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Are Tattoos a Wedding Taboo?

By Amalah

(I feel the need to confess that today’s column is being written in our basement, which is currently the only area of the house that’s NOT undergoing renovations and does not have plastic draped floor to ceiling. This would be okay, except that we never purchased any seating for down here, save for a large inflatable turtle. I am also separated from my coffeemaker and hairbrush. This is…not a very conducive environment for writing, let me tell you.)
Dear Amalah, most tasteful,
I have a question that encompasses fashion, beauty, and etiquette all at one go. My brother is getting married and I (along with my entire family, but that’s another email) am going to be a bridesmaid.
Now, a little background: this a In mid-October, in DC. The bride is very sweet and not a Bridezilla at all, but her parents are fairly wealthy and the MOTB is making the perfection of this wedding her full time job.
Here’s the dress I’ll be wearing (in the color burgundy). Nice, no? But the dilemma is that I have tattoos on both of my upper arms and on my back. Not dainty, demure tattoos either – big bold black tattoos. The bride has sweetly said that it’s up to me “what to do” about my tattoos, but I want to disguise them because 1) I don’t want to be distracting (among the other more – um – conventional? attendants), and 2) I don’t want her mother to have a heart attack.
So, should I try to cover up the tattoos with make-up? Do you have a specific suggestion for what might work? I have seen Dermablend mentioned on several wedding websites. I am worried about make-up blending in with my normal skin tone, and also will it last from a 3 pm wedding until late at the night without smearing? Am I dooming myself to no dancing?
Or, can I suggest to the bride that I use some sort of a wrap or jackety thing? It seems like it might be weather appropriate and more reliable than make-up, but maybe that’s stepping over the line of my bridesmaid role?
I mostly aspire to be a thoroughly adequate but not very noticeable bridesmaid. I don’t entirely trust myself not to commit any terrible faux pas during this whole wedding weekend, so the least I can do is start out with an inoffensive appearance.

In my limited experience, tattoos cannot be really disguised with makeup, at least not for any length of time. Mine are both fairly hard to spot unless I’m in a bikini, but back in the days before I told my mother about them I did experiment with various foundations and concealers. First, I had to smear a ton of makeup on to adequately cover them that it was blindingly obvious that I was wearing a ton of makeup. And the second I got dressed (or moved, or breathed), the makeup smeared and the ink peeked through.
I’ve never tried Dermablend, but I’m trying to picture you rubbing ANY brand of makeup all over your upper arms and shoulders and…oh, it just sounds like such a bad idea. I don’t think it will look very good and I definitely don’t think it will stand up to hours of photos and dancing. Unless you found some kind of theatrical spray paint or one of the products that come up when you Google “tattoo concealer”…but even then…hmm.
You know what? I think it’s really sweet that you want to do this for the bride (who gets mad points for leaving it up to you — had she been demanding that you find a way to cover up your tattoos my advice would be somewhat different) (my advice would have been some kind of grand I’M TOO PUNK ROCK FOR YOUR WEDDING, SO SUCK IT, BRIDEZILLA exit speech). But she picked you and she picked the dress. She knew your tattoos are not the dainty flower-on-the-ankle kind, or the kind that come in the cereal box. I think you are caring and worrying about this more than she is, so I hereby give you permission to RELAX.
I definitely don’t think it’s bad form to suggest a wrap or jacket, but make sure to frame the discussion in terms of HER comfort and preference. If one of my bridesmaids came to me with a similar suggestion I might worry that she would be uncomfortable without one, so even if I preferred she not wear a wrap, I’d say sure! Wear a wrap! Make sure she knows that you are perfectly okay wearing a wrap, but also fine with not wearing one.
A wrap would be very nice for the ceremony and photos, and also easy to toss at the reception. But again, from what you’ve written, I’m thinking the source of all your tattoo stress and angst is your own damn self. Because you are a nice person! Who wants to make sure your friend’s wedding is nice!
And nice people have tattoos sometimes!
If the mother of the bride wants to go and have a heart attack over her daughter’s choice of bridesmaids, well…she can just go ahead and have one. But in the end, the bride made her choice, and you should just let yourself be okay with her choice too and walk down the aisle with pride. Because you are a nice person and a good friend. Amen.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • BaltimoreGal

    July 6, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    Wouldn’t it be funny if the bride didn’t get to choose the bridesmaids’ dresses? If the MOB-zilla picked them out and the bride is the whole time gleefully waiting for the unveiling in some kind of passive-aggressive strike? Probably not happening but it would be funny.
    BTW- what a condsiderate SIL-to-be! Goes to show what Amalah was saying about nice people having tattoos. (And I would like to add colorful hair onto that list!) I mean, it’s not like they say “f*** you!” …Do they? I doubt it, or you probably wouldn’t be asking etiquette questions.
    I think a simple satiny or organdy black wrap would be nice and go well with the burgundy- if the bride OKs it, and if it would make you more comfortable. Personal experience- the makeup is a bad idea. I wore Dermablend on a scar on my arm once and it was a mess. I think it’s better for the face or areas you can pay attention to, check on easily, and not unknowingly rub against things.

  • Secha

    July 6, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    I’m in a community on Livejournal (yes, i’m a n00b livejournal user xD) for tattoos, and piercings, and someone just asked a very similar question, about how to cover up tattoos.
    Apparently, places like David’s Bridal carries cover up makeup.
    The one that’s most suggested, though, Is something by ‘Ben Nye’ called tattoo cover. The one girl used it for theatre production, as well as a guy who had a tattoo on his neck. They say that the derma blend stuff is crap, that it won’t even cover freckles now.
    Here’s a how-too and links on buying the stuff, if you decide to go that route. =)

  • Secha

    July 6, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    My link didn’t work. If it doesn’t work this time, I appologize for posting twice. ^^; I’m going to throw it as a raw link in the bottom of this. But it’s a big link.

  • Kelly J

    July 6, 2007 at 5:33 pm

    I don’t have any tattoos myself, but the question came up when I was meeting with potential makeup artists for my recent wedding. I opted to have my makeup airbrushed (which, OMG, I LOVED!).
    The makeup artist I used had a number of before/after photos in her portfolio of women whose tattoos she had covered up for various occassions using the airbrushed makeup. Apparently it blends much better, provides great coverage, and doesn’t wear off like regular makeup does.
    Sheila – If you really would prefer to have your tattoos concealed for this wedding, definitely consider talking to a makeup artist that does airbrushing!

  • Ali

    July 6, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    A Day With DermaBlend….
    Me: Will this stain my dress if it comes off?
    DermaBlend Lady: It doesn’t come off.
    Me: But, uh, if it did?
    DB Lady: But it doesn’t.
    Me: Oh-kay, but just assuming the laws of DermaBlend physics are suspended and it DOES come off, will it stain then?
    DB Lady: No, no stain. But it doesn’t come off.
    I’d be happy to send you a copy of my dry cleaning bill and a pic of the now runied Lovely Red Dress. And that was to cover a teensy, tiny wrist tattoo. I can’t imagine the fabric-damaging horror if you used it to cover a full back tattoo.
    I’m with Amalah, a wrap is lovely, sophisticated and simple. Not to mention, you won’t fee like a cast extra weariing 20lbs. of pancake makeup.
    And, kudos to you for being so conscious of your SIL’s (and other attendant’s) comfort!

  • Vicki

    July 9, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    I have a rather large, colorful tattoo on my left bicep (I was 20, the tattoo artist was hot and I couldn’t say “no”) and have been a bridesmaid in two weddings in strapless dresses since. Both brides (a cousin and a friend) never told me to cover it but, like you, I stressed about offending people. About freaking out my friend’s extremely conservative mother-in-law. About disrupting the momzilla’s wedding “vision.” About looking like a derelict that was picked up off the street to pad the wedding party. I researched make-up, thought about shawls and obsessively asked each bride “ohmigod are you sure this is OK?”
    In the end, I never wore a wrap and didn’t bother with the make-up (I was scared) and it turned out OK. The brides were fine and, other than getting a few curious (i.e. dirty) stares from some unknown guests and one rather scathing and innapropriate comment from another bridesmaid (all the other bridesmaids came to my defense! And there were 10 of them!), it was really OK. I realized that these women wanted me in their wedding, tattoo and all, and they picked the dresses knowing that it would be visible. They were fine with it so we should be too.
    Basically, in short, I agree with Amalah on the relaxing. In the end, no one’s really looking at the bridesmaids anyway, right? It’s about the bride.

  • Kookaloomoo

    July 10, 2007 at 1:53 pm

    My $.02?
    Seek professional help. The makeup artist I hired to do my wedding makeup managed to cover the (smallish, but black) tattoo on the base of my neck so that my mother wouldn’t faint when she saw me in my strapless gown. I had to scrub the makeup off the next morning. I don’t know what she did, but it worked. If you’re willing to plunk down the lettuce for professional makeup, go for it.

  • GretaH

    August 12, 2007 at 11:42 am

    Kelly, you didn’t happen to use an airbrush artist in the DC area did you? I have a back tattoo I would like to cover for my wedding…