Category Archives: Business attire

Career success and tattoos

Sam Cam’s dolphin tattoo

I’m not a personal fan of body art, partly because I’m afraid of needles and even fainted when I had my ears pierced.  My son has a number of mystical messages tattooed on various parts of his body. The only advice he listened to was that none of them should visible when dressed professionally.  What can look cool on a toned, youthful, wild- child body, can also look less appealing as age and gravity kick in. You may aspire to be something arty and Bohemian at 18, but what happens if 10 years later your rock ‘n roll ideas fade and you decide to become a Chartered Accountant?

So without going into aesthetics and into debates such as women with “tramp stamps”  being allowed in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot,  when I was recently asked the question whether body art can impact  career success, I had to be mindful of my own biases.

So I would say, it  will very much depend on some or all of the following factors:

The particular body art – the size, the position, the message, the visibility. Even the  U.K. Prime Minister’s wife Sam Cameron has a small ankle tattoo, so some discreet tattoo on a part of the body unlikely to be on display in a normal business environment  is clearly not going to be a problem. My son’s answer to my own vocal doubts was “Mum, my boss isn’t going to see me without my shirt on.”  Well, that’s a relief then!

The targeted organisation: some organisations will be very tolerant and accepting of tattoos and piercings – fashion, music, media, sport for example are sectors where tattoos abound, but others will not. If you had a crazy, youthful moment and have now settled on a more traditional path, then this could be a problem if the result of that moment is highly visible and can’t be covered.

Marcus told me “ I have a half sleeve tattoo which I had done as a student. It’s not visible when I’m wearing a business shirt.  At a recent company golf outing when I was wearing a short sleeve polo shirt,  the lower part could be seen on my upper arm. I could feel the disapproval of the senior, older partners. Nothing was said directly at the time, but my manager told me I am lucky I am a good golfer, the implication being that if I wasn’t I wouldn’t be invited back.  I feel annoyed because it has nothing to do with my performance in my job. But next time I’ll wear a long sleeve shirt

Some  organisations, particularly public service bodies ask for photos of any body art as the part of the application process particularly if the use of communal changing rooms is part of the work routine. I have also been involved in processes where facial piercings have been held against candidates, both with and without jewellery in the holes.

The type of position applied for: body art can be problematic in any client facing role.  HMV made headlines recently by introducing an appearance code requesting employees to cover up extreme body art. As the competition for jobs becomes more intense in the recession, many are opting for painful removal of their tattoos by laser surgery, at possibly a higher cost than having the original . One Spanish clinic is reporting an upturn in tattoo  removal business as employment opportunities contract “Getting rid of a 4in sq tattoo will cost about €200 (£167); a larger one will set you back €1,500, and the more colours involved, the longer and more costly the treatment.” Learn from Belgian Kimberly Vlaeminck who now deeply regrets the 56 star constellation she had tattooed on her face which are still visible after laser surgery.

So overall message, think hard before going down the permanent body art path. If you change your mind it could be painful and expensive, and not just to your career.

Women and work: Elevator pitch or elevated heels?

There is a reason they are called killer heels or stilettos!


A new spin on best foot forward . Where do you stand on high heels?

Women are the recipients of dozens of conflicting mixed messages every day, but none is more most confusing and troublesome than the question of those power high heels in the workplace. Are they the hallmark of a successful empowered business woman, or the badge of a person with more vanity than  sense?   Do they make us as physically vulnerable as the foot binding traditions in China,  only outlawed in the early 20th century, or create a career spring-board,  literally raising our visibility?

Men wore high heels throughout history until the 16th century and then (not unsurprisingly) they  moved away from that fashion statement,  as the trend became associated with sentimentality and a lack of education.  Elizabeth Semmelhack, author of  The Heights of Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe,  suggests that high heels are ” an irrational form of footwear,” while Kate Spicer of The Times claims that women buy shoes for their “potency” not their comfort. There is a reason they are called killer heels or stilettos!

In researching this article I have come across as much conflict as one might find at a Tea Party debate. Here are but a few arguments:

  •  A must have accessory.  Part of a career propelling, confidence  boosting,  power dressing wardrobe. Without these you are officially the office frump.  Some women are even having surgery  in order to wear these shoes,  such is their belief  in their value. Or is that possibly vanity or even stupidity? So do we replace our elevator pitch with elevated heels? Will slipping on our Jimmy Choos,  Louboutins or Manolo Blahnik’s make a difference?    Lea Goldman of Marie Claire  tells us what we already know:  offices are competitive places, quite often run by men.  Any boost women can get,  she maintains, is an advantage to bring women closer to men’s eye level. This veiw is supported by Tamara Mellon , Co-Founder of Jimmy Choo, but then she would wouldn’t she?
  • Bad for health. Should carry a government warning!   High heels result in bunions, corns, callouses, shortening of the Achilles tendon, ankle fractures,  nerve damage, and arthritis
  •  Good for health : strengthens core abdominal and pelvic muscles simultaneously. Reduces health risks: Professor Margaret Thorogood, from the Medical School at Warwick University, said . ” It is very unlikely  that the prolonged wearing of high heels presents a risk factor
  • Sexualising and demeaning, trading on sex appeal rather than innate abilities and skill set.  Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey,  believes that sky-high heels are just too sexy for most workplaces.  “High heels thrust out the buttocks and arch the back into a natural mammalian courting — actually, copulatory — pose called ‘lordosis, Rats do it, sheep do it … lions do it, dogs do it. … It is a naturally sexy posture that men immediately see as sexual readiness
  • Shows women as fashion slaves:  Kristen Schaal  tweeted that high heels are the” modern-day corset.

I was early for a meeting in Central London recently. I sat in the reception of a smart office building and watched hundreds of women arriving for work. Many were wearing trainers and sensible flat shoes with their city suits.  30 minutes later I saw the same women in the hallways, most striding purposefully down the 10 metre corridors, in their power business heels.  Fine today –  but at what cost tomorrow?

So where do you stand on the power heel? Can you really put your feet first and look after your career as well?