Can a Dress Code Be Racist?

“It’s the new Jim Crow being enforced in a colorblind way.” So said Michelle Horovitz, speaking to a local Fox affiliate in Minneapolis. She aimed her reference at a dress code enforced at the downtown location of Bar Louie on weekend evenings. After 9pm Thursday through Saturday, patrons will not be admitted wearing flat-billed hats, sleeveless undershirts, “excessively baggy clothing,” long plain white t-shirts, athletic apparel, or sports jerseys. Critics like Imani Vincent call Bar Louie’s restrictions racist and discriminatory against blacks.


If you do not want African Americans to frequent your establishment, then maybe you should just say that and not just break it down to the dress code.

The story has been picked up nationally at outlets like The Blaze and The Huffington Post. Controversy and outrage spread.

The whole thing proves ridiculous on multiple fronts. Horovitz, who has led the public cry against Bar Louie for their dress code, may be outing her own racist assumptions. After all, what about a dress code makes it discriminatory against a particular race? Are black people born in sports jerseys? Are they physically incapable of wearing anything else?

Horovitz calls the code “the new Jim Crow being enforced in a colorblind way.” But that’s utter nonsense. A defining aspect of Jim Crow was its explicit racial discrimination. Another defining aspect was its status as a government mandate. Calling a private dress code “the new Jim Crow” indicates profound historical illiteracy.

I’m black. My wardrobe meets Bar Louie’s dress code. Presumably, if I show up at their door after 9pm on a weekend, they will welcome my business. Indeed, I may welcome their dress code. I may be looking for a particular experience on my night out, an ambiance free of pedestrian characters.

Downtown Minneapolis has developed a nasty reputation in recent years for violence in and around nightclubs and bars. One way for venues to prevent such violence is to enforce codes of dress and conduct. If certain styles have come to be associated with incidents of violence, then taking my business to a venue which bans those styles makes sense.


This is hardly a new phenomenon. I was enforcing dress codes as a nightclub bouncer fifteen years ago. Now it’s a national story?

(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here. 14:49 minutes long; 14.28 MB file size. Right click here to download this show to your hard drive. Subscribe through iTunes or RSS feed.)


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