On professional appearances

Balancing traditional workplace attire with expressive clothing choices

By Emily Goldspink
Contributing Writer

People are taught two very important yet contradictory lessons in life. Children are told that they can do anything they want, be anything they want, not to care what other people think and to take advantage of the freedom of self-expression.

There are many ways for one to express him or herself. At Simmons College, many students express themselves and their artistic personalities with tattoos, facial piercings, funky nails, and flamboyant hair colors and hairstyles. However, later down the road when young adults begin the job search, they are advised to take out their piercings, conceal their tattoos and make sure that their hair and nails are of modest cuts and colors.

Of course, it all depends on the industry. “If you work for a creative and flexible ad industry that has no restrictions on dress code, then it would be very appropriate to express yourself in tattoos, piercings, and your own look and style and brand,” says Jo O’Connor of the Simmons communications department. “I usually feel when people express themselves, they want to be looked at so dramatically different to the ‘norm.’ If you try to make a powerful statement, you want to be recognized,” O’Connor added However, there are other ways to be remembered or recognized.

Being remembered for a tattoo or piercing can be an asset or a liability. “You don’t want something that stands out in a negative way and makes them overlook your qualifications,” said Clare Orenstein of the Career Education Center at Simmons. “In terms of inappropriate tattoos, just like you wouldn’t swear at customers or clients in the workplace, you similarly wouldn’t want something inappropriate tattooed on you for others to read. That could be disrespectful.”

Orenstein recommended, “You want to make sure [employers] are not distracted in a bad way… As a career coach, if I was helping someone who wants to work in a very formal and conservative environment, they might want to cover up a large tattoo on their arm.”

Orenstein believes that tattoos, piercings, and flamboyant hair colors and hairstyles “speak to your artistic side rather than your professionalism.”

It may be very easy to tell by the culture of a company whether or not it is a right fit for you. Orenstein agrees with O’Connor that, “Artistic industries – graphic designers, musicians, marketing for start ups – are more lenient. You can tell when you get interviewed.” If the company you’re interviewing has a dress code that requires a suit, then the environment may not be a good fit.

“Larger, more conservative environments may be more strict, but it really depends on the industry,” Orenstein added. Appearance is important in jobs where you interact with people. “Younger people may see it as normal, but older generations may see it as an issue. In the past, it used to be more frowned upon and that has been carried to [older] generations.” In terms of receiving a job, “Just get on the inside so they know you’re talent but if it’s a wrong fit for you, you’ll know pretty soon,” O’Connor suggested.

In most work places, a clean-cut appearance is mandatory. However, with liberal views being adapted by more college students – the future leaders of the world – we may experience an effective reverse in terms of what will be considered professionally appropriate over the years.

Starbucks, for example, is a company where employees have to interact with customers. “Starbucks changed their policy as long as [tattoos] are not on the neck and face,” Orenstein said.

Recognizing whether or not you will feel comfortable, accepted, and happy are important factors to consider when deciding whether or not a particular company would be a good fit for you. “There are a number of young students that choose to express themselves in a number of ways,” O’Connor said. “If I can’t express the way I want to myself, then I don’t belong in that company.”

It is important to think about your professional goals prior to getting a tattoo or piercing. If you’re aiming for a career with a conservative environment and you’re okay with concealing the way you express yourself outside of the office, then go for it. If not, then you can go can go to Simmons’ Career Education Center for advice.

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