliberately conveying that I’m weirded out by someone’s question would get me in trouble.

    1. Yorick*

      Yeah, I can’t imagine those responses working. It would be super bad with an exec, but it would also be alienating to speak that way to a peer.

      I think you can just say “oh yeah,” maybe say when you got them or whatever works in the moment, and change the subject.

      Honestly, you don’t have to be a judgmental square or even have negative opinions of tattoos to be surprised that your longish-time coworker has a full sleeve or whatever it is.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I suppose it’s in how you say it. If you say it in an aggressive way, sure that’s alienating and inappropriate. But unless you’re in an outlier workplace, it’s not going to be a problem to say this kind of thing in a friendly, slightly amused tone to someone who has already initiated a somewhat intimate conversation by asking you about something on your body. It’s banter more than anything.

        But also, that’s why I suggested a range of responses — pick the one that works for your context. “I’m probably not the only one!” or “Yep, lots of people have them now” are just not aggressive responses.

        1. Holly*

          I think it just comes off as defensive if a high level executive is genuinely just trying to make small talk – nothing accusatory – or says something silly/clueless unintentionally. Like if an executive said “woo boy you have so many tattoos!” I would say something like “yeah I love them, actually!” and try to be friendly, not “a lot of people have them now.”

          1. Yorick*

            Right, and I don’t think a comment like “woo boy you have so many tattoos!” is a somewhat intimate conversation.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Oh! That makes me realize that I wrote my response with the OP’s comment about expecting a negative reception in mind. I totally agree with what you wrote above — “I love them!” would be perfect for that. I was envisioning more negative/critical stuff … but you’re right that even people who frown on them may make a kind of comment like the example you gave.

        2. Yorick*

          Those responses aren’t bad. But even in a friendly tone, saying “something like a third of Americans have tattoos now” sounds like a reproach. And that might be appropriate if they said something very judgmental, but it might not be – especially in a workplace that already isn’t tattoo friendly.

          1. wittyrepartee*

            I could do this. You use an excited voice, and go “Wait, I heard something crazy the other day. Did you know that 1/3 of Americans have tattoos?”

    2. Lucette Kensack*

      I agree! Most of these scripts seem WAY too snarky or sarcastic. I work in a super casual environment, and I can’t imagine saying “It’s 2019, lots of people have tattoos” to a colleague without sound like a jerk.

      1. Joielle*

        Agreed. Even if you sense disapproval in the question, I’d just proceed as if the person had said “I love your tattoos!” Like so:

        “WOW, that’s a lot of tattoos!”
        “Oh, thank you, I love them!”

        I don’t think anyone would be rude enough to clarify that actually, they don’t like them.

        1. OP*

          Yeah, that’s a great point. Playing ignorant to the comment may be my best bet here and then using Alison’s responses as earnestly as I can.

    3. Goldfinch*

      It depends not just on how you say that particular thing, but how you’ve been saying everything all along. Alison has a sweet, earnest voice (based on what I’ve heard on her podcast) whereas I could never pull off many of these scripts because I have a deadpan “you’re an idiot” Aubrey Plaza voice.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, this could be a factor too. I’ve been saying things like what I suggested in the post for years to higher ups (not about tattoos, but in general) and it’s always been fine. If anything, it’s just made them like me more. But vibe/demeanor plays a role there (and no doubt so does having done it as a young, white woman).

      2. SometimesALurker*

        That’s a good point. When I’m trying to deflect an uncomfortable comment or discuss an uncomfortable problem, I think I get Concerned Tone. I’ve been praised by some people for being cool and articulate in a crisis and criticized by others for being negative or defensive, when as far as I can tell I’m doing the same thing in similar situations, so I think that Concerned Tone works on some people and aggravates others. Concerned Tone trying to be breezy and upbeat hasn’t worked so far.

      3. aebhel*

        Yeah, I have to gentle down a lot of these scripts because they’d be aggressively nasty in my normal speaking voice, whereas someone with a more generally friendly demeanor could probably pull them off just fine.

  13. Stone Cold Bitch*

    I have a lot of friends with full sleeves, full legs etc. If you have a proven track record, people may comment on your ink but it’s not really gonna affect your career. Many of my friends have gotten comments about how many tattoos they have, but they’ve not been held back in their jobs (ranging from carpentry to academia).

    Fun fact: a tattoo artist friend of mine does a lot of big pieces for lawyers, prosecutors and bankers.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah it’s pretty typical to have people want to “discuss” your tattoos when you have them, when they have them or when they don’t. It’s often just a weird conversation starter in a lot of places.

      I grew up submerged in the punk subculture so it’s just a “thing”. Lots of us grew up to be respectable responsable adults, even though we swore we would neverrrrrrr. I made it out without tattoos though, I hate pain, man. Also my brother knew all the tattoo artists in the area, sigh. Little sister problems.

      1. Joielle*

        I was literally getting on a plane yesterday with my heavily-tattooed husband and one of the flight attendants said “Nice ink, what’s the story on those?” And there just… is no story. He was like “uhh… this one’s a flower, and this one’s a bird, and this one’s a Pokemon. They’re… art.” It was a hilarious but mercifully short interaction.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          My brother’s go to is just “I like comic books.”

          Even the ones with real stories [he has one dedicated to our grandmother], that’s none of anyone’s business who’s fishing around. So standard deflection is used regardless!

    2. Joielle*

      Yep. My husband’s a lawyer, has a full sleeve that he makes zero attempt to hide, AND is a total rockstar at his job. Nobody’s ever said anything about the tattoos or his competence.

    3. aebhel*

      Yeah, I’m a librarian and I have a half-sleeve and several more large visible tattoos. I *could* cover them if I had to, but I don’t bother and the response I’ve gotten has been pretty much 100% positive. A few people have been surprised the first time they see them, but no one’s had an issue.

      (That said, librarianship is not really as conservative a job field as it’s sometimes portrayed)

  14. Amy Farrah Fowler*

    I really can’t picture myself ever commenting on a coworker’s tattoo… If we have a friendly relationship, and it’s a particularly interesting design, I might ask them about the story/history, but ONLY if we have the kind of relationship where that wouldn’t be a weird question. And I say this as a non-tattooed person who doesn’t like most tattoos… I also don’t like pickles, but I don’t complain when others eat them. This is the same. I don’t like them – so I don’t put them on my body. Other people should make their own choices about their bodies.

    1. ACDC*

      Same I could never imagine asking someone about their tattoos unless I knew them pretty well. But I think we’ve all read enough letters on this site to know there are definitely people out there who will saying something stupid. “What does your mother think of all those tattoos?” “But you know it’s permanent right?” Regardless I think OP should have a great time and forget about what people may or may not say.

        1. Quill*

          I think my worst reaction to a tattoo ever was when I was about 16 and very much more sheltered… my then-19 year old cousin was showing off the roses now growing up her side and I blurted something about her needing SO MUCH sunscreen this summer. :)

          1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

            If that’s the worst, you’re doing OK. If someone looked at my tattoos and said that, I’d probably say something like “yeah, I should be more careful about sunscreen” (which is true, and not only because I have tattoos). It wouldn’t be insulting, or even weird, unless it came from a complete stranger, as the beginning of a conversation.

            1. Quill*

              To be fair, this is a tattoo that would not have been revealed if the room hadn’t been filled with partially jealous, partially curious teen and 20-something girls, since that’s what the majority of my cousins were, and seeing it also involved discovering what color bra my cousin was wearing. :)

              My catholic grandmother found out about it six months later. :)

          2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            The things teenagers say don’t count really, if I had to list the things I said on a shame-scale from ages 13-19, we’d be here awhile.

      1. Malty*

        @ACDC ‘you know that’s permanent right?’ I’ve always replied ‘for what I paid it better be’ but I recently saw on twitter someone saying they reply to this question with no and it floored me. I’m actively waiting for the next time I get asked so I can look panicked and say, ‘what, seriously?!’

        1. CM*

          “You know that’s permanent” strikes me as very similar to people who say to pregnant women who already have multiple kids, “You know what causes that, right?” Either way it’s a jokey way of saying, “You make bad life choices.”

    2. Triumphant Fox*

      Honestly, I feel like people are always grasping for something to small talk about and obvious tattoos are so easy. “Look! A Raven! On your SKIN!” You got tattoos to wear them – it’s like wearing an interesting tie or hat – it doesn’t feel very personal when it’s public. This is a little different since OP is always covered at work, but I think it will definitely get comments and people wanting to talk about it because it’s just interesting. It doesn’t feel very private because you chose the design (as opposed to scars which someone upthread mentioned).

      1. Witchy Human*

        I agree–it’s very rude to make negative comments about tattoos but I think it’s silly to think that people shouldn’t compliment them.

        I get “OMG did that hurt?” about my conch piercings all the time–because they’re a little unusual, but also because there isn’t much else conspicuous about my appearance and people are just trying to fish for small talk. I’m not annoyed to be asked, and I’m happy to answer (it did indeed).

      2. aebhel*

        Honestly, that’s one of the reasons I display my tattoos? I *could* cover them, but they’re an easy and low-risk conversation starter for a lot of people.

      3. nym*

        I think of my tattoos as jewelry I can’t take off. On the subject of tats in the workplace: I recently had a woman I’ve known for ten years ask me if one of mine is new…. and I’ve had it for over 20. She just never noticed before. And it’s not small, either!

        For me, the tattoo hangup came at professional conferences. And while Conference time is “work time” and I dress appropriately even for “not officially on the clock but really we are on duty” things like dinner with fellow travelers. BUT, you might catch me running down to the ice machine in the hotel hallway wearing PJs and might catch me going for a run in shorts and a sports bra, and you can deal with the body art. I’ve never had a single person mention it. There’s something about the “cone of travel silence” – it’s like Vegas even if you’re nowhere near Vegas…

        I used to have a “work uniform” of black pants and colored tee, and I never wore dresses or skirts above the ankle, partly because of the body art. I’m in a conservative workplace, and had the opportunity to discuss it with a grandboss at one point a few years ago. She said – in much more professional and longwinded terms than this – “girl, you do you. Your body art has no bearing on your performance and we’ve known you long enough to judge you by your work, not your paint.” And I started wearing tank dresses in the summertime in our (very hot) climate, although I keep a sleeved jacket in my office in case I have to run up to the C-suite unexpectedly. I still have a personal rule of “no art on display in the C-suite” even though I’d bet most of them wouldn’t notice, and may even be hiding artwork themselves.

        That’s a pretty long-winded way of saying, OP, some good ideas have come up in this thread, and it’ll probably work out okay – but absolutely don’t deny yourself this reward for hard work done well, because of your tattoos! You be you, and be comfortable doing it, and enjoy your break. I’m especially glad to hear you say you have a good relationship with your boss and you might discreetly check with him/her ahead of time. That will be a really good read on the culture of the office. Who knows, they may come back with “it’s no big deal, half the execs have body art too”.

    3. Spreadsheets and Books*

      I just got my first tattoo a few days ago on the underside of my wrist (so if we’re shaking hands, it’s pointing at the floor) and it’s very hard to see unless I have my forearm up. I got it there because I work in a finance field that isn’t necessarily open minded about appearances and I don’t want to wave it in anyone’s face, but overall it isn’t something that I could see actively holding back career growth.

      My husband wanted to take bets on how long it would take for my close team members to notice it, but I told him that I feel like if they notice, they’re probably polite enough to refrain from saying something!

      1. Margaret*

        But why would it be polite to refrain from saying something? Are you saying it would be rude for someone to mention it?

  15. Seifer*

    I agree with Alison, you should just wear what you want and let come what may. I mean, I have big tattoos. Like… the whole left side of my body from shoulder to upper thigh is tattooed, plus forearms and the space between my shoulder blades. I feel the same way about this that I do about running in just a sports bra–it is hot, I am sweating, and I am not going to pass out from heat exhaustion just so y’all can be more comfortable.

    I wore a crop top to a company thing a while back and while everyone expressed surprise at my tattoos, it was more along the lines of, “did it hurt to get the ribs tattooed” (yes, but not as much as that curve between the bottom of the rib cage and the hip bone) and “I didn’t know you had so many!” So I mean. It’s 2019. People have tattoos. People that don’t care for them need to get over it, because not only am I not getting tattoos at you, it is hot, I am sweating, and I am not going to pass out from heat exhaustion just so y’all can be more comfortable.

  16. nnn*

    A possible option for if someone remarks upon your tattoo is “Yep, do you have any?” The same tone and delivery you’d use if they asked about your cats.

    The advantage of this response is you’re not justifying or apologizing for your tattoos, and you’re treating it like a perfectly normal thing that’s so completely devoid of baggage that it’s perfectly plausible that your interlocutor might also have one. (And if they don’t have any tattoos and don’t have anything to do with tattoos, this might make them feel the awkward of asking about yours.)

    The disadvantage is it gives the impression that you think talking about one’s tattoos is an acceptable topic of conversation, and you’ve already said it’s not something you want to talk about. So you can decide for yourself whether this would be helpful.

      1. LLG612*

        Nnn, I’ve used this line! When I started working at Old Government Job one January, all my tattoos were coverable by winter clothes. I asked about any tattoo policies prior to accepting the position and my boss and I were friendly and I clued him in before spring came around that my full sleeves would be visible in warmer weather. (He thought that was awesome.) Once the short sleeve shirts came out there was generally a lot of pearl-clutching with my former, much older, colleagues. When they expressed shock I just said, “Yup, I love them! Do you have any?” It honestly pretty much shut up anyone asking, or, in a nice twist, led to some colleagues sharing that they DID have a tiny tattoo from their youth, or that they wish they had the guts to get one.

          1. LLG612*

            I just wanted to say since (I think) my comment was touched on by Alison in the update, I ALSO use this response when people are clearly being judgmental. I actually find it has somewhat of a better success rate in those cases: I’m cheerfully calling them out (nicely) and who wants to reiterate to someone’s face that they don’t like what the other person loves about their body and their choices? MOST people will back down after this. Good luck, OP!

  17. Petticoatsandpincushions*

    I agree that covering up shouldn’t feel mandatory, but you are the boss of your own comfort level. If you do want to cover up, places like LL Bean and Lilly Pulitzer make cute resort wear like three quarter zip pullovers that even block UV rays. You could plead sun sensitivity and still look stylish and event appropriate. Long, flowy linen pants are also a resort standby that would help cover you. Again, it shouldn’t be an obligation, but I can totally understand not wanting your body art choices to become a topic of conversation or derailment on a trip meant to be about professional advancement.

    1. NotAPirate*

      I’ve got some great comfy form fitting UV “sleeves” that go shoulder to wrist from REI but amazon has the same brands as well. I wear them hiking all the time. At least in the hiking world no one blinks at it. It’s so much easier than putting on and reapplying sunscreen all the time.

  18. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    You’re a high performer, who’s being rewarded. You’re not going to lose points because they suddenly see you have tattoos.

    Yes, tattoo bias still exists, though is a lot more limited these days. So walking in fully tatted and not knowing a darn person, that’s going to be possible “first impressions” nonsense but you’re not unknown. You’re there as someone chosen for this award and they know that means you’re a top notch employee!

    Around here even your accountant or bankers are going to have tattoos, so really, times are changing so rapidly even in more conservative worlds.

  19. Lemon Squeezy*

    On one hand, it could be an in-your-face demonstration that tattoos do not affect performance, and you’re a walking talking vision of excellence.

    On the other hand, 1) that’s a lot to put on yourself if you aren’t interested in doing so, and 2) the idea of being in the same facility as a coworker while wearing a swimsuit is the literal stuff of nightmares.

    Also, congratulations OP! Keep kicking butt!

  20. DataGirl*

    When I get questions about why I have tattoos my answer is ‘Because they are beautiful?’ So far it has stopped further commentary. I hope your trip goes well!

    1. CR*

      Someone once asked me what my mother thought of my tattoos and my response was “My mother has tattoos, so…”

      1. Stone Cold Bitch*


        I gave my mom a tattoo for her birthday and she insisted I take photos of the session to display at the party.

  21. SomebodyElse*

    I think the underlying msg is to own it. Be honest, if someone comments it’s ok to say… “Yeah, I was a little worried that others would be shocked or think different of me I’m glad that’s not been the case. I mean I get it, nobody expects the rule following nerdy person to be sporting tattoos and my work clothes cover them normally”

    If I’m honest, generally speaking, those that are going to look down on you for tattoos would look down on you for other things if you didn’t have any. Disapprovers disapprove… it’s what they do. I’ve been of the opinion that if you (in the general sense) don’t treat it like a big deal then most people will take their cue from you.

    Not a serious suggestion:
    If it becomes a big deal, enter your coworkers into the margarita drinking contest in hopes that someone does something more shocking that show ink!

      1. willow19*

        Ooh, yeah, all you high performers could go get a tat to commemorate your high performanceness. Like the LOTR cast

    1. OP*

      I also like the idea of recognizing that I was worried about it, especially if a superior says something. Thanks!

  22. Amethystmoon*

    To me, swimming should be optional. I would never wear a swim suit unless with close family or friends or I was alone due to rude people making body-shaming remarks. There are reasons besides tattoos not to wear one, or at least, not to wear a revealing one. You could also just say you don’t know how to swim….my dad never learned and only doggy-paddles.

  23. cheeky*

    This trip sounds like the opposite of a good time. It’s not a vacation, it’s a trip where you have to behave professionally.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Everyone has their own definition of a good time. It sounds fine to me minus the idea of being out in the sun, I’ll hangout inside and enjoy views through windows while in the comfort of AC.

        1. Clisby*

          For me, depends on time of year. June-Sept. – definitely mountains > beach. Oct.-Jan. – beach > mountains.

          1. Third or Nothing!*

            It’s not the weather that draws me, it’s the scenery and seclusion. My soul needs trees. And to be away from throngs of people.

            I did have a nice time with my family at the beach earlier this year, though. I figured out the beach at night is actually quite peaceful – no crowds, calmer waves, nice and quiet. Still not a vacation I’d choose for myself, but it was way better than past beach trips.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Being originally from the valley, literally between the mountains and the beach, I don’t have a preference in that sense when in the region.

          But I like my beaches like I like my coffee. Cold and rocky, keep your sandy beaches and sunlight!

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              Gurl. Come to the PNW, stop messing around with those “beaches” and dinky ass things they call mountains everywhere else ;)

  24. MrIndy*

    I work in an industry where I am expected to dress business professional in a corporate environment where full-timers wear sandals and shorts. I am also tattooed everywhere from my collarbone to my ankles, minus my hands. I can cover everything with business attire. I stressed over this scenario when attending an off-site after-hours event where the dress was specifically casual. I tossed on a t-shirt and jeans, hobnobbed with executives, and no one cared.

    Attitudes have evolved greatly, and as long as you’ve proven yourself as an asset those tattoos probably won’t even be a factor. They might be a conversation piece as people seem to appreciate good artwork. In fact my biggest issue has been people sharing their not-so-great tattoos and hiding my internal reaction as to not come across as rude.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      As another data point, my therapist was scandalized that I didn’t have any tattoos. “Even I have a tattoo!”

  25. StaceyIzMe*

    In your shoes, I’d cover. You shouldn’t have too. It’s ridiculous. Who’d have thought that this could be an issue? But- you’ve done your due diligence. You know that at your company, this is just NOT a neutral thing. You’re going with managers and other high performers into a business situation that is also celebratory. There’s NO alchemy that’s going to make this either good, neutral or even mildly negative. Test drive a tattoo exposure in a more low stakes environment, preferably after your next promotion or other major accomplishment. For this event, do the cover up. You’re protecting your own ability to control the narrative. Guess what? The only way to do that is to keep the issue off the table for discussion, given the otherwise oddly hostile and narrow-minded views expressed to date and given the survey that you’ve taken visually (no other large tattoos), socially (no good remarks on tattoos) and culturally (both of those factors together with your own institutional knowledge). This is a professional outing with social clothes, not a social outing. Even though it’s a week in length, don’t get comfortable. You’re getting to rub shoulders with a possible view towards exposure to bigger opportunities and better access to your entity’s “A list”. If that’s important to you, then this might be worth “sucking up”. Sorry that you’re in that situation. But- hopefully your efforts will continue to pay off professionally without the distraction of others discussing you in terms of your tattoos- an outcome that decidedly removes the focus from your other accomplishments. My two cents… your mileage may vary.

    1. Joielle*

      I just think that’s going to be weirder. The OP said the tattoos are “basically everywhere that my clothes cover.” If they’re sweating away in long pants and shirts 24/7, it’ll be obvious something’s up. Inevitably, someone will catch a peek of a tattoo anyways when a hem lifts in the breeze, or OP will spend an inordinate amount of mental energy making sure every square inch is covered 100% of the time.

      OP is going on the trip specifically because they’re a high performer. Personally, I think acting self conscious and awkward around the “A list” is worse than showing tattoos. The OP will be be much better served if they spend their mental energy networking rather than worrying about showing an ankle.

      1. StaceyIzMe*

        You have a point on the practical side, definitely! If it’s essentially impossible to cover, be comfortable and not awkward just by virtue of covering? Then yes, there’s no choice. But if it’s about lightweight-but-more-modest-than-the-usual? There’s room for some interpretation. A lot may also depend on style. One person’s maxi skirt and peasant blouse with butterfly sleeves might be floaty and freeing, but stifling and intolerable to another person. Palazzo pants and a frilly-but-not-fussy top, maybe? (And I have to admit that I didn’t consider the question of personal style in addition to norms when I wrote the comment above. I hope there’s an update, eventually, and that nothing unpleasant transpired for the LW.)

  26. lilsheba*

    You should definitely wear what makes you comfortable, but don’t worry about tattoos. Like Allison said a LOT of people have them, and it doesn’t matter at all. This whole idea that tattoos have to be covered is ridiculous in this day and age. People don’t die of the vapors because they see a tattoo or a few tattoos on someone. Those that are offended need to get over it.

  27. LLG612*

    I commented upthread and am totally pro “rock your tattoos.” Love the rash guard and maxi dress recommendations if that works for you. However, also wanted to mention that Kat von D’s Lock-It foundation is phenomenal. I had to attend a family member’s funeral in the Deep South in August and fully covering my tattoos were not an option in the heat and it was also not a hill to die on with my conservative mother. Let me tell you, several pumps of that and any visible tattoos completely vanished, and it really didn’t transfer onto my clothes. While I didn’t go into any water, I WAS sweating a ton and it didn’t budge. Again, I really don’t think you should have to cover your tattoos, but wanted to share another option that hasn’t been mentioned yet.

  28. Anon Librarian*

    I have tattoos and so do most of my friends. Most of us were tattooed 20 or more years ago and the tattoos are visible. I’ve lived in many places and worked in different industries. I’ve seen a lot of different reactions to tattoos.

    In my own experience, a lot depends on what the tattoos are and who you’re around. And it can be unpredictable. Sometimes, tattooed people don’t like the kind of tattoos that I have. Or untattooed people do like them. And it can be hard to tell much about someone by the way they act at work.

    The main takeaway for me has been that if you have tattoos that say something about who you are, they’ll help you build bridges with people who you have that stuff in common with. That’s been a positive thing for me.

    On the other hand, I have lost out on opportunities because someone caught a glimpse of a tattoo. Some people are very strongly opposed to them. Some religions prohibit them; this can be a factor. There are also a lot of negative stereotypes that some people buy into.

    I partially agree with Allison’s advice. I think that acting like it’s not a big deal is one of the best options. But another good option is to play it safe and cover them up. Trust your judgment. It’s not worth risking your job. People can be really judgmental, and once you’ve gone there, you can’t go back. Only you know your tattoos and your co-workers, so you’re the expert on this one.

    1. JSPA*

      Even religions that are anti – tattoo for their own (observant) members are not necessarily at all anti tattoo for other people. YOU are not expected to keep kosher, halal, go veg, wear a turban, or refrain from sporting tattoos. Unless you’re a lapsed member of the tribe, in which case some natterers will natter.

  29. Ms. Ann Thropy*

    Tattoo issue aside, a paid vacation with your coworkers sounds like a pie-eating contest in which first prize is more pie.

    1. Quill*

      Probably why it’s at a resort – at least you can steal away an hour here or there to get a massage or read a book by the pool.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Yup. That was my thought. Were it me, I would spend a lot of time reading, which is far from a bad thing, but also what I would do with a week off at home. If “exotic location” meant a place with interesting museums and churches and the like, that would be entirely different. But then we learn that it is at a “resort” and swimsuits involved. OK, it is on a beach: probably a very nice beach, but still… The actual location is incidental (which seems, come to think of it, kind of the opposite of “exotic.”) And that can be OK, too. My extended family does at week at the beach every summer. But that is about seeing the family, and for the kids to get to the beach. If I had a week to myself, it’s not what I would do. I also strongly suspect that this “reward” is at least quasi-mandatory fun, lest you look ungrateful and not a team player. It doesn’t sound like the worst mandatory fun there is, so long as there aren’t specific activities that you can’t escape.

      1. OP*

        Quasi-mandatory fun is also a very accurate statement. And there are activities we are required to attend. But there’s also a LOT of downtime that you can really make your own. Once I’m used to the surreal nature of the whole thing, I think it will actually be a lot of fun.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          What sort of activities are required? Is it a brief morning session of corporate adoration, followed by the rest of the day free? Or does the CEO love tiddly-winks, so there is a mandatory tournament?

          1. OP*

            Hah! Definitely the morning session of corporate adoration, but nothing else terribly awful actually. It’s more a couple of low-key team events and one formal dinner event.

            1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

              This reminds me of the award trips big pharma runs (maybe OP is in big pharma?). Five days in Florida or Hawaii with your boss, grandboss, and the head of sales. Several bigwigs from the home office there for the free golf. The sales reps spending most of the day trying not to do something that would get them in trouble, except for the ones who were clearly sucking up for a promotion. Fun times (NOT)!

              I wish I could have chosen a larger cash bonus and just paid for my own vacation.

        2. MsSolo*

          Can we get an update from you after you’ve gone? It’d be really interesting to know whether it met your expectations.

  30. Phony Genius*

    I am assuming from the background info that the OP is concerned with criticism and not discipline for violating a dress code. If you’re that afraid of criticism, maybe you’d be more comfortable not going on the trip. If you need a valid excuse, volunteer for jury duty that week. You can do this in some states/counties.

  31. Colorado*

    Maybe I’m just feeling extra ballsy today but I say own it. You earned this trip because of your kick ass performance. Let the haters hate. They will anyway. Wear what you would normally feel comfortable wearing on a beach vacation with coworkers and be the person you are, tattoos and all.

  32. Joielle*

    YMMV, but personally, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be remembered partially for a style choice. I have blue hair and nobody ever forgets my name. Everywhere I’ve worked, I’ve been on a first name basis with the execs, partially because there’s a built in conversation starter! In a sea of coworkers, I think it’s good to stand out.

    You have to pair it with serious competence, of course, but you’re already being awarded for performance.

  33. blink14*

    I would be horrified having to go out in a swimsuit around people I work with, not to mention higher ups! You are not going to be alone on that, and I’d take the somewhat more formal occasion to your advantage. You can get a rash guard, board shorts, sarong, a cover up, etc that will help you feel more comfortable in general with the attire required for the environment, but also gives you a way to cover up your tattoos (if you want!).

    Most people are naturally curious (and this often translates to nosy), so I don’t think you can avoid questions or mentions of your tattoos, but just keep the conversation and your response light. I have one tattoo that I get asked about at work (it’s mostly covered but sometimes a shirtsleeve or sweater sleeve goes up) and I get A LOT of questions about having multiple ear piercings. I just consider it part of having a tattoo and piercings, and really most people are just curious at seeing something different. I’ve only once been openly criticized in a work environment about it, and that was about 10 years ago (and ironically, by a young temp recruiter, so age often doesn’t matter in these cases).

  34. LadyCop*

    I spent years with tattoos and concealing them from my parents. Ironically, they suspected I had them before I did, and when I assumed they already knew, they didn’t.
    My mother insists I cover them around her, but she lives on the other side of the country, this is a non problem.
    My dad saw them when I was getting prepped for surgery and held his tongue, but complained to my sister.
    Now I just wear what I normally do around my Dad, and honestly it’s like before he even knew I had them. I am myself and it’s a non issue. Allegedly his biggest concern is the $$$ they have cost.
    Obviously, in my military and law enforcement, and corporate careers, I have seen the gambit of policies. I think Alison hit the nail on the head. Enjoy yourself and roll with it.

    Congrats on being awesome.

    1. Former Help Desk Peon*

      My dad was shocked (SHOCKED!) and appalled when I got a second ear piercing. A second one in my ear lobe, for crying out loud. And I was 23.

      Fast forward 20 years, Dad now has 3 tattoos. Mom has more (I’ve lost count of hers, honestly). Even my brother has one. I’ve joked I can’t get one now, in order to rebel against the family tradition… All to say, Parents! Sigh.

  35. PennyLane*

    I work for a company with a similar tattoo policy but they did take us on a beach trip one year (not like what you’re describing) and I’d suggest not to worry about it. I don’t have tattoos myself, but I wouldn’t have expected anyone to try and cover the ones they did have (unless offensive) when the COMPANY is taking us to the BEACH. I definitely saw some tats because people wore what you do in a tropical environment- even aside from swimwear, people wear sleeveless and spaghetti strap dresses, shorts, etc which will expose some tattoos you wouldn’t see at work. I mean, you’re not allowed to wear bikinis to work right? But I assume people will wear swimsuits on this trip without it being frowned upon. If they wanted to be sure you were true to the work dress code, they’d take you on a ski trip. And also, you aren’t dealing with customers on the trip which is usually a big reason for these policies.

    But you said this kind of activity is common in your field. Do you know of anyone who has attended in previous years? Maybe you could ask how people handled this.

  36. Uninked*

    My take is that if your company is taking you to a place where people are minimally clothed at best, they can’t be annoyed when things get revealed that would be covered up during the usual course of business. Your tattoos are part of your body just like Bob from Accounting’s hairy back is part of his, and it’s unreasonable to tell either one of you to cover up when you’re at a beach.

    If your concern is that the tattoos might color (ha) their perceptions, that’s a different matter, but IMO as long as you rock your bod confidently at the beach and you’re the badass at the office that you clearly have been, I doubt it will be a problem.

  37. All out of bubblegum*

    Just wear what Dolly Parton would wear. She’s the queen of hiding her tattoos.

  38. I will kill people with this cricket bat*

    I totally get this, OP. I am a super high performing Executive who has two half sleeves that my bosses have never seen. And I never need them to. Mostly because I’m worried about how it’ll change their perception of me, even though I logically know that that’s ridiculous.

    I really want to be that person who uses her tattoos to challenge unconscious bias, and I am to an extent with my own staff and colleagues (they’ve seen my tattoos a lot), but with my bosses, something in me freezes. So first, don’t feel bad about not wanting everyone to see your tattoos.

    I’m also really pale skinned and burn easily, so I second (or one thousand-th) the notion of a rash guard. Also, maxi skirts and dresses are my jam, so those would be helpful too.

    But really, I think you should dress to your comfort level, and not theirs. If you don’t want to display your tattoos I totally get that. I think there are real workable solutions that will keep you comfortable regardless of what your colleagues may actually think.

    1. OP*

      “I really want to be that person who uses her tattoos to challenge unconscious bias” REALLY resonates with me.

  39. AKchic*

    I’m the nerdy office worker that’s tatted up (with multiple ear piercings). Most of my tattoos are easily covered. Only one has an occasional slip (it’s a wrist tattoo).

    But I don’t actively try to hide them. People are going to react how they will and I can’t, won’t and don’t care enough to control other peoples’ emotions. Let them feel their feelings and let them deal with their own baggage. All you can do is handle your reactions to whatever outward projections they cast.

    You’ll do fine. You’re a top performer. There will be some curiosity, sure; but I would bet that the majority is going to be positive.

  40. Risha*

    I think that it is extremely unlikely that you’ll be the only person there revealing an unexpected large tattoo or two. I had my entire left forearm done (first tattoo, because why get one if you’re not going to show it off!) while working at a company where they didn’t disapprove, per se, but management leaned a little to the conservative side. A number of people I wouldn’t have expected complimented it, and mentioned that they had had like six of them that they kept covered by their clothes at work.

  41. OG Orange You Glad*

    I agree with Allison not to worry about the tattoos. As for bathing suits with coworkers – I attend a lot of conferences at resorts. Even on my “days off” when I’m avoiding coworkers/colleagues I wear a sundress over my bathing suit while relaxing by the pool. I just feel weird in low cut items around certain people I want to take me seriously as a professional.

  42. Gwen*

    I have tattoos but I also have green hair which makes commentary basically constant. My best catch-all response is a quick “haha, yeah!” and changing the subject. That or a hearty “thanks!” regardless of whether or not it was delivered like a compliment. There aren’t many people who will stop and correct you that they meant it as an insult.

  43. Bowserkitty*

    I’m a fairly private person, I’m in a role most would consider “nerdy rule follower,” and I dress fairly conservatively. Therefore, no one I work with knows (or would have reason to suspect) that I have tattoos basically everywhere that my clothes cover.

    This delights me beyond reason somehow!! It’s like being a superhero in plain sight….

    I agree with Alison’s advice. Please update us also!

  44. ExcitedAndTerrified*

    So, my mother had a thing about ever being able to see the radiology guides again, and had gotten a chest piece done after beating her cancer, to disguise them. She had always worked in a conservative field, and the change had apparently been noted, prompting a coworker to make a comment about her having a midlife crisis. She promptly responded with the xkcd “these tattoos killed cancer” speech, which I’d shown her once to try and cheer her up about them. Apparently she had memorized it.

    I guess that can’t work for everybody, but no one at her work has ever commented on it again.

  45. Tom (not THAT one)*

    I really don`t get the hang-up people have about tattoos (except i cannot make up my mind what design I want).
    Do they make you function less? Do they take away from your value as employee?
    As OP stated, no one can see them when dressed according to company standards .

    Of course, if one has facial tattoos like some rappers in the news recently – that is different – and i`d not hire someone with those kind (due to the fact that 1) i`m not a hiring manager, and 2) we do have customers visit our office every now and then)

    The only problem could be if they are offensive designs.

    Otherwise – cool tattoos, what`s the story behind them? Would be a great icebreaker or way of getting to know one another.

  46. Yvaine*

    If you have one you feel particularly awkward about, or that still shows when you’re wearing whichever casual attire you’ve opted for, there’s always special tattoo make-up like Dermablend. You may not like the idea of course, but it would let you wear less clothing in the heat and I believe it’s waterproof.

  47. Miss Metal*

    While I work in academia, I work in a more conservative school of the University. Our dress code is a bit stricter and people in general are more conservative. I’m far from conservative outside of work. I have a pierced nose, very visible tattoos on my arms, and outside of work I am usually rocking a metal or punk band shirt.

    When I was a temp at the office and interviewed for a permanent post: I wore long sleeves to cover my tattoos every day. I heard some vague comments about people being anti-tattoos. I live in a city where it’s hot and humid well into the autumn. My car AC broke and the heat index was 110 that day. I dreaded driving into work and walking through campus all covered up. I said, screw it. There are zero rules against having tattoos. Mine are tasteful and well-done. They all have stories behind them. I wore short sleeves. Only one person said a word to me. The 73-year old secretary. Who went on and on about how gorgeous they were and told me how she’s always wanted to get one but was too chicken.

    I think sometimes we work things up in our head. And even the people who have said anti-tattoo comments have never said a word to me about mine. Nor have changed how they interact with me. I’d like to think that that maybe I started to change their perception of tattoos. They are common nowadays. I think it’s more outdated for a workplace to NOT be accepting of tasteful tattoos now.

  48. Annabelle*

    No advice, but I relate to the worry about workplace judgement! Before I got my first tattoo many moons ago, I was extremely worried about my company as they were/are very conservative and are more the business formal type. I put off getting tattoos for about 2 years before I noticed that one of the VPs that I looked up to not only had full sleeves (that he mostly covered with long sleeves) but hand and knuckle tattoos as well that I had just never noticed until they were pointed out. You’d be surprised what people can hide!

  49. Database Developer Dude*

    Merely having tattoos says nothing about ones’ character. If your tattoos are not visible when you’re at work, they shouldn’t be an issue.

Comments are closed.