“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. I have a full sleeve and my FH has two full sleeves. People love them and love us, regardless. Luckily, our family doesn’t care either! It does help though, that my FH is a tattoo artist and did my sleeve ๐Ÿ™‚ I will be proud to show my tattoos off and I cannot wait to see how they look in the photos, and as a part of our wedding.

  2. I’ve been wondering about this myself. I’ve been wanting a back piece for years and and really want to get it before my wedding later this year, but my fiance’s family is Mormon and don’t really approve of tattoos.

    • In my opinion, you and your fiance should make the decision, if you’re both happy for you to go ahead and get a beautiful piece on your back for your wedding then go for it and don’t mind what his family think.

    • Not sure if it makes you feel any better but I’m also marrying someone who’s family is Mormon and I have 3 tattoos (one on each forearm and one on my chest) that I plan on showing.

      I’m sure they don’t particularly like it but to be frank, it’s my choice – not theirs.
      As is your choice to get one; if you’d like one, you should definitely do it!

  3. I’m getting a new tattoo as part of bridal preparations– I’ve a lovely trio of peonies wrapped around my lower right arm, and a few other smaller bits of ink. All mark experiences I’ve had, and serve as reminders of where I’ve been and who I want to be. The new ink will be part of processing all the notions I have on commitment, including being “worthy” of love and a good life, despite the nasty autoimmune disease that comes with me. Also, pretty flowers on my upper left arm, to complement the peonies. Going strapless!

  4. My BIL’s wife has tattoos all over her back (and one on her neck and some on her wrists and ankles) and she wore a strapless dress so you could see the ones on her back. Our FIL is very conservative and thought she should have covered them up (that said, some of the content is not “family friendly”). I don’t have any tattoos but my sister, who was my MOH, has a small one on her upper back that you could see in her dress for our wedding (I love the tattoo โ€“ it’s in memory of our mother) and my sister has wild hair (she’s a stylist โ€“ she had blue chunks for our wedding) โ€“ my FIL also commented on my SIL’s MOH’s hair (which was pink). I was a bit worried about him being judgemental about my sister but he didn’t say anything that I heard so I’m pretty happy (I did mention to him about the tattoo and hair beforehand).

    • In the months before my wedding my sister had bright, fire engine red streaks in her hair. My mother asked me if i wanted to tell her to dye it before the wedding. “Yeah, could you tell her to dye it purple to match the color scheme?”

  5. I am so glad I haven’t had to deal with this. My Aunt and my Mom suggested that I bedazzle my sleeve, chest piece and wings that will all be on display. Ya know, jazz em up for the event! My second bridesmaid is heavily and I mean heavily tattooed so even if I covered mine hers would still be there. Why would anyone have to hide who they are on their big day?

    • So much of this! I’m a heavily (and very visibly) tattooed bride-to-be and my dress is strapless. My FH is also tattooed and most of the members of our bridal party have full sleeves too. No one has been a problem to either of us about showing tattoos at our upcoming wedding.. which is nice because goodness knows we’ve had enough wedding planning drama in other areas.

      For smaller tattoos on brides who maybe aren’t so keen to have them show, though, maybe look into a tattoo-coverup makeup. I think there’s one in Kat Von D’s makeup line at Sephora. At least that way you wouldn’t need to feel like you have to wear a long-sleeved wedding gown.

  6. Great article!
    It just so happens that my tattoos will be partially obscured, just because of the dress I want to wear. I’m having an illusion neckline, with lace sleeves. I didn’t do this as a conscious decision to cover my tattoos on my arms, it’s just the dress design I really really wanted.
    But I would’ve said to heck with all the possibly disapproving family members had I wanted a sleeveless dress.

  7. One of my primary requirements of my wedding dress was that my shoulder blade tattoos be visible. One of them is in memory of my mom, and the other was one that my husband and I got together. There was no way those bad boys weren’t going to be visible on my wedding day!

  8. I have a rather unsubtle tattoo all down my leg. It’s bright blue and coincidentally matches a ton of stuff in the wedding (well it is my favourite colour). It’s going to be on show, and I desperately wanted the lower portion finished before the wedding but we couldn’t afford to. There’s only two weeks to go and I have slow healing times so it’ll have to stay as it is. My man’s family don’t even know I have a drop of ink… I’m going to own the shit out of it though! ๐Ÿ˜€

    • This may be stupid, but if it’s outlined – could you use body paint to ‘finish’ it – while you wait for the cash to finish it properly? So that it looks the way you want it to on the photos. Sorry if that’s a totally daft suggestion.

      • I didn’t think of that, thanks! It is filled in but it’s just missing the final wispy bits (it’s meant to represent air). If it needed colouring in I’d so be doing that. I’ll leave mine as it is though. Thanks! ๐Ÿ™‚

        • As someone who found this out the hard way (which ruined a dress) make sure the paint you use is either something that absolutely won’t rub off, is something like Crayola markers (sounds weird, but has worked for me in the past), or use printable temporary tattoo paper you can find at most craft stores to print out the design and apply it.

  9. I feel like this could also be said for curvier girls. I know I struggle with the size and appearance of my arms, but I wasn’t going to dictate my dress choice based off of whether or not it had sleeves. ARM-LOVE FOR ALL!

    • I definitely agree, be confident about the way you look even if other people don’t agree. Pick a dress you love and own the hell out of it ๐Ÿ™‚

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