Are Dress Codes Racist?

by Britni Danielle

Recently, I came across a post on Racialicious by Lisa Wade which took a look at the not so subtle ways bars, clubs, and other establishments discriminate against some of it’s potential patrons. By implementing dress codes that target specific groups (i.e. minorities), and not strictly adhering to them, are these establishments actually practicing an acceptable form of racism?

Wade recounts her days in her college at the University of Wisconsin and how a local bar, ironically named Brothers, did everything legally possible to keep the brothas out. Their dress code, which prohibited backward caps, sleeveless tees, skullcaps, sports jerseys, athletic wear, and bad attitudes, was not always followed. She and others observed White university students being allowed into the bar despite wearing many of the prohibited items listed, while Blacks and other minorities were kept out.

This scene is nothing new. I’ve seen it replayed many times over with some of my male friends. There is one particular establishment in Los Angeles that many of my friends refuse to frequent simply because they have been turned away in the past. Despite being dressed similarly to other (White) patrons allowed in before AND after, they were turned away because they did not allegedly meet the dress code.

On one hand I sympathize with businesses. As someone who grew up in Los Angeles in the ‘80s, when everything you wore spoke volumes about your possible gang affiliations or not, I get it. Bar and club owners want their customers to have fun and be safe. But if you’re going to have a policy, it shouldn’t just apply to those you think are trouble, it should be standard across the board.

Have you ever had a problem with an establishment’s dress code? How did you handle it? Sound off! 

  • LaNeshe

    It’s only racist or discriminatory if the standards aren’t upheld for everyone. Just having those standards of dress in and of itself isn’t a problem, they have a right to want a certain atmosphere in their business when it comes to how people look.

  • cupcakes and shiraz

    I agree. Dress codes in themselves are not racist…only if they are not upheld for everyone.

    Also- A lot of black & Latin clubs do not allow a lot of the listed articles of clothes as they are popular with gangs.

  • kwazi

    the establish thats ive seen this exact thign happen is lucky strike bowling alley… i took pix of non black patrons w/the exact same thing on inside…i will NEVER go there. I’m a female who had on heels a blazer jewelry make-up etc… but my fatigue cargo shorts where against the dress code…

  • LainaLain

    Wow they could’ve saved so much time by just putting up the “Whites Only” sign.

  • Tabias Wilson

    hmmm i can understand the business standpoint, but I think this hits at a larger issue. What would happen if they said, no corn rows allowed? Or perhaps, no afros? Is this fair game? With the reasoning used in this example, you can change your clothes, is it not fair to say you can change your hair? Vernacular? Culture? Complexion? Race?

  • JaeBee

    Yeah, it definitely sounds like a *racist* double standard, but are these establishments prohibiting black men from entering who ARE following the dress code?
    Frankly, I don’t understand how some people think sports attire or gym wear is appropriate for clubs and lounges. Furthermore, I don’t understand why this type of attire is so prevalent that it becomes easily associated with black males. Maybe if some people stepped their game up, and dressed for success, they wouldn’t have to worry about being turned away from the club while some white guy gets in under the radar.

  • OhMyEyes

    This is the most idiotic article I’ve read in a while. It’s more racist for the author to imply that men of a certain race are predisposed to wearing this type of attire. Where is it written that black men must wear scull caps and jerseys with accompanying bad attitudes? I really wish people (black people included) would stop putting black people in a box. The habits of a few don’t represent us all.

  • Gigi Young

    A white guy wearing a hoodie and sagging skinny jeans does not project the same cultural implications as a black guy in similar attire.

  • Gigi Young

    Unfortunately, a white guy wearing a hoodie and sagging skinny jeans does not project the same cultural implications as a black guy in similar attire.

  • H.

    I think black clubs’ dress codes are even more ‘racist’ than white clubs. In a lot of black clubs you can’t even wear tennis shoes or even polo shirts and jeans in some. I’ve yet to see a white bar that didn’t allow some of the things these black clubs don’t.

  • Phoenix

    No but when i was in college my professors seemed to be racist. One day i wore some medium sized hoop earrings to class and he looked right at me while telling the class we should show up looking like we were in a rap video. I was the only black girl in the class.

  • oknow

    it doesn’t seem discriminatory but why put “Brothers” as the headline?! Why not “Fellas” or “Men”, or “Gents”?!

    2nd, i’m down with what they are saying.. I don’t want to see this type of attire either.. If you’re more dressed like a grown man then maybe some of these men will act like that and be more presentable and act correctly!

    I can see why ppl would believe that this is to the minorities but lets keep it real, while other races act the same way, mostly everywhere you go depending on where you go it’s almost always our ppl acting and dressing this way!

  • memphiskatieJ

    Dress codes aren’t racist, but the discriminatory way in which they are enforced at some bars/clubs can be viewed as racist. While a student in Knoxville, TN there was a bar within walking distance of campus that used their dress code to keep the black people out. Their dress code was similar to the one that is posted in the above article. They would make the black men tuck in their shirts while the white guys could come stumbling in drunk with shirts untucked, cut off shorts, sleeveless shirts. I’ve heard all of the excuses to turn a black male away. It got to the point where my friends would send in one of the girls to take pictures of obvious dress code violators that were white for proof of discrimination. Also, they knew that if there was a group of minorities, by turning one away, more than likely all of that person’s minority friends would go with them. It made me uncomfortable going to predominantly white establishments with black friends. And I always wondered how the black bouncers could be apart of such blatant discrimination.

    It happens here in Memphis too. There’s a popular Beale Street club (Club 152)that passes out wristbands to non-black people (mostly white) and they DON’T have to pay to enter the club and they are given access to the special VIP third floor as well as the other two floors in the club. If you are black and you try to go to the line for the VIP entrance, they generally redirect you to another line/ club entrance where black people are charged $20 to get in, they dont get a wristband, and they can’t go up to the third floor. The bouncers generally only let black people in the VIP if they know someone that can vouch for them ( they’ll tell you that you have to be invited, even though clearly they just gave all the white people a wristband) or if you are with a group of white people. If that’s not BLATANT discrimination I don’t know what is!

  • memphiskatieJ

    Google club 152 to see what I’m talking about! “Racism still alive, they just be concealing it!”

  • Usagi

    I dress gothic lolita/punk and I get judged very harshly some AAs. I’m not urban culture at all,daishikis look ugly as sin to me, and I hate 90 percent of jeans. I would love to wear a guntiino, but there’s a very small population of East/North Africans here. I do plan on getting a Chinese dress. It goes both ways. No matter what they wear, people are still going to see that they’re black. So the hell is the big deal ?


    LOL. Just dust off the old sign they conveniently keep in the back.

  • Letisha

    The implications in the first paragraph are presumptive. However, in order to have a meaningful discourse about the issue it is important to rationally consider all points in the article rather than label the entire piece idiotic.

    The ultimate issue is not the dress code. The issue is that the dress code is not equally enforced. White people too have bad attitudes, wear jerseys, etc. However, the author observed that the rules were disproportionately applied towards blacks to deny them entrance into the bar.

  • Girl

    Maybe if black men didnt dress like immature trash, they wouldnt be able to use these tricks to keep them out

  • Girl

    Cant say I agree. The men I associate with dont wear any of the crap on that sign.

  • Girl

    Exactly JaeBee, don t understand the disgusting get-up as well.

  • JoeClyde

    Black women usually aren’t affected by these blatantly racist dress code policies. But in some instances such as the 230th Fifth 500mil lawsuit they are.

    I have seen this occur, and this has happened to me as well. They are not rejecting “thugs”. They are rejecting Black/Hispanic guys that are following the dress codes. Simply because they are a minority. They will look you up and down. To find any excuse possible to keep you out. But a white guy dressed like the Wigger of the Year winner 2011. He is able to walk straight in.

    Blacks generally need to stop supporting these venues. We need to support positive venues and stop placing value in white ones. Obviously they don’t place any value besides a negative one in you.

  • Lazarus666

    I dont have a problem with most of the dress code stuff. Like no T-shirts with advertising, just because, or no hats at a roller skating rink where it might fly off and present a hazard to other skaters. But there is some very subtle racism that goes on, that gets hidden in the “no athletic wear”, or all mens shirts must have sleeves. If you ask “why”, maybe they will say “thats just the way it is.” But if you seriously question it, you might eventually be told that most women shave thier armpits, whereas most men dont. Therefore men must wear sleeves for “hygeine” reasons, which would probably be valid for the chefs and waitstaff, etc – who are just as likely these days to be wearing latex gloves (the cooks in some places anyway) and a disposable cap.

    Of course if you are Native American, or some Asians for that matter – you might not have any body hair at all. So this really shouldn’t be made an issue. But it is. And there it gets tricky. Lots of bi-racial black poeple dont look black at all – at least from the point of view of the color of their skin. So “blackness” is just as much determined by curly hair, or the width of one’s nose, etc.

    I don’t know what the experience is of others, because everyone is different, and some people have other issues, like people of Islamic faith (or other), who may be required to wear some type of head dress when in public. What do the “no hats” resturaunt owners say about that?

    Alright, so I’m part Native American – and for whatever its worth, I have very little body hair, and also for practical purposes – I dont sweat. Which means like many Asians, I dont have to buy deodorant – because quite simply put – I dont need it. Then again, since my father had blonde hair, my hair is brown, unlike my mother who had black hair. It gets stranger – because I can easilly get a tan to where I dont look “white”, nope it is VERY easy for me to tan to where I am nearly as dark as many of the people of color that I see these days. Without the fake spray on stuff, or whatever.

    So what this comes down to is the “all mens shirts must have a collar and sleeves” rule is actually a white mans rule, which the enforcement of effectively forced me to “hide my race.”

    Now whatever that means, I grew up in a major city, and have few Native acquaintances. So this does become signifcant, if I say – would like to go to a night club or whatever that caters to singles – it woud be nice to be able to mingle with people who might actually find me attractive the way that nature made me, and not have some unpleasant surprise by the third date when a girl realizes that “oops she thought I was just another white guy with a tan”, or that I was just kidding around when I said I was part Native, and that she didn’t know what that mean’t. Oh well – it has actually happened, and thus I am still single.

  • Tiffany

    There was a bar in the town where I went to college that had a dress code almost word for word like the one in the picture, there was a gang problem in the area. I always saw them enforce it on everyone, white or black. There was on time me and a few friends went there to see a band and a few of us, myself included, had bandannas on from working in the studio all day. We were asked to remove the bandannas or leave, all of us are white as white gets.

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