The Root this week brought to light a “no sneakers” dress code at a Washington D.C. restaurant that was used to justify the denial of entry to minority guests. The incident highlights a major flaw in restaurant dress codes: They’re vague. And beyond that, some outright ban the type of clothing favored by young minorities.
In her piece, The Root’s managing editor Yesha Callahan recounted how El Centro D.F. restaurant recently turned away her friend, who is black, based on his leather Converse sneakers while allowing many white patrons with similar footwear to enter.
This is no isolated incident. Chicago clubstaurant (a portmanteau which, if I had my druthers, wouldn’t exist) Bottled Blonde came under fire this spring for its paragraphs-long dress code that bans Jordans sneakers, “odd-colored pants,” and “obnoxious prints.” Another Chicago eatery, Parlor Pizza Bar, received a discrimination complaint after a black man was denied service there because his ($250) pants didn’t meet the establishment’s dress code. Tipsy Crow Tavern in Des Moines, Iowa, removed its no-baggy pants dress code following a series of complaints that it was discriminatory.
These rules are imprecise at best. Fashion is weird and ever-changing and remember when harem pants were a thing? Defining an “obnoxious print” or even “sneakers” isn’t easy and can become an arbitrary tool with which a bouncer can deny entry to certain patrons. Would a woman’s wide-leg jeans be considered baggy? At worst, some dress codes specifically target clothing associated with urban black men. Why would a restaurant need to protect against flat-brim caps but not other hats? Or “large chains” but not other types of chunky jewelry?
Lines between high and low fashion have blurred to the point of annihilation, and it doesn’t seem to behoove a pizza restaurant or club to police anyone’s clothing choices. If you have two Michelin stars and want to require jackets in your dining room, okay, but a clubstaurant slinging frosé doesn’t seem like it needs an encyclopedic dress code.
What seems necessary in the wake of the ongoing dress code complaints that crop up every few months is not just a retooling of each individual rulebook but a critical look at whether the dress codes serve a purpose at all. No shirt, no shoes, no service seems the furthest that any need to go.