Like it or not, tattoos have become a visible, vibrant and indelible mark on America’s cultural landscape. Over the last few decades or so, they’ve gone from taboo decoration adorned by bikers and beatniks, to office-friendly art and conversation pieces worn proudly on everyone from professional athletes to billion-dollar bankers, law enforcement officers, CPAs, educators and everyone in between.
To put it plainly, tattoos have become a part of our everyday lives.
And you? You want one. But you’re a first-timer, and you’re worried about the normal things: Should I get one? Will it impact my future? Where should I go? Will I regret it?
These are all fair questions, so we decided to put together a little guide to help you decide whether or not a tattoo is for you. And spoiler alert: They aren’t for everyone.
(Editor’s Note: For transparency’s sake, the author of this article is tattooed—and employed.)
Should You Get a Tattoo?
We all love new things. We spend money on nice clothing, jewelry, sneakers, electronics, automobiles and whatever the hell else catches our eye. If you’ve got a hole burning in your pocket, you’ll find a way to unload some of your loot.
But the difference between that stuff and tattoos is that tattoos are permanent, for the most part (There are tattoo removal techniques now, but that stuff isn’t fun, may leave scars and doesn’t always work). Once you get one, it’s there forever.
Most of the common concerns people have leading up to their first tattoo are that they look worse with age, they inhibit your chance of finding steady employment (A longtime colloquialism for a tattoo is “job stopper”), and you might end up regretting having it later on down the road.
First, tattoos do fade and skin does age and sag, but touchups every few years are totally normal. So long as you’re taking care of your skin (which you should be doing anyway), yours will hold up just fine over the years.
Second, while tattoos in the workplace were once taboo, that’s clearly changing. This study from the International Journal of Innovative Research and Development found that 86 percent of young professionals don’t believe having tattoos or piercing affected their job prospects. Kirsten Davidson, Head of Employer Brand at Glassdoor, told Business.com that labeling something—anything—taboo is dangerous for workplace transparency, and that for companies with high culture and value ratings on Glassdoor, employees always note that they feel comfortable being themselves, feeling authentic, and “bringing their whole selves to work.”
And yes, everyone who has tattoos generally has one or two they probably don’t look back on favorably. Some websites report regret percentages as high as 23 percent, but in our experience, that number is probably much higher. But that’s the fun of it.
The proper way to look at tattoos is this: Don’t get them to serve as representations for who you presently are. Good people are always changing, and so are our tastes, preferences, passions and opinions. Instead, when thinking about your first tattoo, think of its purpose as a nostalgic visual bookmark to remind you of the person you once were.
Or maybe you don’t care about nostalgia. Maybe you’re interested in the artistic value of what tattooing is. Maybe you just like the way they look and want one or two of your own. Maybe it’s just a “bucket list” thing for you.
The point is, why you’re getting a tattoo shouldn’t matter to anyone but you. When you’re brainstorming ideas, try to think of something you won’t stop loving in a week. In fact, we recommend sitting on a tattoo idea for six months. If in six months you’re still in love with it, go get it done.
Types of Tattoos
There are a ton of different types and styles of tattoos, and some of them have been around for millennia with history and heritage that span the entire globe.
The real issue here is that no one can tell you what style is your style. That’s a personal preference that should start and end with you.
This explainer from Tattoodo.com covers a lot of ground regarding the different types and styles of tattoos that are out there. You’ll find everything from black and grey, to Japanese, to traditional and neo-traditional (yes, they’re very different), to pastel, tribal and quite a few others. Also keep in mind that not everything you get has to be one style or another. If you have an idea that you don’t think matches any of those styles, the best thing to do is stop in to a few shops and talk to an actual artist about it.
Don’t select the cool style that everyone is getting right now. Tattoo trends come and go, and everything is kind of cyclical. If you want to avoid getting something you’re going to regret, find a style that really appeals to your eye, regardless of who it’s on or what it’s of. Remember: Tattoos are about you and you alone.
Alright guys, now for the lame part. We wish we were able say you could walk around with all the tattoos you wanted wherever you wanted to have them, but that’s just not the world we’re living in—not yet, anyhow.
Depending on the industry you’re in, you still might find some resistance to your tattoo/s. Even though research suggests things like grooming and interview attire factor more into a hiring managers decisions than tattoos and piercings, it doesn’t mean the tattoo taboo is in our rear view mirror. Other research suggests that a whopping 37 percent of hiring managers see tattoos as the third most likely physical attribute that can limit a person’s career potential, and over all, 42 percent of people of all ages believe that visible tattoos are inappropriate in the workplace.
That said, according to the same data, almost 75 percent of people say they’d hire someone with tattoos, and the most tattoo-friendly companies in the U.S. include places like Amazon, Zappos, Ticketmaster and even Google.
When it comes to deciding where you want your tattoo, put a lot of thought into it. Even though we’ve come a long way to de-stigmatize tattoos and professionalism over the last few years, there’s still a ways to go.
If you're still struggling about where to get inked, this GQ article provides some ideas.
Deciding on an Artist
Once you’ve decided on a style, have a few ideas down, and know where you want to put it, the only thing left to do is find an artist that you trust to do the work. A lot of artists specialize in a lot of different styles, but every single artist is different.
What we mean is, give 10 different artists the same exact piece of flash (flash = pre-made common designs hung on shop walls that people can usually have tattooed for a fixed price), and you’ll get 10 similar-but-different tattoos in return.
Finding the right artist takes a lot of time and patience (are you seeing a pattern here yet?), so make sure you’re looking at as many people as possible.
One of the best ways to find an artist is to ask your tattooed friends, believe it or not. No, seriously. You won’t find an artist database anything like that, and things like Yelp and Google reviews can often times be deceiving. If you’re out and see someone whose work you like, don’t be bashful about approaching them and asking who did it. Usually, they’re excited to talk about it, and even if they aren’t, they’ll happily pass on a recommendation for a good artist.
You can also do some research into the best shops local to you, then check them out on Facebook or Instagram to see if any of their artists do work that resonates with you.
Of course, you can always just stop in to your local shop and say hello. Even if an artist can’t give you specifically what you’re looking for, they can usually point you in the direction of someone who can.
Most importantly, however, is cleanliness and skill. Do NOT go looking for discounted tattoos on Craigslist, and don’t even think about going to a “tattoo party.” Make sure your tattoo artist operates out of a legitimate shop, and always—always—conduct a proper vetting to make sure they are clean and professional. Tattooing is one of those industries where you can truly say for certain that you get what you pay for.