How Acceptable Are Piercings at the Office in 2021?

It’s 2021 — how acceptable are piercings at the office, in your experience? This post was partly inspired by a WSJ story from earlier this year titled “Do Multiple Ear Piercings Spell Mid-Life Crisis?” (Hmm.) It noted, “Gen X and older millennial women are increasingly splurging on multiple earlobe and cartilage piercings. Some are awakening long-dormant wild streaks. Others are reasserting their identities.” So, today let’s talk about ear and nose piercings in the workplace!

It seems like body mods just keep getting more and more mainstream. For example, Axios pointed out that millennials make up 25% of the U.S. population and 30% of the workforce, and that 47% of them have at least one tattoo. That’s a lot of tattoos at work. As for piercings, Forbes noted earlier this month that the Gen Z-friendly NYC startup Studs was designed to be “more economical than a Maria Tash but more upscale than the mall mainstay Claire’s.” (It’s raised $30 million in capital. Piercing + startup culture + corporatization = ? Hmm…)

{related: tattoos in the workplace}

Readers, do tell:

Gen Xers and elder millennials, are you finding yourself “splurging on multiple earlobe and cartilage piercings” like the WSJ claimed? In your field, how acceptable are piercings located anywhere other than your earlobes (or stretched ears)? Are nose piercings OK — nostril and septum? What does your employer’s dress code say about piercings, tattoos, and hair color, if anything? When you’re in the office, do you remove your jewelry in certain types of piercings (perhaps replacing them with clear retainers)?

P.S. Looking at past comment threads, readers have talked about piercings at government jobs (and how they aren’t a big deal, though YMMV), while a reader who was transitioning from the NGO/academic space to the conservative professional world and wondered about her piercings. Readers have also discussed nose piercings, “unconventional” piercings, and cartilage piercings at work.

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Different Kinds of Ear Piercings

To focus discussion, below are some images from jewelry designer Maria Tash‘s website, which allows you to shop by piercing. These image show the placement of several cartilage piercings: a helix, daith, Tash rook (her “signature piercing,” which TBH basically looks like a “flat piercing” to me), rook, and forward helix piercings. (Note: Some people say that their daiths have eased their migraines, but unfortunately, there isn’t much evidence to support it.)

Meanwhile, Studs sells entire collections called “earscapes” for multiple piercings. (Maison Miru sells something similar that they call “the system.”)

More vocabulary fun:

  • On your nose, a low/side piercing is a nostril piercing, while the one that goes through the bottom of your septum is called, yes, a septum piercing. There are also “high nostril” piercings (about what you’d expect) and “bridge” piercings (across the bridge of your nose).
  • With ear stretching (which is done gradually, of course!), the jewelry you wear is usually called plugs or eyelets.
  • There are other piercing locations, of course, such as your tongue, eyebrow, lip, nipples, and beyond. The piercing world goes through trends just as the fashion world does; septum piercings went mainstream (as piercings go, that is) a few years ago, for example.
  • Here are a couple piercing glossaries from Body Candy (mostly nose piercings) and Fresh Trends (mostly lip piercings). (Note: I wouldn’t recommend either company as a top choice for jewelry; see below.)

Here’s Kat’s $.02: I’m interested to hear what the readers say! At this point, if I hired a new lawyer or other professional who had multiple piercings and/or nostril piercing(s) I wouldn’t bat an eye. On the other hand, I think (in the abstract) ear plugs, eyebrow piercings, and septum piercings seem somehow inherently rebellious and anti-establishment — but it would depend on the candidate, the job, the amount they interface with people outside the office, and more. It’s interesting to note that when we discussed work jewelry in 2016, a commenter wondered about “a somewhat more fringe jewelry question – double ear lobe piercings.” So I think the culture and propriety around piercings is changing really quickly! Again: just my $.02.

Tips on Piercings (from Someone with Multiple Earlobe/Cartilage Piercings)

Before we kick off the discussion today, here are a few tips from someone with multiple earlobe and cartilage piercings — and by that I mean me, Kate:

1. Go to a professional piercer — and never get anything pierced with a piercing gun, only a single-use needle. Piercing guns can cause tissue damage and various other complications and can’t be sterilized in an autoclave — and the sort of jewelry that’s compatible with piercing guns isn’t safe for new piercings. Use the Find a Piercer feature on the website of the Association of Professional Piercers (APP). Annual “Best of [City]” listings in your local paper or alt-newsweekly can also help you find a good piercer (or tattoo artist), too. By the way, be prepared to wait quite a while for an appointment — piercers (and tattoo artists) may be booked for months right now.

2. Follow your piercer’s aftercare instructions carefully. Here are a few tips from me: (1) This is my favorite saline spray (recommended by the piercing place I go to). (2) When you shower, let the warm water run over your healing piercing for a couple of minutes. (3) Never use rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, tea tree oil, or cotton swabs on your piercings. “LITHA” — “Leave it the hell alone!” — is an oft-repeated phrase in the piercing world. (4) If you think your piercing might be infected, don’t immediately remove the jewelry, as this can seal in the infection. Contact a professional piercer and/or your doctor. (5) Do not sleep on your new cartilage piercing! (Disclaimer: None of the above should be considered medical advice. IANYD, nor do I play one on TV.)

3. Stick to high-quality jewelry in safe metals from high-quality brands like BVLA and Anatometal. You can find a ton of jewelry on Etsy and Amazon for non-earlobe piercings, but I buy directly from shops with professional piercers because I can trust that they’re safe.

4. Make sure to tip your piercer (and tattoo artist!). Also, I pay for my piercings/jewelry with a credit card but tip in cash when I can. There’s no magic number/percentage, so here’s a good discussion from from r/legitpiercing. (You’re usually going to pay more for your new jewelry — sometimes a lot more — than the cost of piercing itself.)

Removing and Hiding Piercings at the Office

It’s worth noting that, depending on the piercing, you can usually either remove jewelry or wear clear retainers to maintain the piercing. Some septum jewelry can be flipped up out of sight, as well. This video from YouTuber BreeAnn Marie (from 2017) goes through her methods and reasoning for removing piercings at work.

Be aware that some piercing locations make it tricky to remove the jewelry yourself, and you may need a piercer’s assistance to make a switch.

Let us know your thoughts! From your perspective, how acceptable are piercings at work in 2021? Which piercings do you think are totally fine, and which would give you pause if you were a hiring manager? Does your office have a dress code that addresses piercings? If you have piercings, do you remove them at work?

Social media images (woman with multiple nostril piercings) via Stencil.

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