They lurk beneath the threads of respectability, hidden under Brooks Brothers suits and trendy Donna Karan dresses.
Call them a declaration of independence from the status quo or a permanent needlepoint counterpoint to the demands of conformity. Tattoos, no longer just a mark of rebellion among the biker set, criminals and sailors, are making their way into corporate settings."Typpies," tattooed young professionals, don't go in for the usual brightly colored, whimsical depictions of tigers, dragons, unicorns and other images that recall late 1960s poster art. Instead, they're big on ethnic themes: Maori armbands, Celtic symbols and Egyptian fertility signs.
Tattoos are especially popular among people in the arts, but they're getting under the skin of those in the mainstream as well.
Nurses, doctors, stockbrokers and corporate writers are baring their flesh to allow a needle to insert ink about a sixteenth of an inch below the skin's surface.
Television is full of inky skin. Bart Simpson got a tattoo. He wanted one to say "mother," but Marge discovered him while he was getting it and yanked him out with only the word "moth" inscribed. And everyone knows about Roseanne Barr's real-life declaration of love for her husband, branded on her posterior.
Cher graced the cover of November's Vanity Fair baring her latest tattoo at the top of her left arm, a snaking silver chain with three dangling ornaments. At the Red Devil Studios in Los Angeles, Cher's favorite tattoo spot, the clientele are "lots of people in professional jobs that you wouldn't know have tattoos," said the studio's owner, Jill Jordan.
Most of Jordan's clients are discreet and want their tattoos on their upper arms or other spots rarely bared in office attire, she said.
"They don't feel a need to show it off," Jordan said. "I've done many actors and actresses, lawyers, a dentist and then his dental hygienist, who came in after her boss got his. You can't really type people anymore."
Shotsie Gorman, a former art instructor who now owns a tattoo studio in Haledon, N.J., and publishes the high-gloss, semiannual "Tattoo Advocate," agrees: Typpies are everywhere.
"I've tattooed a number of professional people - from surgeons to people involved in arbitrage and multimillion dollar-deals who once they take their business suits off are virtually covered," Gorman said.
One Wall Street broker with elaborate tattoos on both shoulders says he never considers his arm art a handicap.
"If you're making the person money, they don't care if you have a third eye in the middle of your forehead," said the broker, whose firm requested that he not be identified. "Greed will overcome any stigma. I once told a guy, `Oh, I made you $500,000 and, oh, by the way, I got a new tattoo.' He just said, `Great.' "
But Carolyn Sanderson, a 28-year-old graphic designer, literally lost sleep while preparing to tell her parents about the Celtic triangle tattooed on her right arm.
"It means you're in the Navy," her father told her after he got the news. "No, it's like artwork now," she replied.