How Women Are Rethinking the Tattoo Parlor

How Women Are Rethinking the Tattoo Parlor

Ms. Dwyer said that 90 percent of Nice Tattoo’s clientele are women, and most of those who already have tattoos have never been inked by a woman before. “It doesn’t surprise me,” she said. Ms. Dwyer, 34, has worked in the business since she was 22, often as a sole female employee.

Apprenticeships, integral to a tattooist’s career, can be harder for women to land. “I feel like we’re not taken as seriously, and it’s just a boys’ club,” Ms. Dwyer said. “It still is.”


Sample designs at the shop.

Emily Andrews for The New York Times

Visitors to Nice Tattoo’s sun-filled space on Court Street will find little semblance of the archetypal tattoo parlor. There’s the front lounge flanked by two velvet couches, white walls hung with abstract artwork, exotic flower arrangements from Fox Fodder Farms and a mural by the artist Lorraine Nam showcasing portraits of those involved in the parlor’s opening — all visible through wide storefront windows. Potential clients typically come by for a business card and may end up emailing for a consultation later; others discover the shop through Instagram or by word of mouth.

“She found me through Lena Dunham’s Instagram,” Ms. Dwyer said, gesturing to Deanna DiCroce, who had arrived for her appointment (a butterfly tattoo) on a recent Saturday. Ms. Dunham’s “Girls” co-star Jemima Kirke, a client who lives in the neighborhood, had recommended the shop.

“I’d been to a bunch of places in the East Village and didn’t leave with the best vibes,” Ms. DiCroce said. “It’s intimidating.”

Margot Pascal, a leather goods designer, is another Nice Tattoo client. She has two tattoos from earlier experiences at mostly male parlors. “At some other places I often felt judged because of my tattoo design,” Ms. Pascal said. “I ended up going with an artist who was a nice, shy guy. But the place, the vibe — no love.”

What’s more, because some tattoos may require disrobing, a woman can feel especially vulnerable with male artists. “Even apart from the question of safety, some women prefer female artists for the same reason they choose female doctors,” Ms. Mifflin said. “The interaction is intimate.”

Robert Boyle, a founder of Nice Tattoo, said that Nice wasn’t intentionally positioned as an all-female tattoo parlor. “After we started to understand the implication of providing an alternative space for female artists, it became a position we felt was culturally important,” he said.


Jes Dwyer works on a tattoo of the Manhattan skyline on a client’s forearm.

Emily Andrews for The New York Times

Once an anomaly, female-run shops have become more common in recent years. In 2009, Natalia Borgia founded Beaver Tattoo, a tattoo parlor in the Woodside neighborhood of Queens staffed by women. It was the subject of the 2011 short documentary “Feminine Ink,” in which the artists spoke of the advantages of working in such a studio — notably, a lack of competition and a willingness to share trade techniques.

“In the beginning, people coming in would ask for ‘the guy’ and assume the girl behind the desk was a receptionist,” Ms. Borgia said in an interview. Today, a roughly equal number of women and men make up Beaver’s clientele. “I do see improvement in how women are seen in this industry, but I think we still have a long way to go,” Ms. Borgia said.

Other like-minded businesses have opened. Last year, Welcome Home Studio, which welcomes female, trans, queer and gender-nonconforming individuals as its resident artists, set up shop in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. Looking ahead, Nice’s owners hope to make its experience more widely available, starting with a shop on the West Coast.

“It’s such a simple concept,” Ms. Dwyer said. “It’s like hospitality. I’ve bartended, I’ve waitressed — maybe that helps. I don’t know, I just treat people the way I’d want to be treated. Any place.”

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