“Marketa parties in a gown . . . but keeps her trainers on,” marvelled a headline in the Daily Mail last week about Markéta Vondroušová, Wimbledon’s new women’s tennis champion.
A photo with the report confirmed that the 24-year-old Czech had gone to a celebratory ball on Sunday night in a strapless black gown and a pair of white trainers.
But just as I was working myself up into a snit about the cultural oppression of women sensible enough to wear comfortable shoes to a black tie do, I noticed something else in the photo.
What were all those black squiggles on Vondroušová’s arms? From the wrists right up to her shoulders? Were they . . . tattoos?
They were. As more attentive Wimbledon watchers had clocked days earlier, Vondroušová, who got her first tattoo for her 16th birthday, has amassed so many since that she has lost count of the total. Her arms are festooned with a sword, a fairy, a heart and slogans such as “no rain, no flowers”, that presumably make some sense to a star athlete.
My first thought about this was that it was a wonder Wimbledon’s famously demanding dress code allowed it. Organisers only agreed last year to relax their all-white clothing rules so female players could wear dark undershorts and avoid the added stress of playing in white while menstruating.
My second thought was, if Wimbledon doesn’t care, and if the Daily Mail finds trainers under a gown more noteworthy, what’s going on in the office? Are tattoos now so thoroughly mainstream that even the most buttoned-up employers no longer police them?
I contacted a few to find out. At the 134-year-old Slaughter and May law firm, “tattoos are definitely not prohibited,” a spokeswoman told me.
The even older HSBC bank also has no rules on tattoos, or shorts for that matter, but does expect staff to dress in a manner “appropriate to the business situation”.
Goldman Sachs is in a similar boat, which is no surprise considering the arms of its former chief financial officer, Marty Chavez, were adorned with large Japanese language tattoos.
Bankers and lawyers are not alone. “I think many people would be shocked to know how many physicians have tattoos,” says Professor Michael French, chair of the department of health management and policy at the University of Miami.
He knows this because he teaches a lot of doctors, has four tattoos himself, and has done some of the most interesting research on tattoos in the workplace. Some studies show getting inked is associated with risky behaviours, such as smoking and sexual activity.
But the more surprising — and the one that led me to call him last week — was a 2018 paper that revealed in the US, the inked were just as likely to be employed, and to earn as much as the uninked. Indeed, men with tattoos were 7 per cent more likely to be employed than men without them.
Lest any male reader is now frantically googling his nearest tattoo studio, we are talking correlation, not causation here. A tattoo won’t necessarily boost your salary, but it isn’t likely to harm your job prospects.
That doesn’t mean the tattooed face no discrimination at work. It is possible some companies have no rules on body art because they quietly ensure the visibly inked don’t make it past a job interview.
But it is clear there has been a turning point for tattoos at work. That probably shouldn’t be surprising considering the size and, crucially, the age of the tattooed population.
Last year, more than 30 per cent of Britons aged between 25 and 54 said they had a tatt, compared with just 14 per cent of those aged 55 or older.
No wonder employers in constant need of new recruits have had to ease their rules on tattoos. Air New Zealand, the US Air Force and London’s Metropolitan Police are among the many groups to have to loosened their rules in the past five years.
French puts it well: “If you are discriminating in the labour market against those with tattoos, you’re going to be left with a pretty small labour pool.”