“You’re wearing a dress with sleeves, right?” Choosing to show off your tattoos at your wedding

Guest post by Kate Critchlow

You love your tattoos, your partner loves your tattoos, but your family may not always be so approving.

It wasn't until pretty recently, while discussing “the dress,” that I realized my mother really disliked the idea of me showing my tattoos during the wedding. She made it rather clear with a single comment: “You would have to find a nice long-sleeved dress, to cover those,” she told me casually waving a hand at the half sleeve on my arm.

My partner and I shared a brief look when she said that, both knowing the problem was that I had wanted to show off my tattoos during the wedding.

My mother has, over time, come to accept an awful lot of things that will be different about my wedding; a black dress instead of white, marrying another woman instead of a man, unicorn decorations on the cake… It astounded me that, after accepting all of this with relative ease, she could be so negative about the tattoos.

I'm a hobby artist, I designed all of my tattoos myself, I love them, and I thought everyone around me liked them too. I even have a doodle in my sketchbook of myself in a strapless, back-less, black dress that shows off plenty of my ink. Any plans I had ever had for when my partner and I decided to marry had included designing a tattoo that would mark the occasion, and be shown for the first time in our wedding photos.

It made me wonder what other people's experiences are of tattoos at weddings. I have seen a lot of brides with beautiful tattooed sleeves, and designs dancing their way out of the sides of the dress. It's beautiful, and adds colour to the white bride look. Why would we ever want to hide them?

So here's my advice to anyone else experiencing tattoo wedding shame. (Because everyone would be happier with the support of their loved ones…)

Stand firm

Just because your friends of family don't like the idea of showing off your tattoos, doesn't mean you need to cater to them. This is your wedding, you should feel comfortable. I am certain that if I had given any indication that I would have been willing to hide my tattoos my mother would have held me to it, so stick to your guns.

Get your partner involved

Make sure to ask your partner what they think. In my case, my partner was incredibly quick to point out that we both love tattoos, and like showing them off.

Show off examples of the look you want

Maybe your disapproving family member dislikes the idea of visible tattoos at a wedding because they can't imagine it. I showed my mother the sketch I mentioned, how I imagine I would look on my wedding day, and she liked it. I'm sure she'll come with me to pick a wedding dress and love the look even more. You could even direct your loved ones to Offbeat Bride's “tattooed bride” archive full of beautiful images of brides and grooms showing off their ink.

A note about getting wedding tattoos

If you're like me and are thinking about getting a special tattoo to mark the occasion of your wedding, make sure you get the tattoo three (or more) weeks before the ceremony. This way you can ensure that it has time to heal fully, and look fantastic for the big day.

It doesn't matter whether you want to wear a suit or a dress at your wedding, your fashion choice is your decision, and how much of your ink you want to show is up to you as well.

Hey, tattooed brides and grooms: how are you dealing the wedding day ink backlash? Covering them up? Showing them off? Using them as your wedding theme?

photography: Lakshal Perera

Comments on “You’re wearing a dress with sleeves, right?” Choosing to show off your tattoos at your wedding

  1. GREAT advice! I’m getting married later this year, and my mother has actually not yet noticed mine. Granted, they’re small-ish, but one’s on my wrist and another’s on my ankle.. so how she DIDN’T see them during dress shopping is a mystery. But I will be getting one on my back before the wedding, which will be large and VERY visible, so I’m anticipating negativity from that one. Especially since my my mom made derogatory comments about a tattooed bride-to-be trying on dresses in one of the stores we were in. (My sister told me about it afterwards – she and I had thought this girl looked awesome). But it’s nice to hear from a fellow future bride with a tattoo-disapproving parent! Good suggestion on directing people to the tattooed bride archive – I’ll be keeping that in mind! 🙂

    • I’m glad you liked it. My mother is warming up to the idea much faster than I thought she would, and my partner is helping to encourage her. It’s best not to spring it on them as a surprise as people have a harder time dealing with their feelings when they’re caught off guard. Your mother will want you to enjoy your big day, and I’m sure you’re large back tattoo will look gorgeous.

    • Have you considered how it will look with the dresses you’re trying on? Like will all the parts show that you would like?

  2. I honestly didn’t give any thought to my tattoo while picking a dress. For that matter, I completely forgot I even had one! (It’s on my shoulder blade, so, I guess, out of sight, out of mind). When I was getting in to my dress and the photographer asked me to look back towards my MOH who was fluffing out my dress, I screamed because I thought it was a giant bug on me. Everyone made fun of me. Made a good story. I figure, wear what makes you happy.

  3. OMG, thank you! I have been debating what kind of dress I should be getting as my family doesn’t currently know that I have a relatively large dove on my shoulder blade. I have been debating how I should tell them, or if I should just try to find a dress that covers it. I love my dove, and my fiancé loves it too! But I know my family disapproves of the handful of tattoos they know I have that won’t show. The thing is, my dove is a memorial piece for my grandmother who I was super close to. I even have her engagement ring as my own now, so I really wanted to show it off, but I was feeling the guilt creep up, even before I officially start my dress shopping. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s awesome knowing that I’m not the only one who has this particular wedding planning issue!!!

    • I hope you do show it off at the wedding, this is the best reason I’ve seen yet to show off a tattoo on your big day and I’m sure your family will be able to appreciate that if you explain it to them. I’m a strong believer of letting something sit in the water for a while. I would recommend talking to your family about your memorial tattoo for a little while before you suggest showing it off on the day.

      Best of luck!

      • Just wanted to follow up and say I finally got the courage to talk to my mom about my tattoo. She was more than understanding, and actually started to tear up when I told her about it. The dress has been chosen, and my dove will indeed show! Thanks for the support and advice Offbeat Empire!

    • I really hope you get a dress that shows off that tattoo.

      I have a memorial tattoo of my Grandfather on my wrist and, while no one has said anything yet, I feel like it’s only because my mother hasn’t thought about it yet. I would be so sad if this tattoo got covered up and wasn’t a part of my wedding photos. I think showing off your tattoo is a great way to include your grandmother who is no longer with you. 🙂

  4. This will definitely be me on my wedding day. I have a shoulder/”quarter sleeve” tattoo and a big tat between my shoulder blades, so there’s no way I could hide them unless I wore a jacket or bolero. I think my mother has gotten past the point of chastising me about my choices (knowing I cannot be tamed), but I’m also a bit older (35) so perhaps I’ve just developed criticism Teflon and don’t even notice it.

    Actually the person I had to convince that it was OK to display my tats in my wedding dress was myself. I was afraid they would look tacky (OBB’s favorite word) and out of place in a formal wedding dress, but then I realized that, hey, this is who I AM, and it’s not the tattoos that need to fit in the wedding, it’s the wedding that needs to fit the tattoos. I love my tattoos any other day of the year, so why not this one too. Same for anyone who actually cares about me. If they don’t like it…. Well who even cares? (one of the perks of being over 30 AND paying for your own wedding)

  5. THIS. I wish all my brides would read this. I’m a wedding photographer, and I love nothing more than the juxtaposition of some great ink to a frilly dress (and I’m not just talking brides, but bridal party and guests can rock some awesome stuff too!). Those tatts are PART of you, so why should you feel you need to cover them up? Stand your ground, wear what makes you feel awesome, and ignore anyone who tells you otherwise!

  6. My hubby and i got semi-matching tattoos 3 weeks before our wedding with the intention of having a kick ass photo taken of them, and i LOVE the photo! then again i had a very un-traditional wedding, which most of my guests,expected! :o) The wedding is about YOU and your PARTNER, not anyone else.

  7. When I got my large chest piece at 19, the first thing my mother said was “But how will it look with your wedding dress?” She’s a lot more accepting of tattoos now (5 years later) and even has a few of her own. She didn’t mind when my chest and back piece were on display at our wedding last year. I could tell my grandmother wasn’t thrilled, and I’m sure some other family members felt the same way, but that’s ok. The wedding was all about my husband and I and the things that we love. Whenever I cover my tattoos, I’m hiding a part of myself. And I wish no one ever had to hide a part of who they are.

  8. I’ve been a tattoo artist for almost 6 years now. Thus far no one’s been brave enough to suggest that I cover up, but if they do the joke will be on them when they show up and find themselves surrounded by people I’ve been drawing on for years. 😛

  9. I love the look of inked up brides in wedding dresses, but I have a very large tattoo on my arm that I kind of grew out of. I hated the way it looked in the pictures at my first wedding and haven’t done anything about it since. I might design my own dress to cover my arms but show off the work on my back that I absolutely love. Decisions, decisions…

  10. You can tell her you *will* be wearing sleeves…. the ones that are drawn on your body. 😉

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