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Office style: Tattoos in, ties out...

Ricky Bobby

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A few months ago, LaTondra Cannon — a recruiter with a Southfield bartending side business Ooh La La — inked her company's logo, big pink lips, with the company name underneath, on the inside of her left arm.

"I bartend at night," Cannon, 34, said Wednesday. "So when I pour, people see it. It's a conversation starter."

Long frowned upon in professional workplaces, visible tattoos have become fashionable, especially as a way for entrepreneurs, like Cannon, to promote their businesses. Activists are using them to advocate for their causes. Workers and customers are getting them to express corporate fealty.

Cannon — whose day job is at Aerotek, a global staffing company — said visible tattoos are still a no-no at some professional service firms. But many seem to have eased up on their prohibitions. 

"Times have changed," Cannon said, adding that perceptions that tattoos are just for rebels and rock stars are fading. "People are using tattoos to express themselves. You actually learn a lot about a people just through their ink."


A 2016 poll found that about 3 in 10 Americans had at least one tattoo, up from about 2 in 10 just four years earlier, and the younger they were, the more likely they were to have a tattoo: 47% of millennials — people in their 20s and 30s — had a tattoo; followed by 36% of gen Xers and 13% of baby boomers. 

Moreover, the poll showed, a majority of Americans said they'd be comfortable seeing a person with a tattoo in a range of jobs including teachers, coaches, pediatricians, judges — and even presidential candidates. 

And while Americans are getting more comfortable with tattoos in the office, they also seem increasingly adverse to wearing ties, which, for years, were part of the professional man's uniform.


As a recruiter, Cannon said she looks for tattoos during interviews to help start small talk and get nervous candidates to open up about themselves.

"I think its a new version of when people have children and put their pictures in their wallet and pull them out," she said. "It's like: 'Hey, these are some of my accomplishments. These are my babies. Look at what I got.' " 

'All walks of life'

Consider events in just the past few days.

Last Sunday at the Academy Awards, young actress Emma Watson showed off a stylized temporary tattoo on her arm to show her deep devotion to the Time's Up movement against sexual harassment.

There was a bit of an uproar on social media.

But, the outcry wasn't because Watson — who played the goody-goody Gryffindor, Hermione Granger, in the "Harry Potter" movies and in real life is an Ivy League graduate — wore a tattoo to one of Hollywood’s most glamorous events.

It was because the tattoo itself had a typo, "Times Up" instead of "Time's Up."

"Fake tattoo proofreading position available," Watson later tweeted. "Experience with apostrophes a must."

There also was a Wall Street Journal article on tattoos.A stodgy business newspaper, the Journal's front-page report earlier this month told how workers nationwide are now wearing their corporate pride on their sleeves by tattooing their company logo on their bodies.

The headline: "Nice Tattoo! I Didn’t Know You Worked at Walmart."

And then last weekend in Detroit, more than 300 tattoo artists from around the world made their way to the 23rd Motor City Tattoo Expo. The growing annual gathering at the Renaissance Center drew about 5,000 people.

Terry Welker, who organized the annual event and owns five parlors called Eternal Tattoos in metro Detroit, said now,  many people in professional jobs are getting tattoos and technology has improved tattoo quality and designs.

"Fifteen, 20 years ago, I wondered, is the uptick in business going to keep going? It kept getting bigger and bigger," Welker said at his Livonia shop, which also sells proprietary tattoo ink. "People from all walks of life are coming in."

In his 38 years in the industry, Welker said, he's seen all kinds of tattoos.

At the expo, a few folks even got tattoos of his Eternal Ink logo. 

"I didn't even ask them to do it," he said, amazed that they'd done it. "I had five people come up and say, 'Hey man, check this out.' I said, 'Man, you got my bottle of ink tattooed on you. That's cool!' I don't even have that on myself."

Like passport stamps

Over the years, Welker said he has put automaker logos on guys who worked for — and bought cars from — those corporations.

But, Welker wondered aloud, "What if the guy leaves the company?"

In some ways, it's like breaking up with Rosie after putting her name on your chest.


Free Press page designers sought to capture that sentiment with a tattoo illustration in a publication for an industry conference in 2005, just after Gannett, a former news rival, bought the newspaper from Knight Ridder, a now-defunct newspaper chain.

One of the Free Press artists created an illustration of man's arm with a Detroit Free Press heart tattoo. Beneath the heart was a Knight Ridder tattoo that was crossed out, and a new tattoo, the logo of the Free Press' new owner, Gannett, was inked underneath that.

Journalists — which, like tattoo artists, work in ink — often joke about getting company tattoos.

"We were trying to express how we felt at the time," Steve Dorsey, who oversaw the project, recalled. He is now a vice president at the Austin American-Statesman in Texas and a former president of the International Society of News Design. "There's something very emotional about a tattoo. It's a commitment."

Dorsey said he's considered getting a newspaper tattoo but never has, in part, because of how quickly the industry is changing. Still, he pointed out, as visual statements, tattoos have significance even after employees switch companies or — like Knight Ridder — the corporations go out of business.

"People collect them like they do stamps in their passports," Dorsey, 46, said of tattoos. "Tattoos tell a story about where they've been, and what they experienced, and what they've felt. They are a collection of stories about who they are."

Inspiration and identity

For people like Amy Latweiec, who has collected tattoos her entire adult life, new attitudes about body art are liberating.

Latweiec said when she got her first tattoo at 18 when she was working a retail job and was told to cover the ink up because if people saw it, they wouldn't trust her. She wore long sleeves to hide her tattoo but kept getting more.

Now her arms are covered with tattoos like Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine's.

Latweiec, 34, of Sterling Heighthas so many tattoos she said she can't count them all, and other people, including her new employer, Wayne State University, have become more accepting of how she expresses herself.

"My students actually see the tattoos as a point of connection with me. I feel more authentic to them," Latweiec said. "I now go to the retail places I used to work and people have tattoos. They are showing them."

Jamie Favreau, a Red Wings usher and fan, got a tattoo of Joe Louis Arena as a memory of her 10 years working there. Here tattoo, in color, is of the Joe, with the words "FAREWELL SEASON" and its opening and closing dates, 1979 and 2017.

And, Cannon the enterprising bartender, added that her tattoo, whether anyone sees it or not, also is a message to herself.

"I have T-shirts with the logo on them, but I can take those off," she said. "But, if I have the logo on me every day, it's a reminder that today I need to go an extra 100% harder than I went yesterday for my business."

Cannon said that more than being a sexy French phrase and the name of her company, Ooh La La is part of who she is. The pink lips are her lips. La is from her first name. Growing up, she said, kids would make fun of her name and big lips, but as an adult, they are very much a part of her identity.

"Will I ever get an Aerotek tattoo on me?" she asked, referring the Hanover, Md.-based staffing company she works for. "No. That's my job. I love my job. But, I don't have the same feeling for it that I have for my own company."

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