A critical concern for many organizations is the image projected by their personnel to customers or other interest groups. Many organizations have dress codes designed to project a specific image (Wich, 2007). An issue which appears to be of increasing concern within the context of dress codes in the U.S.A. is the apparent increase in the prevalence of tattoos and body piercing among employees, adornments commonly referred to as body art. The concern results from the fact that body art has historically been associated with negative behavior and connotations. Though historically considered to be somewhat deviant behavior in Western society, social scientists argued that the use of body art is becoming increasingly diffused and embraced by the middle class (Carroll, Riffenburgh, Roberts & Myhre, 2002; DeMello, 2000; Rock, 2008).
Although the display of body art by employees is may be of particular concern to retailers in the U.S.A., the issue is actually more widespread: law firms, hospitals, non-profit organizations, and even government agencies such as state parks "wrestle" with the issue of how employees should dress (e.g., Body Art and Tattoos, 2006; Business Legal Reports, 2006; Dale, Bevill, Roach, Glasgow & Bracy, 2008; Felton-O'Brien, 2007; Mlodzik, 2007). The issue for managers is that both tattoos and body piercings with adornment have in the past often been associated with risky and deviant behavior in our culture. Uncertainty abounds from a management perspective as to how accepting of body art customers may be, and what stereotypes might come into play. What size tattoo is acceptable? How many are acceptable and on what parts of one's body? Are they more acceptable on women, or by women? The concern is not only about the existence, number, size and location of the tattoos, but what the tattoo might express (i.e. symbolism).
The issue is complicated by the fact that dress codes can quickly become legal "minefields" (Barron, 2007). Legal ramifications associated with the restriction of body art can include issues of sex discrimination, freedom of religion and freedom of speech. In fact, numerous lawsuits have resulted from the establishment mandatory dress codes for employees that included proscriptions against body art. One case in 2006 involved Red Robin Gourmet Burgers which was sued in a Washington state federal court as a result of terminating a member of the wait staff who had refused to cover tattoos on his wrists. The server who brought suit claimed in court that the tattoos were of religious significance and symbolized his devotion to Ra, the Egyptian sun god. The company countered that forbidding visible tattoos was essential to maintaining its "family-friendly" image (Barron, 2007).
Although there is a growing body of literature concerned with body art from the perspectives of the social sciences and the medical field, relatively little attention has been devoted to the topic from the marketing perspective. Much of the medical literature on tattooing and body piercing has focused on the risks and complications associated with of the procedures themselves (Armstrong, Koch, Saunders, Roberts & Owen, 2007; Carroll et al., 2002; Food and Drug Administration, 2007). Studies published in the sociology literature have primarily focused on the display of body art as a form of "deviant" behavior, as well as descriptions of marginal and sub-cultural groups associated with tattooing and body art (Forbes, 2001) while studies published in the psychology literature have tended to focus on psychopathology and intrapersonal motivational factors in the display of body art (Vail, 1999). A group of academicians from several disciplines at Texas Tech University has been conducting body art research since the 1990s.
Recent surveys of adults have found the existence of body art to range from 4% to 24% in the general …