Chuck Maple tattoo

Finishing touches:

Fort Collins tattoo artist Chuck Maple adds color detail to a customer’s leg tattoo. Though tattoos are becoming more common, some businesses still prefer to hire inkless employees.

Photo by Vycktoryja Selves

Posted on April 28, 2014


Tattoos lose taboo
in workplace, hold
onto stereotypes
in society

Whether humans mean to, people judge. From the minute variations of the color of someone’s shirt or his personal physique, humans analyze the people around them. Therefore, when a person walks in with a visible tattoo, it draws attention and judgment.

Tattoos in American culture have changed throughout the century but are still a hot topic of discussion in a professional work environment. One of an employer’s top priorities is how a potential employee represents his company’s image to the clientele with whom he works. If the potential employee has tattoos that would be visible while wearing the company’s standard dress code, an employer may be hesitant to hire him or choose someone else who has no visible tattoos.

An informal survey of more than 30 stores in Cheyenne’s Frontier Mall found about half required their employees to cover any visible tattoos while working. Of that half, the most common response was because of the clients who shop there.

Dennis Schildhauer, owner of Avalon Hair Design and Color Group, located downtown at 107 W. 17th St., said, “I think society in general would tend to lean towards a person without tattoos, thinking they would automatically be a ‘trustworthy’ or ‘a better’ person.” Although he does not personally believe it should be that way, numerous employers face this issue. Schildhauer also said, “Going in to a job interview, a person should understand there is always a chance of unfair judgment towards people with visible body art.” He recommended looking into the company’s policies concerning body art and how appropriate it might be for the work environment.

On the other side of the discussion, the other half of stores surveyed in the Frontier Mall did allow employees to be able to have visible tattoos while working.

As long as the content is in good taste, these stores let the employees choose whether they want to make their tattoos visible. With no policy concerning tattoos, stores like Zumiez that caters to skaters “encourages individuality” in their employees.

Tattoo artists like Chuck Maple, from Millennium Gallery of Living Art, at 221 Jefferson, Fort Collins, Colo., try to advise their clients in the best way possible. When a customer comes in and wants his forearms tattooed, the artists at Millennium explain the huge undertaking having a visible tattoo means, especially if the customer has no other tattoos to begin with.

As an artist who can also tattoo the hands and necks, Maple draws the line for anyone who wants tattoos in these areas. At least until the customer has other visible tattoos on other areas of the body. Maple said, “We do get many younger clients who have very little idea over what the world thinks of tattoos and really do not understand that having an average lifespan of 80 years or so, tattoos are going to be the only thing with you for the rest of your life.” He also said he explains to his customers they could be passed over in any occupation over the nontattooed person, should their credentials be similar.

But why do tattoos in the general public have such a bad reputation?

The history of tattoos in America goes back to Polynesia and the discovery by 18th century explorers and European sailors. From there, sailors returned home with tattoos of their own or Polynesian natives to show off. This was perceived negatively, and tattooed individuals were seen mostly at carnival freak shows. In 1846, the first tattoo shop opened in New York by Martin Hildebrandt, the first American tattoo artist, who began tattooing men in the military on both sides of the Civil War. By the 20th century, tattoos indicated a person was either a sailor or a marine with patriotic designs.

However, by the early 1950s, tattoos became popular and widely associated with criminals. “Prison tats” indicated to some people that individuals were convicted felons with no fear. It was from this time that tattoos earned a bad reputation and created a prejudice that is still within American society today.

Though the perception of tattoo has improved, there is still the stigma that tattooed individuals are troublemakers, low class and uneducated. On the Internet, where people can post anonymously on blogs or other sites, comments like “I would never date a person with a tattoo” or that they make a person look like a “street walker,” a “biker” or “trashy” are all common. Even hate groups discriminate against people who have tattoos by posting pictures they find and openly degrade the person for having a tattoo.

There is an old adage, artist Maple says, “The only difference between people who are tattooed, and people who aren’t, is that tattooed people don’t care if you aren’t.” As much as others put tattoos down, reasons for a person to get a tattoo are different: as a memorial of a lost friend, a reminder of a person overcoming life-harming challenges or just because they really like it, for example. “If you are certain of what you want and confident in your decisions, then the opinion of others is relatively unimportant,” Maple said.

Throughout the years that Maple has been tattooing, he said tattoo acceptance has become much more open. “Twenty years ago, seeing a tattoo on anyone was odd,” he said. “Now, it’s rare to not see them when going about daily habits.”

While there is no ban on tattoos in the U.S. military, what is acceptable and the placement of a service member’s tattoos are controlled. Throughout every branch, the two rules are essentially the same: Tattoos anywhere on the body that are obscene, commonly associated with gangs, extremist and/or supremacist organizations or that advocate sexual, racial, ethnic or religious discrimination are prohibited in and out of uniform. In addition, tattoos on the neck or above are banned.

Through the service member’s actions and appearance in daily life and in combat, it reflects on the military’s reputation. These regulations are one of the ways the military helps keep a professional image of itself. Anyone thinking of joining the military should look at the regulations for each branch before being tattooed. Depending on the placement and size, it can be a determining factor of being turned away from a career in the service.

People must adapt to standards of professional organizations in the workplace

Today, people who are tattooed must be able to adjust to the standards of professional organizations in the workplace. While on the clock, they may use many foundation-based cosmetics on the market to cover visible tattoos. Avalon’s Schildhauer said he did believe that depending on the environment, the atmosphere does change. “Corporate style salons/spas tend to have a stricter dress code, including appropriate clothing as well as views on tattoos and body art,” he said. Independent, or private salons like his, tend to be more relaxed, as long as appropriate parts of the body are covered. There is an old saying taught in beauty school, he said, “Cover the three Bs: breasts, bellies and butts!”

Maple couldn’t stress more how safety in the tattooing field is of a huge importance. Some shops, he said, let alone home tattooists, do not practice standard precautions, have blood-borne pathogen training or understand proper sterilization methods. A spore test for any autoclave is necessary and should be available to any clients who wish to check the third part monitoring of sterilization methods. This should be done at least once a month, so he recommended not being afraid to ask any tattooist for this.

After that, Maple said, looking at portfolios to ensure the client and the artist can see eye to eye is important. Previous work may not show the client exactly what he wants to receive but shows the artistic eye and the quality work he can expect. Safety comes first, Maple said, but quality is a close second.

“For someone who is stepping into the body art community, I do strongly suggest doing what your heart tells you,” Maple said, “but also what you think could be the easiest to move forward with your young life and not make too many ripples early. You have a load of skin, and a good artist can assist you designing a tattoo that will fit your anatomy well, and at the same time express the ideas you have.”